Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Published on: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Collins Canada
Kelly Oxford is …
A wunderkind producer of pirated stage productions for six-year-olds
Not the queen of the world
An underage schnitzel-house dishwasher
The kid who stood up to a bully and almost passed out from the resulting adrenaline rush
A born salesman
Capable of willing her eyesight to be 20/20
That girl who peed her pants in the gas station that one time
Totally an expert on strep throat
Incapable of making Leonardo DiCaprio her boyfriend
A certified therapy assistant who heals with Metallica mixtapes
“Not fat enough to be super snuggly.” —Bea, age 4
Not above using raspberry-studded sh*t to get out of a speeding ticket
“Bitingly funny. But everybody knows that.” —Roger Ebert
Sad that David Copperfield doesn’t own a falcon
A terrible liar
I’m tempted to write about my opinions and thoughts on Kelly Oxford outside of her book, because we are around the same age and grew up in the same town and now we are both moms. But that’s pretty boring, so I’m just going to get a few non-book-related things off my chest and move on:
- I know Kelly’s sister through her excellent salon Mousy Browns. I was so excited when I figured out why she looked familiar.
- I sat beside Kelly and her older daughter once and I was too shy to say anything.
- I’ve followed @kellyoxford since before her first 100K followers (so old school) and find her feed 75% hilarious and smart, and 25% offensive, unfunny, or repeats. I go through this cycle where I follow, get sick of the offensive/repeat stuff, unfollow, miss the good stuff, refollow, repeat.
So. The book is a collection of essays in loose chronological order about Oxford’s life from age six until the present. Most of the essays are funny, and there’s one that’s sort of a tearjerker, so I ended up laughing and crying. That’s always a good sign.
The teenage stories were the most compelling to me. Oxford was an idealized version of my teenage self: prettier, thinner, richer, nicer boyfriend, more friends, more confident, better tolerance for pot. I didn’t feel jealous, exactly, though I reflected on the fact that I spent far too much of my young adulthood working or studying, and that’s not something I think very often.
I found myself really appreciating what the book isn’t. These sorts of humourous essays can quickly descend into the kind of “look at me, I’m so quirky” territory that ruined Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened for me. Kelly doesn’t go there. At all. There’s lots of gross humour and absurdity, but it feels authentic, like it either really happened, or it just needed to be part of the story, not because she’s building some persona.
She also doesn’t take the martyr mommy route. No birth stories, no sappy stream of consciousness about baby feet, not even much in the way of parenting slapstick (you know, the day where everything goes wrong and there’s lots of poop and barf involved.) Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy (some of) that kind of writing (sometimes,) but I’m glad she didn’t go there.
It’s not that I think Kelly is totally honest, either. One essay is about the worst thing she’s ever done, referred to as the “terrible horrible.” I won’t spoil the reveal, but I don’t believe for a second it’s the worse thing she’s ever done.
So, if not for validation or sympathy, I got to wondering, what is she looking for? Why write these essays? You know, other than the obvious reasons. And then it came to me.
The first essay was my least favourite. Six year old Kelly writes a play, and recruits neighbourhood children to be actors. She is dictatorial, rude, pushy, and, for me, way too precious. I’m just not a fan of the wise, old soul child narrator thing. But. This is almost EXACTLY how Ian MacEwan’s Atonement opens. I know, it sounds crazy, but Briony is a wise, old soul child narrator. The story opens as she’s strong-arming her cousins into acting in a play she wrote. She is dictatorial, rude, and pushy. Taking it past the eerily similar first scenes, Briony later commits a “terrible horrible” with severe consequences, and looks for atonement through her writing. I mean, Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar could totally be the title of the YA adaptation.
Is Oxford looking for atonement by writing about her own terrible horribles? Or is she just owning it, as she claims, and maybe suggesting that we all have our terrible horribles and we could all just get over ourselves and face that?
Dubious literary allusions aside, I enjoyed the book. It was uneven, but the voice and style were unexpected and disarming. I laughed, I cried, Kelly hurled.
I was REALLY excited to read this when it first came out, and now I’m more like “meh…no rush”. I don’t doubt that it is a funny read, but I think now I find Oxford less relatable…what with her “glamorous California life” and all.
The Atonement connection is very interesting though and definitely intrigues me enough to want to read it sooner than later! (Although, I will admit, I haven’t read Atonement – just watched the movie, but I thought the story was brilliant).
You should read it! I know this review is a little weird, but I did like it.
I would love to have someone else read both books, and see if I’m totally crazy with the Atonement stuff. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional… but… either her or her husband must be majorly into literature. Her daughter’s name is Salinger, for god’s sake 🙂 and her other kids’ names have literary connections too, Henry and Beatrix.
I looooved the movie too. I have a major crush on James McAvoy, which helped 🙂 I actually liked it more than the book. I don’t get the McEwan love. Every book he’s written, which is like 10 novels, is on the 1001 Books list and I’m like – really? Atonement was good but it wasn’t life changing, by any means…