Perhaps the best indicator of whether you’ll enjoy this memoir by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) is whether you enjoy reading her blog. If you find her blog funny, you’ll find the book funny. If you find her blog overly coarse or just plain weird, this may not be the book for you. If you’ve never read her blog at all, then the best suggestion I can give is for you to go check it out. In fact, allow me to direct you to her post about Beyonce the Giant Metal Chicken, a post which became one of the last chapters in this book.
I’ve been reading The Bloggess intermittently for the last couple of years. I’d call myself a fan, but not a hard-core fan. I have to be in the right mood to find her funny, and when I’m in that mood, I will laugh and laugh at her writing until my stomach hurts and I’ve shaken lose whatever has been clogging my sinuses that day. So I made sure to read this memoir when I was in the right mood for it, and I ended up enjoying it very much. And as a semi-regular reader of Lawson’s blog, I was delighted to find that most of the book was entirely new-t0-me content.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened begins like a standard memoir in that the first chapters are about Lawson’s childhood, but Lawson is not the sort to just tell a straightforward story with a beginning, middle, and end. She’s all about the non sequitur and the random parenthetical observation and the seemingly never-ending tangent. She fesses up to that right in the introduction:
Did you notice how, like, half of this introduction was a rambling parenthetical? That shit is going to happen all the time. I apologize in advance for that, and also for offending you, because you’re going to get halfway through this book and giggle at non sequiturs about Hitler and abortions and poverty, and you’ll feel superior to all the uptight, easily offended people who need to learn how to take a fucking joke, but then somewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, “Oh, that is way over the line.” I apologize for that one thing. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.
Personally, I didn’t find anything in here to be particularly offended about, although I know others who would. One of the things I like about Lawson’s writing is that, as coarse as it sometimes is, it’s not mean-spirited or cruel. When she makes fun of her sister for being so popular that she could get away with wearing a ridiculous school mascot costume in high school, you can tell that her comments come from a place of affection, rather than of bitterness. But her writing is coarse and filled with references to vaginas and diarrhea and dead animals, so it’s clearly not for everyone.
Lawson grew up in rural Texas, in a home that didn’t have reliable running water but that did have raccoons living in the bathtub wearing tiny little jams. Her family also had a gun cabinet, which apparently astonishes 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 armoires.” It took me by surprise that people get hung up on the gun cabinet thing, but I grew up in the South. Not everyone in rural Virginia has a gun cabinet, but lots of people there hunt, and lots of hunters keep their hunting rifles in a locked gun cabinet. We had one at our house because my brother used to hunt. It’s amazing that things that seem perfectly ordinary to one person can be totally bizarre to another–and that’s kind of what this book is about, finding the bizarre in the ordinary and the ordinary in the bizarre. Really, whether something is bizarre or ordinary all depends on your perspective.
Lawson goes on to tell of her meeting and eventual marriage to her husband Victor and the birth of her daughter Hailey. She hits all the usual notes you expect in a memoir. A lot of the book is made up of funny anecdotes, like her purchase of Jean-Louis the alligator and the subsequent plane journey, but she also talks about her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis, her generalized anxiety disorder, and her miscarriages. So it’s not all wacky hijinks. This is a book about life and all its many bumps and detours.
The last part of the book feels less like a memoir and more like a collection of essays. I would have liked a little more filling in of gaps, particularly when it comes to her decision to start blogging and how that tied into her decision to leave her job in HR and start writing full-time. She mentions her blog a few times, and there’s a lovely chapter about finally being able to feel comfortable with other women that she met through her blog, but there’s nothing on how she went from not blogging to being a blogging star. I’m not looking for a how-to on that, but the lack of a story here seems like a pretty big omission. Aside from that, I was happy to get the stories she chose to share, and I’ll continue to enjoy more on her blog for (I hope) years to come.