Of the eight memoirs I’ve read so far this year, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is definitely the funniest. Fans of Laurie Notaro and Jen Lancaster will probably adore Lawson’s spirited descriptions of everything from her father’s affection for armadillo racing to her encounter with Stanley, the Magical Talking Squirrel.
It’s unusual for me to read so many memoirs. I’d mostly avoided them for years, but now it seems they’ve taken over my to-read stack. On one level, my recent reading trend simply reflects the influx of memoirs being published at the moment. As Ben Yagoda observes in Memoir: A History, autobiography is now one of the most popular genres, infiltrating our daily lives through personal blogs, self-help books, and the wide range of memoirs on the market today. To borrow Yagoda’s succinct analysis, “Memoir has become the central form of the culture: not only the way stories are told, but the way arguments are put forth, products and properties marketed, ideas floated, acts justified, reputations constructed or salvaged.”
On another level, however, I suspect memoirs appeal to me because they often have such surreal content. With novels, one’s suspension of disbelief allows for an open engagement with the text. Memoirs, on the other hand, allow the reader to fall into an insane story of another person’s experiences without the suspension of disbelief to serve as a buffer. In other words, memoirs are like novels on steroids–incredible stories whose supposed truthfulness makes them even more alluring and hypnotic.
Although Jenny Lawson has been writing about her life for years, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is first her actual memoir. Lawson is mostly known for her popular blog – The Bloggess – which documents her past and present life experiences. I hadn’t heard of her blog when I picked up Let’s Pretend. I was mostly intrigued by the cover image, which I initially interpreted as a picture of a Victorian superhero mouse. The image actually depicts a taxidermied mouse which Lawson purchased and named Hamlet von Schnitzel. The fact that Lawson is the type of person who would buy a taxidermied mouse, name it Hamlet von Schnitzel, and then proudly display it on the cover of her book is actually a very good introduction to her style and approach to life.
Lawson’s zany and irreverent style can take some time to get accustomed to. After the initial adjustment, however, the laughter is continuous. In the early sections of Let’s Pretend, Lawson focuses on her childhood in rural Texas. Her father’s interest in taxidermy and talking squirrels led to some memorable experiences. My favorite part of this section is “The Dangerous Thesaurus of My Father,” in which Lawson translates her father’s oft repeated phrases for the uninitiated. For example, when he says, “It’s not going to hurt you,” he really means, “I hope you like Bactine.” Similarly, “It likes you!” translates to “This wild boar is now your responsibility.”
Miraculously, Lawson managed to survive childhood. She met and married Victor, who hails from a wealthy, refined family and has difficulty recognizing leftover skull boiling water when he sees it. After multiple miscarriages, Lawson and her husband managed to have a daughter, Hailey. Adulthood is merely a façade for Lawson, however. She may be a good mother and a successful writer, but she can still be completely outrageous and immature.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened gets a bit darker in the middle section. Lawson has dealt with some harrowing challenges, including anorexia, social anxiety, miscarriages, OCD, and rheumatoid arthritis. But she manages to infuse even these weighty topics with humor.
Lawson’s misadventures are hypnotic. She’s obsessed with Chupacabras, terrified of the number 13, and always struggling to be a good mother. Lawson does have a tendency to start with her punch line and work backwards. While this formula can get repetitive, there’s still plenty to enjoy about getting a glimpse of the world through Lawson’s perspective. When real life is this bizarre, who needs fiction?