Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Conclusion: But really...IS Everything Going to Be Great?

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Oh, Europe. Your beauty and allure mask the epic amount of trouble you hold in store for young American travelers. We pack our bags and book our hostels with complete confidence that since you are also a developed, Western continent, we will have no problem with your languages, your people, or your customs. What deceit. At least in the experiences of Rachel Shukert.

Shukert's newest and second memoir, Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour, logs her experiences and misadventures in Europe (though "European Grand Tour" may not be the most accurate subtitle, as this book is 90% about her time living solely in Amsterdam after an acting gig fell through).

So how is Rachel's life across the pond? Well, she's living on the couch of her gay-couple friends; she has no visa; the only work she can get is as a promoter at an American club, but she's still absolutely broke. Rachel certainly attracts drama and not really the kind that she instigates. Shit just happens to her, and apparently, it always has (alcohol may or may not always be a factor). Naturally, she's got a few good stories to tell—Like the time she dated an older man whose father was probably in the Gestapo. And the time she almost got three-way date-raped by a couple of Italian dental students, simply to get a crown replaced.

Here's my thing about memoirs—my opinion of them is changing. I've always enjoyed them while my boyfriend hates them, claiming they're too self-indulgent. I guess up to this point, I've mostly read ones that are more than just an individual's personal experiences. Instead, they seem to be one's personal account or observation of something bigger than themselves—maybe a poignant historical moment or a unique setting/environment. And I like those, because it's not all "ME ME ME!"

This one is a more on the "ME ME ME!" end of the spectrum when it comes to memoirs, but that's not to say it doesn't have its merits. It is funny. Shukert's storytelling ability leads you quickly from beginning to end with ease, sometimes causing you to laugh out loud and sometimes just to shake your head. But it's also overly crude at times, which I'm not particularly a fan of, and a lot of the time I was wondering, "Ok, what is her point?" What did she learn from all these experiences? What is all this "me me me" stuff leading up to?

The whole time, Shukert is working under the notion that Europe is the place to go in your early twenties to find yourself and discover how to live in the real world and deal with real adult things after college. That is a rough time, believe you me. And I'm sure that if I wrote a memoir about my own experiences after college, no one would read it because it would certainly have the whining but without the humor or crazy stories. The last couple of chapters, for me, redeemed a novel that could have easily veered in the "entertaining but empty" category, because Shukert does have a "what I learned" moment that is so ├╝berly coming-of-age.

I certainly enjoyed Shukert's book more than the-queen-of-self-indulgent-memoir-writing Julie Powell garbage. I certainly liked her more than I like Julie Powell. She thankfully lacked the incessant whining of Powell, and had a more, "Well this is what happened," angle than one that begged for empathy. She told things as they were without any kind of self-reflection, which was actually pretty refreshing and made the story more entertaining because I didn't have time to decide whether I really liked her as a person or not—I just "listened" to her story and laughed along with her. But at a certain point, it's like you're talking with a friend who won't shut up, and you just want to get a word in. And in this case, that word was, "Put down the bottle and pull yourself together!"

I think the true moment of crossing over into adulthood—and what may have been the aHA! moment for Rachel, as well—is when you take action to do what you need to do instead of what you think you should be doing. Like, sure, you want to live in Europe and have this great journey of self-discovery and be able to tell everyone in twenty years about the wonderful time you spent living abroad. But the world may just be telling you no—go home, regroup, and deal with what is. And luckily for Rachel's health and sanity, she listened.


Review copy provided by the publisher at BEA.

2 comments:

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Kaye said...

The titles great too! :)