There's been a tidal wave of early- and midlife memoirs recently, most of them self-indulgent, self-referential and occasionally even wildly narcissistic. But Lauren Weedman's Miss Fortune is like a pearl that washed up on a beach full of seaweed, tar balls and plastic six-pack holders. It's a jewel sparkling amid a landscape of literary pollution.
Imagine Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham's character on Girls, has grown up into a middle-aged single mom telling her crazy life story to a random guy she met five minutes ago at a Santa Monica dive bar. That's a fair approximation of Weedman's hilarious, seen-it-all voice as she narrates her second showbiz memoir. Once a Daily Show correspondent (she was fired, she says, for treating host Jon Stewart like a regular guy and not a king), Weedman played Horny Patty to great acclaim on HBO's Hung and is probably best known for her role as Doris on another HBO show, Looking. But career highlights don't do justice to her funny, interesting life story.
Miss Fortune (Penguin Random House, $16) fills in all the delicious details. Reading it is like hanging out with that quirky, artsy bohemian girl you had a crush on in high school but didn't pursue as a friend or lover because she seemed like such a drama queen that, back then, you couldn't have handled her shit-storm of a life. But now that you're her adult friend, listening to her tell too-wild-to-be-made-up stories about her wonderful, horrible life is mostly just a lot of fun.
One of the most appealing parts about Weedman's inspired balance of comedy and tragedy is the just-one-of-the-guys approach she takes when discussing her own sexuality. There's no coyness here, no blushing maiden posing demurely as she fights her way through the never-ending gender war. Like when she joins a theater troupe in Holland and learns her contract forbids dating within the group: “Now I can be myself and not worry about if I had a chance with any of the Texas boys, which, considering the presence of our beautiful Italian set designer and the tall blond Dutch actress, was unlikely to happen anyway. I'm free now to be my best creative self and free to pretend that secretly everyone wants to have sex with me but they're contractually bound not to.”
Such carnal frankness comes naturally. “I have always been candid about sex,” Weedman said in an interview. “I suppose to a degree that harms me in terms of dating, but that's who I am.”
With Weedman, it's all about the joy of the journey — fuck the destination. Miss Fortune is a cul-de-sac of a memoir that jumps back and forth in time and doesn't go anywhere except right up to the present moment, when she reveals that she feels like crying when she hears “?'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' the version by the Hawaiian guy on the ukulele.”
The book's main plot point — Weedman filing for divorce from her second husband when she discovers he's banging the babysitter — is a Hollywood cliché at this point, but Weedman insists it's true. Names were changed to protect the not-so-innocent, but the whole damn kaleidoscope of a story is bona fide, starting with her adoption by an Indiana family, her introduction into showbiz by a gay high school music teacher who died of AIDS, her long slog through the showbiz minor leagues in Europe and Seattle, and her eventual call-up to the big leagues in L.A.
Mr. Critzer, the high school choral teacher, emerges as a tragic figure: a talented musician and closeted gay man who, because it was the Midwest in the 1980s, had to hide his real life and real self from his devoted students. Weedman pays tribute to him by using his real name.
The long sections on Mr. Critzer reveal a deeper truth about Weedman: She has always had an affinity for gay guys, even the ones she dated in high school before they realized they were gay. “I have always felt like an outsider. I think that's the root of the gay connection,” she says. “The gay boys tend to be artsy and weird, and so much more fun than other people. I'm definitely a fag hag.”
Apart from serious chapters about Mr. Critzer and her relationship with her birth mother, the book aims for laughs over tears. In more ways than one, her recollections nail the L.A. experience, from living in a run-down, rent-controlled Santa Monica apartment to taking her son to the playground every day: “The Euro moms dominate the sandbox, the Santa Monica moms are in the west corner under the oak tree, and the Spanish-speaking nannies in hospital scrubs (which I really hope was their idea and not their employers') are sitting on the benches.”
Though she's only 47, Miss Fortune is Weedman's second memoir, following 2007's A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body: Tales From a Life of Cringe. She's already succeeded in showing millennials how memoir writing is done — with lots of well-digested experiences, an original voice and a scathing wit — but let's hope we don't have to wait another nine years for volume three.
Weedman will be at Book Soup on Tuesday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. Info at booksoup.com.