We are almost always too lovingly self-involved to fully recognize our faults and failures. The flaws we do take the time to see and understand are either merely scratching the surface or designed with the sole purpose of making people think that we are interesting. The Hot Topic-fueled desirability of insanity, for example. When we hear a friend sigh and utter, “I’m am just so off my rocker,” we are to understand that she’s actually just quirky. She named her white cat Dolamite, for example. Perhaps she occasionally chooses to speak in a Cockney accent, or pierces her own ears. Whatever her madness of choice, we are to understand that she is a safe sort of crazy, and that she will at no point spend the evening fashioning her own excrement into a tiny Dachshund.
The fact that most of us are only able to identify these somewhat enjoyable “flaws” is the reason that most of us are not writers. Writers know about their flaws. They obsess over them. And even if the flaw isn’t necessarily an actual flaw–just a detail of trivia–writers will fashion that detail into something horrifying and bizarre, like so many Poopshunds. Sara Barron is a writer, and a damn fine one. Her latest book, The Harm In Asking, is a fine example of taking what makes you imperfect, and sharing it with the rest of the class in such a way that evokes admiration and respect–even giggles.
Barron is compared to David Sedaris often, and this not without merit. Beyond her obvious level of skill with humorous essays, both Barron and Sedaris are possessed of a quasi-selfishness that comes to the surface often. It forces us to recognize moments when we ourselves were insufferably contrary or needy or self-serving.
In this way she makes herself an avatar of The God Of Human Oddity. When she urinates in bowls because she’s too lazy to walk to the bathroom, we chortle for the same reason that the ten-year-old gay boy points and laughs upon seeing one of his own thrashed by homophobic bullies: a desire to mask our own awful secrets.
“Oh please oh please oh please don’t let them find out about all the dishes in my home that I’ve peed in–my monthly potlucks will never be the same…”
The separate essays that make up the body of The Harm In Asking might seem initially random, but it’s interesting to note that there actually does seem to be a line that connects them all. Growth, coming-of-age, easing your boyfriends into your powerful flatulence–all the talking points of life are represented in their proper order. It creates a fluid piece: a Winesburg, Ohio with more self-defecation and halfhearted lesbianism.
And though the steady, almost casual crudity that Barron fills The Harm In Asking might not be for everyone, I strongly advise those of weaker constitutions to fight through it. Not only is Sara Barron a gifted comedian and wordsmith, it’s possible that maybe–just maybe–you’ll learn something. And even if that thing is that Jessica Simpson has a home spray–it might just be worth it.
The Harm In Asking was released on March 25th, 2014 by Three Rivers Press and is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
COMING SOON: A review of Shakespearian Science Fiction, The Empire Striketh Back, and a list of games that I love (that everyone else seems to hate)!