Reviewed by Saima S. Hussain
REMEMBER all those times your English teacher told you that your writing style was “too colloquial”? I do. Which is why I am now wondering what the rule book says about writing any and every thought that comes to one’s head. From colon cleanses to four-letter curse words and constant references to particular parts of her anatomy, author Jenny Lawson isn’t shy about sharing anything that ever came to hers.
So is her autobiography, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, based on any actual facts, you ask? Of course it is. Sort of. As Lawson explains in her introduction: “This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren’t. It’s basically like Little House on the Prairie but with more cursing. And I know, you’re thinking, ‘But Little House of the Prairie was totally true!’ and no, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t. Laura Ingalls was a compulsive liar with no fact-checker.”
With chapter titles such as “Stabbed by Chicken”, “The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door”, and “If You See My Liver, You’ve Gone Too Far” this writer from Wall, Texas proves beyond any doubt that she really knows no bounds. In a relatively subdued chapter she even relates the trauma of belonging to a town called Wall. But her defence of her home state is touching: “People who don’t live in the South, they get hung up on the fact that we had furniture devoted to just guns, but in rural Texas pretty much everyone has a gun cabinet. Unless they’re gay. Then they have gun armouries.”
Given that her father made a living as a taxidermist, live animals and roadkill alike were always welcome in the house where she grew up. So it is no surprise that her childhood is an endless source of material for this book and her blog. Because Jenny Lawson is also known as The Bloggess, and is one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Mom Bloggers according to Nielsen Ratings. And Forbes has listed thebloggess.com as one of their Top 100 Websites for Women.
The anecdotes from her college days and marriage are equally compelling: some touching, some laugh-out-loud hilarious and some shockingly candid. They range from the outrageously quirky: “A friendly but bleary-eyed couple [living] on the other side of us seemed to be doing a booming business cooking and selling cupcakes. Except replace ‘cupcakes’ with ‘meth’. ‘Cupcakes’ sounds nicer, though. Unless you’re really into meth. Then I think you kind of lose a taste for cupcakes. Unless they’re meth cupcakes. Which honestly sounds awful, but will probably sell like hotcakes. Which would actually be a great name for meth cupcakes if they existed. Oh my God, this business plan writes itself. Someone find me a venture capitalist.”
To the deadpan brilliant: “Last week my boss told me to rewrite a 20-page proposal on engagement benchmarking. I turned it in and he wrote a note on the cover that just said, ‘No, no. Not this.’ I had no idea what he wanted, so I just put it off, and then when he came in this morning and told me he needed the final draft in a half-hour I printed out the exact same one as before, but this time on prettier paper. This afternoon he bought the whole team together to tell everyone I was the perfect example of being able to listen to constructive criticism.”
Lawson has also included some embarrassing and difficult episodes from her life in this bestseller. Probably because, as she explains, it’s the moments that you would rather forget that “make you”. Or, as the title suggests, it is the events in your life that you would like to pretend never happened that really build character. And by describing some of the most trying moments of her life, Lawson shows great strength of character.
The fearless author is matched by her equally fearless publisher. Those who have some experience in book publishing know what a big deal it is to include photographs in a book. The editorial and marketing staffs are usually reluctant to include anything less than fully copyrighted colour reprints on glossy paper. All of which of course costs a lot of money. But they are reluctant to compromise; it is usually a stark choice between the whole nine yards or nothing at all.
All of which is why Lawson’s publishing company deserves accolades for being brave enough to print several black and white family photos (with captions) right alongside the text. Not a single sheet of glossy paper in sight. By deciding to include authentic family photos they have made the narrative visually appealing. And also a lot more, well, let’s face it, believable.
In fact, that was probably it. The publisher realised that without visual evidence no one was ever going to believe any of Lawson’s stories. Not the one about the family’s pet racoon named Rambo who dressed in jams and washed away entire bars of soap to appease his OCD. Or the trials suffered by her long-suffering husband, Victor.
Poor Victor. An entire chapter is dedicated to the time he became the victim of Post-It warfare. Lawson has reproduced some of the venomous messages she left him around the house. Probably the most harmless one in the collection is this: “Dear Victor, you make me sick. Why in God’s name wouldn’t you just throw away the empty pizza box when you were done with it? Are your arms broken? Do you have some sort of disease I don’t know about that makes you blind to empty pizza boxes?” Now you are probably wondering: Did she actually write these messages or has she just made them up to include in the book? To her credit, Lawson herself raises this question. The answer is approximately the same as before: they are mostly true. She’s not a compulsive liar after all. She’s no Laura Ingalls.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:
(A Mostly True Memoir)
By Jenny Lawson
Penguin Books, US
336pp. Price not listed