Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants [2011]

Among people of my acquaintance, Tina Fey is seen as a kind of celebrity Everywoman. Even though her life undoubtedly includes photo shoots and awards shows and running a popular television show and occasionally moonlighting on Saturday Night Live, she still manages to seem "normal," almost like one of us. She's not tall, or freakishly skinny, she has a scar on her face, and she's funny. That's why Fey's memoir Bossypants was hotly anticipated as the book that would allow us to learn more about our famous sister.

Bossypants chronicles Fey's childhood in suburban Philadelphia, her move to Chicago and time with Second City, and her years with SNL and 30 Rock through a series of loosely connected stories. While her narrative is unabashedly written from a female perspective--from her first period to her first trip to Planned Parenthood for a Pap smear to the question of whether she should have a second child--it is also presented in the wry, self-deprecating way that one would expect from her writing: "nowhere in the pamphlet did anyone say that your period was NOT a blue liquid." Fey is keenly aware of her position as a woman in a male-dominated industry, and Bossypants works best when she is using her story to dissect the double-standards and stereotypes she's encountered. This is not a good book in which to find "dirt" on other celebrities, but it is an excellent glimpse into the life of a smart, hilarious, and driven woman who is balancing a career and personal life, just like the rest of us.

For a memoir, though, Fey provides remarkably little information about her childhood and family. I was looking forward to learning about her past, and certainly that was accomplished--in terms of her career. As for her early childhood, Fey spends a brief chapter and quickly moves on. Despite the fact that the book is dedicated to Fey's mother, there are only the barest hints of her presence in the narrative. Fey mentions her brother very early on ("My brother is eight years older than I am. I was a big surprise."), but there is no sense of how their relationship functioned as children, or whether they even interacted at all. There is a chapter on her father, Don Fey, but that's the exception in this glossed-over part of her history. She talks about Christmas at her in-laws' house, but never introduces a contrasting picture of Christmas with her family. It's as if Fey is completely comfortable talking about her professional failings and, to some extent, her personal feelings about her career and motherhood, but she's unwilling to cross a certain boundary of privacy. This is completely understandable, but it means that even after an entire book, I still got the sense that I was somehow missing the real Tina Fey.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book! There were several times I laughed out loud, and I definitely appreciated Fey's understated humor. Bossypants is a quick and fun read, and since Tina Fey is a celebrity, I am looking forward to her follow-up memoir that addresses all the gaps I whined about above.

Grade: B

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2 comments:

Steph Burgis said...

Thanks for this! I was just looking at Bossypants on Amazon today and wondering about it - perfect timing to read your review.

Helgagrace said...

Thank you! I'm glad it was helpful!