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Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Is it a doorstop? A weapon? A ten pound weight? No, it’s my next book!

King

If I was a very cheesy person, I would say it’s “King sized”. Ha ha.

Book Review: “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Bright Lights, Big City”- Jay McInerney

I know I’ve mentioned it before in a few of my reviews on Goodreads, but I am a big fan of books set in the 80’s. “Bright Lights, Big City” belongs up there with Bret Easton Ellis and Tom Wolfe if you are also of the same mind-set and love exploring the sterile and cold, drug infused heady days that were the 1980’s.

This is a novel designed to make you uncomfortable. Just the author’s use of the second person narrative (making you, the reader, as much of a junkie on a lonely and confusing journey as the main character) is jarring enough. It’s a witty, sad, vacant, poignant- and at times, infuriating-read. You don’t know if you should sympathize with the unnamed main character or hate him. In my case, I did all of the above and then ended up pitying him with a soupçon of hope that he gets his life together. This novel is awfully similar to the themes and tone explored in several of Bret Easton Ellis’s novels, which makes me fairly certain that much of what we’ve heard about the 80s- the coke, the greed, the onset of technology, the loneliness, the violence, the absurdity, the overabundance, the fear- is very true.

The characters in the novel are on the cusp of something, they just aren’t sure what. Things are changing fast and it requires enormous effort and stamina (and lots of cocaine) to keep up. Reading the book for the first time nearly 30 years later after it was published, I recognize that the “cusp” is technology. The main character works for the Fact Department at a prestigious magazine and is looking up details and facts via encyclopedias or calling to verify information over the phone. Now that we have the internet as our main tool, these former research channels are virtually unheard of. I just saw an episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” with Tom Brokaw as the guest where he very astutely points out that with the advent of fast internet and technology we demand everything at the touch of a button and often cannot even keep up with what pops up on our screens within seconds, leaving most of us feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. In the novel, the main character faces a similar situation in which he and another customer cannot get an ATM (newly installed by the bank) to work, driving him to cry out and threaten to punch the screen. Too much information, not enough time, and no real sense of what is fact or fiction. As much as the book feels “old school”, it also resonates with everything we experience today.

McInerney subtly reminds us that in the present day of the novel the rules of yesteryear no longer apply. It’s a new age. Even though the main character is all of 24 (a detail that took me some time to grapple with, until I remembered my own quarter life crisis), he in some ways yearns for the simplicity he had come to expect out of life. You get married are happy. You get a great job and you move up the ladder. You move to NYC and you experience a sense of belonging. You cruise through your childhood, learn French, get a great education and the world is your oyster. None of this proves true, however, and the end result is a downward spiral into ANYTHING that remotely resembles happiness, usually via the normal vehicles of self-medication: drugs,alcohol, and meaningless sex.

Is this a unique story? Absolutely not. It is a satire, a little biased (both McInerney and Ellis appear to have grown up with affluent backgrounds), and possibly not representational at all of the collected experience? I would say yes to all. Is it a cautionary tale? Perhaps. The problems and sufferings that plague our hero have been torturing young souls probably since the dawn of time. It is just another shared experience, but it is probably one we need to have over and over. One day, soon I hope, we all catch up and catch on.

For more 80’s love, check out National Geographic’s mini-series “The 80’s: The Decade that Made Us”. Absolutely fabulous! I believe you can rent or buy on iTunes.

There’s always money in the banana stand: I take a look back at 3 seasons of “Arrested Development”

Must confess that I was not one of the many who highly anticipated the return of  beloved and misunderstood TV show Arrested Development after a hiatus of 7 years and its season 4 premiere on Netflix this spring. Intrigued and interested, yes, but I worried that the show just wouldn’t be the same after all these years.

Instead, I took advantage of an Arrested Development rerun marathon on IFC channel and watched all 3 seasons of this spectacular show to truly find out if I needed to get back into the game and excitement over season 4. Consensus? Jury is still out. When there was initial talk of an AD movie about 5 or 6 years ago, I was ecstatic. But time passes, actors move on, we discover a new series to watch, and the original magic behind this ingenious show slowly fades away.

