“Is it so wrong to want to be bossed around by Helen Gurley Brown?” asks freelance writer Alter (Virgin Territory: Stories from the Road to Womanhood, 2004), who decided that for one year she would follow without question the advice she found in nine women’s magazines.
She was prompted by her reckless behavior in the wake of a divorce. The 37-year-old author was drinking and smoking heavily, splurging on $800 custom-made cowboy boots, bored to tears with her dead-end job at a D.C. legal-publishing firm and having midday sex in her cubicle with a co-worker she didn’t even really like. “Unable to stop the feeding frenzy of poor decisions” on her own, she turned to Cosmopolitan, O, InStyle, Real Simple and others of their ilk. Her experiment began timidly but not without bravado as she methodically tackled such personal issues as beauty, diet, spirit and relationships. Among the interesting cast of real-life characters were Alter’s shrink, Dr. Oskar, who had an unnerving habit of crying right alongside her in sessions; her best friend Jeanne, who loved her enough to tell her, “I don’t think I can be around you any longer”; and handsome Karl, whose overbearing Chinese mother deftly handed out guilt trips and stern advice in equal parts. As the author discovered that she wanted to incorporate Karl into her life for more than just one issue, a slow and powerful metamorphosis took place. Soon Alter began to battle her various neuroses, piecing together a new self image through small acts like learning how to properly wrap a sandwich in Saran wrap and discovering what language is best used to encourage a man to open up. “Anything can change a life that is ready to be changed,” she discovered, and readers will thank the author for providing motivation to make changes of their own.
An undeniably gimmicky premise, but executed with enough humor, heart and authenticity to charm even the most skeptical reader.