There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble by Laurie Notaro

First off, let me say that I love Laurie Notaro. I’ve read and loved four of her previous books, and find just about every short story she writes completely hilarious. With this in mind, I was really excited to read this book, her first experiment with fiction. I figured if the nonfiction stories Notaro wrote nearly made me pee myself laughing, just imagine what she could write if she were allowed to make everything up!

And that’s the problem: Laurie Notaro’s first novel is about a woman named Maye, a former newspaper reporter who is now an author, adjusting to life in small-town Washington after moving there from Phoenix with her English-professor husband and their dog. (Real-Life Laurie Notaro is a newspaper-colmnist-turned-author whose husband is a teacher, and several of her nonfiction books are about their life in Phoenix with their two dogs) Also, in the about-the-author section of There’s a Slight Chance I Might Be Going to Hell it says that Notaro “recently moved Eugene, Oregon, a town that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the fictional town of Spaulding, Washington.” Uh huh. Amusing as that is, Laurie, that doesn’t excuse the fact that very little of your novel appears to be genuinely fictitious. As I read through the book, it was so easy to see which parts of the story were real, which parts were exaggerated, and what was made up. From my point of view, there was very little in that last category. In fact, it made me wonder if the stories in Notaro’s nonfiction books are really all true, because they were so blatantly similar to everything that happens in her “fictional” story. This leaves us with two options: either Notaro just makes shit up for the sake of a funny story (as I suspect she did in one of her previous nonfiction books, which has a chapter about her first time playing The Sims and describes features in the game that do not exist), or she just takes the “write what you know” adage a little too far.

One more thing bugged me, and it may have been in Notaro’s other books too, but this was the first time I noticed it: she has a habit of going out of her way to create awkwardly long, nonsensical similes that seem really out of place and forced. For example: “Crawford Lake Road was not paved, and not only was it a bumpy dirt road, it was full of potholes that looked more like spots where meteors had bounced off the face of the earth the way a basketball inevitably rebounds off the head of the fat girl in freshman gym class.” And: “her eyes got wider and her expression took on the proportions of a teenager in a Wes Craven film who had just had dirty sex with her horn-dog boyfriend and was about to get her head ripped off her body like a grapefruit plucked from a tree by a psychopath.” Okay, first, that sentence makes it sound like a psychopath is plucking the grapefruit off the tree, not a head, and second, that is exhausting.

A funny, fluffy book, but ultimately not worth it. There is nothing wrong with writing what you know, but Laurie Notaro, gifted as she is with funny prose, seems incapable of doing anything else.

Verdict: two out of five stars


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