Notaro continues to offer many clever twists on the humorous personal essay in her third collection, I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies). Her bestselling The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club and the follow-up, Autobiography of a Fat Bride, mined her life and loves, too, but there's no shortage of material here (except in "Swimming with The Fishes," but I'll get to that).
It's always risky for a writer to bare his or her life (and to an extent the lives of family and close friends), but Notaro succeeds in drawing us in with her astute chronicling of modern (or is that postmodern?) life.
She honed her technique scalpel sharp as a weekly columnist for a newspaper in Phoenix, AZ, doing both a print and web column. After the publication of her first book -- a collection of columns from that paper -- her employers, in their infinite corporate wisdom, made it impossible for her to continue her job and promote the book. To me and to any thinking individual, it would be logical for the company to bask in the reflected glory of one of their own writers' success. But noooo!
The new collection of essays, none of which appeared in said newspaper, are framed with pieces on how and why she got the job at the paper and parting shots on leaving that place of employment. In between, we're treated to her rants and riffs and other astute assessments of life as a 30-something in America.
I Love Everybody is a laugh-out-loud book in many places. Still, Notaro's tone might be a bit shrill for some readers and her approach falters in a couple of the essays. "The Haunting of Jerry," which is about a homeless guy who comes around her neighborhood to do odd jobs, offers neither a particularly funny episode nor a poignant hook. "Prude vs. Nude" starts off with promise but clunks at the end.
In most, though, she hits her target. For example, those of us of any age who are childless by choice will certainly identify with her "Babyless" essay, which offers the sentiment that she has lost more friends to babies than booze. "I've taken to performing a new ritual when I get baby news; I smoke a cigarette, say a bunch of curse words and then pour out a beer for my homies who have passed to the other side, because they're gone. It's a proven scientific fact that once someone has a baby, there's only a 1 in 125 chance that they'll ever answer the phone again when you call."
At her best, Notaro's style reminds me of Dave Barry, although she doesn't have the same "Huh?" factor Barry exploits. Nor is she quite as snide and edgy as David Sedaris. But she's more urban in her approach than, say, the Sweet Potato Queen.
One of my favorites in the collection was the title essay, "I Love Everybody" -- it's funny, a tad (just a tad) poignant but with a good, solid sarcastic kicker.
Another favorite was "Swimming with the Fishes," an episode involving "spontaneous corduroy combustion" -- a favorite pair of pants that disintegrates (here's that lack of "material" I mentioned earlier) -- and the dilemma many women face as they gain and lose a few pounds, day-by-day, week-by-week. Every woman has a pair (although some won't admit it) of "fat pants" -- that is, pants that you wear only on "fat" days.
Over and over, Notaro throws in dead-on zingers. She calls Lifetime the "Wounded Women's Channel." In reference to finding anything in her enormous purse -- she likes to be prepared -- she describes its contents as becoming covered with "urban purse compost."
I Love Everybody could be the perfect birthday gift. Or take it when you go to the pool or the beach. But try to hold down the giggling and snickering so the looker lounging on the next beach chair will ask you why you're laughing, not move away because he or she thinks you're crazy.