Monday, April 14, 2014

"Hyperbole and a Half" by Allie Brosh

Like most people, I discovered Brosh through her immensely popular--despite being mostly dormant for the last few years--blog. Her combination of crudely done graphic art with personal stories of childhood and adult failures rang true for me and many others. Brosh disappeared for a long period, disabled by depression, but her book recently emerged and includes a number of references to that time.

First of all, not all the material in Hyperbole and a Half is new. A number of stories are reprints from the blog. They're still funny the second time around, but it's something, I think, to be aware of before shelling out money for purchase.

Then there's the new material, which is a little inconsistent. Some of it is absolutely fabulous. I laughed so hard at "Warning Signs," where Brosh addresses younger versions of her self, that my husband demanded I hand over the book so he could be "in" on the joke. And Brosh is usually spot-on with her stories about her childhood and troubles with her idiot and uncontrollable dogs. These stories typically reflect Brosh's inflated sense of ability ("Yes, I can go to my friend's birthday party after heavy dental sedation"; "Yes, I can be the one to 'fix' this terrible dog"), which also comes across as admirable--though wayward--determination.

The personal stories about her struggles with depression and sense of identity are somewhat less effective. One the one hand, "Depression Part One" is a moving and understated approach to what depression feels like to the person suffering. It also effectively shows how misplaced most attempts to help are. On the other hand, later chapters about her sense of identity seem repetitive and overblown. Similar points are hammered over and over, and Brosh's insistence on her failures (like imagining herself as a better person than she really is--something I think we all can relate to) eventually come across as inflated and less sincere.

If you enjoy Brosh's work on her blog, the book is definitely worth a read--after all, I haven't laughed out loud so hard at a book in a long time--but be aware that not all of it is equally strong.

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