These essays by up-and-coming comedian Spero, about childhood and coming-of-age in New York, are akin to David Rakoff’s Fraud, but lacking that book’s the wit and insight.
Living with her single mother (her father died when she was ten months old), the author had an experience familiar to many Manhattan kids: trick-or-treating in apartment buildings; feeling a twinge of envy when visiting relatives in the suburbs, but always glad to return to the city; arguing, like teens everywhere, over curfew. What saves Spero’s chronicle of her youthful escapades from being overwhelmingly tedious is her tender but comic portrait of her family. Her grandparents played an especially large role in her life; the author captures their bereavement over their son’s early death with pathos, never sentimentality. She draws a hilarious portrait of her mother, a petite sex therapist, who constantly lectured Spero about sex: “Real lovemaking involves active communication,” she told her 11-year-old. “Active, active communication. . . . And a lot of hard work.” Still, the sex-therapist-mom shtick grows old quickly, and the college and early-adulthood pieces trade on clichés: the quest for a normal roommate, the ruminations over whether to marry her boyfriend, the woes of the office job, the occasional drug use. Spero’s attempts at humor are often just silly. To wit, her meditation on fruit-scented markers: She loves them, but always finds their intense smell frustrating. Despite their wonderful, olfactory fruitiness, “there is simply no fruity climax . . . no, Fruity, fruity, yes, perfect, oh yeah, YES . . . Ah. Enough.”
These pieces may work onstage in Spero’s one-woman show, but on the page, they fall flat.