Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: "Dear Mr. You" by Mary-Louise Parker

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for making it available!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has wondered just how much actors are like the characters they portray. Yes, I know that they're acting, but sometimes you wonder if particular roles hew a little closer to a particular actor's personality.

I've been a fan of Mary-Louise Parker's since I saw her in Prelude to a Kiss on Broadway in 1990. I was tremendously intrigued by her intelligence, the power she exuded onstage, and the indescribable quirkiness she brought to her role. And no matter what roles I've seen her play, all three of those qualities come through, and she seems as if she'd be a fascinating and fun person to get to know.

In her new book, Dear Mr. You, Parker gives more credence to that assumption as she gives glimpses into her life through letters to various men with whom she interacted—family members, lovers, mentors, teachers, and people with whom she had random encounters. These letters are at times poignant and filled with emotion, at other times raunchy, sexy, romantic, and/or nostalgic; and at other times they share regrets, hopes, and wishes.

Many times, the intended recipients of these letters aren't identified by anything other than enigmatic titles—"Dear Risk Taker," "Dear Popeye," "Dear Big Feet," "Dear Young Leman"—that only those closest to Parker would know their real identities, but other letters are written to family members or people with whom she came into fleeting contact, such as "Dear Firefighter," "Dear Mr. Cabdriver," and "Dear Mr. Orderly."

Some of these letters were absolutely moving, such as those she wrote to the grandfather she never met, her father, close friends and mentors, and those who left an indelible impression on her life in a moment—in particular, the letters she wrote to a random firefighter she passed on the street just after the 9/11 attacks and to the oyster picker she imagined was responsible for providing the oysters her dying father so enjoyed. Parker's use of language and imagery was so beautiful at times. Here's one example:
"It was short but I loved our little trip. We fell in love, but the way you love a view that comes along once or twice in life. You don't want to leave it because it feels like, yes of course, this is the perfect spot. Those moments always come with a little shock and I love that sensation, when you think, this is too good, I'll catch up with everyone else later. You just have to take in the truth of that expanse a few more seconds before it changes and becomes something else entirely, or before you do."
At times, however, the letters were a little too cryptic, a little too precious, a little too jumbled for me to follow. It was difficult trying to gain emotional traction with some of the letters without really understanding to whom she was writing, or of what she was referring. And of course, I'm only human—I wanted to know which letter was about Billy Crudup!

All in all, this is beautifully written and fascinating book, conveying complex emotions and giving just a little more insight into a talented actress and tremendously interesting woman.

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