The incessant "I, I, I," of the essay form, not to say the memoir tsunami that has washed over reading for the past ten years or so, has created a din that can make one hunger for some good old third-person omniscient narration (hello Dickens, hello Tolstoy) -- but more on that in another post. The fact is, I have enough dirty -- and slightly soiled -- laundry of my own to keep me busy. (And there I go, using the dreaded "I" -- it can't be helped. Mea culpa.) But having said that, when writers uses their own experiences as a window to subjects beyond how their parents used to beat them with heroin syringes while they were converting to fundamentalist Christianity and performing root canals on themselves, the form can't be beat. But that's hard. You actually have to come up with some fresh takes, some real ideas, that look at life in a new way.
Which is what Cynthia Kaplan mines out of her experience more often then not in her new, funny -- and smart -- collection of memoir/essays, books Leave the Building Quickly. Caveat time: I know the author, her kid, and her husband. School chums. But despite that, it would hard to not be moved by the wit, flow, pace, and honesty of several of the essays in the book. For starters, anyone who ever has the slightest notion of taking a cruise vacation of any kind -- especially one of the Disney kind -- must read this. I am sure if Kaplan ever goes on a cruise again she'll be one of those people who you hear about who are always mysteriously falling over the rail into the roiling seas. Be warned. But also be thankful that she had to go on a Disney cruise for you, so you don't have to. And lived to tell. The tone is strong throughout, though, as I said, a few essays stand out, mostly when Kaplan gets out her poisoned pixels and savages those near and dear to her. Her essay upbraiding a supposed mentor is a classic of vitriol that should be copied and pasted on the walls of every aspiring writer, writing school class, and stationary store in Manhattan and most of Brooklyn. Controlled anger -- a fresh take on that ubiquitous phenomenon known as "dying of encouragement."
I have to admit the tone is so concentrated throughout that it is a book to be digested in several sittings. Her voice is so rich, and the humor so pointed, that too many in a row can take away from the charm of each. My only major quibble was the title -- I don't know what it is, I just can't remember it. But there I go with the "I" again. But that's a small price to pay for some real laughs, a couple of, if not tears, then watery eyes, and more thoughts than you'd get in a month of Op-Eds (minus the sanctimonious righteousness.) In short, good clean/messy fun.