You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein

Oh my goodness, this was a fun read.  I had no idea who Jessi Klein even was before I read this, but a bookish friend’s positive review on Goodreads made me add her memoir You’ll Grow Out Of It to my TBR.  (Thanks, Eve!)  I don’t watch Amy Schumer’s show, of which Klein is head writer and executive producer.  But it didn’t matter one bit as I raced through these funny, slightly raunchy essays on growing up, living, and loving as a cishet Jewish woman in America.  I’m the target audience for this book, I think – I’m two years younger than Klein (we’re solidly Gen X) and reading these essays made me feel like I’d found an equally neurotic, self-deprecating, more hilarious kindred spirit.

Let me share some of my favorite passages with you:

On the three style options available to women as they grow older – 1) You were a Supermodel, 2) You are Rich, and 3) You’re an Eccentric:

This is the last option.  And it will be my option.  We see these women all the time. They’re not leaning on beauty, and they’re not leaning on money.  They’re leaning on character.  They wear hot pink tights and high-top sneakers.  They wear big glasses and pillbox hats.  They looked like they might have once worked at Interview even though they didn’t.  Or they look like Betsey Johnson back in the 1980s, but now here in the present and much older.  Thy’re memorable and fun.  They’re kooky old ladies.  When I see them, I feel a little pulse of happiness that maybe I won’t be so sad losing the little dollop of prettiness I was allotted.  That maybe the secret to getting old and feeling okay is just buying an enormous silly hat and making people smile when they look at you because they think you’re having a good time.

But maybe that’s not what the hat is about.  Maybe the real issue is not so much making other people think you’re having a super-fun time creeping toward death; it’s simply being seen.  This is the lament of older women, and ultimately of all old people – that you become invisible.  It is especially hard for women, though, whose entire lives have been spend spinning around the idea that if no one is staring at you, you’ve somehow failed.  Maybe the silly hat is really a Hail Mary to get people to look at you, no matter the reason.

 51bvntfqcnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_On the two types of women, Poodles vs. Wolves:

Wolves need to eat more than poodles do (both larger amounts and more frequently.) Wolves wear lip balm. Wolves can’t deal with thongs. Wolves sweat a lot. Wolves are funny. Wolves show up ten minutes early to everything and are always the first ones there and then have to fake a conversation on their cell phone so they look like they know other human beings on this earth. Wolves usually own two bras total, and neither of them matched their tattered old Gap underwear.  Wolves lose their virginity during their junior year of college at the very earliest.

On natural childbirth vs. getting an epidural:

But how often do people really want women to be or do anything “natural?”

It seems to me the answer is almost never.  In fact, almost everything “natural” about women is considered pretty fucking horrific.  Hairy legs and armpits?  Please shave, you furry beast.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to remove your pubic hair, that’s also an abomination.  Do you have hips and cellulite?  Please go hide in the very back of your show closet and turn the light off and stay there until someone tells you to come out (no one will tell you to come out.)

It’s interesting that no one cares very much about women doing anything “naturally” until it involves them being in excruciating pain.

No one ever asks a man if he’s having a “natural root canal.”  No one ever asks if a man is having a “natural vasectomy.”

GET THE EPIDURAL.

I read some negative Goodreads reviews of this that reference Klein’s obvious privilege, and yes, she does talk often about visiting spas and fancy stores, but that didn’t bother me for some reason.  I mean, I figure someone who’s the head writer of Inside Amy Schumer is going to be buying top end skin care products.  Honestly, if I were a successful, famous comedy writer, I’d be buying $250 jars of La Mer too.  Klein struck me as knowing that all the stuff she gets to do now is slightly crazy but she’s also kind of enjoying it.  I don’t begrudge her that.  I appreciated her honesty and her self-deprecating, relatable humor about her own awkwardness in all things “feminine.”

This was when I learned one of the biggest secrets of being a women, which is that most of the time, we don’t feel like we’re women at all.

If you’re a fan of female comedian memoirists, like Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, you’ll probably enjoy You’ll Grow Out Of It.  It’s a funny, somewhat profane, sometimes poignant essay collection that I’m glad I took a chance on.