Or does it? Even though I’m not super psyched as the rest of the die-hard fans for the new season, I can still say its an incredible show. And it was an absolute pleasure rediscovering the Bluth family.

Here are the highlights from the re-watch of S1-3:

Overall thoughts:

Season 1 is by far the best of the bunch. This isn’t to say that the series as a whole went down-hill from then on, but there was a certain novelty to the specific kind of humor used on the show in the first season that tended to get overplayed and worn out as the series went on. Also, despite the fact that AD is still probably one of the most genius and hilarious shows ever to grace TV, it was definitely flawed. While it was one of the first sitcoms ever to throw inside jokes and subtle humor at its audience and not over explain the jokes (or sometimes not at all), there were moments when this formula went wildly astray- season 3, I’m looking at you- but it was also groundbreaking, ballsy, and twisted enough that it garnered such loving and devoted fans AND paved the way for other shows with similar humor to become “accepted” on network TV.

Perhaps accepted isn’t the right word, but AD just wasn’t beloved during its initial run thus dooming it to an early cancellation. Not many people got it. Even so, without AD would shows like 30 Rock, the American version of The Office, and Parks and Recreation even have had a chance? I don’t think so.

Still funny after all this time

  • George Sr. in jail. “Caged Wisdom” still cracks me up.
  • The shows ingenious use of flashbacks and montages. My fave: after the narrator explains that a previous staged intervention by Bluths led to one of their best parties ever, we are treated to a montage of Buster playing piano while Tobias naked but for his jean shorts dances frenetically in the background and Michael is sitting at table, presumably buzzed, wearing what looks like puppet Franklin’s wig.
  • Tobias as a “never-nude”. Never not funny!
  • Franklin the puppet and Buster’s use of it to channel his inner rage towards Lucille.
  • The Stair Car (and later the Cabin Car) and all the jokes associated with it: inmates using the stair car to jump over the wall, Mexicans using it to jump over the border, Hop ons (or Live ins with the Cabin Car)… always hysterical.
  • “By the statue of the kid who found the severed hand”.
  • George Sr. hiring a man with a prosthetic arm to teach lessons to his children throughout the years, and then Michael tries to use the same gambit with George Michael: “And that’s why you don’t teach lessons to your son!” Actually, the Pier Pressure episode from S1 might be my all-time favorite.
  • Every Bluth doing own version of what he/she thinks is a chicken.
  • GOB riding up in his segue scooter and saying “Michael!”. Runner up: every time GOB says “Club sauce!”.
  • The opening theme song to GOB’s illusion shows.
  • Tobias as Mrs. Featherbottom.
  • Bob Loblaw and Barry Zuckercorn: the world’s worst lawyers.
  • Michael’s complete disdain for George Michael’s girlfriend Ann.
  • Lindsay trying to get back to her Fundraising roots and failing miserably (“I think I maced a crane, Michael!”)
  • Buster taking his instructions to act like a student of the Medford Academy (Children should not be seen nor heard) to heart and spends an entire episode lurking in the background and trying to blend in without being seen (“On the next Arrested Development: Buster heads to the kitchen” and Buster just sulks slyly around the corner).
  • George Sr. trapped in the attic for much of season 2.

Surprisingly UNFUNNY the 2nd time around

  • George Michael’s crush on his cousin Maeby. It started out funny in season 1 and the more the show hammered this joke home, the less funny the premise became.
  • The “Tobias is really gay” jokes. Again, had Tobias been written simply as a naive nerd who really was clueless about what came out of his mouth rather than a closeted “is he or isn’t he” character, then the jokes might have been more funny. Instead, the jokes and innuendos are so in your face and obvious that you would think Lindsay or SOMEONE in the family would say something to Tobias. This didn’t bother me first viewing, but definitely rubbed me the wrong way second time around.
  • Annyong. Totally didn’t laugh once during Annyong’s (hello!) brief stay with the Bluth family, despite finding the random adoption of this Korean kid by Lucille and George Sr. absolutely hilarious first viewing.
  • Michael’s co-dependent parenting of George Michael. Re-watching this relationship, and despite some very touching father/son moments, I found Michael’s needy and controlling attitude towards his son almost creepy and definitely over played.
  • Much of Season 3, but especially the Mr. F/Rita/”Michael goes to Britain” story arc. Actually, I didn’t find this arc funny the first time around either. I know the show was trying something new here, but there was WAY too much going on to truly appreciate the humor. And the humor was questionable at best. Rita as a mentally retarded love interest for Michael (though he’s unaware of her condition) was definitely a risky move.

