Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar," Kelly Oxford

Title: Everything Is Perfect When You're a LiarAuthor: Kelly Oxford
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Finished: February 28, 2013

I didn't know if I would like this book, and I was correct about that, because what I wound up doing was loving this book.

I received an advance review copy of Internet phenom Kelly Oxford's memoir Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar from the publisher, It Books.  For those unfamiliar with Oxford, she shot to Internet fame due to her Twitter account, which has amassed nearly 500,000 followers and has become a favorite source for retweets by established comedians and other celebrities.  Oxford has even been billed as "the Internet's hottest mom."  I suppose I am an interesting test case as a reviewer, since although I knew who she was from seeing her retweeted frequently, I am not following her on Twitter or Tumblr and therefore can't be considered a "fan" who would buy the book no matter what.

Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar is not the typical tedious memoir that's so popular today, where we learn what happened in kindergarten, then first grade, then second grade, and so on.  Instead, it is a collection of separate essays that tell the stories behind some of the most important, and almost always hilarious, experiences of her life.  This format works beautifully, especially for Oxford's storytelling nature.  To compare her against the two touchstones of her generation's memoirs, she's much more Tina Fey than Mindy Kaling (that's a compliment).  She has a natural gift for descriptive writing, weaving humor and emotion, and getting the reader to root for her.  She knows when to not overload her paragraphs with every wisecrack that comes to mind.  And she doesn't rely on overused shtick like "Lists of Things I Find Funny" or page-filling scrapbook photos on every other page.

What was interesting to me as the book progressed was how my own feelings towards Oxford kept evolving.  I don't share Oxford's background or personality -- raised in an urban area, wealthy family, outgoing to a fault, sneaky teenage years, skipping college, young motherhood, and so on -- so she's not someone I thought could automatically identify with as a reader.  Furthermore, some of her escapades, like taking a weed-fueled road-trip or having casual sex in a public park, were choices that would ordinarily result in me feeling turned off by someone, me being the New England Puritan prude that I am.  (Of course, the casual sex actually worked out for her in the long run; you'll see why in the book.)

However, she does such a terrific job of coming across as a generally kind, warm, and driven person that it was hard to not be drawn towards her.  Even when our details were wildly different, I could still see the same core truths in her experiences that existed in my own life and decisions.  For example, while my first instinct was to judge her and see her as a dumb teenager when she kept getting in cars with strangers during her wild teenage Los Angeles adventure, I had to remind myself that I did the same thing around that age, just in a tamer locale.  I kept experiencing that feeling throughout the book -- our details were different, but Oxford is still someone I "get" and who could "get" me.  And that shows a real talent in her as a writer; she wins you over by being someone you can relate to easily.  I want to root for Kelly Oxford.

Some of the strongest essays were the ones that made me laugh and cringe simultaneously.  Oxford managed to take an awful experience in an emergency room and turn it into perhaps the funniest essay in the collection.  In settings ranging from moving vehicles to Las Vegas strip clubs, she managed to write about bodily fluids -- god, there are so many fluids in this book -- in a way that made me laugh instead of grossing me out.  Her most touching essay, about her experiences working as a personal therapy assistant in medical facilities, afforded her former patients dignity and respect while she made the jokes more about herself and the settings, not the people; I appreciated her doing that.  She tells the realities of life in a way that's believable, not over-the-top.

There were some essays where I felt like she has missed opportunities for elaboration, or where she sacrificed the possibility of an emotional moment in exchange for yet another joke on the page.  I also felt like there was a noticeable gap in the book between her straight-laced, parent-pleasing childhood and her defiant sex-and-drugs teenage years -- what drove the transition?  What were her early years of marriage like?  Maybe filling in some of the gaps would be a good approach for her next book.

I actually debated for a long time whether to five this a 4- or 5-star rating, but I have to go with the lower rating for one major reason: It's written too much like a Tumblr post at times and not enough like a book.  Oxford has the terrible habit of SHOUTING TO EMPHASIZE HER POINTS, rather than relying on her obvious gift for fine writing to get something across.  Resorting to all-caps writing comes across as cutesy, lazy, or both.  There were so many cases when I couldn't understand why she was doing it in the first place, because her words did a perfectly good job of getting her emphasis across.  Furthermore, I think she may have been trying to break the all-time record for Most Instances of "Totally" in a Book.  And there was an actual "WTF?" in there, which made me cringe.  I understand that Oxford has made her name as a "Twitter celebrity" -- that's a thing now, I guess -- but it's a shame to think that perhaps writers these days have to resort to that type of juvenile style to appeal to the Internet generation.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  I looked forward to reading each chapter and stayed up late to finish it because I didn't want to wait to see how it ended.  And I genuinely look forward to reading her next collection.  I'm still rooting for Kelly Oxford.

On sale April 2, 2013; available for pre-order now.

Review: 4/5

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