Book report: Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

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Before I knew that Jenny Slate had published a book, I read a story called The Code of Hammurabi which Jenny Slate had published on The Paris Review website. Whoever had linked to this story, on Twitter or I don’t know where (sorry I didn’t index my references), had quoted the following paragraph:

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the first examples of legalized patriarchy, and it instilled these violent and demented ideals: A woman is the property of a man. A woman does not deserve to have as much as a man and she should not ever have as much as a man ever again.

Little Weirds book cover

So the whole thing seemed really serious, but let’s not forget that Jenny Slate does stand-up comedy, so it turned out the Hammurabi story is also really funny. If you inspect the URL for The Code of Hammurabi you’ll spot an alternative title for the story: ‘destroying the ancient dick’. Dig into the the story itself and find that it’s not just about the ancient dick, but about a Slate watching a TV documentary while she eats “Thai food that is so spicy that [she] start[s] to sweat[.]” In the middle of describing what Hammurabi once did, Slate considers, “My colon is now apparently filled with lava?”

And so obviously I wanted to read the whole book this story came from, and so I did read the whole book. The Hammurabi story is one of more than 40 published in Little Weirds, most of which are much shorter than Hammurabi’s 14 pages, with some as short as only a few lines. These are personal musings on Slate’s birth, childhood, adulthood, heartbreak, and about four of her deaths, one of which is death from boredom, listening to a man tell her about how he knows how to listen.

As Slate tells us in the book, these stories came after a time of great change and turmoil and sadness for her, but they also came at a time after that great sadness. She can tell us about these sad things because these sad times are now mostly in the past. It’s not that it’s easier for Slate to write about these things, but it’s possible, and possibly useful.

I think it’s literally impossible for me to capture the levity and playfulness of Slate’s words without getting carried away and quoting the whole book. One paragraph from ‘I Died: Valentine’s Day’ made me laugh out loud, and take a photo, so I’ll let this line stand for all the rest:

A psychic recently looked right into the eternal cosmos and then returned to me with this elegant yet cryptic message: Grow up.

And Slate does some version of growing up over the length of the book. In ‘Blue Hour’ she starts talking with her deep-self at a wedding, and they decide to only wear all monochromatic outfits from then on. She frames this story as being written in the early morning, before the sun has risen, when everything looks a different shade of blue before being lit up as green and red and every other colour. Slate says she only ever thought of this time of the day and a mistake at the end of a night that’s gone on too long, but now she is seeing as a start to the day for the first time. She’s doing things with purpose, and says she’s not so scared of the dark and in-between times any more.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate is available at Auckland Libraries.

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