Question: what happens when the irreverence of Laurie Notaro, the prose style of Lena Dunham, and the my-life-is-hell-ness of Mary Karr–plus an author photo that could easily be mistaken for Jackie Collins–are blended into one big literary bouillabaisse? Answer: MORLOCKS IN THE BASEMENT.
What the marketing copy calls “Carolyn Colburn’s debut memoir” is actually a series of essays detailing episodes from Colburn’s 1950s Minnesota childhood through the mid 2010s. Her first book, Minimum Maintenance, was a coming-of-age novel that showcased Colburn’s poignancy. This second book, though it has poignant moments, traffics in something else: screwball comedy. From the opener–“In an effort to counter the flow of bad juju rising to the top of our tank of late, my husband and I decided to take a chance and get back in the game . . . We got a kitten”–Colburn announces her amusing aims. Readers don’t learn the name of that kitten, or that husband, but what does become clear is that the right response to all of it is to laugh.
Sometimes those laughs are the nervous kind, as in the essay “Keeping House,” which begins in that I’m-saying-something-outrageous-in-a-totally-chill-way tone of modern comedy: “My daughter ran away last week. But don’t look for her on a milk carton.” What Colburn means is, she and her preteen got into a fight, and the girl skipped out to the neighbor’s house. Colburn then reflects on her own adolescence, including how she never ran away but her mother tried to get her to leave, leading Colburn to muse, “Now that I’m a parent, I understand how one can get pushed to the point of sending one’s child packing.” Staying with this train of thought could have been a fascinating mix of humor and pathos. Instead, the essay wanders off into garden variety jokes about technophobia, housekeepers, and Mennonites. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough. Most readers will love Colburn’s voice, her references (saying that an old boyfriend “hollered up at my window like Stanley Kowalski” is priceless), and her indomitable spirit. A few of them, unfortunately, may wish that, at times, she were more disciplined.
Carolyn Colburn combines humor and poignancy to tell a series of laugh-out-loud stories about her life in MORLOCKS IN THE BASEMENT.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader