Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir is the debut effort of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, best known as the funniest woman on the internet now that April Winchell has retired from Regretsy. I discovered Lawson when she followed me on twitter, which was a pretty clever tactic, because I couldn’t help but read her blog out of curiosity and then BLAM, I was hooked, and also smitten. How could one not love a woman who writes candidly about mental illness, starts a project to send red dresses to women around the world to help them feel beautiful, and who buys a giant metal chicken to freak out her husband? A giant metal chicken named Beyoncé, people.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I attended a reading and signing for Lawson’s book, the exciting events of which you can read about here, and purchased a copy of Let’s Pretend. It took me a few months to get around to reading it, what with school and work and whatnot, and even longer to write a review, but late is better than never, right? Right!
The first few chapters of Let’s Pretend were difficult for me to get through for two reasons. First, much of what Lawson describes was not-quite-child-abuse-but-still-awful. For instance, Lawson’s winter footwear consisted of bread sacks stuffed with newspaper in lieu of actual shoes. Her father used roadkill–bloody roadkill–as a hand puppet. These stories made me cringe so much I found it difficult to laugh. But then I thought about how her eccentric parents and poor upbringing gave her character, and that is pretty much why she’s famous, and it’s not like she was molested or anything, so really she’s probably grateful for those experiences so I should stop cringing so much and try to enjoy it. And I’m fretting over my reaction so much that I forget to laugh.
The second reason: a lot of the experiences of Lawson’s childhood hit a little close to home. No, I didn’t wear bread sack shoes and my father wasn’t into taxidermy. But I did (and do) share Lawson’s anxiety disorder. Some of those passages made my throat tighten because the feelings were just a little too familiar. I may have had flashbacks to every awkward moment of my time in middle school. These are not cherished memories.
Fortunately, once I got past Chapter 5, Lawson moved into memoirizing (is that a word?) her high school, college, and adult experiences. Though many of these anecdotes were still really familiar, they didn’t bring up such conflicted emotions or terrible memories. Lawson details bizarre and hilarious experiences being the only Goth kid at a tiny rural high school, having social anxiety in college, and working in human resources as an adult. She writes candidly about her rare medical conditions, the struggle to have a child, and her (legitimately inherited) obsession with taxidermy. The two funniest passages were, for me, the one about her daughter wearing the wrong diaper to the pool, and another section where Lawson takes too many laxatives with the result you would imagine, except with a would-be rapist in the house. I’m not going to give you more details than that, you’ll just have read it for yourself if you want to know more. I won’t ruin it for you.
There are also sections where Lawson talks about reconciling her childhood, coping with her anxiety and depression, quitting her job to live the dream life of a full-time writer, and dealing with the death of her dog, all of which manage to be both funny and poignant in a way that few authors can achieve. In the end, Let’s Pretend succeeds at proving that a woman can start at
humble insane beginnings and eventually become an internationally acclaimed blogger, successful author, and happy wife and mother, “just” by working hard and being her own anxious, generous, hilarious self where the internet can see and appreciate it.
I came away from reading Let’s Pretend with stitches in my side, but also feeling a little less alone, and a lot more hopeful. It’s one book that lived up to the hype and didn’t disappoint. And really, you can’t expect more from a book than that.
I managed to read several other books this summer, so you can look forward to reviews of the ones I really liked in the coming months. No, I won’t review any of the ones I didn’t like. If I don’t have more compliments than criticisms, then I prefer to say nothing at all, especially since the internet is eternal, and I have way too much anxiety to deal with worrying about the fallout from an uncomplimentary review. If you want to hear about some books I didn’t like, I suggest you buy me a drink sometime.
If you read Lawson’s memoir, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!