Full disclosure: The funny book I'll be reviewing this week comes from TOW Books, a brand new humor imprint of F+W Publications. TOW is headed by a certain John Warner. Back in 2003, I worked on a humor book as one of half a dozen co-editors, including this selfsame John Warner. We exchanged some email over the course of the project, but have never met. We haven't communicated since that book came out 4 years ago -- except for maybe one email on our shared discomfort at the fact that our book was being touted in the Amazon comments as "the perfect toilet read." (Ew.) But my decision to review Really, You've Done Enough by Sarah Walker came before finding out that Warner was behind its publication. Warner is still the editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Sarah Walker's writing has appeared there as well, but not until after my employment with that esteemed group of overeducated funny people had ended. She and I have never met. I don't believe that my tenuous tangential relationship to these folks has biased my opinions at all, but I figured I'd let you know. So, let's get on to the actual reviewing, shall we?
Sarah Walker is a sketch-comedy actress, half of a performing duo called Walker and Cantrell. She is currently a writer for The Daily Show, and has worked for both David Letterman AND Conan O'Brien. (She has thus hit the trifecta of popular nightly TV shows that are actually good. Way to go Sarah!) Walker kicks off the TOW Books imprint with a perfect holiday read: Really, You've Done Enough: A Parent's Guide to Stop Parenting Their Adult Child Who Still Needs Their Money But Not Their Advice. In the introduction, Walker notes that she wanted to title the book You Can Stop F@#king Me Up Now. It purports to be a self-help book -- a guide to teach parents how to back off and stop "helicoptering" over their almost-30-year-old offspring. But it quickly becomes way weirder than that.
The book's narrator is a (hopefully) fictional character also named Sarah Walker, an aimless, jobless, probably alcoholic, twentysomething Brooklynite. The book she narrates isn't really intended as a guide for all parents; it's a guide for HER parents, very specifically. She wants them to stop meddling in her life, but to continue sending checks. So she pens this confused, digressive screed, combining fake but official-sounding statistics with badly-concealed bitterness and occasional flights of total insanity.
"It has recently been noted," Walker writes, "...by Danish scientists wearing monocles that twenty-eight is the new twenty-one." At age 28, Sarah says, young people suffer from a new ailment called "Financial Age Time Stoppage," and one's job as a good parent is to continue sending money no matter what. "Do not consider this to be delusional and unhealthy, it is merely good parenting by way of supporting your child's dreams."
The Sarah character is kind of a spoiled jerk, the kind who is totally oblivious of her spoiled jerkiness. Chapter headings include "Helping Your Child Get a Job: Only bitter people hate nepotism" and "The Gift of Technology: Helping your child through their stay-at-home twenties." In comedy, of course, timing is everything, and many a humorous book has become tiresome because it went on too long. Walker has done a good job of keeping the length under control and the pace brisk. But she's never met a digression she didn't like. She tells all about various social networks, explains the rules for Beer Pong, and extols the career highlights of actor Tim Curry in a footnote.
At the start of the "Partying With Your Child" chapter, Walker writes, "I came home to visit my parents on a random weekend and my dad caught me smoking a joint out of my window in my room. Instead of being angry with me, he asked if he could have a drag, except he said 'toke,' which made me die a little." The conclusion of the "partying" chapter is: please don't do it. Ever.
You could reduce all the funniest bits of Really, You've Done Enough into a list of don'ts, which paradoxically work to illustrate how Mr. and Mrs. Walker behave. Don't challenge your children's friends to Beer Pong. Don't have "loud hotel sex" when your adult child (who knows exactly what you're doing) is asleep in an adjoining room. Do not ever create an online social network profile of any sort, and "If you start dating your much younger Yoga teacher post-divorce, please acknowledge that this is a cliché." In the "do" category are just two things: "leave your kids alone" and "send money."
If you really start to think hard about the social realities underpinning the book's humor, it might make you depressed. Walker's book is the perfect illustration of the findings in Dr. Judith Wallerstein's landmark 25-year study of dysfunctional families, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. To be totally reductive and overly simple for a moment: Wallerstein found that children of divorced families in the '70s and '80s were in some ways forced to grow up too fast (their parents sometimes treated them more like friends than kids). They also tended to act like immature, overgrown children well into adulthood, often remaining financially dependent, self-centered and underemployed jerks. If you really want to get whiplash, read Walker and Wallerstein at the same time, like I did. You won't know which one will make you laugh and which will make you cry.
If you have no plans for the holidays this year, I suggest you buy a copy of Really, You've Done Enough and a few large bottles of top-shelf liquor. Perhaps also buy a book of poetry by Philip Larkin that contains the bleakly hilarious poem This Be The Verse, which Walker acknowledges as an inspiration. Pay by credit card, and send your parents the bill. Lock yourself in your apartment. Pour, read, and enjoy.