A dying mother puts a middle-aged humorist more in touch with his own mortality.
Title aside, this memoir mentions Black’s navel hardly at all. The author obsesses more on the feet and toes that have embarrassed him longer than other appendages and on his “flaccid penis, hanging down like an aardvark snout.” Meditations on the author’s body generally alternate with reports on his failing mother and her various operations, including a “bellybuttonectomy” that left her without a navel on which to gaze. Much of the material here could be dark, even grim, but Black sustains a light touch throughout, projecting a warmth that extends from his relationship with his mother through his family life with wife and children. On the one hand, he recognizes that “every body inevitably fails….They are the very definition of planned obsolescence.” On the other hand, though he admits that the darker truths of existence have led him to contemplate suicide, he maintains, “I don’t ever plan on killing myself. For that matter, I don’t ever plan on dying. But I also know that circumstances change, people change, minds change.” Death (even suicide) permeates this book, yet it is the kind of book that some folks buy others to put the aging process in perspective, to have a laugh or two at it, to keep from taking oneself and one’s fate too seriously. So there are plenty of episodes that find the hapless author trying to combat aging by joining a gym or training for a distance race, and there are a few interludes that have nothing to do with aging at all but which didn’t fit in his other books (he terms this a follow-up to You’re Not Doing It Right, 2012) and omits material (such as that concerning his dad) that might have worked fine here but which he’d previously written about.
A slight, breezy memoir that delves into serious subjects.