“Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing up Groovy and Clueless,” by feminist writer Susan Jane Gilman, avoids the pitfalls of many memoirs currently clogging the best seller lists.
Unlike most, Gilman presents what the reader feels is an accurate — or as accurate as a first-person perspective may be — account of her life growing up in 1970s New York.
The intensely personal series of vignettes chronicling her life from early childhood to late 20s sugar coat nothing. Gilman tells her story, warts and all, even when it exposes her copious character flaws and insecurities.
In short, she doesn’t try to make herself look good. In doing so, she looks great, particularly to those readers who enjoy that quality of unvarnished humanity that should be the hallmark of any good memoir.
Much of the book maintains a “laugh out loud” tone, particularly the first two sections, which deal with her childhood and adolescence. Male readers may find their eyes opened somewhat when it comes to the chapters dealing with Gilman’s burgeoning, pubescent sexuality.
Teenage girls, it turns out, know no more about sex than do their male counterparts. As Gilman comes of age, her “epiphanies” pile up like dirty dishes and are just as likely to come crashing down. Every time the author arrives at some great moment of personal truth and feels she has “made it,” she discovers a few pages later that the truth is no truth at all.
The reader, seeing with an omniscient eye, continually yearns to warn Gilman of the next misstep waiting up ahead, just around the corner.
The section detailing her adult years as a fledgling journalist and reluctant Jew veer toward a more serious tone, though, even in the most grim moments, Gilman’s acerbic sense of humor shines through.
“Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress” is a strong memoir written by a strong woman, confident in both her choices and her talents. Her voice is authoritative, powerful, with an undertone of vulnerability that is neither feminine nor masculine, but very, very human.