Random Thoughts and Observations

  • The show knew how to use guest stars. Liza Minnelli, Ed Begley Jr., Henry Winkler, Judy Greer, Martin Short, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (just to name a few) absolutely shined on AD. Part of what made these guest stars stand out is that they melded perfectly with the wackiness of the characters on the show by adding just a twinge of wackiness on their own part. This is actually hard to do. I don’t think many of the guest stars on 30 Rock (with the exception of Jon Hamm and Paul Rubens) despite giving great performances ever quite fit into the crazy and offbeat world of the main characters and they tended to stand out like sore thumbs (sigh, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek).
  • In order for AD to work, it required serious comedic acting chops from its actors and they delivered in spades. While the entire cast is fantastic, kudos go to Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, and Jeffrey Tambor who deserve special mention only because I’m not sure it was ever truly known before this show how funny these actors really are.
  • Did you ever get the feeling that Michael’s dead wife was really an “Ann”? Family members here and there make snide comments about his wife, including a brief “her??!” from George Sr., and I’m wondering if this was an inside INSIDE joke referring to father and son going after the same kind of woman and Michael not realizing it.
  • So many Happy Days inside jokes! Question: was the British story arc supposed to be “Jump the Shark”…on purpose??
  • The show fudged many times over with the ages of the characters on the show. I think George Michael went from 16 to 15 at one point. GOB is supposed to be the older brother, but at one point it’s mentioned he’s 35 and then a few episodes later Michael says he is 35.
  • Perhaps this was intentionally done by producers/writers on the show as an inside joke, or they didn’t feel the need to explain it further, but the distance between Newport Beach (the Bluth homestead) and Hollywood is about an hour to three hours depending on traffic (and probably longer on a bus, etc.). For non- Los Angeles residents, the traffic between LA County and Orange County is HORRIFIC. So in order for Maeby to get to her studio job she would have to drive (at age 14 by the way) or take public transportation, but either way she wouldn’t have been home much. Same thing for Tobias- in order for him to even have a chance at a successful acting career given the commute distance he would most likely have had to move up to LA County. I wonder if this was done deliberately to show how naive he really was about the entertainment industry.
  • Untapped Relationships: Michael was the center of the Bluth world and almost all relationships revolved around Michael, with a few side relationships that didn’t have much to do with him- Maeby and George Michael, for example, or Lucille and Buster. Interestingly, Lindsay has virtually no interaction on her own with either GOB or Buster and I wonder why these relationships were not flushed out further by the writers. It seems strange that the only sibling she really interacts with is Michael. Maeby and George Sr. do not have any time together alone onscreen either.
  • The show works best when the characters are grounded in some sort of reality, stuck in an absurd world but with a real and strong need (Lindsay and Tobias at the marriage counseling session, for example, or Maeby fighting bias and discrimination as Surely Funke is another instance), and Michael always works best as the straight man. Obviously Michael has his own idiosyncrasies and failures, but the minute the show toyed with Michael not using enough common sense (this is the main failure of the rest of his family, but not his) the story tends to go off the rails. I think this is why the S3 British spy/Rita story line didn’t work. There was too much wackiness with not enough reality (Wee Britain, anyone?), and Michael coming off as a complete chump for no apparent reason.
  • All of the immigrant and ethnic jokes: I don’t remember the first time around, but were any of the comments towards Mexicans and Asians considered controversial at the time? The writers do insert some pretty risqué stuff.
  • GOB probably has the most complete character arc. If you watch the series as a whole, not many of the characters advance very much except GOB: he’s kicked out of Magician’s Alliance and then let back in, he has a serious girlfriend (Marta) and then they break up over Michael, he secretly elopes and then tries to get an annulment, and he finds out he has a long-lost son: Steve Holt!
  • All of the little side gags that the narrator or other characters choose to ignore are comic gold. The show was brilliant at letting its audience find the funny. Case in point: in an early episode in Season 1, Michael finds GOB alone in the copy room quietly running slices of bread through the shredder while he and Michael carry on a conversation about something else. Michael never mentions the bread. Why is GOB shredding the bread? Do we need to know? No, it’s just really funny to spot. Equally funny: Nellie, the mysterious consultant/possible long-lost sister, is listed as “Conslutant” and Michael doesn’t get the hint as to Nellie’s true talents…
  • This was not an easy show to just drop into mid-season and understand what was going on. I know because my DVR failed to record about 4 episodes between end of Season 1 and top of Season 2 and while I had seen the show before, I still had to do some backpedaling and wrack my brain as to the origins of George Sr.’s twin brother Oscar and how he came to the story. AD tried very hard towards the end of Season 2 and Season 3 to recruit new viewers, since it was aware the Network wouldn’t renew unless the ratings went up. I remember Jason Bateman’s passionate speech during the Emmy’s or Golden Globes asking viewers to spread the word and start watching the show. However, probably a lot of curious new viewers did try to watch and maybe couldn’t catch on to the very broad and intricate story lines the show had going at the time. It also might not have helped that AD made quite a bit of fun of the Iraq war going on during the time- a sensitive topic to be sure.

