Memoirs aren’t my usual cup of tea, but Jenny Lawson just may have convinced me to give them a bit more of my time. Memoirs have always seemed too self-indulgent to me, but then again, what form of writing doesn’t ask for a focus on the ego that is behind the pen/keyboard/pencil crayon? Blogging (or writing reviews of things in a blog – mea culpa) is not far removed from memoir, is often in fact memoir, and is where this book originates. As one of the growing list of blog to book crossovers, Lawson and her publishers are banking on a list of already dedicated readers, and on catching the attention of new readers such as myself. The cover of the book, featuring a taxidermied (not a word, but hey, it should be) mouse dressed as Hamlet, grabbed my attention each time I walked into my local bookstore, but it wasn’t until a recent trip that I decided to pick up the book and read the back copy. Which led to me purchasing the book shortly thereafter.
Let’s Pretend is full of the awful-yet-funny life experiences that we all hear about, but few of us get to actually experience. Now, Lawson is up front in admitting that she embellishes, and here it works to wonderful effect as she is already working with some decidedly bizarre base material. Where reality ends and fantasy begins is never clear, and that’s just the way it should be in this kind of book.
The cover shot of the mouse works into the narrative as Lawson’s father, amongst many odd life choices, decides he wants to be a taxidermist. He does this with no formal training, literally using road kill to practice on. Imagine having a father who, every time he espied a dead animal at the side of the road, pulled over and proceeded to shovel it into the back of the pick-up. It’s a wonder that Lawson functions at all as an adult in society. My favorite story in the book has to be the one involving a dead talking squirrel hand puppet – I think I’ll just leave that right there, and let you discover the rest of the story for yourself.
The book is primarily set in rural areas of Lawson’s home state of Texas, and much of the subject matter involves some distinctly rural activities – how many city dwellers have a deer “draining” rack in the front yard? Her stories are full of weirdness, introversion inspired panic attacks, and the kinds of insanity that we all have a touch of, or with which we’re familiar from family gatherings with crazy old Uncle Joe. Lawson is very up front about her own foibles and issues, and this makes the stories that much more human and touching. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she has a deft touch with words, and is a master at self-deprecating observations.
If you buy the trade paperback edition, you get an additional chapter of material, plus, to quote Lawson, if you’d bought the hardcover “you’d…be out another ten dollars.”
Steve’s Grade: A-
A funny and endearing memoir with just a dash of fiction, seamlessly integrates so you don’t know where truth and embellishment start or finish.
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