Perfect people are boring. Fortunately, by her own admission, Diana Joseph is far from perfect. However, her memoir I’m Sorry You Feel That Way approaches narrative perfection in that it is anything but boring. By turns smart, snarky, laugh-out-loud funny (I did, several times), and wrenchingly poignant, without sentiment or artifice, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is intensely human.
An ideal memoir treads the knife edge between honesty and generosity. A slip too far in either direction tips the narrative into the chasms of spite or of sentiment. Joseph deftly avoids losing her balance in this collection of essays.
And when my son is born, all I can see is my brother Mitchell. Those two look a lot alike. Oh, those long eyelashes wasted on a boy. Oh, that sweet smile and those pink cheeks, and what a dreamy, starry-eyed boy. Sometimes my son is just standing there, he’s gazing at the heavens, he’s studying the stars, there’s a beam of sunshine casting its golden light on him and him alone, and a chorus of angels sings a single holy note, and even though the boy is minding his own business, he’s thinking his own thoughts, when I look at him and see my brother, I am almost overwhelmed by the urge to reach out and give that kid a hard shove. I don’t, of course, but the impulse is still there.
Funny, funny, funny, funny. Ok, some people — the faint of heart and collectors of pastel porcelain figurines, perhaps — might be offended. Those people should not read this book. If you just love any variety of Chicken Soup for the Soul, or firmly believe that children should never, ever watch R-rated movies, or feel that an admission of previous drug use shows a deep and abiding immorality, you should not read this book. If, however, you tend to look back on your own life with a wry grin, have been known to show up to the school bake sale with brownies still in the supermarket plastic clamshell, or simply find perfection boring, read on.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is subtitled: The Astonishing But True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man & Dog. I’m not sure about the astonishing part — Joseph doesn’t fly, or turn ordinary materials into gold, or anything, but the rest fits perfectly. In a collection of casually voiced, intelligently written essays, Joseph lays out the details of her relationships with father, brothers, son, ex-boyfriends, ex-husband, common-law husband, male friends, and dog.
“Now, look,” my father said. “When a girl goes with this one, and then with that one, and then with that one over there, and with who knows how many others, what happens is people start to talk. People will always hear all about what she did, see, and when they do, they’ll talk about it. They’ll say that girl is a pig.”