Ironically, in My Fair Lazy, no one is working harder than author Jen Lancaster to wring laughs out of her perennial discomfort. While subtitled “a culture-up manifesto,” her fifth memoir finds her pushing the limits of self-improvement while, from a safe distance, questioning the permanence of the author as incorrigible character.
To be fair, being intellectually shown up by Candace Bushnell might press a radical re-evaluation of self on anyone, as Lancaster is during a radio interview when she doesn’t recognize the name “Baudelaire.” She later diagnoses herself as stagnating in her reality-TV-and-Ambien life after a string of tony social events at which she’s ill at ease making conversation, even though she’s well-versed in John Hughes films and the musical choices of Adam Lambert. (Though her chapter on the shifting appeal of The Real World might well live to be quoted in semiotics dissertations 20 years hence.) A hazily defined “Jenaissance” finds her tearing through Edith Wharton on a Kindle, puzzling through a modern-dance performance she believed would contain tango, and sitting down for an avant-garde dish resembling a half-smoked cigar, with the help of her tolerant but somewhat incredulous friends.
Having accepted what is often difficult for successful memoirists to grasp—that one life cannot be endlessly plumbed for meaningful moments—Lancaster places these adventures against a mundane backdrop of inconvenienced errands and last-minute moves. After tapping her foray into unemployment and struggles with her weight for previous books (Bitter Is The New Black and Such A Pretty Fat, respectively), attending a performance of Desire Under The Elms and a wine-and-cheese class are small moves, but it’s a mark of honesty, not complacency, when the seams show a little: Part of Lancaster’s quest takes place on her own book tour, in which she rubs elbows with “nice” hipsters at Stumptown in Portland and drops $400 on tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
In spite of the trauma of the bad-fashion memories dredged up for last year’s misstep Pretty In Plaid, Lancaster comes across as a little more vulnerable in this book. Even if her self-improvement projects consistently succeed, though, it’s questionable how long she’ll willingly pedal around the perimeter of her comfort zone. Luckily, traces of her self-acknowledged “condescending, egomaniacal, self-centered smartass” personality remain; it would be a shame if the once-haughty dot-com queen brought low managed to smooth out all her metaphoric wrinkles.