So folks, those are my thoughts! If you have any thoughts on Arrested Development or want to comment on the new season leave them here!

Why I Read.

I came across the following quote in a Buddhist Day-by-Day calendar, believe it or not, and it best summarizes my complete love and adoration of reading. If I’ve posted this before, forgive me, but I think it still bears repeating:

“Reading is dialogue with oneself, it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development. It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom-laden branches.

People who can say of a book ‘this changed my life’ truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading that sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society. Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation, it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps us young and vigorous”.

Book Review: “Started Early, Took my Dog” by Kate Atkinson

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Started Early, Took my Dog” by Kate Atkinson

First off, I must say that I absolutely adore Kate Atkinson and consider her one of my favorite authors. I read “Case Histories”, her first mystery featuring Jackson Brodie, about 7 years ago and was completely blown away. What is unique about Atkinson is that she started out writing literature and then segued into the mystery genre while the opposite is usually true for most authors. This is perhaps why I am so fond of her books: she never fully follows the formulaic rules of the mystery genre. Her mysteries still have a literary feel to them; they are not quite mysteries, not quite straight fiction.

Her novels do require patience, however, as these are not linear narratives. Kate Atkinson, in almost all of her books, starts off with more than a few seemingly unrelated events and characters and slowly but surely weaves them into a cohesive and compelling story throughout the course of the book and patience really does pay off. This technique, along with her dark humor, is what makes her great and why I greatly admire her work.

“Started Early, Took My Dog”, requires a bit more patience than usual, and the pay off is not as strong as with her previous novels featuring “hero” Jackson Brodie. I have to say I was fairly close to giving up on this book very early on. Until about page 40, after which things finally started to come together, I was introduced to about 4 different characters and 3 separate events, and honestly it felt like a large jigsaw puzzle was just dumped in front me and no one sorted any of the end pieces. None of the initial story lines grabbed me at all. And though I am also a huge fan of British fiction and am obviously familiar with Atkinson’s previous novels, the British slang and references to TV and celebrities I didn’t know completely threw me for a loop.

Interestingly, it was the introduction of the kidnapped kid Courteney that almost caused me to close the book for good, but she also became one of the characters (besides Tracy) that made me keep reading. As soon as the kid was announced, a kidnapped and probably abused kid no less, I felt an “ugh” coming on. A potentially whiny, grimy, troubled kid to deal with? No thank you. But Courteney is written as a four year old side-kick- and a silent one to boot- to a seasoned policewoman. Not much fazes her, her past is a complete mystery, but she’s not too bothered by it, and she became a delightful and original character to discover. This is, in fact, a KID book: every single character deals with missing, finding, losing, and loving children at some point.

