Review: Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

Or, I think that Mary-Louise Parker Scares Me a Little

So a funny thing happened when I went to write this review last night.  I picked up the book, which is a series of “letters” written to various men in Parker’s life, to give myself a little refresher because I had finished the book before my grandmother died.

I had picked up the book from a Little Free Library, and it was an advance reader’s copy. From reading the book, I discovered the Parker has an adopted daughter from Ethiopia.  I have a son adopted from Ethiopia, so I immediately Googled Parker’s daughter to see a photo.  What comes up on Google is gossip about Parker’s break-up with Billy Crudup while she was pregnant so that he could date Claire Danes.  I knew none of this, but the articles described a chapter in the book called “Dear Mr. Cabdriver” and how it was the first public description she’s given of how she felt when it happened.  I was really disappointed because I hadn’t read that story while I was reading the book, so I figured that it must have been added after the advance reader’s copy went out.

Fast forward to last night, when I discovered that I had not only somehow skipped that letter, but about 11 other letters as well.  I knew that I took a little snooze in the hammock while I was reading it, but it still surprised me that I managed to miss that big of a chunk of the book!

I didn’t have any expectations when I started reading the book – I’ve seen a few of her movies/shows, but nothing more than that.  I was really blown away by her writing style from the very first letter to her grandfather.  She recalls a story of her grandfather, clearly an alcoholic, sending a bottle of whiskey wrapped in a loaf of bread and frosted to look like a birthday cake to her father who is serving in World War II in the Philippines.  The next story “Dear Daddy” is one of the most powerful in the book, telling the story of how her father was shot in the thigh and then kept walking for two days, never resting, so that he wouldn’t be at the end of the line because that was where soldiers were getting picked off by the enemy.  I love this line at the end of the letter:

This is your family I’m running here.  I can’t take credit for more than remembering to point to you when I do something right and for continuing to put one foot in front of the other when I lose heart.

All the chapters after that, they make me slightly scared.  Or perhaps not scared, but rather convinced that Parker just lives life on a different emotional level than mine.  And not just because she’s a famous actress, but because she presents her life as just so intense all of the time.  Here she is having a wild love affair!  Here she is almost dying! Here she is castrating a goat!

What I found interesting in my reaction to all of this is that I read memoirs to learn about the different experiences people have had, and yet here was the first memoir I’ve ever read that made me feel inferior about not having those experiences.  I think because there is this idea that everyone should have had that adventurous time in their young life when they hitchhiked to San Francisco, or worked at a health food co-op and had friends who wore loincloths, or traveled to Europe with a boyfriend and had sex in public.  Even if you aren’t famous, you should at least have a brief but intense relationship with a man dying of cancer or tap your own maple trees.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book and I’d be interested in reading her other short pieces.  I thought that the letter format was unique and probably a good way for her to structure a memoir so that she didn’t have to talk about the things that make her famous (all of her award-winning performances, celebrity relationships, etc.)  I’m just now going to keep an eye out for other memoirs that bring out this same unexpected reaction and see if there are any similarities between the authors/narratives.

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