STARRED REVIEW
November 2015

An open letter

By Mary-Louise Parker
Celebrity memoirs often have a predictable arc: I was born, and for a brief while I was much like you, eating cereal and riding bicycles, then (big famous thing) happened and now here I am, not much like you at all. These memoirs fill a need, because we want to know about the famous thing but also the steps that led to it, in hopes that we might trade our own cereal bowls for shrimp forks. By that metric, Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a memoir written by an actress, is the farthest thing imaginable from a celebrity memoir. For this we can rejoice and be glad.
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Celebrity memoirs often have a predictable arc: I was born, and for a brief while I was much like you, eating cereal and riding bicycles, then (big famous thing) happened and now here I am, not much like you at all. These memoirs fill a need, because we want to know about the famous thing but also the steps that led to it, in hopes that we might trade our own cereal bowls for shrimp forks. By that metric, Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a memoir written by an actress, is the farthest thing imaginable from a celebrity memoir. For this we can rejoice and be glad.

Parker has written a collection of letters, many of them poems in epistolary drag, to men in her life: a grandfather she never knew; her father (“To convey in any existing language how much I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.”); an amazing neighbor; a doctor who saved her life; the hippie co-op colleague whose loincloth made him look like a “Malibu Jesus doll.” She apologizes to a cabdriver she screamed at one day and tackles the three heads of disastrous ex-boyfriends. There’s a tiny bit of beekeeping advice, but not a fried green tomato to be found. 

Dear Mr. You keeps many of its addressees vague, letting flashes of poetry and telling detail sketch an outline we can nearly feel. A few are clearly also famous, but if you can identify them, your fame-tracking software is more finely tuned than mine. Some, like the “Future Man Who Loves My Daughter,” are still pending.

Don’t pick up this book looking for gossip about “Weeds” or life on Broadway. Parker offers instead a portrait of a human life apart from the cycles of fame: private, flawed, strange, funny, polished and reflective of the people she’s encountered along the way.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You

By Mary-Louise Parker
Scribner
ISBN 9781501107832

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