One of the reasons I love Atkinson’s mysteries so much is that she doesn’t always stick to the tried and true formula surrounding the mystery genre. This book is the fourth in a series featuring lovable curmudgeon Jackson Brodie, now doing some soul searching and going through a slight existential crisis. Brodie is shaped by each experience and case he encounters and this carries him from book to book. Likewise, characters from the previous novels pop up at random throughout the books (Julia, a favorite from “Case Histories” is a constant presence in this book). Most mysteries have their hero leave the previous cases permanently behind. They approach the next one as if it’s a completely fresh start. But Jackson is literally haunted by each event he encounters in each book and it affects how he operates in the next one. The result is a feeling as though the reader is on the same journey as Jackson.

It works and doesn’t work. We are in the fourth book already, and I’m getting tired of Jackson’s sullen and brooding attempts to find his place in the world. If Jackson feels adrift, the reader certainly does as well. And themes from Jackson’s past, such as his constant remorse for his long dead sister and his failed marriages, make a reappearance in the novel but this is nothing new. I think we also dealt with his feelings towards his failed marriages in the last book, and he is seemingly always haunted by his sister. Jackson, this novel aside, pretty much racks up a failed relationship in each book. We are not without hope, however, that things are looking up at the end of the book (Atkinson literally ends the book with a poem about hope), and even though there are rumors swirling that this is the last novel to feature Jackson Brodie, I hope us fans of the series are in for some brighter pastures in the future.

Despite the grim plot and Jackson’s gloominess, Atkinson never fails to make me laugh. Her humor is dark, whip-smart, and so needed to break up the dire atmosphere surrounding the events in the book. Tracy is a likely match for Jackson in terms of humor, and I hope (there’s that word again!) that we see more of her in the future. Most of Atkinson’s language is a delightful mix of witty prose and beautifully constructed character studies that can wreck your heart.

My main disappointment with the book was the ending. The main “murderer” is a character barely introduced in the book, and I didn’t even feel a connection to him to care one way or another so the ending was quite anti-climatic. If the murderer was Barry, I think the ending would have caused more of a stir, especially for Tracy. As for her story, I like and dislike that it wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow. We still do not know who Courteney really is or how things will end up for Tracy and the kid she bought off a wayward crackhead. Atkinson hints we might see these two again, or there may be more to the story, but if she doesn’t continue with it in the next book then this ending is even more frustrating. Also, Tilly’s thread just felt out of place. Yes, she had some connection to the main characters, but out of all the story line threads, hers was the most “out there” and implausible.

I’m always grateful to come across the latest Kate Atkinson, and while this novel isn’t my favorite, she is truly a literary wizard with a mighty pen. I wish I could write half as well as she does!

Sex and the Book: well before Carrie Bradshaw, there was V.C. Andrews.

My fiancé and I just watched “This Film is Not Yet Rated” about the MPAA film ratings industry and its bias towards films featuring lots o’ sex. And as I watched clips of famous films with sex scenes that I, ahem, secretly get a kick out of watching I got to thinking about books and sex. Yes, there is a whole shelf (or shelves) located in most bookstores labeled “Graphic horror” or “Romance” and that’s usually where you can find the naughtier of the bunch. And it’s not policed by any means. You can purchase as many racy novels to your heart’s content and no one’s the wiser. No MPAA ratings here.

But what about your average book that contains a whole love scene or two, seemingly out of nowhere, that completely shocks you? Or maybe it doesn’t shock, per se, but you do shyly put the book back on the shelf with more than a few dog-eared pages.

Now that the “50 Shades of Grey” series has swept the nation- a series (I read the first one) I find full of sex and no real pleasure- sex in books is not much of a secret anymore. But long before “50 Shades”, there was V.C. Andrews. And long before V.C. Andrews there was Anne Rice writing as Anne Rampling. These books are not for the faint of heart or prude of soul.

I wrote a review on my Goodreads blog on a series of books that I considered life changing, at least in the way that I read. One of those books was V.C. Andrew’s “Flowers in the Attic”. For your convenience, here is the review!

