Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids, & Rock ‘n’ Roll. By Evelyn McDonnell. Da Capo. $22.
The Guy’s Guide to Dating, Getting Hitched, and Surviving the First Year of Marriage. By Michael Crider. Da Capo. $12.95.
Pick your perspective, female or male. The point of both these books is that it is so cool, so with-it to get engaged and married and even have children, and no, we are NOT our parents and do NOT share any of their values even though that little piece of paper is really important to us even though it doesn’t matter at all, thank you very much.
Absorb that message and you can save yourself the $34.95 you would spend on these two books. But then you would miss all the fun you, as a reader, can have watching the authors twist and squirm in their utter coolness as they manfully or womanfully attempt to make it clear that THEY ARE STILL THE SAME SUPER-COOL PEOPLE THEY ALWAYS WERE even though they are doing or have done some of the most conventional, age-old forms of bonding together and raising small people.
Evelyn McDonnell, her tattoos prominently displayed in her author photo (and nicely setting off her very traditional eyeglasses and hairstyle), is a hoot and a half. She spends the first 50% of the book making clear her bona fides as a punk-rocking child of the 70s and a staunch feminist. (Inadvertently, she also exposes her ignorance of music other than punk. At one point, she writes of famed opera composer Richard Wagner, “outside of its heavy wedding rotation, his music has gotten most play as the accompaniment to Nazi spectacles.”) McDonnell drifts in and out of relationships and then eventually into a marriage-without-license that ends badly (she calls that chapter “Love Will Tear Us Apart”). On the rebound, she writes, “I spent fabulous nights out drinking, dancing, and drugging, drowning myself in discos where men danced with men and rock dives where women slammed with women. My flings included Lewis, a Michael Jordan look-alike carpenter I picked up at the bar across the street, and Paul, a DJ/artist/writer who was the hottest thing going in the downtown art and music scene. I also decided to finally pursue a longtime desire: women.” Just when all this becomes insufferably self-centered – or maybe a bit after it becomes insufferably self-centered – McDonnell shifts gears so rapidly that she practically strips the clutch: “There are life paths we seek, and there are surprise detours.” And lo and behold, she becomes a wife, mother to two stepdaughters in whom she “saw my tomboy self, three decades ago,” and has to figure out who she is and whether the is contains the was or is separate from it. Good luck with that. If McDonnell didn’t write so well, this would all be disastrously self-indulgent, but she does write well, so Mamarama comes across as wry, funny, witty, fast-paced and often delightful. Still darned self-indulgent, though.
Switch over to the male side of things and you get Michael Crider’s The Guy’s Guide to Dating, Getting Hitched, and Surviving the First Year of Marriage, which for some reason he wrote after a book called The Guy’s Guide to Surviving Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the First Year of Fatherhood. Oh well. Crider lacks the solipsistic worldview of McDonnell – a lot of the jokes he makes are at his own expense – and he seems extraordinarily lucky to have found a wife, Julie, who is his equal in intellect and conversational weirdness: “Today Julie and I are both blessed with in-laws who would do anything for us, as long as we both manage to keep our mouths shut.” Crider opens each chapter with a “he says/she says” section, juxtaposing reminiscences of typical (okay, fairly typical) courtships from opposite directions. The men and women quoted are not from the same couples – they are just people of opposite genders with interestingly odd stories to tell. The female engagement story, for instance, includes this: “We had just gotten back from dinner with my parents, where we broke the news to them that I was pregnant. As you can imagine, that was an interesting conversation to say the least. … I came in [to my house], I ran to the bathroom and puked up everything that I just consumed…and, by the way, Mexican really does not taste much different in reverse.” This sort of thing reflects the tone of Crider’s whole book. There’s no way he will write a serious sentence without turning it inside-out at the end: “In the long run, it’s the quality of life you spend together and not the extraordinary proposal that she will remember long into your golden years, or at least until she’s had you murdered for the life insurance money.” Despite being juvenile and overdone, though, Crider’s book works more often than not, thanks to the he-and-she perspectives throughout – not only at chapter starts but also within the chapters, where Julie’s views are as forcefully expressed as Crider’s. Beneath all the jokes, Crider leaves the impression that he and his wife like each other in addition to loving each other – and that, although Crider never says it in so many words, is about the strongest foundation for a marriage you can have. And it’s very with-it, too.