A deliriously, levitatingly funny memoir.
Humor columnist Gilman (Kiss My Tiara, not reviewed) may have been girlie and ambitious as a kid, but she always had her subversive, countercultural New York City family to keep those sentiments in perspective. “Heresy had become a family tradition” in the Gilman household, where urban paganism possessed a natural buoyancy. From her parents—once they had pummeled her out of the “fugue of perpetual arousal” that resulted from her discovery of sex—the author acquired a love of life’s grotesque ironies, like learning that she had to pay to get in to Auschwitz. The thread of tough humor working its way through this memoir serves to backlight moments of exquisite realization (during puberty “your body starts changing subtly, like a shoreline”) and startling, genuine epiphanies: The week she spent visiting concentration camps, the author writes, showed her “how spoiled and ill-equipped I was to cope with the viciousness of the world.” She allows us to see how vulnerable and naïve a drama queen she can be, but then gets back to the yin and yang of it all, noting that “devoutly religious people made me irritable . . . their rectitude and moral certainty just made me want to act out even more.” Gilman is both pathetic and upbeat, sharp and capable of recognizing sharpness in others. At her first job, she spouts a little radical rhetoric and gets a zinger in return: “You know where workers of the world unite? The unemployment line.” In what may be the most disarming scene here, this modern anti-bride will fall in love with a full-blown, pouffy white wedding dress. Yes, she will say, there is so much that is ridiculous and passionate and deluded in life—go look in any mirror.
It’s no great revelation that “all of us could use a good laugh these days,” but this author delivers more than just one, and that makes her special.