Book Review: Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
Step into Jenny Slate’s wild imagination in this “magical” (Mindy Kaling), “delicious” (Amy Sedaris), and “poignant” (John Mulaney) New York Times bestseller about love, heartbreak, and being alive — “this book is something new and wonderful” (George Saunders).
It is safe to say this year has been a doozy and I (like many of you, I suspect) have been distracted. My intention for this month’s issue was to tell you all to sit down and read Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds for its humor and irreverence, but maybe the real reason to read it is as a distraction. It may work. It is a delightfully off-beat little collection of essays that may act as a balm for your mind as you continually try to wrap it around the unfolding reality we find ourselves trying to make sense of every, single day. That’s how I found myself reading the book.
The book opens with a story in which Slate is describing herself as a “Parisian Croissant,” Slate muses of being mistaken for a French woman and then segues into being a croissant in the loveliest of metaphors. For instance, like a croissant, she “feel(s) its own heat and curves” and is named “after a shape the moon makes.”
Her prose offers itself as the poetry of the self-aware. It is honest. It is silly. It is musings the reader can relate to and the irreverence embedded in each has a grounding-effect that is refreshing in the current day-to-day.
Each evening I force myself to stop doomscrolling and pick up a book as my final act of the night. Some of the books I choose only set the wheel spinning faster, but Little Weirds could actually draw out a laugh or two and in general would have me remembering my most awkward, goofy self, and the way I thought about the world. It slowed the wheel, sometimes enough that I could sleep. In other words, it reminded me of being a kid again, not so much that Slate and I had similar childhoods, but that her storytelling reminds me so much of the reasoning a child and adolescent has. The essays have an insecurity and brashness to them that would titillate a thirteen-year-old me.
Slate begins the essay “Restaurant” with childish depictions of animals, such as elephants and lions, before turning abruptly to the ritual of getting ready to go out to a restaurant. The absurdity of the ritual, of ‘getting ready’ reveals itself as a sort of coming-of-age initiation, and following the depictions of these massively evolved creatures creates a fantastic juxtaposition. It is silly and irreverent and gives us all a little glimpse into how seriously we sometimes take ourselves and our habits. The essay finishes with a reminder that it is all vaguely meaningless considering “…(she) can go more places on this sphere as it rotates through eternal darkness and endless space.”
“Deerhoof/ Dream Deer” is the story of a deer with its foot caught in a fence and how it is discovered…tragically too late, and the amount of grief and shame and guilt that overwhelms Slate when her mother points out that it was she who planted the grapes that attracted the deer in the first place. How does one reconcile that? That our actions have unintended effects for which we are responsible—even the best of intentions lead to the worst, even most bizarre of outcomes.
It is the honesty with which it conveys that growing up is hard that is necessary. And now, as a fully-fledged grown-up without ever intending to be, I am witness to how important that honesty is. Our actions have unintended consequences, and our lives will be haunted by them. But at the same time, she did grow up and moved on and realized she was in fact, allowed redemption for simply being human.
To be able to portray that human redemption is simply being human—in being a weirdo, in fact, is perhaps the most relevant theme of this book. An encouraging theme and a hopeful one.
“I am an example of a specific way of spending time and feeling existence in this world.”
The final line of one of the final essays. It is the feeling of constantly being in life and waking up inside yourself and feeling the absurdity of you—I suppose, in a way that makes one say thank you…I still don’t know what it means, but thank you.
Get Little Weirds now at Little, Brown and Company