March 2004

Bryan Miller

fiction

Autobiography of a Fat Bride by Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro, author of the surprise bestseller The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club and most recently Autobiography of a Fat Bride, is a criminal purveyor of hapless chic.

Hapless chic is omnipresent. It may not have started with Ally McBeal, but Calista Flockhart’s decidedly plucky character, looking like a holocaust victim in red lipstick, became the bony spokesperson for the new female archetype. She’s a working gal, our modern woman, and she’s smart, but just can’t get her shit together. She falls down a lot, she’s prone to severe fits of public embarrassment, and though she’s crafty and wise and loves being single, she still, deep down, just needs a good man.

The recently-concluded HBO series Sex in the City took up the McBeal mantle, pretending to promote clever professional women who don’t just mind being single, they revel in it. They have good careers. They love sex, and they’re not likely to turn down a good fuck for fuck’s sake. Yet our heroine, McBeal 2.0, played by the somewhat riper but just as bumbling Sarah Jessica Parker, is besieged by the same general inability to cope with life as a single woman without the assistance of her Mr. Big. Consider the final image in the opening credit sequence -- this in a show supposedly about women getting it together and making it after all, hat-toss thrown in at no extra charge: Parker, wearing a frilly pink outfit but walking confidently down the street, sprayed with dirty water from a passing bus, another in a series of silly accidents in the trying life of a single gal.

Once attuned to the sudden ubiquity of hapless chic, it’s easy for one to see why Laurie Notaro is so damn popular. Her first book walked the walk and stumbled the stumble. Notaro, in a series of four and five page vignettes, catalogued her quirks and idiosyncrasies and detailed all the wacky adventures of her disastrous life. She had run-ins with strange neighbor children, nearly had to have a caramel apple professionally removed from her mouth and knocked over every drink in every bar in the southwest. The book, though frivolous, was filled with stories strange enough to be charming and sharply written enough to be funny.

Autobiography of a Fat Bride picks up where the first book left off, but it’s a grim sequel. Idiot Girls’ was flawed to be sure -- it’s the kind of book people describe, thinking that they’re doing it some sort of favor by saying so, as “something you can read for five minutes on the train or between errands” -- but it was not without charm. Notaro, indeed already immersed in hapless chic, rarely mentioned men and came off as bumbling but genuinely disinterested in fitting in beyond only the thinnest guise of sociability. As much as she poked fun at herself, she seemed to disdain the very rules she constantly broke.

Autobiography of A Fat Bride opens with an occasionally funny but ultimately nauseating fifty or so page riff, broken up into bite size sections, of course, about landing a man. It seems that Laurie, who is neither fat nor unattractive despite frequently describing herself as such (the hapless heroine must never perpetuate the image of being too attractive, even if she obviously is), really just wanted to get married all along. This is not inherently a bad thing, but Notaro presents the situation with the kind of dopey incredulity that suggests she is indeed unworthy of this amazing, attractive fellow. Actually, she doesn’t suggest it, she constantly points it out, referring to her nagging or being fat or inability to cook more than three dishes or embarrassing herself on their first few meetings. The once brassy broad from Idiot Girls is now tip-toeing around some dreamy suitor. Apparently the kooky single life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and all future meetings of the Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club may be cancelled subject to an impending hot date.

Notaro’s spin on marriage lacks the delightful smack of nonconformity found in the first book. She jokes that wedding traditions are stupid, then bases pages of alleged comedy on the precariousness of trying to maintain said traditions. She paints herself as the typical angry bride, wanting her day to be perfect, and lets the rest of the (attempts at) humor hang on the shoulders of intrusive mothers and apathetic men. Notaro doesn’t seem to realize that she’s funny when she’s gleefully and haphazardly violating good manners and social norms, not when she’s having fits because her wedding photographer keeps getting in the way.

The remainder of the book consists of warmed-over jokes and anecdotes about marriage that should be familiar from most every bad stand-up comic and sitcom in history or what appear to be chapters of Idiot Girls’s that were initially rejected as inferior to the rest. It devolves largely into relationship humor, which at this point is a bit of an oxymoron, and even sinks so far as to include an actual chapter of clichéd marriage advice (rather unironically titled “White Noise, White Soap and Man Desire: Marriage Advice from Two Mean Girls”). This lapse into the mundane wouldn’t be quite so unfortunate if Notaro didn’t have the capability to be genuinely funny. While she may not be much more than a dirty-mouthed Erma Bombeck for the new millennium, Notaro knows how to craft a funny sentence or time a scene for maximum comedic effect. She should, by all accounts, be writing funny books and may still write some funny ones, but she seems intent to go for easy laughs in Autobiography of A Fat Bride. She seems intent to paint herself as “just your average kind of gal” and, worse, to suggest that it’s preferable to be in the club of man-hungry, average women, the gaggle of incapable girls, bumbling, hapless chicks.

Autobiography of a Fat Bride by Laurie Notaro
Villard
ISBN: 037576092X
272 Pages