LitStack Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

by Sharon Browning

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible ThingsFuriously Happy
Jenny Lawson
Flatiron Books
Release Date:  September 22, 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-07700-4

Jenny Lawson is the woman behind The Bloggess website, which has won numerous awards for its brilliant writing and its biting humor.  She herself says of the site, “It’s mainly dark humor mixed with brutally honest periods of mental illness.”  Her 2012 (mostly true) autobiography, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, became a New York Times bestseller.

She also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, OCD, ADD, chronic depression, anxiety disorders, and a number of other -itises and -manias, of which she writes candidly, humorously (and profanely and irreverently), and most of all, honestly.

Her most recent book is Furiously Happy:  A Funny Book About Horrible Things, which comes from a 2010 blog post where another bout of bad news threatened to spiral her down into another round of depression.  Instead, she declared, “I’ve HAD IT.  I’M GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY OUT OF SHEER SPITE.”

She explains further in the Note from the Author that preludes Furiously Happy:

I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that “normal” people also might never understand, and that’s what FURIOSULY HAPPY is all about.  It’s about taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence.  It’s the difference between “surviving life” and “living life”.

There are insights like this throughout the book.  Affirming, almost defiant passages.  There are also some passages that are downright dark, and disturbing. (“‘But I’m not broken,’ I explained to my psychiatrist.  ‘I just… I just hurt…inside.  And when I tear at the outside it makes me feel less torn up on the inside.‘”)  These are an undeniable part of Jenny Lawson’s life.

But the majority of the book is a mixture of hilarious and crazy.  Quirky, rude, bizarre and outspoken.  This book is not a sequel to Ms. Lawson’s last one, but rather “a collection of bizarre essays and conversations and confused thoughts stuck together by spilled boxed wine and the frustrated tears of baffled editors…”  And indeed, the “chapters” are somewhat strange in and of themselves (“Stock Up on Snow Globes.  The Zombie Apocalypse is Coming.” and “Things I May Have Said During Uncomfortable Silences” and “My Skeleton is Potaterrific”, for example.)  Ms. Lawson definitely does not shy away from sharing weird and wacky thought processes (in incredibly ribald speech – take note if you have issues with profanity) and zany situations that arise from them, not in order to create comedy from them, but simply because they are downright funny, just as they are.

The vast majority of these essays are indeed wildly entertaining, and completely uninhibited.  Take, for example, this passage from “Death by Swans is Not as Glamorous as You’d Expect”, which relates when she and her family (husband Victor and daughter Hailey) moved into an old fixer-upper of a house in a nice gated community in Texas, where she is promptly chased by a couple of resident swans at the picturesque park nearby.  This leads into a kind of turf war between herself and the flock of aggressive swans:

After that day I’d drive slowly by the swan pond on the way home and the swans would glare at my car.  I’d pass by (as they likely plotted ripping off my bumper or disabling my brakes), and I’d roll down the window and scream, “DON’T EVEN START WITH ME, WHITEY!”, which, admittedly, is one of the worst things to scream in the middle of a posh Republican-stronghold neighborhood, but I had no real hope for ever fitting in and so I had already given up.  (In fact, our new neighbor invited Victor and me to a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party, which sounded terrifying, but then she mentioned that it would also be a Republican fund-raiser and that was a relief because then I had an excellent excuse not to go.  I explained that I was the designated non-Republican in our marriage and she said it would be fine so I handed her a copy of my first book.  A week later I got a very nice letter from her explaining that she’d read the book and now understood why I shouldn’t come.  So basically I was uninvited in writing but in a way that we all felt good about.)

Ms. Lawson’s rambling, stream-of-consciousness (I originally typed “scream-of-consciousness”, which actually would be apropos in many of her essays) style of writing really appealed to me, as did the sections where she careens from outrageous to humbling with the effects of her various illnesses (as I myself have a daughter that suffers from multiple issues akin to hers).  While this is a book that should probably be taken in small doses for maximum effect, it’s so clever and so funny and so poignant that you want to inhale it in large gulps, even though you know that’s probably not the best of ideas.

Which is probably part of why it’s so fun, after all.

Listen, you don’t have a to have a mental illness to thoroughly enjoy this book, or know someone who does (although that’s pretty likely this day and age, as hopefully the stigma of mental illness will continue to flake away, and more people become comfortable with sharing such illnesses with friends and family).  It’s a hoot and a holler regardless (and an occasional “awww….”, and even a tear jerker a time or two).  But if you, or anybody you love, or anybody you know, or anybody you might someday come across, does struggle with a chronic illness – physical or mental – this book will pack a huge, emotional punch without becoming maudlin or overly sentimental.  And oftentimes that punch will come through laughter – chuckling laughter, gut-busting laughter, even twittering embarrassed laughter – because someone can be fighting any number of challenges and still be funny, still be charming, can still be angry and witty and defiant.  That’s the thing.  Despite it all, despite anything, they can still be honest and real, and they – we – can still be furiously happy.


~ Sharon Browning

(Oh!  Here’s the totally heart-warming trailer for Furiously Happy, including input from literary and blog-o-verse celebrities such as Patrick Rothfuss, Felicia Day and John Scalzi:

Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Makes you feel, too, I bet.  It does me.  ~SB)

Oh!  And I should also note that the wonderful featured image of Jenny Lawson as the Witch of Narnia was grabbed from Brian Schroeder’s website, Popcorn Day.  ~ SB, still

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