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Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother by Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney, while one of the funniest cast members ever of SNL in my opinion, always struck me as deeper and more real than some of her fellow funny-men. I particularly was intrigued by her guest star role on an episode of Sex and the City where she played a nun with cancer, who was sitting next to Samantha at a doctor's office day after day, trying to get in to see a superb specialist. I'd heard that her monologues were great and wished I lived in a city where I could go see them. She was also on an episode of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me last year and I've been sad she hasn't returned. So when I read good reviews of her new book and heard her interviewed, I just had to get it. As usual with a memoir, I got the audio, and it was so much better than reading a print book because she does a few impressions (most hilariously of her daughter), and you can hear in her intonation when she thought something or someone was particularly funny or exasperating in a way you cannot in print.

The book is structured to take place over a four week period when she has her house to herself. Her daughter, Mulan, is away at camp, and her husband Michael is on a series of business trips. So the book is in four parts, corresponding to the four weeks. Initially she's talking about failed relationships (all her exes are referred to as "Joe" which I love and think I will adopt myself), adopting her daughter, and then meting and marrying her husband (yes, in that order). But unexpectedly in week three, her brother dies of addiction-related issues. As a lifelong addict, his death on one level wasn't a surprise, but as he had rallied from bad places so many times before, it still was, and Julia was alone and very sad. I was already loving the book, but this added dimension of depth and reality made the book even better.

It's not a comedy routine by any means, although Julia's humor does shine through throughout. I particularly loved the conversation she had explaining sex to her daughter ("But where to the legs go!?") And it was structured nicely without many of the short digressions one often finds in a memoir like this. She does have one though, with her mother-in-law, which is a recording of a conversation they had that ended up being their personal stories about abortion, which was powerful and in the mother-in-law's case, quite horrifying since that was in pre-Roe days. She also lets her daughter read a very short essay which was quite unintentionally funny. These are segments I think that are more powerful on an audio than in print.

It was perfect for a long drive and I didn't want it to end. I think I will now try to hunt down some of her monologues and see if there's a way for me to listen to them. Loved it.

1 comment:

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

I have to admit that I don't know who Julia Sweeney is, but it sounds good. Curious about her daughter's name - love her choice of naming the ex's.