 

 

RIP Challenge: The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

“I wish Aunt Fanny would stop babbling sacrilegious nonsense,” Mrs. Halloran said, and there was an ominous note in her voice.

“Call it nonsense, Orianna, say – as you have before – that Aunt Fanny is running in crazed spirits, but – although I am of course not permitted to threaten – all the regret will be yours.”

“I feel it already,” Mrs. Halloran said.

“The experiment with humanity is at an end,” Aunt Fanny said.

“Splendid,” Mrs. Halloran said.  “I was getting very tired of all of them.”

shirley-jackson-the-sundialYou know when you begin a novel with a grandmother matter-of-factly talking with her granddaughter about pushing the girl’s father down the stairs to his death that the usual rules of play don’t apply.  Shirley Jackson’s 1958 novel The Sundial, which I read as part of the 11th R.I.P. Challenge, was the the fourth of her books that I’ve read, and it was definitely the funniest, albeit in a bleak way.  The basic premise is that a group of awful people, some related and some not, trade witty barbs and gradually succumb to the apocalyptic visions of Aunt Fanny, in effect preparing for the end of the world.  Fanny’s vision says that everyone in the house will be spared and will perpetuate a fresh start for humankind. Everyone else is toast.

The imperious, controlling Mrs. Halloran (Orianna) has inherited the house (more like a mansion) after her son Lionel’s death.  Living with her are her mousy daughter-in-law, Maryjane, her granddaughter, the wickedly precocious Fancy, her husband Richard, who is wheelchair-bound and suffering from dementia, Fancy’s governess, Miss Ogilvie, a young man named Essex, who was supposedly hired to catalog the library, and Richard’s sister Fanny, who has the aformentioned vision while lost one night in the estate’s maze.  Add a distant cousin, a seventeen-year old named Gloria, an old friend of Orianna’s named Mrs. Willow and her two unmarried daughters, Julia and Arabella, and a stranger invited from the village basically because he’s a youngish (theoretically virile) man, whom they dub “The Captain.”

Oh, and along with the maze and a man-made lake, there’s an actual sundial on the lawn inscribed with the inscrutable phrase WHAT IS THIS WORLD?  No one really knows what it’s supposed to mean.

At first it seems like the members of the Halloran House are humoring Aunt Fanny by beginning to prepare for the end of the world, going along with her ideas about what to stock up on, even going so far as to burn the books in the library to make more room for provisions.  But as the story progresses, everyone seems to become more paranoid and fearful, and starts taking her predictions more seriously.  They even enlist Gloria to gaze into a mirror glazed with oil to see if she can more accurately predict the exact date of the apocalypse.  Once they’ve got a date, they throw a huge garden party for the poor, unsuspecting dopes of the nearby village, people they politely tolerated but never really intermingled with before these visions began.  Alcohol flows and shenanigans ensue.  The day after the party, a violent storm begins, and the Hallorans and their entourage make their final arrangments.

sunThe one character I felt sympathy for in the entire novel was young Fancy.  She’s really the only character who utters a lick of sense.  She’s been sheltered from the outside world for the entirety of her young life, and now she may never get to experience life outside the manor as an adult.  Here she talks with Gloria, questioning her about the wisdom of the adults and trying to understand things:

“Well,” Fancy said slowly, “you all want the whole world to be changed so you all will be different.  But I don’t suppose people get changed any by just a new world. And anyway, that world isn’t any more real than this one.”

“It is though.  You forget that I saw it in the mirror.”

“Maybe you’ll get onto the other side of that mirror in the new clean world. Maybe you’ll look through from the other side and see this world again and go around crying that you wish some big thing would happen and wipe out that one and send you back here.  Like I keep trying to tell you, it doesn’t matter which world you’re in.”

