Emily explores the wacky world of human experiences through comic writing as lockdown escapism.
Little Weirds by actress and stand-up comedian Jenny Slate is, technically speaking, a collection of comic essays. However, I feel that it could be categorised in any number of ways. It is whimsically abstract, a stream of consciousness, a piece of magical realism or surrealism; it’s funny, sad, and heart-warming – and defiantly genre-less. In Slate’s own words, it’s “a weird party for a woman who has returned from grief. It’s a peppy procession of all my little weirds… a book that honours my fragmentation by giving itself to you in pieces”.
This grief Slate talks about follows the double devastation of a sense of loneliness post-divorce and of disempowerment after Trump’s election. The pages of this book peel back the layers of her sadness and frustrations in a way that is humorous, heartening, and lovingly shared with you. The chapters are snippets of thought cut from the cloth of her life as the author pieces herself back together and invites you to join her in an exploration of her inner ruminations, one bizarre and beautiful image rolling into the next. Turning the pages is like stepping into Slate’s weird and wonderfully wacky world as she leans into her strangest thoughts with unfiltered honesty and intense vulnerability.
Amongst the subjects, she dances lyrically around are ghosts in her family home, imagining she is a croissant, frustrations with the patriarchy, sitting in the laps of human-sized dogs, and sending herself formally-worded letters of complaint regarding the increasingly boring nature of her dreams.
By way of introduction, Slate tells us “I am a human woman,” and the need for this clarification becomes more apparent as you delve deeper into the narrative and the author morphs in her own eyes from “human woman” to plant, animal, spirit, ghost, and wild thing. As well as an often abstract identity as an author, Slate crafts a sense of timelessness as the narrative slips between past, present, and future tenses with fluidity. At times, Little Weirds feels almost like a children’s book for adults, as it reads like a playground of ideas about life, love, and late-night takeaways moulded merrily into funny insights and ideas.
For this reason, I found Little Weirds to be the perfect lockdown read, especially if you have Netflix fatigue and are trying to reduce screen-time but don’t necessarily want to read anything too serious (and particularly if you’ve made a lockdown resolution to get round to reading that big tome on your shelf that you’re just not feeling up for yet). However, if Netflix still sounds like an alluring offer, I also highly recommend Jenny Slate’s Netflix special, Stage Fright.
As a night-time read, Little Weirds is gentle and welcoming, like a pair of lovingly laid out freshly ironed pyjamas for you to climb into and cosy up in. Of course, this book could also be a good beach towel tucked into the sand or a blanket to wrap yourself in on the sofa.
As strange as some of the “weirds” in this book are, you will probably identify with most of them on some level. This serves as a reminder of how wonderfully weird we human beings really are, in a way which is less existentially anxious and verges more towards curiosity. It’s also a reminder of human resilience and of our capacity for regrowth, which feels very timely.
It is a gem of a book unlike any I have read before. It is full of heart and light and oddities; a curiosity and a joy.