Why this is a “Book That Changed Me”:

I think every adolescent girl at some point circa junior high school was initiated into the secret society that was V.C Andrews books. Really her entire canon belongs on this list, but I’ll highlight Flowers in the Attic since it was the series that started it all. I remember receiving my battered and much thumbed-through copy of FITA from a fellow 13 year old who warned me to not let my parents know I was reading it. Instantly I was hooked. I had never read a book so far with so much sex. And not just SEX, but the bad kind of sex that makes you feel icky inside: incest, rape, and child abuse all spun into a sick and twisted brother/sister love story. 

If a book is the train wreck so awful yet you can’t look away, this was it. I read every book in the entire series I could get my hands on (and by the way, these were available in the YOUNG ADULT horror section at most bookstores). After retreating to my room to read for hours at a time and unable to put the books down even at dinnertime, my mother declared I was becoming reclusive and moderately depressed, and she threatened to take the books away. If she even had the slightest clue what the books were about, she definitely should have.

V.C. Andrews and Flowers in the Attic was my first glimpse into the world of illicit sex and sexual fantasies probably no pre-teens and early teens should be exposed to. Until this point, the only sex mentioned in books I’d read were by Judy Blume and those were extremely mild by comparison. I felt forever haunted by these books because of course I could never completely understand at the time how WRONG they were. 

Even to this day I have to admit that I like me a good sex scene in a book (albeit a non-incestuous one), and I have to wonder if it is because of my exposure to V.C. Andrews.

Here is a short list of books I’ve read that contain some of the best sex scenes that have stuck with me. These range from the sexy, the jarring, the oddly funny, or the just plain illicit and juicy variety. And almost all were eye-openers in some form or another. Enjoy!

“Glamorama”- Bret Easton Ellis

“Exit to Eden”- Anne Rampling (Anne Rice)

“The Sleeping Beauty” Series- Anne Rampling

“Delta of Venus”- Anais Nin

“East of Eden”- John Steinbeck

“The 158 Pound Marriage”- John Irving

“The Poisonwood Bible”- Barbara Kingsolver

“Hotel New Hampshire”- John Irving

“Middlesex”- Jeffrey Eugenides

“The Time Travelers Wife”- Audrey Niffenegger

“The Reader”- Bernhard Schlink

“The Magus”- John Fowles

“Portrait in Sepia”- Isabel Allende

“The Lady and the Unicorn”- Tracy Chevalier

“Wifey”- Judy Blume

“The Last Nude”- Ellis Avery

“Atonement”- Ian McEwan

Any to add??

Book Review: Girl Walks into a Bar, Rachel Dratch

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Girl Walks into a Bar” by Rachel Dratch

What I’ve enjoyed about reading this type of memoir, as well as “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (and I hope Amy Poehler and other SNL ladies will write their memoirs too), is that these are female comediennes who get it. They worked hard to get where they are, they’ve sacrificed personal lives, and they did it all because they needed to be in show business. This wasn’t luck of the draw per se, no, this was absolute blood, sweat, and tears WORK, and there is absolute appreciation for where they are in life. Not to mention, but I will because they deserve it, both ladies are EXTREMELY gifted at what they do. And for all their success, both Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch recognize that well-earned and deserved success for females in the show biz is never easy and there is still a wide discrepancy between male and female comedians in terms of respect, pay, and star power. The women still have to work hard and prove themselves, no matter that they’ve already “made it”.

The success in show biz aspect of Rachel’s life, or how one should define success, is what takes up the first third of the novel. And I have to say success in one form or another is really at the heart of this novel and it’s what makes it a delightful, if not necessarily riveting, memoir. A casting director once said during a workshop that an actor should ask him or herself every morning “What is success for you?” and go about his or her day with this in mind. I think what he meant was that we actors should not face our careers everyday with “I’m going to get cast on a TV show today and win an Emmy!” Sure, that could be a longtime goal, but what about taking care of yourself as an actor on a daily basis? What can you do each day that equals a success? It’s easy to look at other people who have successful careers and think of yourself as unsuccessful, but that isn’t necessarily true.

Rachel Dratch faces this very dilemma when her career after SNL is at a standstill. And the next 2/3 of the novel is dealt with her unsuccessful attempts with dating and how she came to redefine success- as a woman, actress, and finally mother- in her life.

