As I’ve said before and will likely say again, memoir is a tricky proposition. Celebrity memoir is usually smug and self-serving, sometimes to the point of changing my view of said celebrity (are you listening, Art Garfunkel?). Non-celebrity memoir? Well, you’d better have had an interesting life. Some of that changes when one has something in common with the memoirist, and that’s certainly true of gay authors for me. It helps when the writing is sharp and the characters are focused, and that’s what saves Eric Poole’s Excuse Me While I Slip Into Someone More Comfortable.
Eric Poole is determined to be Somebody. He just doesn’t know who. Or how. But he’s certain he’s destined for fame and fortune as a trumpet player…or an actor…or a singer…or a fashion designer…or a dancer…or a writer. But advertising? Well, it’s sort of writing. Assisting him in his search for the perfect occupation are his ultra-religious parents and a rotating cast of girlfriends along with his one, out gay friend, Kurt. Patient Kurt, who knows Eric isn’t Tommy Tune…or Barry Manilow…or Halston…but is gay.
Reviewing memoir is just like reviewing someone’s life. You really can’t address character motivation or absurdity (or absence) of plot. You can’t carp about choices or discuss issues with what the author does or doesn’t do with his life. It’s easier with a memoir like Dennis Milam Bensie’s Thirty Years a Dresser, which depends on anecdotes about others. Poole’s book is all about his struggle to reconcile himself with his concept of himself and, at times, is as frustrating as I’m sure that was in real life. In that, Poole is quite successful. He portrays himself as clueless, a man backing painfully into life. His heartbreak is evident, but he can’t see it. The reader must do that for him.
Poole’s insistence on cleaving so closely to reality is both nervy and unnerving. He doesn’t comment on his predicaments as one looking back but as one in the throes of them, which is alternately comforting and uncomfortable. His prose is, as said before, sharp and funny. He makes more judgments about himself than his cast of characters, and he manages, in terms of plot, to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. And the ending is absolutely perfect.
Excuse Me While I Slip Into Someone More Comfortable is a well-written, solid memoir that takes some chances and succeeds by virtue of some excellent writing and genuinely funny moments.
© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler