I recognize that I possibly come before this book in an atypical fashion. Before this read, I had no idea who Sleater-Kinney was. In fact, I just had to Google how to spell Sleater-Kinney. I, like many of her younger fans I’m sure, came to love Carrie Brownstein through Portlandia and just assumed that comedy was where she had started. Finding out that her primary source of fame came from a rock band wouldn’t happen until I read – or, rather, listened to – this book.
Yes, that’s right, I consumed this book in audio format instead of reading it. I had this situation with Audible and had a bunch of free credits to use, and I ended up downloading a bunch of books written and narrated by female celebrities. This one is more recent and has been showing up in my Twitter feed a lot, so I decided to give it a go.
The (Spoiler-Free) Summary
It’s kind of strange to call a summary of a memoir spoiler-free, because anyone who would pick up this book to begin with is likely to know at least a fragment of what has happened. Therefore, I’ll be brief.
Carrie Brownstein is the epitome of a Pacific Northwest rocker/hipster, though she might resent either of those labels. She came from a family background that is simultaneously completely unique and entirely relatable, giving profound context to the rest of her life.
The remainder of the book is mostly an account of her musical pursuits, peppered in with enough detail about her personal affairs to keep non-musical readers interested.
Spoilers ahead. Skip to my recommendation to avoid them.
The Good Stuff
Ultimately, the book seems to be about just that: her musical pursuits were incredibly personal. Her struggles, her victories, and her monotonies as a member of Sleater-Kinney were framed by who she was as a person and what her unique experiences had cultivated, making the entire journey surprisingly relatable. And that’s what good memoirs do, right? They take a person whose life has been particularly interesting in regard to the public eye and explore how the shared human experience is more powerful than, or at least has incredible influence of the experiencing of, particular events.
Carrie Brownstein is a phenomenal writer. There is no doubt about that. She is especially apt at description, using perfect metaphor to describe even the most subtle sensations. This is something with which I as a writer struggle, so I can definitely appreciate when someone does it this well.
Lastly, she manages to be simultaneously objective and relative; respectful and unapologetic when exploring difficult and hurtful things that she did to others and that others did to her. This is not an easy balance to achieve; seeming too unapologetic can come across as arrogant, but being too apologetic can seem like a desperate plea for the reader to like and forgive the offender. Brownstein discusses many times she made the wrong decisions, as well as many times specific people did things that hurt her, but she always does to with enough objectivity that the reader appreciates all aspects of the situation without passing judgment. This too is a difficult thing to do, yet Brownstein’s unconditional honesty is elegant and effective. Bravo.
The Bad Stuff
The chronology of the book was a bit confusing at times, jumping back and forth in time to explore various themes together. I actually would have preferred more of a mix-up of topics, which arranging things chronologically would have done, but I understand thematically why it was separated the way it was. Life doesn’t always tell a perfect story chronologically, and neither does this book.
It does make some details hard to piece together, though. For example, when Carrie’s dad discovers that she had dated Corin, his reaction confused me at first because we had already read the story of him coming out to his daughter. Brownstein clears this up a few sentences later, but it does pull you out of the experience of the story.
The book had a very heavy focus on Sleater-Kinney and Brownstein’s other musical pursuits. While I understand that these things might have shaped her life the most, it was a bit jarring and somewhat disappointing for this reader, for whom a greater portion of the Carrie Brownstein corner of my brain was occupied by Portlandia than anything else. Fred Armisen only gets a passing mention in the epilogue as being present for the decision to get the band back together.
If I were reviewing the audiobook as opposed to just the story, I would take away a half star, because Carrie Brownstein, while hilarious on-screen and an incredible writer, doesn’t quite live up to the impossibly high standards set recently by other female comedians in their audiobooks (*coughcough*Mindy, Tina, Amy*coughcough*). But I’m not, so we’ll leave that out of the equation.
Having read (okay, listened to) this book, I decided to try some Sleater-Kinney on for size. She’s not kidding when she talks about the lack of comfortability in the music. It is not easy listening. But it is raw and honest. I think the same could be said for this book. It’s not the easiest read in the world, and if you’re primarily a fan of hers from Portlandia you will likely be jarred and confused at how different it is from the memoirs of your other fav lady comedians. But I think it’s well worth the read, as it manages to contribute to things like empathy, objectivity, and appreciation.
4 out of 5 stars
No discussion questions for memoirs. That just seems weird. Sorry. Check my next review for those.