I will admit that I picked Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress up off the bargain table at Chapters because I knew it would be light and funny and provide an antidote to the barrage of disturbing reading I’d been doing about the Holocaust. It’s much breezier than my usual Lenten fare, but it is nonfiction, so it counted.
I’ll also admit I was wary of this book because my cousin Julie had recommended it as being hilarious. This is not to suggest that I don’t trust Julie’s taste in books, but rather than she had recommended Susan Jane Gilman to me in the same breath that she was enthusing about David Sedaris. So I read David Sedaris, and that ended very badly for me. I recognize why people find him funny, but the subject matter he writes about is just too dark and disturbing for me to laugh. Since the back cover blurb for Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress referred to Gilman as the “female David Sedaris,” I wasn’t tempted to read it — at least, until I needed a breather after Schindler’s List and Night.
So, just to set the record straight: I thought Susan Jane Gilman was much funnier than David Sedaris, and much less disturbing. She’s just my age, and writes candidly and hilariously about growing up in the same era that’s familiar to me, but in a totallydifferent environment: as the child of earnest, non-practicing Jewish semi-hippies in New York City. Her adventures and misadventures are both insightful and hilarious. And, to my surprise, tucked in the middle of this funny funny book, was a piece called “Picnic at Treblinka,” about an assignment Gilman had, as a young journalist, to cover a group of Jewish teenagers on a tour of the concentration camps. Suddenly I was back to my Holocaust reading, but with a totally fresh, irreverent, and wonderfully life-affirming take on the whole thing.
If you like funny memoirs (and whether or not you like David Sedaris) I highly recommend this book.