There are many forms of self-indulgence. A memoir is one and stand-up comedy is another. And, like self-indulgence generally, both can be either interesting and compelling or dull and predictable. Luckily for Rachel Shukert, she has a knack for comedy and performance; it may be that her voice as a performer helped make her voice as a memoirist so entertaining. The premise of EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT is not original, but Shukert's style and unabashed honesty make it a fun read nonetheless.
Shukert's Grand Tour begins when, after a break-up with her boyfriend and finishing her acting degree, she lands a role in a play directed by a famous theater tyrant. She will not be paid, will have no lines, will have to wear a “poop hat” and be referred to as a male --- but she will get a trip to Europe and thinks it sounds like a great idea. After a grueling run in New York, the play heads overseas to Vienna and then Amsterdam. In Vienna, Shukert begins an affair with a man old enough to be her father and who may be the direct descendant of Nazis.
Most of her time in Europe, however, is spent in Amsterdam --- first because the play ends there, and second because she has friends living there who offer her a place to stay. Because her passport was never stamped when she entered, and she has nowhere else to be, she decides to stay. When the play her Dutch friends are hoping to stage doesn't get funding, she takes a job handing out flyers and coupons for an American-style comedy club. But otherwise her time is spent renaming Dutch streets (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal becomes New Side for Burgers, Y'all), creating imaginary sitcoms, wrestling with the Dutch fascination with Phil Collins, being mistaken for a prostitute, drinking, and embarking on an affair with a man who may or may not be a sociopath.
Again, Shukert's antics are not unfamiliar. She is a twenty-something Jewish Brooklyn hipster (though originally from Omaha, which adds a nice twist to her perspective) who is emotionally and physically adrift in Europe and still financially supported by her parents. And it’s not that (at least in this book) she has some sort of epiphany or enlightenment: she muddles her way from relationship to relationship, mishap to mishap. But the thing is, she is super funny. Shukert is crass, sometimes gross, other times grossly inappropriate, but always funny.
As self-indulgent as memoirs can be (especially written by someone who hasn’t reached 40 years old and has yet to publicly accomplish much besides writing a memoir), Shukert's audience will be charmed by her tales of danger, drunkenness, sexual escapades, heartbreak and adventure. Readers also have the advantage of knowing she makes it out okay: at the very end, she meets the man who, by the time the book is published, will be her husband. And the necessary insight you keep hoping she finds along the way becomes apparent as she reflects back on the almost two years total she spent in Europe.
Of course there are moments of tender-heartedness and shows of brave emotion, but mostly EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT is a humorous look at a period in Shukert's life that could've been depressing and dour. Thankfully, she tells a great tale with a flair for drama and the absurd, and is unafraid to write about her strange, sometimes shocking and often complicated experiences with honesty. Sometimes self-indulgence is a bore, but other times it’s art!
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 21, 2011