Tag Archives: Agorafabulous!

Review: Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa

6th August 2012

*I received this book from the publisher William Morrow at BEA.

I subscribe to the notion that if you can laugh at the shittiest moments in your life, you can transcend them. And if other people can laugh at your awful shit as well, then I guess you can officially call yourself a comedian.

I knew when this book opened with a Molly Ivins’ quote that I was likely going to love it. Plus, right off the bat, this chick is funny. Then…Benincasa pulled the rug out from under me, talking about an adolescent crush who “one night in the spring, …walked into his garage, filled a bottle with gasoline, brought it upstairs into the bathroom, locked the door, poured some of the gasoline down his throat, soaked himself in the rest, and lit a match.”

I was shocked and horrified, and it took re-reading it for it to really sink in because in the pages before she’s talked about what an all-around good guy this kid is, someone all the girls love, and then he’s gone. As you can imagine, his death does a number on her, and she ends the introduction with a sort of benediction, saying she feels as though he’s there somewhere, “reminding [her] that clear-cut choices are few and far between.”

But no fear, Benincasa does an excellent job of bringing you to the brink of pain and despair before lightening it up with her characteristic (and dark/obscene/morbid) humor. For example, when she admits to her best friend that she cut herself:

Now that’s awkward enough, but here’s the truly humiliating part, the piece I’ve never admitted to anyone else…it was a butter knife. A fucking butter knife. What the hell kind of half-assed training-wheels shit is that? I’ve given myself deeper cuts while shaving my legs. It was nothing more than an advanced scratch. It wasn’t even a fully realized effort to hurt myself, much less end my own life. It was pretty much the most pussy attempt at self-destruction ever.

Benincasa reaches the point in college where she can’t leave her apartment because she knows she will die if she does. In fact, her fear extends to the bathroom, and she begins urinating in cereal bowls and shoving them under her bed. When her friend realizes the extent of Sara’s problem, she phones her parents, and Sara’s mom races to pick her up. Most of the book focuses on this part, the recovery, and though it’s funny, the depth of intimacy is something that goes away after she admits peeing in bowls. Understandable. In fact, the rest of the book is more a series of personal essays than anything else, but there is an overall arc to them, and more importantly, Benincasa does what Sedaris is so good at: the humor evinces the deeper growth she experiences in each situation.

Agorafabulous! is a brave book and does for mental illness what Sex and the City (the television show) did for sex or Jimmy Choos or cigarettes in the 21st century: brings it out in the open, shows what it is and can be and why we need to be able to discuss it and laugh about it.

Read this: if you are interested in mental illness/love David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell/enjoy off-the-wall memoirs. Check out others’ responses or add it to your shelf on Goodreads.

The Books of BEA (And a little treat for you!)

27th June 2012

How have I not yet managed to talk about the books I got at BEA? I will tell you, though, that I am so excited about the books I had shipped home. There are only 15 of them, but wow, do they look good. These 15 represent almost all different publishers, many of them independent. They range from stories about an artist who does reproductions to a biography of a body part. Of the 15 books, 8 are by women, 7 are by men. Three are distinctly nonfiction, with Naomi Wolf’s Vagina in a category of its own. In all their, ahem, glory…

From the top:

From the top:

  • Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City Who Made the World by Boris Johnson/Riverhead Books
  • Instant by Chris Bonanos/Princeton Architectural Press (October 2012)
  • The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell/The New Press (October 2012)
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mary Jo Bang/Graywolf Press (August 2012)
  • Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf/Ecco (September 2012)
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles/Penguin
  • Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Julianne Garey/Soho (December 2012)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón/Harper (July 2012)

Which will I be reading first? It’s almost as though I’m afraid to break the spell, as though if I choose one, the rest will disappear. That said, I think I’ll start with the slimmest volume, Beside the Sea. Lori and Tara actually told me about the book, saying: “It’s about a mother who is planning to kill her children.” Pleasant, right? Except that my Master’s thesis was about women who kill their children throughout literature. Specifically, the title is The Dialectic of Maternity: From Medea to the Moderns. Snazzy, huh? Ok, so it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it’s interesting how many many time this sort of story repeats itself in literature (and in life). So that will be my first pick.

And for those of you who weren’t able to make it, I have a BEA bag just for you. In the Random House tote bag are the BEA edition of The New York Review of Books, Anne Lamott’s newest, Some Assembly Required, in audio, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (this one is so good!), and A Fatal Debt by John Gapper. Something for everyone! The only rules are you cannot have attended BEA, and you must leave me a comment. Which book would you most love to get your hands on? Is there any particular publisher you’re interested in? Do you think I’ve got 15 winners in these stacks? Make sure you comment by next Tuesday, July 3, at midnight!

UPDATE: Rachel won the BEA bag o’ goodies. Congrats!