It’s Hard Not to Hate You
- Valerie Frankel
- St. Martin's Press
- 256 pp.
- Reviewed by Sally Pessin
- October 6, 2011
The author’s new, funny memoir details her mission to de-stress her life by giving herself the freedom to be angry.
Reviewed by Sally Pessin
Valerie Frankel’s new memoir, It’s Hard Not to Hate You, is hilariously entertaining and sometimes heartrending. Frankel chronicles her attempts to reverse a lifelong habit of swallowing her anger in response to the rudeness she encounters daily. She dabbles in various unconventional approaches to learn to cope with annoying people, but none are as cathartic as the most powerful weapon in Frankel’s emotional arsenal — her “poison pen.” In each chapter, Frankel addresses a painful period in her life involving someone who hurt her. Her wrath is unleashed and directed at the offending individual by including them in her frequent incantation, “It’s hard not to hate you”: thus, the title.
Frankel opens the book by revealing that she has just been diagnosed with and treated for early-stage colon cancer. Under doctor’s orders, Frankel re-evaluates her way of dealing with stress which, if left unchecked, could possibly trigger a cancer recurrence. Using her writing as a salve, Frankel riffs on universal themes of boorish behavior such as loud-talking movie patrons, overly permissive parents of out-of-control children, gym rats who become treadmill hogs, and dining companions who text at the table, among others.
Frankel admits to having been angry for 30 years and feels betrayed as well as perplexed by the lack of respect shown her by friends, boyfriends, back-stabbing colleagues and haughty neighbors. Despite substantial success as a writer, Frankel is consumed by her own feelings of jealousy when young, first-time writers in her wider social circle reach that Holy Grail of publishing, The New York Times Best Seller List, an achievement that has, to date, eluded Frankel.
Fresh out of college, Frankel broke into New York’s cut-throat magazine business as a writer. She experienced early professional success by having her first novel published at the young age of 25. Prolific, Frankel has published more than 20 novels, but by her own account, at least half were financial failures. The vivid vignettes that fill this memoir belie the notion that Frankel’s work would be anything less than wildly successful, but such is the unpredictable nature of the reading public.
Frankel’s troubles began with her critical mother who was relentless in micromanaging her slightly overweight daughter’s food intake. For comfort as well as spite, Frankel resorted to sneaking junk food and smoking pot. Growing up in the affluent and appearance-conscious suburb of Short Hills, New Jersey, made Frankel feel like an outcast: her peers, especially boys, taunted her for years with name-calling and perpetual ostracism, a hazing that is explored in detail in her first memoir, Thin Is the New Happy, a fascinating account of Frankel’s lifelong obsession with poor body image and the shocking process she employed to overcome it. Despite low self-esteem, social alienation and a dalliance with drugs, Frankel was admitted to and attended prestigious Dartmouth College.
Most heartbreaking is that Frankel’s first husband, Glenn, despite never having been a smoker, succumbed to lung cancer at age 34. Frankel was left alone to raise two young daughters in Brooklyn on a writer’s salary. Steve, Frankel’s second husband, possesses a laid back temperament that nicely counterpoints Frankel’s tightly wound personality. A working musician and actor originally from Maine, Steve stepped up to the plate as a superb father figure for Frankel’s girls. However, at times, Frankel finds it “hard not to hate” Steve, a taciturn New Englander, for his apparent unwillingness to discuss any marital conflicts. Prior to her epiphany about the therapeutic benefits of emoting, Frankel silently resented Steve’s occasional need to hit the corner bar for some alone time with a book and a beer. Frankel devotes an entire chapter to this mysterious behavior that makes her feel abandoned.
Frankel’s background as a magazine writer contributes to her ability to spark the readers’ attention and sustain it with prose that embraces the concept that brevity truly is the soul of wit. Frankel is also alarmingly frank, writing in detail about her sex life, her daughter’s ADD and her mother’s intense moodiness, a candor that ensures that the writing feels authentic. No longer does Frankel suppress her rage. Now she pursues a new post-diagnosis modus vivendi by attempting to confront her anger, work through it and move on. Frankel’s unwavering pursuit to de-stress her life is fearless and amusing. Although she does not undergo a complete transformation, this inspiring, funny and deeply personal exposé is a necessary and giant step for her and a pleasure for her readers.
Sally Pessin is the owner of GuitarFun® in Bethesda, Maryland. She co-authored with Janice Haas the humor book, You Know You’ve Been a Stay-At-Home Mom Too Long When… (Quixote Press, 2004) and writes a humor blog at www.guitarfunbethesda.com