“I had to face the facts – I’d had the good fortune of working almost fifteen years straight with a steady gig, but now, for whatever reason, my career was at a standstill. I was no longer Rachel the successful television actor, Rachel the cast member of SNL…I was just me, and how did I feel about being pared down like that? I had to see all the other facets of myself and not hold my identity in acting or comedy…So to fill the day, I began doing all the stuff I’d always wanted to do but never had the time…I was going to find Love. So for starters, I took on the biggest challenge of my life. I tried dating in New York”.

I’ve noticed on other reviews of this book some disappointment over the fact that Dratch only devotes a chapter or two to her actual time on SNL. There were similar complaints about “Bossypants” as well. All I can say is, unless the title of the novel says “[insert actor name here]: My life on Saturday Night Live” (and I think we should hold out for Lorne Michaels to finish SNL and release his memoirs because I’ll bet it’ll be a doozy), it is safe to assume that the book will be dealing with other matters. I will say that “Girl Walks into a Bar” tells more of a linear story than “Bossypants” does, and while “Bossypants” for all intended purposes is probably the more funny and cleverly written book, “Girl Walks into a Bar” is earnest, poignant, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.

If it appears that I mention “Bossypants” quite a bit, especially since this is a review about a different book, it’s not by accident. Both novels are VERY similar in tone and structure:  both Fey and Dratch talk about their forays into comedy as children, stints at Second City, late-in-life motherhood, and even have similar views on their love of Improv and the theory behind “Yes, And…” for improvisational comedy. What strikes me most about these two women – and what I find inspiring- is that they have points of view on “shaky” topics about women in showbiz that never come off as self-righteous or pitying, but come across as honest and intelligent laments on not only being a woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed, but also being the not so conventionally beautiful woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed.

I love this quote by Dratch after she learns of the rumored reason she might have been let go from “30 Rock” because it’s similar to what almost every actress fears in her career:

“I was starting to feel like the ten years of training and performing and sweating it out pre-SNL, plus the seven years at SNL, all went out the window because I didn’t have a symmetrical face…I grew up watching perfectly lovely female performers whom I don’t think you would call ‘hotties’: Gilda Radner Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett. Those were my comedy idols…I had always been pretty sure that comedy was about producing a laugh and not a boner. Now I had to produce laughs AND boners? When did the rules change?”.

Where “Bossypants” and “Girl Walks into a Bar” differ and where the latter novel becomes my favorite over the former, is that Dratch really has a story to tell about finding love and motherhood very late in life, even if in certain points of the novel she says A LOT without really saying anything at all. Her thoughts on becoming a mother and how it happened so unexpectedly are refreshing. I wish more women would talk about this stuff openly. Women tend to be in a Catch-22 when it comes to being a mother: you’re damned if you don’t want to be one, you’re damned if you want to be one but can’t, you’re damned if you do become one but are working, and you are also damned if you try to do it alone. The perfect scenario is to be married, stay-at-home, and have your baby early on in life. Rachel Dratch did none of these things, and her commentary of what it’s like to find yourself an unmarried pregnant person at 44 with a dwindling career after you have given up all hope and are in a relationship with someone you barely know who lives across the country, is  heartwarming, telling, and very real. Dratch excels at finding the comedy to match the heart in her story, and you find yourself absolutely rooting for her at the end of the book.

As I mentioned before, although it’s an inspiring novel and a funny read, it’s not very riveting. Dratch gets carried away with some of her rather long anecdotes that seem only to provide support to an argument, but are otherwise not very pertinent to the overall story. For example, I don’t think her side-bar on how she got crabs without having sex, how she babysat a dog to determine if she could be a mother, and a few of her dating disaster stories needed to be as long or drawn out as they were. This is where the novel really plods along. After she gets into the story of her meeting baby-daddy John and finding out she’s pregnant, the pace picks up dramatically, and I was actually sad when the novel ended because I wanted to find out more about her life as a new mom.

She does, however, end the novel on the perfect note. “Ol’ two-time Dratch” as she used to call herself in the early days of her comedy career, got the second chance she needed to redefine herself as the successful person she always longed to be in a way she never expected. She realizes she may not ever have the same level of success she once had, but what she learned is that there are always new opportunities and beginnings at any age. As the Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”.

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