Books by comics usually do not fill me with encouragement – I own a couple of George Carlin ones, and largely they seem like printed bits and one liners. This is all stuff I have seen him perform, just in book form. This is nice to have since I like the comedy, but it is decidedly not essential to own. Marc Maron is one of my favorite comics and podcast presences of course Attempting Normal thus is an enjoyable volume to read and have. The question from a book review perspective is whether it is more.
The short answer to that question is, somewhat. Attempting Normal is a collection of essays from Maron running the gamut from autobiographical to observational to absurdist sorts of musings. Indeed the book is separated into two halves, “Attempting” and “Normal” along those lines. “Attempting” is the more powerful of the two sections, comprised of essays mostly about his upbringing, Maron’s background in comedy and in dissecting his own relationships. This is Maron at his best, mining darkness for comedy while still leaving it as darkness. He is also not one to sugarcoat his own role in his personal dysfunction, most powerfully in “The First Marriage”
My first wife, Kim, was a nice woman. I loved her. I shouldn’t have married her. I did it because I didn’t know how to break up with her. I was too scared. It was too comfortable. She was a bit naive. I was a bit out of my mind … I had grown to believe that I would never be happy but if I at least were married I could rest my chaos on a firm emotional mattress, that marriage would make things okay, normal-ish. They weren’t. I felt I was drowning in my bed.” (Page 18)
There is ownership there – an expression of pain and personal reckoning which makes this essay, and much of the first half more than just prepared bits. Another touching essay is about how Maron became a fan of cats, and how it intertwined with the dissolution of his marriage and much of his career at that point. This is all very much worth reading – and a display of the sort of humanity you associated with the best WTF work.
The second half, “Normal” is fine but less essential. This DOES read like the sort of prepared bits which are things lifted from an act. Not all of them are, but you do get a decent amount of the sort of things you might have read in Woody Allen’s Without Feathers or a somewhat edgier Dave Barry collection. I liked the stuff about Whole Foods Market and Viagra, and can even forgive a couple of stories which were lifted and polished from podcast preambles.
Overall the book is generally funny – but the first half and the humanity it embodies, is so good that I sort of wished the rest of the book were like it. Of course, that might mean I am a very depressed person – I don’t know. Maron is one of the best comic voices working, and you can see him lay himself bare here at times – and it’s still funny, and in these moments, he is one of the best there is. I just wish there were more of them.