Monday, June 25, 2007
I Feel Bad About My Neck
Over the past month or so, I read Nora Ephron's collection of short memoirs, I Feel Bad About My Neck. It's billed (by the publisher) as "a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself." Folks who know Nora's films, including three of my favorite romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, all three of which feature Meg Ryan (two of which include Tom Hanks -- and yes, I must really like the combo because I'm one of the five people who not only saw, but loved, Joe Versus the Volcano, for, among other things, giving me the term "brain cloud" and the line "I have no response to that.") But I digress.
Nora Ephron's book is a collection of 15 essays, some of which are incredibly short. And while the publisher's information is correct -- some of the essays are candid and hilarious, Kirkus is also correct when it calls the book "A disparate assortment of sharp and funny pieces revealing the private anguishes, quirks and passions of a woman on the brink of senior citizenhood." Because mixed in with the funny bits about how she feels bad about her neck and how she hates her purse and how she once fell in love with an apartment -- each of which touches on loss in their own way, incidentally -- are less funny pieces about disappointment and death. The one about her disappointment in Bill Clinton is particularly biting. And the unfunny one about death closes the book, which may explain (at least in part) why so many readers have given it mixed or even bad reviews. That and the sense that the book was uneven, and perhaps not put together in the best possible order.
Contributing to the book's unevenness is the fact that I think Kirkus was correct when it said that a couple of the pieces felt like they weren't quite ready for primetime and got thrown in as the book went to print -- "The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less" and "What I Wish I'd Known". Both of them are sort of list-based entries, and while I like that gimmick, they don't have a real sense of arc or closure. And the humor payoff isn't big enough to make one able to overlook that particular detail. You want to write a list? Fine, go ahead. But don't just give me your grocery list or your list of things to do unless there's a story there -- a complete story, not just the notion of one. Or else, make it a really funny list, and then I'll forgive you. Otherwise, don't take up my time sharing.
All that said, I'd still recommend I Feel Bad About My Neck for womenfolk on the after side of forty. And don't read it all at once, under any circumstances. Read one or maybe two pieces at a time, and then walk away for a while. Because a really large dose of her stories diminishes their humor, and points out the same-ness of some of her shtick. This is a book best read in doctor's waiting rooms, or while waiting for kids to finish sports practice, or maybe in the bathroom (if you have the time -- that's more of a guy thing, really, but hey, who am I to judge?)
And here's why I'm recommending it, despite all the negative stuff in the earlier part of this review: because the really funny parts made me laugh out loud, in public even. And that isn't such an easy thing to come by. And because many of the pieces had me nodding along in recognition and appreciation for her spot-on depiction of the emotional journey we all make through life's stages and situations (including marriage, children, divorce, shopping, eating, success, and loss).