In this collection of 25 lighthearted personal essays, Estill (This Can’t Be Normal, 2013) shares her observations on myriad aspects of daily life.
Casting a wide net, the author offers her quirky yet accessible thoughts on her family members’ foibles, rogue security systems, ugly kitchen appliances, London pay toilets, blue-jean shopping and travel to Mars, among many other topics. There’s no clear organizing principle to this vast collection, although a fairly complete picture of Estill’s childhood and adult life does eventually emerge. She’s appealingly frank about her own weaknesses and frequently annoyed by the antics of others, but her tone is predominantly upbeat. The pieces are witty and snarky in places, but they’re never quite laugh-out-loud funny. One of the most memorable essays is also the most personal, as it details the author’s girlhood passions. In it, her father quickly shuts down her first dream to dance ballet, telling her, “We’re Baptists...We don’t dance,” and “You’re too young to be a ballerina.” Her mother confirms this edict by not buying her a tutu. Later, in adolescence, the author takes up horseback riding, and her father soon delivers the news that “[t]here’s no such thing as a female jockey.” As an adult, she commits herself to writing, once again against her father’s advice; he tells her that this, too, is an impossible goal—this time because she’s “not Jewish.” Ironically, years later, as detailed in another essay, the author asks her granddaughter about her future plans, and the girl reports her plan to get a job playing Snow White at Disneyland; Estill steps into her dad’s shoes and shoots down the idea, depicting it as fanciful and entitled. Other, lighter essays reflect ubiquitous moments of middle-class American life, but don’t have takeaways that are as clear, nor do they compensate with humor. Overall, the collection might have been more focused if it trimmed down its entries to those with the strongest bite.
A relatable, if uneven, collection that depicts a life in fluid, chatty prose.