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Little Weirds

Review

Little Weirds

Jenny Slate’s preface for LITTLE WEIRDS prepares readers for a non-traditional book: four dedications of varying degrees of affection are included, acknowledging stubbornness in her mother and genius in her father. A Stanley Kunitz poem, also part of the opening pages, encourages us to “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Listening to this advice, Slate stacks her pages with a joyful, rich riot of words and fresh images.

The individual pieces pelt us like soft rubber bullets in a shooting gallery, aimed at an ever-moving row of metal ducks when the carnival comes to town. One scene takes us to the ocean where a woman has returned to life after having been struck by lightning and died, only to die once again after a Big Sweetie sees her on the beach. But the lightning saw how eager she was to use her heart and live, and so the forces of nature zap her back to a reality. The Big Sweetie is standing by, and he seems very happy to see her. He’s your grandfather, Slate writes.

"Every page in this collection of small pieces, even one-sentence chapters, gives us moments to pause and wrap ourselves in completely unexpected pleasures."

Another chapter takes us on a flight to Norway to visit a friend on an island (and other people were there, too, proving how brave and shy she was). Slate watches a 40-year-old business woman unashamedly buy a hot dog for lunch in the airport. She tells us this would not happen in New York City. Later, she compares this anomaly to a man buying a can of pineapple for the short boat trip to the island. The incongruous connection makes a gentle kind of sense somehow --- she calls the two moments cousins --- and she has noticed and generously smiles at the world for this gift.

One of the sweetest chapters is “Beach Animals.” Two new friends (the newness is important because of the discoveries they make throughout their visit) arrive in matching raspberry outfits. It was a joke. They bought them on the other side of the bay. They wanted to jostle Slate with their pinkness, and she saw them watching her face. She loved the surprise and celebrated their fun, remembering what it is like to win something. The visit lasts for several days, and their intimacy extends to imagining what it would be like to know every female in the universe.

One of her new friends would go outside and sit on a rock, and a female fox would come and sit beside her, putting her paw on her back in the kindest of gestures --- gestures we all know --- meaning “Hey, you’ve got this” or “Sorry, I lost my temper.” And the fox would leave, and the new friend would come inside with tenderness on her face. Their time together is over, and Slate knows the new friends brought massive love and raspberry-colored laughter and left her with new, helpful questions: “What if I only dreamed gardens? What if I ate carrots because what if I were a pleasant rabbit?” She thanks the planet.

One short piece instructs us on how to tip ourselves toward gentleness and joy: “Clean a room and tidy it with an air of fairness, like you are doing what is fair for the room.” Linger for a few minutes, pause to listen, soothe the room. I, too, check up on a room after it is cleaned; I come back in a bit, turn on the lights and acknowledge the niceness, and I like the information that others (at least Slate) does it, too. She explains another instruction: “Only do a little gossip and make sure it doesn’t make any dents in anyone.” How kind to allow the gossip and how smart to give a warning label.

Every page in this collection of small pieces, even one-sentence chapters, gives us moments to pause and wrap ourselves in completely unexpected pleasures. Of course there is laughter --- eating roasted chickens with bare hands, and then talking to really smart dogs and snacking on potato chips in bed --- and there is some sadness. But, mostly, LITTLE WEIRDS gives us snippets of life. Rubber bullet after rubber bullet.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on November 15, 2019

Little Weirds
by Jenny Slate

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019
  • Genres: Essays, Fiction, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316485349
  • ISBN-13: 9780316485340