(Book Review) Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

By Melinda Guerra

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a childhood that was not mine. I have no real form of reference, but when I question strangers I’ve found that their childhood generally had much less blood in it, and also that strangers seem uncomfortable when you question them about their childhood. But really, what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it’s the reason why most of us are in line there to begin with. I’ve found, though, that people are more likely to share their personal experiences if you go first, so that’s why I always keep an eleven point list of what went wrong in my childhood to share with them. Also I usually crack open a bottle of tequila to share with them, because alcohol makes me less nervous, and also because I’m from the South, and in Texas we offer drinks to strangers even when we’re waiting in line at the liquor store. In Texas we call that “southern hospitality.” The people who own the liquor store call it “shoplifting.” Probably because they’re Yankees.  

I’m not allowed to go back to that liquor store.

–Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir,  pages 7, 8

pretendRenowned blogger Jenny Lawson has written two books, both of which are award-winning New York Times best sellers. More than that, she’s also credited with saving the lives of dozens of her fans and followers who have found her honest portrayal of her own depression and anxiety issues to be the salvific force needed to keep them alive for another day.  Funny, clever, and often embarrassingly honest, Lawson’s books and blogs are a marker of a certain kind of community: to discover another person who knows and loves her material is more often than not to discover a new friend — someone safe, appreciative of irreverence, and weird in all the right ways.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir was published in 2012 and was an instant hit, debuting at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.  Jenny Lawson, better known to many as The Bloggess, already had a successful blog (recognized by Nielsen, Forbes, and others), and many faithful followers of her blog eagerly purchased her first book. (Full confession: I was one of those faithful followers.) My concern with bloggers moving into the print sphere is that writing for a web audience of people who check a blog’s most recent update in between work projects or on their commute home is very different from writing for an audience of people who are going to possibly read whole chapters of an author’s writing at a time. For the most part, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened avoids the worst of that trapping, though depending on a reader’s sense of humor, the constant jokes may get old after a while. Personally given to a preference for more serious and contemplative books, I found her memoir best read a chapter or two at a time, where I could thoroughly enjoy the humor without feeling like I’d just walked out of a long comedy show. Sometimes though, it felt impossible to put down her book after one of her stories, because reading about someone whose life is weirder than my own is always captivating.  

Even if I had ever wondered how Victor would respond to a giant bearded man throwing a live bobcat on him, I don’t think I ever could have foreseen his actual reaction. Victor’s jaw clenched and he stiffened, staring with wide-eyed shock at the bobcat and remaining perfectly still. Then (impressively avoiding any sudden movements) he looked up at my father in bewilderment. Perhaps Victor was expecting to see a look of embarrassment from my father, who must have accidentally spilled a bobcat on him, or perhaps he thought my father would be just as horrified and shocked to see a bobcat on Victor’s lap, and would tell him to remain still while he got the tranquilizer gun. Instead, my dad smiled broadly and held out his hand to shake Victor’s, as if an unexpected bobcat weren’t sitting on Victor’s chair.

— Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, 89

happyI enjoyed her first book greatly, though she dealt with her anxiety and depression issues with such lightheartedness, I found myself wishing she’d explore those topics more in depth and with some degree of gravity.  Her second book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things is an answer to that: she deals honestly and more openly with her psychological and emotional issues, but still does so without being morosely absorbed in them. At a recent book reading I attended, Lawson explained she wrote the second book as a way of explaining, to people like her mother and husband, what it was like to live with her issues and to survive in the midst of them. Those who have family and friends who don’t understand what it’s like to be plagued by mental health issues may well benefit from sharing the book with them, though they may want to think twice before suggesting the book to the more easily offended among us.   

Some of my favorite pieces Lawson has shared (on her blog and in her books) have to do with her conversations with her husband Victor, to whom she’s been married for nineteen years. Their eleven-year-old daughter Hailey makes occasional appearances in Lawson’s writing, and her humorous takes on both marriage and motherhood can be quite endearing.  In addition to stories about her marriage and child, her books also often feature dead animals (her father was a taxidermist and passed along a love for taxidermied animals to Jenny, whose books feature taxidermied animals on the covers), stories from her work in HR, and musings about conversations with her therapists, all written with a casual irreverence and tendency toward profanity. The profanity (and the irreverence) keep some from enjoying her work, but the honesty with which she portrays her happinesses and her struggles more than make up for it for those who don’t mind a writer’s disposition toward F-bombs.

Occasionally Hailey complains of being bored, but boredom is good. It makes up most of your life and if you don’t figure out how to conquer it when you’re a kid then you’re sort of fucked as an adult. Learning to combat boredom is a lesson in and of itself and it’s one you don’t have to drive your kid anywhere for them to learn. The downside though is that your kid is probably just like you, in that boredom sometimes drives them to do incredibly stupid things. Necessity is the mother of invention but boredom is the mother of doing bafflingly stupid shit.

— Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy, 300

The first of Lawson’s books, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, is what Bookish participants are currently reading for our February meeting.  If you’re a fan of The Bloggess and have read the book, or if your interest is piqued enough to read the book in the next few weeks, you’re welcome to join us for our February meeting. As always, email me at GPLbookclub [at] gmail [dot] com for more details on when and how to join us.

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