Book: Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (2019)
Age/Genre: Humor, Short Stories, Memoir
Reading Accoutrements: A cup of tea in your remote cottage (If tea is inaccessible, a glass of wine will do).
Content Notes: Depression, Misogyny
Right now, it seems like ages ago when my husband brought Little Weirds home from the library, which is no longer open. Yes, I stocked up on books before physical distancing became the new normal. Nothing’s due until June, and the lack of social engagements on my calendar means I have plenty of time to read.
Anyway, he picked Little Weirds up before the world was quite so weird, because it looked like a book I’d enjoy. I wasn’t really familiar with Jenny Slate before this, but at this point, I think memoirs might be my favorite way to decide if I want to explore a comedian’s work. I didn’t realize she wrote the “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” videos, which I (and I’m pretty sure the rest of the world) found utterly adorable and after this memoir, I’m definitely excited to check out more of her work.
Arguably, Little Weirds isn’t REALLY a memoir – all of the genre tags I found skewed more toward comedy and autobiographical, and many of the stories are fictional, but with the creative way Slate shares her life with the reader, I think there’s a strong argument for memoir designation.
Little Weirds opens up with Slate sharing one of her fantasy dimensions, where people interpret her as a french woman, but actually as a french croissant, intended to be consumed, to satisfy people’s appetites. I feel like many people who work in entertainment will relate to this craving to fill people up. I loved the imagery, and it was a great introduction to Slate’s personality and writing style.
Then comes the “Introduction/Explanation/Guidelines for Consumption.” This section absolutely prepares you for what to expect from the rest of the book, which is essentially tons of metaphors describing how Jenny Slate relates to and interacts with the world. After explaining some recent hard hits in her life, she says:
“This book is the act of pressing onward through an inner world that was dark and dismantled.
This book is me putting myself back together so that I can dwell happily in our shared outer world…”
Later, she also clarifies that this book is a party, much like her performances on stage are parties. The pieces in this book live up to these statements. Some explore depression and difficult parts of life, particularly breakups. Others tell humorous stories from Slate’s childhood. Many of these pieces describe various scenarios in which Slate dies, which include:
- Alone on Valentine’s Day with only a dog for company
- Her head separating from her body while a man rambles on about listening
- Her clothes flying off and her body failing, all while her vagina plays sad jukebox songs
- Being “bonked” by lightning, then being struck again and coming back to life
- Making her father a sardine sandwich
- Dying of old age 7 years after a life-long partner had died
As you might be able to tell, many of these stories are Slate’s fantasies. They do not depict factual events, but they’re not exactly fiction either. These stories are the truth of Slate’s emotional states. Many of them read like journaling exercises. They vary in length, and while they do stand alone, there are also some that reference others. I’m not really sure whether to call them stories or chapters, but I think “stories” is a little more accurate. They’re like individual bits of a larger stand-up routine.
The piece that stuck out most to me was “The Code of Hammurabi.” As Slate devours spicy Thai food, she ponders a documentary about the creation of patriarchy. There was life before patriarchy was the rule to live by. There are Egyptian stones depicting a decree by a man named Hammurabi, stating that women are lesser than men, that men own women and children, that “this starts now.” This is the first documentation of patriarchy as a system. Slate imagines the destruction of this code, while battling the effects of her dinner choices and wondering if she needs to seek out more sex toys made by feminists. Overall, I loved this piece, as it was both humorous and enlightening, and gave me feminist topics I want to research further.
Here are a few quotes that resonated with me as I read:
- “Having a body is bizarre.”
- “A geranium is a wild thing. It is so wild you can hardly kill it. But it does not take over your house if you put it inside.”
- “I need a helpful myth to show me what came before.”
- “I have been trying to destroy myself and I don’t want to anymore.”
Little Weirds is a book that encourages introspection. It’s about Jenny Slate, but it makes you ponder your own life, as well. She highlights her ridiculousness at times in ways that allow the reader to ponder their own oddities. Slate shares her successes and failings as learning experiences, with very little ego. These stories are about life as it happens, without judgements about what parts are “good” or “bad.” The beautiful imagery and straightforward depictions of bodily functions combine to make an utterly real portrayal of one creative person’s life that I believe is relatable to a ton of people.
If you’re interested in a comedic look at life inside Jenny Slate’s head, or just want something to jumpstart your brain’s creativity, definitely check out Little Weirds.