There are actually a lot of pouffy white dresses in Susan Jane
Gilman's achingly funny memoir, HYPOCRITE IN A POUFFY WHITE DRESS.
There's the tutu she insists on wearing to school, sparking a
kindergarten fashion trend. There are her Puerto Rican neighbors'
first communion dresses, which make young Susan "spastic with envy"
and determined to become Hispanic. And last but not least, there's
the pouffy white dress of the title story, the wedding dress that
inspires a revision in Gilman's feminist sensibilities: "I was
supposed to be the Anti-Bride ... I was not some insipid
girlie-girl dolled up like a parade float. But in that dress, with
the tiara, I was intoxicated with myself."
Gilman's revelations on the pedestal at David's Bridal are a lot
like her memoir as a whole: simultaneously funny, thoughtful and
unexpected. For example, when she lands her first "real" job after
college at the Jewish Week newspaper, Gilman is assigned to
report on a week-long tour for teenagers of Polish Holocaust sites.
Initially pleased simply to call herself a "foreign correspondent,"
Gilman, who is at most ambivalent toward her Jewish heritage,
gradually finds herself deeply moved by the concentration camps.
Even though she eloquently describes the trip's unexpectedly
emotional impact, Gilman also includes a genuinely funny commentary
on the souvenirs available at the Treblinka gift shop.
Gilman was previously best known for the wisecracking dating manual
KISS MY TIARA, an alternative to bestselling 1990s women's advice
books like THE RULES. She notes in her foreword that part of the
goal of this book is to write a "coming-of-age" story that doesn't
focus solely on getting a man. "There's so much more to women's
lives that's worthy of attention and ridicule," she writes. And
indeed, Gilman's memoir will have the most appeal for other
young(ish) women, who will see themselves in Gilman's own awkward
adolescence and questionable career development, as well as in her
struggles to define herself in the wake of the feminist movement.
Anyone from Gilman's generation, though --- born in the 1960s,
raised on the pop culture and pop psychology of the 1970s --- will
laugh out loud at the cultural references Gilman sprinkles
liberally throughout her memoir.
HYPOCRITE IN A POUFFY WHITE DRESS starts with Gilman's preschool
years and ends in 2001, as she begins a new phase of her life ---
happily married and living in Geneva, Switzerland. One can only
hope that Gilman will continue to chronicle this next chapter of
her life in books as smart and funny as this one.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011