Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Life 19: I Have Always Relied on the Awesomeness of Ballsy Southern Broads

When I was about 16, I bought a copy of Brett Butler's Knee Deep in Paradise in the Wal-Mart book aisle. This was before my hometown had a Supercenter, and I haunted that aisle to the point that I can still see it in my head. At the time, I was up to my neck in self-loathing Evangelical fervor, convinced of my own damnation and living in a black cloud of suicidal funk because of it. As was my habit prior to and after that time, I buried myself in books that, surprisingly, were more supportive of that little lesbian hiding within than the psycho that was wandering around on the surface. I found E. Lynn Harris' first novel (Invisible Life) at our library (I still marvel at that), and Brett Butler in Wal-Mart. Now, Butler is not gay, but she has had a similarly disjointed and broken life. And she hails from my neck of the woods--proof that you can be as odd as we seem to be there and survive, even thrive.

The 90's were rife with comedians and stand-up specials on every channel, but none of them ever caught my attention like Butler. Despite the jokes, something told me she had been as destructive and destroyed as I was at the time, and I loved her for it and have ever since. To this day, if I still had copies of her specials, I guarantee I would laugh until I hurt myself at her. I still quote things from her specials now. I watched every single episode of Grace Under Fire and was heartbroken when it no longer existed.

When writing, I could call myself back from the darkness, rest and reclaim things I'd let go of long ago.--Brett Butler

In the years before the internet was the monstrosity that it is now, I never really knew when books I would be interested in would be coming out until they hit the shelves at Wal-Mart or the library. So I had no idea her book was coming out until I stumbled upon it that day. It was profound enough of an experience that I remember it nearly 17 years later. Much like the Harry Potter releases so many years after, I did not sleep that night so I could devour the book. Then I read it again. And again.

I recently found another copy in one of my used book haunts and snatched it up immediately, worrying that I had only found it so engrossing and profound because of the time in which I first read it. I was wrong. I still see my own shattered years in hers, though the shattering was due to much different events, and my family in hers, both of which collapsed under the weight of their own particular Southern dysfunction. This has been less of a review than a love letter to one of my favorite famous women and her book, I know, but I don't think it could have been anything less. It is strong, intelligent Southern women like Brett Butler that make me proud of my Alabama roots. She is what I think Mema was to me but would have been publicly had she been born much later and what I hope I am or will be.

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