Saturday, July 5, 2008

Book Review: I Know You're Out There

I'm a sucker for essay collections and memoirs, particularly of the humorous bent. Given my steady diet of David Sedaris, Anne Fadiman, and NPR's "This I Believe" series, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I eventually stumbled upon Michael Beaumier's I Know You're Out There: Private Longings, Public Humiliations and Other Tales from the Personals. In this collection of essays, Beaumier mines his experiences as a personals editor at a Chicago newspaper for both humor and poignancy and manages to find both. Interspersed with stories of his family and his own ailing relationship, Beaumier's work is both funny and sentimental.

If this sounds like the description of a Sedaris book, I completely understand. There are certain similarities between the two authors: both are essayists that concentrate on life's minutiae, both have and write about their somewhat dysfunctional families (Sedaris's seems to win for having more dysfunction), both tend to mix humor and introspection. However, there are some notable differences between Sedaris's and Beaumier's writings. Unlike Sedaris, whose essays are usually full of his witty, dry humor, Beaumier tends to have a harder time skewering his subjects. While some of them seems like easy targets (the married woman who puts in personal ads, the prisoner looking for a companion), Beaumier tends to instill each of them with a quiet dignity that wouldn't be found in Sedaris's essays.

Consequently, Beaumier's writing sometimes defaults to sentimentality (occasionally with a touch of bathos). His failed relationship with his boyfriend as well some of his essays about his clients sometimes turn into a figurative group hug. However, if he does tend to be a little maudlin in places, he is also scathingly funny in others. For instance, his attempts to play matchmaker (literally and figuratively) often have disastrously hilarious results.

While I Know You're Out There is a little uneven, it is still an enjoyable book, particularly if you are having problems with your love life. On a rather random note, this book was one of my first "staff recommendations" when I worked at the bookstore. While some of my "staff selects" didn't do so well (Then She Found Me didn't sell one copy), I Know You're Out There was so popular that they kept it on the recommendations wall for several months after I left.


Peter said...

Hi, thanks for this review. I found this post while looking for a humorous memoir to read over my summer break and this one sounds perfect, thanks for sharing.

If you're still looking for funny memoirs/collections of life stories then I'd like to recommend one I've just finished called "My Seven Years Of Captivity" by Bill Seaton. It's all about his years working as PR man for the famous San Diego Zoo and there are some great experiences in there. I'm a fan of memoirs and while some can be quite dramatic, Bill's was a nice, light and fun collections of stories on "zoo life". Anyway, just thought you might be interested.

tgs said...

Hi Peter - Thank you for the comment and for the book recommendation! I'm always looking for good books...