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Why is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: Jancee Dunn’s Hit-or-Miss Memoir

Written by: Amy Brown, Special to CC2K


ImageWhy is Jancee Dunn’s mother getting a tattoo, and why won’t my mom get one?

This is the question that plagued me the first time Why is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had To Ask caught my eye as I walked through the bookstore. I have been trying to convince my mother, to no avail, to get a matching tattoo with me for every major holiday where gift giving is the norm since my 18th birthday. I didn’t buy the book immediately, but I knew I had to go back and get it when my mother called solely to tell me she had seen a book that reminded her of me—this one.

I started to read the book and was slightly disappointed. The first chapter was about Dunn’s dysfunctional family, a subject about which many humorous memoirs have been written. Problem is, her family isn’t really all that dysfunctional. I mean, my extended family has an entire Google account with a calendar for the sole purpose of scheduling vacations. One of my cousins routinely threw a temper tantrum at every family event until he turned 16. However, I haven’t written a memoir about my dysfunctional family because I don’t have the mechanism to my writing to keep the reader from thinking “Okay…so what?” at the end of the book—which is kind of how I felt when I started reading this one.

To give credit where credit is due, however, the book picks up speed as it goes along. As Dunn continued to describe the quirks of her parents, I began to feel a kind of affinity for them. She portrayed them in a way that made them very easy to imagine as real people, not just characters in a book (which is good, since they are actually real people).

The book hits a high note when she describes her husband’s increasingly eccentric set of rules (no Sunday brunch, no restaurants with subtitles, no movie sequels, etc), which she compares to “Kanye West’s concert rider.” She manages to write one of the funniest essays I’ve ever read (what kind of dress code is “business festive,” anyway?) while performing an in-depth analysis on the behavior of her husband and men of his generation.

She also touches more seriously on themes of pregnancy and parental loss. A conversation with her gay male counterpart about life after the death of their parents seamlessly interweaves with light descriptions of Lifetime dramas (has anybody else seen Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?) and overconsumption of junk food that keep the depressing topic at hand from becoming…well, too depressing. She also vividly recounts a barrage of questions about her reluctance to have children that succeeded in making me angry on her behalf.

But for every chapter that made me laugh out loud (like Duncee’s amazing description of a Japanese hotel bathroom), there is a chapter like the one with a transcribed telephone conversation between Dunn and her best friend. Her writing is hit-or-miss, but it’s never awful. At the book’s worst points, it’s just a little boring. At its best, it is some of the funniest material I have read in a long time.

So now I just have to slip this to my mom and convince her to get a tattoo with me.

Author: Amy Brown, Special to CC2K

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