The subtitle of Jenny Lawson’s book Furiously Happy is: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Nothing I can say in this review will match that perfect, succinct description.
I don’t tend to read memoirs, nor do I gravitate towards humorous books. I heard about Lawson’s Furiously Happy on another blog, though, and was sufficiently intrigued.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lawson said: “This book is about my battle with mental illness, but, more importantly, it’s about celebrating the battles we win against life and b.s. and sometimes our very brains.”
I’m glad I picked it up. It is an unabashed, brutally honest account of one woman’s struggles with mental health. It is also a wild and wacky ride through Lawson’s mind, dotted with plenty of hilarious anecdotes.
The result is somewhat jarring. At times we move quickly from a chapter recounting one of Lawson’s bizarre adventures to a poignant chapter detailing the dark depths of depression. This is one of the ways in which the author straps us into the emotional rollercoaster of her world.
She doesn’t hold anything back. I laughed at the following excerpt so much I almost choked:
“Apparently the French are really into small food, which sort of makes sense because they’re very thin. That girl in Amélie is so tiny I could fit her in my vagina. Not that I would. I would have said “pocket” but I don’t have a pocket in this dress. But I do have a vagina and that’s sort of like a pocket, although not one you should store paper money in. Or coins, probably. I guess it depends on how strong your vaginal muscles are. More power to you if you can keep a roll of nickels up there. My hat is off to you, my friend.
But enough about your braggy, powerful vagina. I was talking about canapés.”
She also doesn’t hold back when talking about depression, crippling anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The following excerpt is from the end of the book, but I don’t think that sharing it will “ruin” the ending. She addresses “all who walk the dark path”. I share the excerpt here because it absolutely blew me away:
“You will see things that no normal person will ever see. Terrible things. Mysterious things. Things that try to burrow into your mind like a bad seed… Things that will stop at nothing to pull you down further and kill you in the most terrible way of all… by your own trembling hand. These things are terrible monsters.”
Lawson has an impressive gift. She can communicate on a profound level about the toxic and pervasive thoughts that come with mental health problems. She doesn’t aim for pity. To take a quote from earlier in the book: “Laughter is a blessing and a song… The bright hours spent with my family and friends are extraordinary treasures… Those moments are a promise that life is worth fighting for…”
For the sake of completeness, here are some things I didn’t love about the book.
About 75% of the way through, the book started to drag for me. Rather than seeing this as a major failing, it might be just the opposite. After all, I was moved and entertained for the majority of a book that I would usually avoid. Still, I think a few of the chapters could have been cut as they didn’t add anything new. For example, the arguments with her husband are hilarious at first, but grow tedious towards the end.
On the other hand, there were parts I’d hoped would be developed further. Twitter is a good example. At times, Lawson’s severe anxiety forces her to retreat from people, sometimes for prolonged periods. However, she seems to thrive on interactions on Twitter. She does explain how, during particularly dark times, support from the community on Twitter helped her through. I would have liked some additional analysis on why she can thrive on Twitter while avoiding real-life interactions.
These minor criticisms notwithstanding, I still think this is an excellent book. The bottom line is that everyone has their own struggles. We all have people in our lives that face the darkness on a regular basis. Furiously Happy is a testament to the importance of laughter and hope. It is also a testament to the ubiquitousness of mental health struggles, and the help which online communities can provide.
Note: Jenny Lawson keeps her own (brilliant) blog. It’s not only an outlet for her, but also an incredible community of people, many of whom face similar struggles. You can check it out here.