Sunday, August 27, 2006

Book Review: Everybody Into the Pool

In her introduction, Beth Lisick writes, "I loved my normal upbringing. I just think the fact that I had a stable childhood was precisely what let me stray pretty far away from it without ever landing in therapy, rehab, or jail or having an identity crisis, eating disorder, drug problem, or prescription for antidepressants. I inherited my parents' sensible, traditional approach to living, which kept me grounded when their Midwestern openmindedness and acceptance got me into a lot of nontraditional situations."

And "nontraditional situations" they were. Her father worked for Lockheed Air & Space, known as "The Bomb Factory" during the Vietnam War. She was the homecoming princess her freshman year of high school who didn't care what she wore, only that she got a date with the incredibly cool Kyle Anderson, who was a senior. There's the annual Christmas Ladies' Luncheon hosted by a friend's mother each year. Beth helps serve until the first Christmas that she's graduated from college. Now she's a guest and has to buy a gift for the Great Gift Exchange. The weekend before leaving for U.C. Santa Cruz, she is a hair model for a Beverly Hills salon that's participating in a trade show in Santa Clara. She earns $50.00 and comes out with bleached hair chopped into vertical chunks and Blade Runner makeup.

She writes a column about the "alternative night scene" for the website of a major San Francisco newspaper and meets her future husband at a performance. She recites poetry at open-air street festivals, tours with a punk rock, all-girl, spoken word circus where she is the only straight woman. Her in-laws treat her to a past-life regression therapy session--and she fails. She lives in various places, none of them in areas that would make this mother feel safe for her daughter.

Life just seems to sort of happen and Beth is along for the ride. And we're passengers. Or voyeurs.


On the whole I found her stories interesting. She has a great sense of the ironic, which contrasts with her generally cheerful outlook. I recognized many of the areas and many of the situations she described (DS#1 was into the Gilman Street punk rock band scene in high school). And I've never been part of the alternative performance art/alternative music/artistic fringe scene in the Bay Area. But there's very little depth to these stories. There's very little why, very little introspection. She has an abortion almost casually. She has a son almost as casually. There is nothing about her decision to marry Eli--they're living together, then they're married. Ms. Lisick is almost too flip, too insouciant about her experiences--almost like a too-hip, too-cool Erma Bombeck, but without the heart. I don't feel I know anything about Ms. Lisick nor do I feel that she's grown in any significant way--although there is a hint that she actually might have at the very end of the last story.

There are also the careless mistakes: referring to the "Girl Scout Association of America" instead of just the Girl Scouts or Girl Scouts of the U.S.A (the formal title) and talking about saying "The Apostles' Creed" at Mass instead of the Nicene Creed. Both of those are details that would take two minutes to verify on the Internet, but Ms. Lisick doesn't bother. Did she write this book in haste? (I thought perhaps these stories were a collection from columns or short articles, but there are no indications that they have been previously published.) Did she just not care? Did her editor not care either?

IMHO, Ms. Lisick could become a very good writer if she works at it, if she's willing to bare a bit more of her soul and get beneath the surface. A more demanding editor might help. But I'm not sure there are any left.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.