I’ve struggled to write about The Sundial since I finished it over a week ago.  It’s so…odd. I  don’t exactly know what to make of it.  It’s not scary, like The Haunting of Hill House, and it’s doesn’t have the pure beauty of language that We Have Always Lived in the Castle has.  Of the four Jackson novels I’ve read, it is my least favorite, but it’s still engaging and worth reading.  Shirley Jackson had such a brilliantly twisted mind, and her novels are so unusual, especially for the time period in which they were written.  I don’t know much about her biography, but I’m very much interested in how she was able to create such vividly strange stories in what I have always imagined to be a very stifling decade (while she raised kids!)  There is a new biography about her by Ruth Franklin called Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, but I think I want to read all of her works before I delve into her biography. In any case, The Sundial was witty, bizarre, and entertaining as all get out, a solid choice for your October reading list.

 

 

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

London, late 1950s.  Wilmet Forsyth (that name!) has just turned 33 years old. She is married to her civil servant husband Rodney.  They met in Italy, during WWII, when she served as a Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and he was a soldier. When A Glass of Blessings begins, Wilmet has started going to St. Luke’s church in London because her parish church services have become too Low for her.  (Unsure what that meant, I looked it up – it means that the services have a Protestant emphasis rather than a more ritualized Anglo-Catholic emphasis.)  Attending a lunch time service, she happens to meet Piers Longridge, the brother of a dear former Wren friend, Rowena.  She hasn’t seen him in quite a while, and she speculates that there’s something unsatisfactory about how he’s turned out – at least that’s the conventional wisdom.  Is it because he’s unmarried at the age of 35?  Is it his underemployment? They speak after the service ends, and Piers pays her a compliment.

“And women are so terrifying these days and seem to expect so much, really far more than one could possibly give.  Not that I would include you in my condemnation,” he added quickly.  “You look particularly charming today, Wilmet.” He smiled down at me in the provocative way I remembered…Rodney seldom commented on my appearance now and Piers had that engaging air of making me feel that he meant what he said.

41LojnPaQfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Wilmet is bored.  She has no children (she doesn’t seem to want any – was this unusual for literature in the 1950s?) and doesn’t work outside the home.  She doesn’t seem to do much work inside the home either. She and her mother-in-law, Sydney (who is an avowed agnostic and a  hoot) decide to take Portuguese classes from Piers in the evenings.  She also decides to become more a part of the goings on at St. Luke’s.  Wilmet starts working with the rather dowdy fellow parishioner Mary Beamish, one of those single “excellent women” who devote their time to good works of the church.  Just associating with Mary seems to make Wilmet feel better about herself.  I found this passage hilarious:

…I remembered my promise to Mary Beamish to join the panel of blood donors.  I saw myself lying on a table, blood pouring from a vein in my arm into a bottle which, as soon as it was full, would be snatched away and rished to hospital to save somebody’s life.  There seemed at that moment no limit to what I could do.

With Rodney not paying her much attention, she experiences a sort of infatuation with Piers.  They have outings once in a while, but he plays hot and cold with Wilmet, which only seems to attract her more. ( There’s an incident with a Christmas gift that has no note – naturally Wilmet thinks it’s from Piers!)  Piers is an enigma, but meanwhile, Wilmet has to fend off the unwanted attentions of her friend Rowena’s husband Harry.  And then there’s a new youngish, attractive assistant priest joining St. Luke’s.

What follows is a story with a very small footprint, but an emotional impact greater than its size.  This is what I love best about Barbara Pym’s novels: they capture the full range of human emotion in seemingly ordinary, everyday small interactions.  They’re also terribly funny in that dry British way I love.  Where many of her novels feature spinsters, this one is told from the perspective of a married woman, and the novel portrays marriage rather realistically.  A Glass of Blessings is written in first person, so we get to know Wilmet well.  I find her a likeable character despite her self-centeredness and vanity.  She’s somehow endearing, and she becomes more mature and self-aware by the end of the book. ( Is she resigned?  Chagrined?  Maybe both.)  If you’ve never read Barbara Pym before, I’d say start with Excellent Women, and then maybe read this one, or Jane and Prudence.  You can’t go wrong!  I’ve not yet read all of her novels, but I know I’ll enjoy them!