Book: Please Excuse My Daughter: A Memoir
Author: Julie Klam
Type of Work: Memoir
Why Did I Read This Book: God help me, but I picked out this book from the store shelves because the dust jacket is a bright orange. It caught my eye. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Also, I am a fan of a good memoir.
Availability: Published in Riverhead Books in 2008, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Oh sweet sanity, I spent a day just hating this book and hating Julie Klam. Julie, whose less than organized life, initially at least, tells one of those stories where a person, who seems completely incompetent and proud of it, caroms through life, getting glamorous jobs (she was an intern on the Letterman show, worked for a famous agent and spoke to superstars on the telephone daily, interviewed with Barbra Streisand, and ended up writing for VH1’s Pop-up Video, all sort of effortlessly), being thin naturally and having rich parents.
Klam is a woman who self-admittedly had difficulty growing up, but even when her parents cut the financial cord, that cord cutting included a job at her dad’s insurance agency. She had the best clothes, a huge support network and did I mention she is thin and pretty? Yet she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, sort of embraced her lack of ambition and ran with it for years. She was as foreign to me as a Martian. Her whole life until her early 30s was a refutation to everything I lived. It was like, through the printed page, Julie Klam was shouting, “Hey you! You over there! The short, chubby one who put herself through school on loans and selling shoes, the one who had a job at 14 and has never once worn Halston. My long thin legs and I give the finger to you and your Protestant work ethic!”
Gah, I hated her. I threw the book across the room and ran a hot bath. And spite of myself, I picked the book back up and started reading again. And dammit if I didn’t start liking Klam a little. She’s got a dry wit, a self-effacing humor, and an ability to spin a yarn about the mundane and make it entertaining. She’s also sort of charming. She eventually grew up and found her way in life, and in the process of telling her tale, made me respect her. Most interesting, her story made me think about some of my political and social opinions, one of the last things I expected to happen from the first few fluffy, sentimental chapters.
Julie, who is clearly a lot smarter than she gives herself credit for in some instances, was given no favors from her mother academically or socially. Her mom, who sounds like a hoot despite the unintentional handicaps she gave her daughter, was lonely, living in an upscale but rural New York neighborhood and would keep Julie out of school in order to keep her company shopping or going to lunch. Klam’s mother also passively through her own life sent Julie the message that women only needed education to land a man, never working, being taken care of lavishly her by her husband. Julie was the best dressed girl in her classes but she also fell behind and would stay at home when she felt socially or intellectually challenged. In fact, when Julie was in the 10th grade, she was taken to an education specialist who recommended that Julie be sent back to the 7th grade so she could catch up.
That didn’t happen and Julie had to do time at a lesser college before she could transfer to NYU and graduate with a degree in the arts. She had a friend who wrote for music magazines like Rolling Stone
and Julie received the opportunity to interview huge music stars. But Julie’s childhood left her too protected and coddled, and she was so concerned about an early bedtime that it was hard for her to see the huge benefit most of us would see in talking to rock stars. In fact, she was so upset about being up so late, she evidently interviewed Bono in her pyjamas, so anxious was she to get back home and get to bed (I think this was when I threw the book at the wall).
Despite her internship with David Letterman, chances to interview rock stars, and working for a famous agent, Julie drifted, enabled by her family’s money and an enviable support network of friends and family. As Julie drifted, she became more and more discontent, naively dating an ex-con loser, taking temp jobs to support him, eventually getting dumped because he was a sociopath who used her. Then she lucked out. She found a job at VH1, fell in love with her boss, got married, had a baby girl who forced Klam to grow up, work hard and live happily ever after, the end.
Except it wasn’t an automatic happy ending. Before they married, her now husband Paul became very ill with diabetes and Julie became pregnant unexpectedly. She got an abortion.
And here is where Anita got a little uncomfortable and had to analyze her liberal, feminist ideology. I am adamantly pro-choice. I like to joke, stealing from Ivan Stang from the Church of the Subgenius, that abortion may be murder, but often it is murder in self-defense. While I do joke about it, I don’t know that I ever questioned any woman’s right to abort when she wanted and the fact is I was sort of shocked that Klam was so open about aborting because it simply was not the right time surprises me. I guess I only thought of abortion as something women do when it is dire – abusive husbands, way too young to be a mother, really broke, seriously ill, etc.
I had to think about it for a bit. Though Klam and her husband-to-be did not know he would get diabetes when she aborted, she did abort because she did not feel it was the best time to have a baby. But when she got pregnant after her marriage, the timing still wasn’t that great. She was unemployed, her husband’s job was shaky then he lost his job, and he was still struggling with diabetes. So why was this timing for a pregnancy any better?
And why on earth would it matter to someone pro-choice? Who was I to ask such questions? If I knew Klam in real life, would I have questioned her at all?
It is a risky thing to tell anyone, isn’t it? Because your life is your own, you know what is right for you, you know your limitations, and if you make a hard decision like this and speak openly of it, you leave yourself prey to people who morally armchair quarterback your life. I have to imagine many women I know have aborted for reasons similar to Klam but did not share the information for fear of condemnation. At no time in the first 3/4 of this book did I think I would need to think hard about opinions on abortion and put my own social beliefs on trial. I started out with very judgmental opinions about what I considered Julie’s cute and fuzzy life, and ended up questioning my own my own positions on a woman’s right to choose when I just assumed I am a yellowdog liberal who wants legal abortions for all. It was nice to realize that I still feel that way. It never hurts to question your own stances, especially when there is a niggling little hypocrisy in there that needs examination.
It’s no easy thing to say, “Hey, I was sort of a doofus, dated a criminal, had a lot of trouble growing up and then had an abortion!” It is no easier to say this even when you know you will be able to end that statement by saying that you made your life what you wanted it to be. Klam’s memoir is a fun, silly read but it is a brave one, as well.
I started off thinking this was going to be Sex and the City via a pretty girl’s explanation of how she acted like a dumbass then found the right man, yay! It was far different, far funnier, far more empathy-evoking and far more interesting than I could have hoped when I tossed it across the room.