Valerie Frankel proves that discussing hatred --- that powerful range of gut-churning emotions that includes off-shoots such as frustration, envy and disappointment --- can be both side-splitting and thought-provoking in this charming collection of essays.
"Valerie Frankel proves that discussing hatred --- that powerful range of gut-churning emotions that includes off-shoots such as frustration, envy and disappointment --- can be both side-splitting and thought-provoking in this charming collection of essays."
She starts her first story, "Hate Happens," with the "longest sulk in history," brought on in seventh grade by a terrible state of weekend boredom. When her mother suggests she call her friends, the situation becomes even direr. During her call to the first girl, Amy, Amy's mother covers the mouthpiece, muffling a conversation on her end. Then she announces that Amy is visiting her cousin in Connecticut. Another call to another friend results in a second conversation with a parent --- and a similar ploy. It's obvious that Brenda's mother's reply is prompted by Brenda pantomiming that she's not available. Brenda's mom finally claims that Brenda went to the movies with her father.
These two girls had once been best friends with Valerie, but now they belong in the skinny, cute strata of the school's social rainbow. Valerie, once slim, clear-skinned and smooth-haired, has morphed into a plump frizzy outcast with acne. After calling Amy and Brenda, Valerie daydreams about the handsome new boy in the neighborhood. Carlo is gloriously good-looking, but since he's not had an opportunity to make friends yet, maybe Valerie has a chance with him. Spurred by wanting to impress Carlo and knowing her mother will be ecstatic (Valerie's mom is constantly chiding her about her weight), Valerie announces she is going jogging. Her plan is to awe Carlo by running past his house, with her considerable chest bouncing enticingly.
Of course, Valerie is not exactly a runner, and she’s gasping with agony well before she reaches her target…where she finds Amy and Brenda flirting with Carlo. Her humiliation is multiplied by Carlo calling to her to "keep running," followed by the laughter of her two ex-best friends. Valerie's diary receives the full brunt of her shame and anger (and, decades later, we receive the benefit of her scribblings of hatred).
In a conversational style so personal that it seems our best friend is confiding with us over coffee, Frankel goes on to lambast other despicable folks, many of whom are entirely recognizable to all of us. There are the incredibly snobby neighbors, including the one who never recognizes or acknowledges her no matter how many times they are introduced. There's the anesthesiologist who tries to cancel Frankel's colonoscopy, even though she has already endured the arduous preparation period, as well as physicians giving her family terrible news and questionable advice. We meet a couple of Frankel's previous (hate-worthy) boyfriends, the one who criticizes everything about her, including the way she eats, and the one whose idea of fun is potty humor. Then there's the first-time novelist whose easy success is unbearable to jealous author Frankel. Not to mention loathsome quirks in Frankel's own otherwise beloved husband.
Valerie Frankel has a gift for making us laugh, but she also adds a sharp edge of painful truth behind her humor; much of her revelations are poignantly all too relatable. For example, her regret is palpable when remembering how she ended a teenage friendship: "That unsentimental detachment --- 'I hate long goodbyes' in the extreme --- was the first of many instances to come of my coldly severing friendships that had run their course." Readers are likely to appreciate her courage, as well as her considerable ability to entertain and to be grateful to her advisors, whose urging to let her negative emotions empower her to "kick ass" led to this memoir.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 29, 2011