"Excuse Me While I Disappear" Tackles Midlife
Have you ever just written a review that missed the mark?
That was my experience here with Laurie Notaro's latest effort "Excuse Me While I Disappear: Tales of Midlife Mayhem," a journey through Notaro's life as she passes fifty and learns that "with each passing day, you lose an equivalent amount of fear."
Despite being somewhat outside Notaro's target audience, "Excuse Me" popped up on October's Amazon First Reads and it sounded like something I'd find interesting and entertaining and I decided to give Notaro a try as a quick review of both Goodreads and Amazon indicates she definitely has a passionate fan-base among female readers.
I will admit that a lot of the female writers/essayists that I've read and appreciated fall more strictly within the faith-based and/or self-help genre. While Notaro does dance on that self-help line, her humor is often self-deprecating, has a tendency toward "potty mouth" language (though not obscene by any means), and tackles subjects an awful lot of writers wouldn't go near.
As I wound down my time with "Excuse Me," I became acutely aware that while I often do resonate with this type of writing I definitely struggled to connect with "Excuse me." While I do think Notaro primarily writes for a female audience, I don't think that's why I struggled to connect. I think, for me, it was a struggle to get into Notaro's rhythm which could bounce from outlandishly funny to melancholy to quite serious and even a little sad. I just never quite found her rhythm and that impacted my enjoyment of the book.
In my initial review for "Excuse Me," I attempted (but obviously failed) to adequately explain in specific places where I struggled but in so doing I ended up writing in a way that came off overly harsh and wasn't accurately communicating my experience well at all.
To be honest, I'm typically a kinder and gentler reviewer (but honest) and was surprised when Notaro herself reached out hurt by the review.
I read it. I read it again. I tried to put myself in her shoes (not easy for a guy who is footless). Ultimately, it's never my aim to hurt. So, I'm trying again.
Notaro is a former essayist for the Arizona Republic and a veteran of several books largely grounded in real life, humor, and an abundance of sarcasm. She has a unique but fun relationship with her husband (whom I wish was in the book more) and the world around her.
"Excuse Me" is a relatively quick read at 246 pages. As noted, it's a book of short essays - some are humorous, some are insightful, some have a bit of an edge to them, and some have a sense of melancholy to them during which Notaro still manages to find her humor.
Books of short essays seem to inherently have a sense of disconnect as authors tend to bounce around a variety of life experiences and phases in their lives. The same is true here. I will admit that there were times I wished Notaro would spend more time on a subject - for example, I found the essays around a period when she returned to working in an office both funny and profound. I was curious how she was able to transition back into writing and get back to doing what she loves doing. There's a definite sense of hurt it seems as Notaro shares her experiences having written a historical novel that was timed poorly in the market and, as she notes, timing is everything.
While I ultimately didn't quite connect with "Excuse Me" as much as I'd hoped would happen, I have a feeling the book will likely work just dandy with a majority of the people who've been following her over the years and who appreciate her humor, honesty, transparency, and willingness to say things a lot of folks won't say and say them in a way that will make you laugh a lot and maybe even reflect on your own experiences.
Who will enjoy "Excuse me?" Primarily directed toward a female audience, "Excuse Me" will likely most resonate with more mature readers who understand what it feels like to get the first gray hair, the first cracking of bones, and the first traumatic fall that leaves you more exposed than you ever thought you'd be in life.
For the record, I still wonder if she's related to Tig Notaro.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic