A funny, imaginative, and intelligent collection of essays that incorporate memoir, cultural observation, philosophy, sex, death, disease, and drag queen fashion.
These stories—for they are more stories than formal essays—take the reader for a ride along streams of consciousness that glide from relatively calm reflections on poetry and prose to the rapids of a ride in a New York City taxi, where every encounter is with a would-be author. That includes the passenger, the cabbie, and a traffic cop. Those familiar with Grealy’s well-received Autobiography of a Face (1994), the story of two decades spent growing up with and battling facial cancer, will recognize some of the circumstances and the characters. Her twin sister, Sara, brother Sean, and the stable of broken-down horses that was her refuge during her early adolescence reappear. Also starring are tango lessons, God, immigration, and a yellow house near the Tappan Zee bridge en route to college. But the ostensible subjects of the various chapters are mere launch pads for hard-won, clear-headed thoughts on what it means to be alive. Take her friends the drag queens (the opening act in a short chapter titled “The Girls”): pitch-perfect dialogue and descriptions of attitude segue into considerations of a terrifying Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and the concept of femininity. A chapter on religion moves from Mr. Ed (TV’s talking horse) to Christ on the cross; later, her fantasy of the authentic yellow house collides with her memories of the boxy ranch with the fake shutters where her family really lived. By the merest chance, she saw the yellow house demolished by a wrecking ball. The house with the fake shutters survived, but “What kind of storms did we think those shutters would keep out?”
Relaxed, honest, and illuminating, Grealy achieves her goal: if life is the answer, “start finding the questions worthy of it.”