Monday, August 5, 2019

DON'T WAIT UP :: Liz Astrof

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Liz Astrof is an executive producer and sitcom writer, plying her trade on several hit shows (The King of Queens; 2 Broke Girls), so it's no surprise she has an exceptionally funny and charismatic voice. Sadly, Astrof's history also lends credence to the theory that great comedy has its roots in tragedy.

Astrof doesn't mine devastation just for laughs. Her candid essays in Don't Wait Up address life's ordeals with acerbic wit, but never reduce her experiences to a laugh track. The humor is there to break the emotional fall, as the pieces run the gamut from farcical--when her family takes on a pet turtle ("The Year of the Turtle")--to mind-bogglingly horrific.

In "Happy New Year," Astrof discovers she had a twin who died in utero. That unbearable notion created a moment of sympathy for her mother, a "hateful, filthy, horrible witch of a woman," only to have her father explain, "Your mother's problem wasn't that your sister died.... Her problem was that you lived."

Whether overtly or latently comical, each essay finds her mother's scarring impact lying in wait, fostering Astrof's "stay-at-work mom" mentality. A demanding career means Astrof doesn't "have to be home for a lot of the bad shit like homework and dinnertime." Jokes aside, she's terrified of messing up her kids. Her writing evidences a deep love and humanity, however squirm-inducing and disconcerting the journey. Written with a sharp pen and an open heart, Astrof's work is heartbreakingly poignant and funny as hell.

STREET SENSE: These essays from television writer Liz Astrof reveal humorous and challenging aspects of her family and career as influenced by her monstrous mother. There are pieces and aspects of pieces that will speak to most anyone, and there are some tough and well-earned laughs along the way.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Every Mother's Day, I'm reminded of what a...unique mother I had. There isn't a single card that captures my experience. And the dread I feel about that while heading into my local Rite Aid is profound. To be fair, it would be hard for even the most seasoned card-poet to find decent couplets for "Even Though You Left When I Was Five, You Continue to Haunt Me." Or "I Know You Never Wanted Children, But..." Or "My Kids Can Never Have Enough Clothes or Shoes Because I Had to Share Mine With Your Ventriloquist Dummy." That said, I'd settle for a simple "On This Day and All Days, I'm Terrified of Becoming You." It wouldn't even need to rhyme.

COVER NERD SAYS: I appreciate this cover more than I'm drawn to it. I do love the subtitle, which made me want to read the book all the more. How many moms would make this confession (when I would venture almost all feel it at one point or another)? This endeared me to Astrof right off the bat. For whatever reason (read: my own OCD and sense of minimalism), I think this would have been stronger without the photographs. Let's be honest, you either have no photos or 845 photos on your fridge. And if you have two, they are at right angles. I've now disclosed too many of my psychoses and I'm going to quit while I'm only this far behind. 

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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