“A riotous collection … Heartening and hilarious, this is prime summer reading material.” — Publishers Weekly
“Benoit’s writing style is like a witty, long-form tweet—familiar, pithy, and off-the-cuff… Benoit brings her A game in her first book.” — Library Journal
GQ columnist and stand-up comedian Sophia Benoit is that rare combo of wisecracking friend and tough older sister in Well, This is Exhausting (Gallery Books), her new memoir in essays. Benoit delves into her own history of growing up in two households, struggling with weight issues and forming problematic relationships with guys. But the book is less about life events and more about commentary on those events — and then commentary on the commentary. (Unlike most books, you do NOT want to skip the footnotes. Light is shed there. Laughs are had. Ditto for the introduction). However, the book does not follow the well-worn comedic pattern of anecdotal set-up followed by a pithy punch line.
Benoit is funny, but she also has some serious things to say about being a woman in the 21st century. Mostly that it is, well, exhausting. That this is due to societal expectations is probably not a news flash to most of us, but Benoit points out some of the more subtle and insidious messages that are so much a part of our landscape that we seldom even see them — we see the forest, all right, but miss a lot of specific trees.
As an overweight teen, Benoit found that it was always up to the overweight person to accommodate, to fit in, to make sure that she wasn’t dragging down the group in some way. Under the guise of helpfulness, people were always analyzing what her “problem” was. She had too much going on in her life; she had too little going on in her life; she just didn’t know what healthy choices were. In the chapter entitled, “Sorry Dove, But I Am Never Going To Love My Body,” Benoit points out that even a seemingly positive message can be loaded with a lot of pressure.
STORIES BOTH EXCRUCIATING AND EXCRUCIATINGLY FUNNY
Also exhausting is the constant battle to be heard and to have one’s opinions validated. Cultural taste, for instance, is usually defined by whatever straight white males of a certain income level like, according to Benoit: “The Proposal made more money than Step Brothers, and we got like 5,000 more hilarious midlevel comedy films and very few more midlevel, well written rom-coms.” When Benoit champions The Bachelor, she is ridiculed, but when her boyfriend says it’s actually a pretty good show, “absolutely no one — no one! ever treats him like a vapid airhead.” (What woman hasn’t had the experience of putting out an idea in a work meeting, watching it drop, and then seeing her idea picked up later by a man and suddenly praised?)
Benoit is probably best known as a sex and relationship columnist, and she definitely covers those thorny topics in essays such as “One Time I Listened to the Sara Bareilles Song ‘Brave’ to Work Up the Courage to Ask a Guy Out (I’m Embarrassed for Me Too)” and “How to Hate Yourself Enough That Men Will Like You (But Not So Much That They’ll Be Turned Off ).” Hopefully, you’re picking up on the sarcasm there.
Benoit is able to give advice because she’s done most of the things she is telling her audience not to do. Some of her stories are excruciatingly funny, and some are just excruciating, but her underlying message is one of personal empowerment. Benoit’s takeaway? “Find people who seem brave and kind and surround yourself with them and emulate them (not in a creepy way!) slowly until you become braver and kinder.” Not a bad life motto.