Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson
This wasn’t quite the book I wanted. That is not to say that this is a horrible book. If you have read, and enjoyed, the author’s previous work Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, you will find much to appreciate here. But this book seems to promise something that it doesn’t deliver on. It is slightly more than 300 pages of clickbait, and while that is something that one expects when reading articles online, it is not very helpful when one is thinking about the sort of writing that one wants to appreciate. This is a book that is fine enough to read once as long as one’s expectations are low, and an amusing volume if you have a high taste for somewhat crass humor and lots of exaggeration about life, but this book could have been more if the author had only been willing to be more candid than she was, because she is certainly hiding something here. There are horrible things promised in this book but not a lot that are actually delivered. Instead, most of this book seems to be pretty par for the course, and no more horrible than I can think of among my circle of friends and acquaintances, without any exaggerations whatsoever.
This particular book is, like the previous book by the author, divided into numerous small chapters that seek to demonstrate the author as being some sort of quirky woman struggling nobly against multiple mental illnesses. As someone who has three diagnosed mental illnesses myself, there was a lot here I could relate to. The author discusses her health woes and the way that her body betrays her. She discusses her interactions with her therapist. She discusses animals and her love of them and her quirky appreciation of them, and none of this seems particularly horrible. She deals with marriage therapy in precisely the sort of self-absorbed fashion you would expect, and comes off as probably the most horrible aspect of the book if you take her seriously. She tries to invent words as well as engages in pseudoconversations with her editor that try to make the work a bit more meta. In one of the best chapters of the book, she has her husband interview her and it turns out alright, sort of the way one would expect most of their interactions to go. What we get are the quirky details of the life of a quirky person who is a bit less unusual than she thinks she is.
In reading this book, though, I just cannot get away from the fact that the horrible things the book promised are under the surface and that the author is just not able to be honest about them yet. Both in her first volume and then in this one, the author has suggested an array of psychological and psychosomatic difficulties that suggests the author has quite a traumatic life story. The only way to read these volumes and not believe that the author is some kind of dreadfully self-absorbed and hateful woman is that she is someone who is genuinely struggling with some sort of horror that is beyond the ability of people to cope well with it. And yet there is nothing in these books that makes one particularly sympathetic towards her, unless one comes to the conclusion that the author has some kind of history with child sexual abuse or something like that which she is unwilling or unable to address. Given something like this, the author’s books make sense and one can feel sympathetic (or empathetic) towards her. Otherwise, these books are just the ego trips of someone who needs to toughen up.