- Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”
- Lena Dunham
- Doubleday Canada
- 265 pages
In the pilot episode of Girls, Lena Dunham's character, Hannah Horvath, tells her befuddled parents: "I think I might be the voice of my generation…or at least a voice of a generation." It's a great line both because it encapsulates a very specific type of wide-eyed narcissism, and also because of the obvious wink: Character Hannah feels (absurdly) entitled to generational spokesperson honours, while — in the process of depicting her — writer Lena is becoming just that. Even before Girls aired in the spring of 2012, Dunham appeared on the cover of New York Magazine — an atypical it girl responsible for "the ballsiest" show on TV, one that would show the world what it was really like to be young and unformed and, sure, a little bit self-obsessed. Dunham's fictional universe surrounding four girlfriends in their early-twenties was barely even fiction since so much of the material came – and continues to come – directly from her own misspent youth: the dudes, the drugs, the neurosis, the self-destructive tendencies, all mined, extensively and sometimes brilliantly, for her art.
The extent to which Girls reflects its creator's own experiences becomes all the more apparent reading Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham's first book that is part memoir, part advice tome and part personal exercise: "I have to [tell my stories] in order to stay sane," she says in the book's introduction. What follows is a collection of tales about the time she dated a gay guy, the time she wore a ridiculous outfit to the Vatican, the time she worked at an upscale children's clothing store, the time she called her therapist from the beach. It's funny and often provocative stuff, but for fans of the TV show (presumably the same people who will want to read this book), it is mostly just familiar, like selecting the director commentary your favourite DVD. Yes, you delve deeper, you pick up some fantastic trivia (the fact that Dunham chronicles all of her sex experiences in a Word document, for example), but ultimately the whole thing — the self-deprecation, the frankness, the frequent vagina references — feels a bit been-there-seen-that-bought-the-absurdly-ill-fitting-halter-top.
Dunham's avoidance of almost everything that has happened to her since she became "notable" isn't the norm. In the judiciously balanced Bossypants, Tina Fey mixes formative fodder with behind the scene nuggets from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and observations about women and comedy. One hopes that the same will be true of Amy Poehler's upcoming memoir, Yes Please, since skipping past the time she rapped (while nine months pregnant) beside a roof-raising Sarah Palin would be a major miscalculation.
The same is true of Dunham's decision to keep schtum on everything from the infamous Vogue Photoshop scandal to the ongoing Girls backlash and the sleepovers with Taylor Swift. How amazing would it be to see these extraordinary experiences rendered through the unique filter that is Lena Dunham's brain? Instead, we get way too many pages on how she avoided water sports and crushed on her councillor at summer camp (is there anyone who couldn't have guessed as much?). Dunham does discuss the challenges of being a young female quadruple-threat in a chapter titled "I Didn't Fuck Them, But They Yelled At Me." This, she says, is the title of the memoir she will write when she is 80. For now though, she plays it safe, speaking mostly in generalizations and saving the unrelenting specificity for descriptions of her tilted uterus.
It may seem offside to question the ballsiness of a book where the author talks about her lesbian fantasies and the time she was probably raped by a Republican. (Note the ambiguity here is Dunham's. Further note that this "was it or wasn't it rape?" dilemma was already explored in one of the best and most discussed episodes of Girls, season two, which is precisely the problem.) In a chapter about appearing naked on screen, Dunham lays out the issue at hand, stating her opinion that "it's not brave to do something that doesn't scare you." Over-sharing and casual crotch talk come pretty naturally to this particular narrator. Ditto for being an underdog, being an outsider, being the kind of girl that nobody takes seriously. This is how Lena Dunham grew up. It is her safe place, her former self and the brand she got famous on, but she's not that kind of girl any more. Maybe that is what scares her most.
Courtney Shea is a Toronto-based writer.