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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry by Molly Stillman 
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I knew very little about Molly Stillman before opening up the electronic pages of "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry: How Death, Debt, and Comedy Led to a Life of Faith, Farming, and Forgetting What I Came into This Room for." An acclaimed blogger, podcaster, and speaker, Stillman wasn't on my radar until I read the description of her book and thought "This sounds like it's right up my alley."

It is right up my alley.

A good 50% of "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry" is devoted to Stillman's childhood and the mother who whose death because of Agent Orange would be a near constant shadow throughout her life. In fact, at one point I found myself mumbling "Is this book about Molly or her mother?"

It was a fair question, but I just needed to be patient.

Molly mother, Lynda Van Decanter Buckley, served as an Army nurse during Vietnam and wrote the bestselling memoir "Home Before Morning." When Molly was 17, her mother passed away after an eight-year battle with an autoimmune disorder due to her exposure to Agent Orange. This loss radiates throughout "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry" and the storytelling throughout this section is heartbreaking, poignant and still, yes, a little funny.

Four years later, Molly unexpectedly inherited a quarter of a million dollars from her mother's estranged family's estate. She quickly, amazingly quickly, became a bit of a statistic when she subsequently squandered all of the cash and, in fact, ended up $36,000 in the hole with seemingly little hope of digging her way out.

While consumed by shame and guilt, Molly turned toward her longtime dream of comedy to mask the pain and brokenness. She secretly believed that if she could look happy she would eventually be happy. It was an unlikely desperate call to a compassionate credit counselor who set her on the path to emotional and financial healing. This path would eventually become paved with love when she would meet the spreadsheet-loving man who would eventually become her husband.

"If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry" is a most unusual book centered around faith because faith actually only comes into play toward the final 10% or so of the book when death, debt, and comedy truly did lead Molly down the road to her current life of faith, farming, a husband, two kids, and Selah Farm.

At times quite humorous and also honoring Molly's sense of grief and brokenness, "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry" is a redemption story of sorts devoid of the usual greeting card ending even if Molly does tend to end up traveling down a pretty wonderful path. Molly's story of loss and grief is filled with moments of tenderness and longing. Molly's journey through her mistakes and the subsequent shame and guilt is one likely to sound familiar to anyone who's ever lived a life that's left them wondering "Why would God even want me?"

At times, the tonal shifts feel a tad abrupt. This is especially true as we shift from stories around the death of Molly's mother toward her college years and segue into comedy. Because about half of "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry" is centered around that death that so defined Molly's growing up years, certain pieces of the book's latter half feel a bit rushed and I found myself wanting to spend more time experiencing Molly's relationship with John and her unexpected transformation by faith.

However, these are minor quibbles for an engaging, entertaining book that had me heading to the internet to learn more about Molly not long after I'd finished the final pages and was processing through my emotions with it all.

While very little discussion of faith occurs until toward the end, Molly does begin each chapter with a scriptural reference that provides a meaningful lens through which to view the chapter and Molly's life journey.

You will laugh. You will cry. You will appreciate "If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry."

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic