Sometimes it’s hard to review a book without feeling like a mean baby yourself. Unfortunately, Mean Baby is a book that left me with a lot of questions. It’s difficult to write about someone who is ostensibly being honest about their life especially when that person is apparently struggling with a major illness and who reveals so much that is offputting and unflattering about themselves. But that doesn’t mean these memoirs are above critique or make sense or even are very good. I do wonder if the awkwardness is why there are memoirs like this one where you just wish someone, anyone, asked her some hard questions.
There were a lot if issues in the book and some were just structural. She skips between topics and timelines and doesn’t flesh out some throwaway anecdotes she buries in other stories. Why include them at all? Is she name-dropping? Trying to build intrigue? Thought she was going to revisit an incident and then forgot? I have no idea. But she would make a reference to a person, place or incident, some quite dark or disturbing like an assault, argument or bad relationship in a single line and never offer any further insight or information.
There just wasn’t a ton of introspection in some of the more innocuous stories. Just one example of many—Her repeated discussion about how her family was modest, her mom “had” to work, simple steak dinners, etc was at odds with her tales of getting a Burberry coat in the second grade and her mother’s incredible wardrobe. Maybe her mom wasn’t buying clothes every day and bought them to last but she was also spending thousands on each item. Perhaps they were the poorest family in a wealthy community, but they clearly had a lot of disposable income judging from her stories. Or if they really were middle class, did her mother not actually have that wardrobe?
A lot of her stories didn’t make a lot of sense when you really thought about them. She does seem to have had a difficult life so maybe she doesn’t remember them clearly and doesn’t realize that they don’t add up? I would have hoped an editor could had helped her.
She is obsessed with her high school as an adult in a way I’ve never seen an adult admit to and frankly her high school years didn’t even seem that great. There are some truly unhinged stories like the one about her father’s partner sending “warning” letters out about Blair to casting directors, actors, and other industry people that don’t make a ton of sense and scarcely seem real and she doesn’t really reflect on them at all. She has living relatives that she never seemed to have thought to ask about their feelings about events at all, either at the time or while writing the book. She talks about being scared watching a movie with her sister and only finds out years later her sister was scared too and it seems like a real revelation that other people had thoughts and feelings. This was a real thread in her stories. She seemed completely unaware of other people being human.
I also would have appreciated some logistics of how an elementary school student was obtaining alcohol and drinking daily without anyone ever noticing. She did attend school and had two parents and three sisters in her life. That seemed like a lot for an elementary school student to navigate.
Her relationship with her child and how she talked about it was frankly chilling. It’s hard to know what is real when it comes to Selma but I hope he gets help when he needs it.
Celebrity Memoir Book Club did a good job in their podcast hitting a lot of the same points I noticed and is worth checking out.