Read Local: Beth Lisick's Yokohama Threeway Is So Good We Want to Put It in Our Vagina
New York City might be home to the big houses, but this scrappy city just happens to be the epicenter of publishing on the Best Coast. Join Alexis Coe for Read Local, a series on books produced in the Bay Area. This month's installment guest-written by Anna Pulley.
One time, when we were in college, we developed a crush on a pretentious boy with a Samwise Gamgee-esque demeanor who used phrases like "vis a vis" and "nugatory," in everyday speech, as if those should exist anywhere outside of academic papers and when wrongly describing candy bars.
We eventually managed to wrangle him to our house one night, to "study," and at the end of the night we leaned forward seductively (drunkenly) to kiss him goodbye only to see him not only physically recoil, but to also exclaim, "What are you doing?! Your face was coming toward my mouth!"
Beth Lisick's Yokohama Threeway: And Other Small Shames, from the City Lights/Sister Spit imprint, is filled with moments like the above, lifey vignettes of horror that stay with us for years (and sometimes forever), but that we rarely find occasion to talk about, yet alone take pleasure in.
But now, thanks to Yokohama Threeway, we can!
As the subtitle implies, Lisick's memoir o'shames is comprised of a series of poignant and pointless embarrassments -- the time a trendy hair extension experiment led to a group of children screaming "Take off your wig, you man" until she was forced to leave a party ("The Engagement Party"), for instance, or recounting the night she lost a charity spelling bee to Stephen Elliott by misspelling "ukulele" ("Fuck you, Stephen Elliott"). Unsurprisingly, Lisick, who for a decade ran the much-lauded Porchlight Storytelling series with Arline Klatt, is a master raconteur, and her tales are as weird and LULz-able as they are witty and incisive.
Like the time she tried to sell her dryer to a nice dad from Montana on Craigslist, only when he opened the dryer door, he found a big, purple, sparkly dildo inside instead, and ran for the hills. And reflecting on a post-college menage-a-trois with a friend and an older British man, Lisick recounts: "Straddling one or the other, I thought, Huh, so when the last bit of my flesh chars in the crematorium, I will have been a woman who helped a mediocre man live out a classic scenario from Penthouse Forum."
Like her threeway, Lisick deftly straddles the delicate balance between strange and ordinary, candid and grim. In the shortest (and our favorite) essay, "Manners," she writes:
"I always hug you when I see you. I say, 'Hey! How are you doing? What's up? How have you been?' I pretend I don't know that you came to a party at my house one night and said to my friend that you'd never noticed before how much I resembled a newt."
While the everyday injustices she describes are mostly familiar territory, -- we all want to be liked, to be successful, and to be told how excellently we drive a Winnebago -- Lisick refreshes the typical rites of mortification with a keen sense of the absurd and a well-worn pathos. She describes the mouth of the 80-year-old Italian man who tricked her into making out with him as a "mostly toothless biscotti-hole" and a spa treatment during her first (and last) day as a TV host: "I felt like an industrial carpet in a rental unit being worked over by someone who really needed their deposit back."
Lisick's self-deprecating blend of humor is like a salve on the collective awkwardness of the world. Rub it in, as we like to say when misquoting a Glade air freshener commercial from the early aughts.
If that's not enough to convince you, Lisick also got a succinct yet glowing recommendation from riot grrl Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame, who said: "This is a fucking great book." We couldn't have said it better ourselves -- except we did because our compliment involved vaginas.
Follow @annapulley on Twitter. She'll tweet you right.