Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Bright Lights, Big Ass, by Jen Lancaster

When I read Bitter Is The New Black, which is hands down one of the funniest books I've ever read, I decided Jen Lancaster was going to be my BFF. I can handle it, honestly. For example, she made me snort loudly with laughter as I read her book at the hair salon, but she also gives me the chutzpah to not really care what the other snooty patrons think. Haven't they got anything better to do than stare at someone enjoying a good book under the dryer? Apparently not. And despite my granola-crunching liberal tendencies, I can handle her Fox News leanings, as long as I get invited to the slumber party with her and Ann Coulter. 

Unfortunately, although Bright Lights, Big Ass is a very funny book, I'm starting to wonder if Jen and I are going to be best friends foreverThe book's full title is Bright Lights, Big Ass: A self-indulgent, surly ex-sorority-girl's guide to why it often sucks in the city, or, who are these idiots and Why do they all live next door to me? which (when I finished gasping for air) led me to the idea that the book was filled with observations on urban life. This is true, but not really the main focus, which is all about Jen: All Jen, All The Time.  

If you love Jen and her humor, you won't necessarily think this is a bad thing, because in a lot of ways, the book is so funny that you just won't care. But after a while, for me, there wasn't enough story holding it together, and the humor became a bit repetitious and, finally, grating.

BLBA covers the period of Lancaster's life from when Bitter is the New Black was sold to a publisher to the period it was actually published: She knew she could sell her writing, but had to earn a living in the meantime. Thus, she takes a series of temp jobs to earn money, but also devotes a portion of her time to her writing (presumably BLBA). That is as much narrative as there is - she drifts along, and so does the book. Sometimes we're discussing her temp jobs; other times, Rachael Ray; and then there are the neighbors of the title, who do (finally) get their own chapter toward the end.

Lancaster is at her best when describing her often hilarious interactions with others: A particular favorite scene was when a Monkey Woman berated her on the bus because she was reading an Ann Coulter book: "Normally I'm all for a rousing political discussion, but only with people I'm entirely sure won't fling poo at me." I'm on the polar opposite end of the political spectrum, but I can so relate.  

I loved the descriptions of the temping jobs, especially the young boss, Jimmy Neutron, whose gets rid of her for being so good at his job. ("2:55 pm, Explain to Jimmy that he should avoid using made-up words like 'mandation' when asking donors for money.") My inner pedant especially enjoyed this chapter, as it described Lancaster's editing prowess, and yet contained two typos.* 

Now, to be fair to Lancaster, the book is clearly described as a collection of essays on the back cover: No story was really promised, and if I'd bothered to read the back cover**, I might have had a different reaction. But it still felt a bit thrown-together, particularly Lancaster's tendency to rely too much on a few verbal tricks to get laughs, one of which was so simple an amateur like me could employ it: Yay, me! Another was beginning a sentence as a question and answering the question with the second half. And that? Gets annoying after a while.

Still, BFF's are nothing if not forgiving, and since Jen Lancaster can still make me snort in public places, I'll just see BLBA as a rough patch in our relationship. She has a new book out on reality tv, My Fair Lazy, and since I'm too lazy to try to keep up with reality tv, I'm going to give it a shot.

* I choose to believe that it was a little joke, rather than believe that having some temp spending fifteen minutes running a spellcheck is too much of an investment for the publishing industry these days.
**The front cover was really long, so I figured it covered all the salient points.


  1. I'm with you. I love her books but I definitely felt like this one didn't have the same narrative impact as the first- and itw asn't supposed to, I guess, but still. She's got a great voice and she makes all her readers feel like she's their BFF- which is why she's been so successful, I guess. :-)

  2. i kinda broke up with jen after finishing 'my fair lazy' last week. like you, i felt she and i were kindred spirits--bffs even--but it's as if with the success of her last books, she's risen in popularity ranks and has left the rest of us behind.

    i just can't relate to her anymore. high-end hotels, laying out $400 for tea in chinatown, dinner in the hamptons...and the anecdotes feel forced and aren't as funny.

    she's not the girl-next-door anymore...but die-hard fans will still enjoy MFL. it was worth a read but it isn't quite the jen lancaster we remember.


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