Tag Archives: humor

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.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

2nd August 2011

*I received this book from Harper Perennial through NetGalley in May. I have been not-so-patiently waiting to tell you all about it. Big thanks to Beth Fish Reads, whose blog introduced me to the book. Preorder at Indiebound so you can get the book NEXT TUESDAY!

Every once in a while, I happen across a book so good and so funny I immediately want to buy 10 copies and hand them out to anyone and everyone. Why only every once in a while? To be honest, humor in writing is not easy. Often, comedy is hit or miss. A book might garner a laugh or two from me, but I’ve only been known on two occasions to laugh out loud multiple times during a plane ride. David Sedaris is responsible for making a good friend and my sister steer clear from me on a layover because they were humiliated by my LOL-ing all over the place. Matthew Norman is responsible for the second occasion. Thankfully, I was traveling solo and could have cared less what my snoring, iPod-listening seatmates thought of me.

Domestic Violets (which, I’m sorry, has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while) is the story of the Violet family. Tom Violet is a man with a problem. Actually, he’s a man with a couple problems. His wife wants a second child, and he cannot quite…ahem…rise to the occasion. Curtis Violet, Tom’s dad, is a famous writer who has just won the Prize (Pulitzer, that is) and been chucked out on his rear by his most recent, and very young, wife. On top of it all, the recession has just hit, and living in D.C., Tom is on tenterhooks, waiting to see how long he will be able to keep a job none really likes all that much, while secretly writing a novel he’s a bit terrified to publish.

What’s it really about? Well, all that stuff I just said, but to break it down: It’s really about a man who hates his job, loves his wife and family, but who isn’t quite sure how to get out of the miserable place in which he finds himself. Domestic Violets is also about how sometimes in life, when the worst happens, it leaves behind it room for the life we always wanted, except not as cheesy as that last line made it sound.

If you are on Twitter, or if you’ve picked up my subtle hints on the blog, you know I loved this book. I mean, I really loved this book. It’s funny (did I mention that already?), it’s endearing, but most of all, it’s just realistic, and I think because of the writer/family realationships, there were moments that reminded me both of The Human Stain by Philip Roth and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Not in a gimmicky, Norman-is-copying-other-authors sort of way, but in a hey-this-guy-is-a-damn-good-writer kind of way.

Want an example of the humor? Tom Violet sends his daughter to bed and tells her to go to sleep…

I can see by her expression that she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases until she hears me coming up the stairs. By now she’s old enough to know that we’re not going to beat her, so she’s pretty much got the run of the place.

So preorder it. And then come back here so we can talk about it. Because I gave my brother my signed copy I got at BEA (to share the love), and the little punk hasn’t read it yet. He keeps giving excuses like he started a new job and moved and stuff. Whatever.

This book will:

-make you laugh out loud. warning: drinking while reading may cause said beverage to fly from your nostrils.


Other reviews:

Beth Fish Reads

The Book Garden (who also compares humor to Sedaris)

Leeswammes’ Blog (who also compares it to Franzen!)