Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On advice

I am obsessed with reading advice columns.  If some mysterious stranger were to walk up to me today and ask, "Would you like to write an advice column?", I would shout, "Yes!" without even asking who are you?/for what publication?/will I get paid?  In short, I would probably accidentally wind up singing a contract to be the woman's advice columnist for Al Jazeera and spend the rest of my life explaining that (a) Al Jazeera is not associated with terrorism and (b) I am not a terrorist.

There's just something about people writing to you with their problems--both legit and not--and trying to hone in on the issue and address it in less than 100 words.  I love reading people who do that well.  I even kind of loved a book about a woman who did it (The Breakdown Lane) despite some pretty grim subject matter and a fairly bizarre twist at the end.  (No, not that twist.  The other one.  Oh damn it, scroll down to the * if you want to know, but avoid if you don't want to be spoiled.)

The problem is that I've realized every once in awhile I slip into Advice Speak.  Like when a friend is telling me a story and then I burst in with, "Well, blah de blah de blah de blah, here's my unsolicited opinion!" 

And then I have to think, "Oh dang, that was really pompous.  Whoopseydaisy."

* The Breakdown Lane is about Julie, an advice columnist and former ballerina, whose husband Leo has a midlife crisis and leaves her with a teenage son with learning disabilities (Gabriel), a rebellious teenage daughter (Caroline), and a toddler (Aurora).  Oh yeah, and she also gets diagnosed with M.S.  My pops refused to finish it because he couldn't handle one more bad thing happening to this poor woman.

It also has a great scene between Julie and Leo's mom.  As soon as they find out what has happened, Leo's parents Hannah and Gabe Sr. come to take care of Julie and the kids and provide the majority of Julie's support system as she copes with her illness and her dwindling financial resources.  (Yup, that Leo was a real tool.)  Initially, Julie resists accepting their help.

GAA, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.  So I'll just type it.  It would be better with the whole set up, but whatever.  You can read it if you want.

Hannah  sat perched on the edge of the bed, straight-backed, perhaps a hundred pounds soaking wet, pert in her khakis and UW sweatshirt, her still-black hair short and brushed back like a boy's.  "You know in the Bible, Julie, about Ruth?" I nodded. "Well, Ruth refused to leave Naomi. She was in danger, and she wouldn't leave. And she said the thing that is probably the only thing anyone knows from that story, which was, you know it, of course, 'Wither thou goest, I will go. Whither thou lodgest, I will lodge' ... Sometimes people think that Naomi was Ruth's mother."

"Yes," I said.

"But she was her mother-in-law."

"Naomi wanted her to go," I said.

"But Ruth was too loyal for that.  And it all worked out," Hannah told me, brushing back my hair with a hand that smelled of fabric softener.

Now here come the spoilers ...

The twist at the end people will probably think I'm talking about is that in the final chapter, the two first-person protagonists (Julie and Gabriel, the son with learning disabilities) reveal that they are "real" and have written this book after changing all the names.  (No, they're not real.  Hence why the "twist" is kind of wacky.)

But the twist I am actually talking about comes when this book about family and redemption and all that jazz suddenly becomes a traditional romance, with M.S. mom meeting up with a high school sweetheart and falling in love.  I'm not saying I didn't like that she ultimately got a happy ending -- just that I felt it was (a) abrupt, and (b) a little too moralistic, given that the douchey ex-husband who had ruined all their lives in the pursuit of his own happiness suddenly found himself in a miserable situation just as Julie is suddenly super happy.


  1. Darn those moralistic endings.
    I got a giggle out of the Al Jazeera part.
    I like reading advice columns just to see what people bother writing about. Sometimes the answer is so simple, I wonder how many write in just to see their stupid question published.
    I guess what I'm saying is, I wish there were better problems in advice columns like Dear Abbey.
    (I like the NY Times column Social Q's though. And sometimes wedding advice columns. So...that second one is a little sad to admit.)

  2. Not to mention never flying on a plane again.

    Thoughts on Dan in Real Life?

  3. I LOVE advice! When it is solicited. I give really great advice. Ask anyone. :-)

    But I HATE unsolicited advice. Especially from one friend in particular who seems to think I don't have the first clue how to run my own life and that I'd be much better off if she did it for me.

    Anyway, yeah. Advice. Fun stuff!