Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: Agorafabulous! ~ by Sara Benincasa – Miss Bookish Girl



Author: Sara Benincasa

Publisher: William Morrow (imprint of HarperCollins)

Pub Date: 2/14/2012

Pages: 272

Review Note: I requested an ARC from William Morrow (imprint of HarperCollins), in response to an informational email that is sent to me each month. 

Although I have secretly considered myself a bit of a comedy nerd, for some reason or another I had never heard of Sara Benincasa. After reading her devastatingly funny memoir Agorafabulous!, I can say with certainty that it is a freaking shame that I had not heard of her until a couple of months ago. And an even bigger shame that I didn’t violate my rule of not spending hours on Sara’s website before reading the book. I say that because as I sat down to write out my initial impressions of the book, I thought I had seized on a completely brilliant comparison.

If I could, I’d like to go on a small detour for a minute…

Sara’s story reminded me of the monologue by Julia Sweeney, “God Said, HA!“. Seems like a random reference, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

Julia Sweeney’s monologue is all about her life after she left SNL and moved back to L.A. Soon after her move, her brother Michael became terminally ill with cancer.  She developed her monologue from a series of stand-up performances at a comedy club where she ranted to her audiences about “the surreal nightmare that life had become“. She developed it into a one-woman show and had a DVD produced, with none other than Quentin Tarantino directing it. Her story of  the strange mix of living with her parents in her tiny bungalow house in Hollywood, while enduring the tragic decline of her brother gave birth to what I believe is a truly brilliant piece of writing.

Which brings me to today…

What’s funny about that comparison is that Sara’s book was born out of a one-woman show that she’s been performing called, you guessed it, Agorafabulous.  Her story is pretty tragic in parts, and on a different level. Why? Because it was her and not a family member. And it was mental illness and not cancer. Sounds like a raucous good time, filled with laughs, doesn’t it?

Actually, it totally is.

In Agorafabulous, Sara tells her story in candid and wickedly funny fashion. She details her mindset as a depressed agroaphobe with anorexia, who manages to recover and become a stand-up comic, radio personality, star of viral videos and a writer living in New York. Sure, it doesn’t sound inherently funny. But Sara manages to bring her story to life with a wit and sharpness that is kind of genius.

The fact that I found myself laughing out loud (and truly, I was laughing out loud), at the most harrowing parts of her story is a testament to her skill as a writer, and as a comedian especially. Not many people can write about their inability to leave their apartment, describing the smell that one might produce from not showering for days on end, gripped with paralyzing fear of their own bathroom and still make it funny.

Make no mistake, Sara does not dismiss her illness or diminish the seriousness of the condition she found herself in. Her story definitely has the palpable feel of “if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry“. As a result, you might end up feeling bad about laughing at certain parts. I mean that as a compliment to the author, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she’d appreciate what I mean.

It is impossible to escape the fact that as a reader of this book, it helps if you have a good sense of humor. It’s especially beneficial to have a bit of a dark sense of humor. I have been blessed with both, so I laughed throughout this book, and cheered as Sara made her recovery and found her own version of normalcy.  I felt I had a few things in common with her (general bookish-ness among them), so it was easy for me to relate to her even though I have never suffered from agoraphobia myself.

I’d recommend this book to…I don’t know. I just know that I’d recommend it. If you like stories of recovery, a snarky attitude and a sharp wit, this is worth reading.  If you’re a comedy nerd, love stand-up comedy or have a bit of a dark sense of humor, chances are you have the kind of sensibility to love this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (I’d recommend this book to…well…anyone who could find humor in the darkest of situations)

For more from Sara, see the following sites!

Sara’s Webiste: SaraBenincasa.com

On twitter: @SaraJBenincasa

On YouTube: Sara Benincasa


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