Jenny Lawson worked in HR and wrote a blog about her crazy life which led to a book deal and a sequel and a lot of money. (I’m not about to criticize this book because I’m jealous, really. Some day someone will read this blog and sponsor it and pay me to review books. Hell, I’d even take payment in free books. It could happen.)
“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” is undeniably funny and she benefits from having great material. She grew up in rural Texas, poor-ish and raised by two crazy-in-a-good-way parents. Her dad, in particular, is a free spirit who seems to just plow through life with little concern for safety, hygiene and even common sense. Her stories about him bringing home crazy things, like animals—some dead, some alive—can only be related with a wry sense of humor. If she didn’t learn to laugh, she’d be a quivering mess in a padded room.
These stories make up most of the early part of the book. And that’s smart because it lures the reader in, gets them on her side against the goofiness of the parents, and we think “wow, she’s pretty pulled together for such a messed up—though benignly so—upbringing.” Then, like that person you found so funny at a party then regret giving your number to because she calls at all hours and for bizarre reasons and isn’t as funny as you once thought she was, she starts unpacking her crazy. And it’s a never-ending suitcase.
Jenny has generalized anxiety, agoraphobia, and who knows what else. She details her attempts to try to get her issues under control, but her heart doesn’t really seem in it. I’m not knocking her for having mental issues. I’m not even knocking her for making fun of them. Indeed, her choice to laugh at them is mostly commendable. But I worry that she’s dealing with it in the healthiest way. (Clearly mental illness is contagious, I couldn’t stop worrying about her and her family.) It’s as though she wants to be out of control so she can always have something kooky to write about. It’s uncomfortable to read and a lot less funny as it goes on. In fact, I started really pitying her husband, for whom the term “long-suffering” was coined. And one day her daughter will likely be writing her own memoir of growing up in a crazy household.
I listened to this on audiobook, and Jenny reads it, which is good and bad. It’s good, because she knows exactly how to deliver her own work; her timing is impeccable. But her voice, squeaky and with vocal fry, gets as grating as some of her stories.
For maximum effect, skip around, don’t read it from beginning to end. Maybe leave it in your bathroom and knock it off little by little. A few recommendations: The first few chapters are straight up funny. Anyone who has ever searched for a job MUST read her chapter about working in the HR department; it explains so much. The story about how she meets her future husband is sweet and the one on the birth of her daughter is touching. She’s at her best when just being funny, less so when she tries to assign a lesson learned from an incident, usually because the morals are simple to the point of puerile.
She says not all of her stories are true, which is either a good thing (phew, thank God she didn’t purposely lock herself in the bathroom because she thought there was a serial killer outside) or bad (I sometimes felt like I was being had).
So, fair warning: Enjoy her bizarre stories at the party for a few hours. Just don’t give her your number.