Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
With Little Weirds, actress and comedian Jenny Slate has created an inspiring manifesto for wayward young adulthood. A beautifully written, introspective search for meaning and self-actualization, Little Weirds is presented as a collection of quirky little stories but lands, thankfully, far from that mark. Slate, in her early thirties, effortlessly captures the confusing in-between-ness of older millennials lurking on the brink of fulfillment: with forty in sight, we should have our identities in line, be able to recognize our hopes and dreams and fears. The burden of “growing up” should be behind us, but so often this is not the case. In Little Weirds, Slate jumps into this psychological uncertainty and finds a remarkable, guiding voice.
Tonally, Slate’s stories recall Lydia Davis and Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God: short-short texts of tight, contemplative poetry that expand passing ideas, fragmented dreams, and fleeting moments into scenes of pointed thoughtfulness. She only occasionally alludes to her life as a successful Hollywood professional, and is more interested in letting that side of her fade into the background. Heartbreak lurks in Slate’s recent past: “Here it is,” she writes, “a book that represents the wholeness that I built after everything toppled. A book that honors my fragmentation by giving itself to you in pieces. If you want it, you will have to be my partner in giving in to what it is. I had to find my own language and terms.”
Slate, like so many of us, struggles with balancing a desire to be independent with a desire to be noticed by others. She jokes about this in “Treat,” the collection’s opening story: “One of my fantasy dimensions,” she writes, is that “strangers on the street see me and think I might be French.” The comedian in her pushes this further: “You see past the woman and you sense that I am actually a homemade Parisian Croissant.” But the silliness quickly retracts, back into something more vulnerable, honest and raw:
“Disregard the fear that I am too rich to be an ordinary meal. Allow my antique decadence into your morning into your mouth. Pair me with jam. Treasure me for my layers and layers of fragility and richness. Name me after a shape that the moon makes. Have me in a hotel while you are on vacation. Look at me and say, ‘Oh I really shouldn’t,’ just because you want to have me so very much.”
Slate revisits these themes across a range of stories, many of which articulate dreams and imagined deaths. “When people get a glimpse of me,” she writes in “I Want to Look Out a Window,” “I’d like them to feel like it is a good omen.” She asks in “Color-Spirit,” “I am a lovely woman. Who will come into my kitchen and be hungry for me?” She simultaneously indulges in this yearning for affirmation and rejects it: “all I want to do is disappear into my own thing,” she later concedes, “and you can decide whether or not to join but I’m pretty much going to enter my own vortex.” Little Weirds, in a word, is exactly that: the uncertain, confessional vortex of a young, modern woman. “I am here,” she explains in her introduction, “…selfishly, so that I can experience the pleasure and honor of hosting you in my private space. It is not a mad or haunted house. But maybe a witch does live here. I am your witch and I nudge the dark waves and I cast the gentle light over the hard terrain.”
Slate does struggle at times with balancing her identity as a poet with her identity as a comedian: a few stories strive for laughs instead of emotional resonance, and while flat in comparison to the rest of Little Weirds, they do effectively bolster the book’s overall sense of fragmentation and exploration.
Throughout the text, Slate searches for concision: she recognizes that while feelings of uncertainty and their related, outward desires can knock a person down with their seemingly immense reach, they’re not, in fact, complicated situations. In a perfectly succinct summation, Slate declares herself a person “eager to use [her] heart and get [her] body touched.” What more, really, could we search for in life? Later, she is “an example of a specific way of spending time and feeling existence in this world.” And while it’s a great pleasure to explore with Slate as she discovers these modern, minimal philosophies, she also shows her readers how valuable it can be to simply stew on all of this ourselves. Little Weirds is a non-indulgent invitation towards reflection and self-care: “an example of how you can gaze on yourself with love when nobody is there to do that for you, and how you can make it so that your own loving gaze is truthful and not obsessive or vain. You can wake up like this, be this, and tell yourself that this is an example of how a day can start on Earth.”