By its Cover: How to Murder your Life

By Its Cover is a series of posts wherein I read a book based solely on my love of the cover. No reading the jacket, no checking reviews!

Well, this book was a surprise and a half. It quite literally threw itself at my feet in the library. OK, not really, I knocked it off the shelf when reaching for another book. After dutifully putting it back I felt compelled to pluck it out again. The cover’s rainbow meets unicorn meets glitter explosion look completely defies the “How to Murder your Life” title, which, all combined had an oddly compelling allure for me.

It’s a memoir, so I don’t think I had any real intention of reading it, but that’s the great thing about libraries. You get to take home big piles of books and then return them unread, guilt free. Imagine my surprise then, when a few days later I picked it up to flick through the first few pages and then just kept going. Given its subject matter (drug addiction, privilege, the high-powered beauty magasine industry in New York, not to mention pop culture celebrity) I was utterly surprised to be reeled in the way I was.

Cat Marnell may be a drug addict but she also has a knack for writing in an entertaining and amusing way without that over the top and slightly manic tone which seems prevalent in this genre ( I recently tried reading Talking as Fast as I Can. Now I love Gilmore Girls as much as the next person and Lauren Graham is all kinds of fabulous as far as I’m concerned, but she writes her book exactly how she talks in her role as Lorelai…really, really fast which translates far better to the screen and quite frankly just made me dizzy to read. I also tried reading Year of Yes. Rhonda Shimes, is very, very funny and I read a little further into this book, but again it has that frenetic energy that gets on my nerves after a while.)

Cat Marnell on the other hand, manages to be humourous and self-deprecating while keeping the overall tone even keeled (somewhat ironic given that she’s constantly strung out on Adderall) although it is written with a heavy smattering of caps and italics and an over dependence on this  word (?) AUUUUUUUUUUGGGHHH.

She begins the book by describing her dysfunctional family, her time in a boarding school (weekends largely unsupervised, wahoo!) expulsion, pregnancy (and subsequent late-term abortion) and rise through the ranks of the publishing world to beauty editor for Lucky magasine. It is a wild and crazy ride and one that is only sustainable for so long because of the safety net of her family money which allows her to continue with her self-destructive habits far beyond their expiration date. She makes no bones about this, indeed, calling her bulimia “expensive – a real rich-bitch disease, quite frankly. All that waste!”

It’s her caustic honesty that really makes the book. Her writing is never sugar coated and she seemingly bares all (and if she doesn’t then bless her, because I couldn’t have handled the stress of more) and let me tell you, her all is extremely painful and embarrassing and wildly humiliating. It’s funny and shocking and truly awful all at the same time. And somehow, Cat manages to thread it all together in a way that feels pretty natural, not forced. She also manages to make what could have been overly tedious renderings of her never ending drug spirals, never endingly interesting.

By the end she writes for online magasines about her drug use and a couple of articles she writes go viral, catapulting her to something of a celebrity status with a variety of people… think Chris Cuomo and Anderson Cooper vying for interviews. She lands a book deal (which she starts on the day it’s due!) which (obviously) she completes although it took three years, two stints in rehab and a heroine overdose. Even at the end she admits to not being completely clean and understands that her own version of happy-ever-after is tenuous at best. By the book’s conclusion though, she does seem to have mended several fences with her family and appears to be keeping her dependencies to a minimum.

It sounds like one heck of a way to live but you can’t help but admire her tenacious hold on life or the fact that she has thrown her chaos out into the world for us all to gawk and laugh at. Having said that, for anyone who has had to deal with anyone like this in their lives, I can’t imagine it’s funny at all.


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