People Are Unappealing: Even Me
Sara Barron has written one of those books that force readers to make a choice: Either you're willing to find the humor in a young Jewish woman talking about getting diarrhea after meeting John Stamos and suffering through Schindler's List or you're not. For those willing to go on this adventure, welcome. Everybody else, please continue on to the "S" section of the bookstore, where you'll find the milquetoast humor of David Sedaris, to whom Barron will undoubtedly be compared.
Sure, Barron uses her upbringing and family as characters, as well as recounts her young misadventures in moving to New York to study acting and trying to break into the business, then stand-up, then as a Coyote Ugly bartender/dancer, all while supporting herself working in retail hell and waiting tables and dating the wrong, wrong men. Yes, People Are Unappealing is basically a surviving-my-20s memoir, but at no time do you ever get the impression that Barron craves approval. Attention and potential fame? Yes, she admits as much. But take the title at face value: Despite all the neurotic, needy, borderline pathological, sexually odd, over the top, and outright weird people that run through her life that she recounts here, she firmly, and comfortably, places herself right smack in the midst of such company. Everyday freaks aren't merely punch-line fodder for superiority humor in Barron's mind; freaks help celebrate the deviant life that runs through every facet of American society and are as common as the cold.
That's not to say that Barron doesn't establish boundaries: peeing on a hot mini-Denzel Washington because he asks, yes; unwittingly eating the clipped toenails of a college dorm mate, no. Such boundaries may sound like gray areas, but it's to Barron's credit that she's very clear about how they're established. A sincere love for the most sensitive quirks in those closest to her--her father's love for showtunes, her mother's almost offensively stereotypical cheapness, her albino friend Maggie's wonderful inability to prevent whatever is going on in her head from coming out of her mouth--shape the young woman recounting these stories. Barron came by her sensibility the natural way: through public embarrassments, private psychological near horrors, and good, old-fashioned family love.
That she possess a good pen for breezy narrative and a well-tuned awareness of the line separating the everyday absurd from the entirely too-much-personal-information-to-share-in-your-out-loud-voice helps, but even better is the shameless glee with which she crosses that line again and again and again and again--such as using her FUPA as a recurring motif. (That's "fat upper pussy area," for the record.) Barron is still young, so who knows if there's more where this came from. As long as she doesn't lose the awareness that she's just as appealingly unappealing as the people she's come across, though, her 30s may be just as entertaining.