Many of the better publishing deals today go to actors, which means a steady stream of ghostwritten books about the lives of newly rich people on a predictable trajectory: poverty, fame, substance abuse and a very public divorce followed by a splashy comeback and, inevitably, a book deal.
Actress Mary-Louise Parker, who wrote her own book, is interested in more than just telling us how she started small and grew to snag a Tony, an Emmy, an Obie, and a Golden Globe award. Her just-published Dear Mr. You (Scribner, $25) is not another memoir-of-sorts from a famous actress. It’s a smart, funny, unapologetic look at an interesting life told in letters to the men in Parker’s life.
It’s a literary gimmick, to be sure, but one that never trumps the author’s strong, often defiant voice. Parker, an Army brat who grew up all over and briefly attended Marcos de Niza high school in Tempe, writes to former beaus (“You … took a cab sixty blocks for a fuck-our-lights-out festival”), a rock idol crush (“No one wants to hear about the congenital melancholy that gnaws at the soul of a teenaged girl…”), an utterly charming gay friend who keeps her real (“I know that at some point someone with a Bible or your lunch money said you were a sinner. … It’s really just finger-pointing by a dangerous few who lack imagination and the keen ability to accessorize.”), all with grace and good humor.
A pair of essays are transcendent. In “Dear Oyster Picker,” Parker confronts the death of her father, confides her desire for male approval, and describes a dying man’s final journey in the back of a mortician’s van with the aplomb of a seasoned writer. In “Dear Orderly,” she recalls the birth of her son in a letter to the LPN who, immediately following Parker’s childbirth, wanted to take her baby away and stash him in the nursery. In the hands of a lesser author, her concerns about Baby’s future might have been prosaic; her declarations of love syrupy and too familiar. But Parker’s casual language and recollections of her own mother make for an urbane and stylish essay about motherhood.
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Her stories are only occasionally cloying (“Dear Mr. Gem” addresses her life among pet goats) and almost never tedious (although “Dear Doctor,” about the time Parker nearly died and was saved by a team of surgeons, does go on). In the end, Dear Mr. You is that rarest of things: A celebrity actor’s memoir that briefly elevates the form with a literary approach and some real style. Here’s to hoping for Dear Miss You in 2016.