In the author’s description at the end of her book, Christie Nicholls refers to herself as a “splendid conversationalist.” Book-form storytelling is necessarily a monologue, but after reading these 17 stories, her claim makes perfect sense. How could you not want to talk to a formerly canine-loving child who, “created a very clumsy superhero/alter-ego known as ‘Dog Woman,’” only to then reveal her brother’s modified name for that same innocent superhero?
The stories in ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM center around the texture of human relationships. In telling them Nicholls draws on a breadth of writing craft. She has an ear for dialogue (even when people are too drunk to speak); a love of language; skill at balancing between dialogue, detail and location; and a solid sense pacing. She’s also tops at deriving larger meaning from small moments. Nicholls is often funny in a Mark Twain-social-satire/awkward-teenagers-do-awkward-stuff/and flatulence-is-a-gift kind of way — that’s a lot of ways to be funny. From describing her mother to an audience in “Stand-Up Sweden,” to her relentless observation of a step-grandparent’s eyebrows, to the mordant “The Brentwood Buddhists,” and finally, to the slapstick potency of “The 30-Second Fart,” she’s got all kinds of humor.
One or two of these stories have slight weaknesses common to reminiscence: sometimes real life isn’t as well plotted as fiction, and sometimes you had to be there. These shortcomings are more apparent in “I Love the English,” which reads as one long, repetitive family drunk. But this kind of weakness dogs Nicholls only a very little.
So much of this book is grand — “Part III: Dearly Departed,” in particular. This set of four stories about Nicholls’s older relatives, showcase her strength in observing one-on-one relationships. Her delicacy, and her blessed failure to oversimplify humanity are deeply satisfying in these pieces. She uses a purse on the counter and purple, sequined flip-flops perfectly, offering unprofound bits of life that reveal profoundly. In the introduction to ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM, Nicholls writes, “Why read this book? It’s funny and honest.” It is Nicholls’s honesty that underpins and elevates her wit, tenderness and social observation. She is funny, she is honest and she’s delightful to read.
The 17 stories in Christie Nicholls’s memoir ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM speak to readers in an infectiously appealing, compassionate, sarcastic, observant narrator’s voice, and are both funny and moving.
~Ellen Graham for IndieReader