I picked up I’m Just A Person because the jacket said it was an autobiography by one of the most popular comics of our time, and, since I’d never heard of her, I thought I’d learn a little something and have a good laugh or two.
Well, one for two. I learned much about Tig Notaro, but this book brings nothing to laugh about. People more in touch with the culture than I am will not be surprised to find that much of the book deals with Notaro’s breast cancer, a subject on which she apparently gave a historic concert that became a hit record. Preceding her cancer, though, is the death of her mother from a head injury suffered in a fall at home. I’m Just A Person traces Notaro’s experiences over the course of an unbelievably difficult year, and recounts her emotional emergence amid the discovery of a life-changing romance.
On the surface, that’s a lot of potential to cover. So, I feel bad about finding it so unremarkable. And my disappointment has nothing to do with the expectation of something more humorous. The hardships Notaro endures are real and heart-wrenching. But I couldn’t escape wondering throughout the book why they were worth reading about. Notaro’s roots are certainly interesting – practically self-raised in the household of a life-of-the-party irresponsible mother and a cold stepfather after she and her brother are abandoned by their natural father, bored teenager who drops out of school during high school, into which she was able to matriculate solely because authorities didn’t know what to do with her after her third try at eighth grade. But her description of them, like her description of almost everything else in the book is so lifeless and uninspired that I could never get beyond sensations of mild sympathy for what she endured and a pleasant appreciation for the happiness she ultimately finds.
Perhaps if I’d known her and had some connection before reading the book, I would have felt something deeper in reading about her somewhat odd life. But I’m quick to point out that I barely knew Rainn Wilson before picking up his book The Bassoon King: My Life In Art, Faith and Idiocy – it too on the potential for being a comedic romp by a prominent star and it too being far more serious than humorous – yet I thoroughly engaged with his account and found much to appreciate and reflect on. Alas, I found myself finishing I’m Just A Person with a bit of a guilty shrug and the question resounding in my mind, “What makes you think someone thought you were more than that?” Notaro’s – one hopes – cathartic reflections on her life and troubles certainly deserve sympathy, but they are not so unusual from the tragic hardships that befall almost everyone that they command one’s attention, and they are told with so little insight and such dry indifference that they offer little in the way of emotional stimulus or a deeper understanding of what it means for the rest of us who, not to put too fine a point on it, share the description to be “just a person.”