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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Witty confessions

Dubious yet witty confessions

Tales from a Broad: An Unreliable Memoir
by Fran Lebowitz. Bantam. Pages 345. Singapore $28.

When you pick up a book with a telling subtitle that reads ‘An Unreliable Memoir’, you should pretty much have an idea what you are headed for.

So that’s what this work is — a memoir that began when Fran Lebowitz landed in Singapore seven years ago as an expatriate wife. The adventure or misadventure if you’d like to read it that way was to have lasted just three short months. But things weren’t meant to be that way.

One thing leads to another and her husband Frank’s assignment in sunny Singapore is extended to three long years. That means Fran has to leave her happening life in New York as a literary agent behind, grapple with her two kids and somehow manage to find the time to always be on the run.

Something that is inevitably hard enough for someone who lives at the breakneck speed that Fran does. So her tales take on a frenetic pace, making it often hard to keep up with all the activities that she manages to squeeze in for herself and for her family in a mere 24 hours. She keeps herself busy trying to forget all about her New York life, while she goes about making friends from virtually all nationalities in her new multi-racial abode.

There are quotes gleaned from her childhood which are great laughs as Fran never fails to point out that she stuck out like a sore thumb though that did help her win the heart of the charming Frank — a copyright lawyer — who is in the midst of a failed attempt to establish his company’s presence in Singapore, and there are their delightful children Sadie and Huxley.

Just about everything they do collectively as a family comes fraught with an abundance of wit. And nothing escapes her wry hand, though that is bearable as she has the ability to laugh at her own weaknesses more than once:

"I look at the phone. I start the manuscript. It’s short. It’s called ‘The Heartland’. It’s a picture book about sad hearts and happy hearts all living together in harmony. I know I’ll pass it on. And the lucky author will be a bestseller. It’s my gift to publishing. If I take it on, you’re destined to be a mediocre. But if I hate it, it’s good."

The author also uses all the descriptive skills at her disposal to tell us about how she looks. "I blow out my hair real big and am generous with my make-up." Her description about Singaporean food might tempt you to get on the next flight to sample the delectable fare which she says is "thousands of tastes in each divine bite." Her observations about the searing humidity that could end up with first-time visitors constantly eyeing the pool are more than accurate as are her delightful comments on the perfectly maintained expatriate wives. "Their supple, tanned bodies marinate in the shallow end of the kiddy pool," a place where they fix their next lunch or tea date and exchange news about their travels, their children and the world they left behind.

Then there are all the adventures with maids in Singapore. "The problem with finding help in Singapore is that it’s pretty much a live-in-maid-only world - expats, locals, people in public housing, even maids have maids. Because having a maid is commonplace as owning a coffee maker, there just isn’t much call for part-time work." Fran’s maid adventure begins when she realizes she is being ripped off by the part-time help that she has got.

Expectedly with all these elements, the book sometimes moves faster than you’d like it to. The sentences and events fly at almost the same pace at which Fran religiously completes her daily runs.

Well, I knew when I picked up this book, that this wasn’t something to be taken seriously. So if you read it with that in mind, it’s an enjoyable read, something that can be finished in three hours flat while sipping your Diet Coke next to the languid pool waters. It sort of begins and ends there, after a few laughs it’ll end up on your shelf with a marked certainty that this is one book you won’t be revisiting any time soon.