Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Glam Review: "Ask Again Later" by Jill A. Davis

One of the least pleasant airports in which to get stuck, in my opinion, is Chicago O'Hare. There I was: tired, hungry, grumpy, and wanting nothing more than to get home. My flight had been cancelled due to weather, and I was facing a 6 hr wait. I had only a few chapters left in my book, so I obviously needed a new one. Whoever stocked the bookstore was obviously not on the same wavelength with me, because it took me nearly half an hour to find something I wanted to purchase. It was worth the aggravation, however, because the book I ended up with turned out to be a real gem.

Ask Again Later is the story of Emily, a Manhattan lawyer whose dysfunctional childhood has left her unable to commit to her boyfriend, to her job, to living her life. One day she gets a phone call from her mother, saying, "They've found a lump." Emily leaves everything, putting her life on hold, to be with her mother.

But no, you're not getting a weepy or heavy tale in the least — Emily's mother is a born drama queen, her absent father surfaces from the woodwork, she becomes a receptionist in his law firm, keeps dodging her boyfriend, and moves in with her mother who is more concerned with taking partner yoga classes and redecorating than she is with her cancer. Out come a lifetime's worth of neuroses, astute and hilarious observations on life, liberty, and the pursuit of not only her mother's health, but her own selfhood.

Written in short, titled vignettes, like flashes of a movie, the book can be devoured in one sitting, or over a long period of time. I recommended it to my friend Gina, who has a young daughter: she said she can only get a few pages read at night before she crashes — the short "chapters" make it ideal for that.

I'm hesitant to call this book "chick lit", because for all of its comedy and light-heartedness, there are such deep themes and wise realizations embedded in it. The quality of writing — the intelligence of the prose, the wittiness of the language — really elevate it to where I just want to call it "literature" pure and simple.

The author, Jill A. Davis, was a five-time Emmy nominated writer for the Late Show with David Letterman. She's written extensively for both the large and small screens, as well as writing short stories and a previous novel, Girls' Poker Night. I must say I fell in love with her voice and manner of telling a story. She's certainly an author to watch.

Here are two excerpts from Ask Again Later:


I DAYDREAM — AND GET paid for it. I recall a scene from An officer and a Gentleman. At the end of the movie Richard Gere, dressed in his naval whites, goes into a factory, picks up Debra Winger, and carries her out of that depressing place with all those dirty machines.
     I wish that would happen to me. Of course the whole time I'd be worried that the guy was trying to guess my weight or something. I realize how truly pathetic I am. Some guy in a uniform drags his woman out of the workplace to stick her in a house to cook and possibly even clip coupons, and I'm starting to buy into it, into the anti-female propaganda disguised as romance. As soon as he picks her up, things have to head south from there, because at some point, he has to put her down.
     I blame my father for my current situation. It's so much easier to blame him than rehash my past and actually work through it. Instead, I pin all of my disappointment and loss on my current post. I can't decide what's worse, clock-watching or minimum wage. Luckily, I'm steeped in both, so I don't have to choose.

*       *       *       *       *

Tin-Foil Swan

I AM IN MY NEW kitchen thinking about myself. I am envying my own life up to this point. I am that person. The one who buys the gigantic, shiny coffee-espresso-latte-cappuccino machine in hopes that it will replace or enhance my internal life.
     It's not your father's Mr. Coffee . . . no sir! It's the kind of sleek stainless steel "system" that takes up several cubic feet of the pricey Manhattan real estate that is my kitchen counter. Could be worse, I could be a fan of mug caddies. Those spindly little racks that display mugs for people who can't manage the extra effort it takes to put the mugs inside a cabinet. You never want to be too far from your mugs . . . don't want to be separated by prefab cabinetry. Or even a hardwood, such as maple.
     When the coffee fad is over—though let's face it, I hope it's not a fad but an accepted addiction that will never be socially demonized—this "system" will not be obsolete. It's also a hot-water-on-demand machine! Good strategizing, if you ask me. It's too heavy to move, so at least it's also capable of emitting scalding hot water.
     I bought it so I'd stay home more. I bought it instead of getting a pet. It's the closest thing to a living being without actually breathing or needing health insurance.
     It speaks to me in concise phrases, without prolonged sentences that are weighed down with "ya know" and "at the end of the day" and "basically" and "um" and "like"—which I really appreciate. "Fill water tank. Fill coffee beans." It's direct and to the point. It's one of the most uncomplicated and rewarding relationships I enjoy.

At times I felt there was a little bit of a distance between the narrator and the reader — humor and witticisms were used by the character of Emily from really being intimate with people and with life, but at times that translated to the reader as well. And yet, that was a part of who the narrator was, keeping everyone and everything at arm's length, so my desire of intimacy should not be imposed on the character. All in all, it was a brilliant read and well worth picking up.

Glam Review: A-

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

Wow, I'll have to find a copy and take a peek!