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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Mr. You

It's an interesting concept, this Mary-Louise Parker memoir. Dear Mr. You is a series of letters written to the men in her life. I wanted to pick it up, and at a book-oriented Christmas party, there it sat like a gift waiting to be picked up. So I did.

I was discussing this book with a friend who said she didn't want to read it because it came across as pretentious and self-aggrandizing. I thought on that for a while, and realized that once I put this book into the memoir genre, that of course it is, because every memoir is pretentious and self-aggrandizing. It kinda defines the genre. It put the whole thing in a new perspective, and I stopped thinking of this book as a puff piece and more as a way to tell a story.

Here's why I think this is important: Because memoir plays with lives. Mostly your own, but also with others'.  We tell our stories entirely from our own points of view, and that affects other people whether we intend for it to our not. Our truth is our own, and memoir exploits that. So in Parker's memoir, we know that she has dated some famous people, one even leaving her when she was seven months pregnant for a younger actress. I understand Parker's need to tell these stories without naming names, and I loved that each chapter was addressed to a different nicknamed man.

Which leads me to the most profound of the letters, "Dear Cerberus." There has been much written about this all over the interwebs (just Google her name and the chapter title -- no need for me to link to everything here), and the consensus is that the three heads of the mythical dog represent three horrible relationships. I could speculate as to who they are, but really, I don't think it matters. It was the first dog head that punched me in the gut -- the picture of Parker in her new pants, of which she was excited and proud, and being torn down by physically and verbally for it was gut-wrenching. There is no self-pity though; it's a story of what happened and how she reacted to it. We have all had bad relationships, some more abusive than others and in different ways, but it's enough to know that feeling when someone you love turns to you and calls you a name you never envisioned they would.

There were other beautiful letters in here as well. The letter to the cab driver was universal until she turns to him and tells him about why she is in a bad mood -- she's pregnant and alone and she says, "It hurts to even breathe." Oh god, how that hurt to read. Her letter to a former younger lover, who at the time was tremendously younger but now with age she realizes wouldn't be quite so, was ridiculously lovely and so easy to understand. Her letter to her father was moving and gracious. Her letter to the doctor who saved her life was personal to me. To almost leave this mortal coil and to be pulled back to the earth -- there are not enough words on this earth for that gratefulness.

All of this to say that you can find where you fit in with this book if you open it. It doesn't have to be read in order, and these letters are ones you can come back to. Some you can read at a distance with age, and some you can look forward to. It's a lovely little memoir.

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