Why I’m Like This

by Cynthia Kaplan

ISBN: 0688178502

This book, which is I suppose technically a memoir, reads more like a book of short stories. Or possibly a somewhat rambling and informal collection of personal essays. Subtitled “true stories,” it contains twenty of them, all around ten pages long.

For the most part her stories are funny and ring true emotionally — I found myself not really caring that much if what was in each chapter was literally true, as long as it felt to me like it could be true. Kaplan has a knack for making you listen, whether she is talking about the girl with the big breasts at summer camp, being a waitress, or dealing with her mother.

This is what her sense of humor is like:

In fact, nothing happens. Well, one thing. Two months after the film screens in New York, my father-in-law passes away. He was a fairly conservative, old-school gentleman, and it is intimated more than once that seeing me locked in an erotic embrace with a black woman hastened his decline.

Not surprisingly, the piece with the most emotional depth, “Better Safer Warmer” was previously published. In this piece, Kaplan tells the story of her grandmother’s being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and needing to move into a nursing home. Funny and sad and true.

The conceit of the title — your family makes you who you are, so let me show you mine — works because Kaplan doesn’t spend too much time working it. She laughs at herself at least as often as she laughs at others; this isn’t a “listen to me whine” memoir, it is more of a “I love my screwed-up family, I am who I am because of them, and that is actually okay with me” kind of memoir. Since this is summer, I’ll say this book would be my pick for a beach read. Recommended.

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