I started watching the HBO hit series Girls because I needed some hipsterification in my life. I had just watched Juno for the umpteenth time and was craving some fast talking esoteric geek-speak when my friend Dr. Gargamel recommended it to me.
I disliked the pilot because it was awkward and unfunny and had a weird sex scene (taking into consideration that I am weird about sex scenes in general). I didn’t finish watching it and didn’t watch any more episodes.
Not That Kind of Girl makes me regret not sticking it out.
I’m addicted to knowing what other people are doing with their time, so for me the best memoirs are story after story after story with occasional footnotes of introspection. Not That Kind of Girl lives up to my expectations.
In the book Dunham is self-critical and self-congratulatory, often at the same time. She recounts every story with the openly-admitted bias of the self-involved and this ironic honesty had me glued to the page. Here is a girl who is totally confident about herself and determined to kick ass but who also spends most of her time warring with insecurities and waffling about major decisions.
It’s dangerous to consider memoirs (especially those of famous people) as presenting any kind of insight into the lives they are about because there’s nothing stopping the author from glossing over unseemly details or even outright lying. The very basis of a memoir is that it’s founded on fact, but are any of us really reliable narrators? Dunham points that out early on [SPOILER] when she recounts an ambiguous sexual encounter that may or may not have been rape.
Ultimately the only absolute truth a memoir has to offer is a comment on the mind of the person who wrote it. There’s no questioning the truth of the things that happened (not that their truths are unquestionable, just that there’s no point to questioning them). What we should be examining critically is the lens we are looking through and not the view. Why has she drawn the picture this way? What is she holding back? What has she covered in rosy overtones? What does the way this story is told tell us about who wrote it?
Dunham is unflinching when she talks about her youthful experiments with sexuality, nostalgic and wistful when she speaks about school; her tone hardens to an edge when she talks about the sexism of Hollywood and softens to a sweet poignancy when she talks about her family. She talks about sex with clinical detachment and talks about her mental illness (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) like she’s writing from the frontlines of a battlefield, trying to understand the carnage but mostly just trying to survive it. She uses light-hearted lists like palate cleansers in between the heavy stuff and some parts of the book (like What’s in My Bag and My Worst Email Ever) can only be filed under the ever-expanding category of oversharing.
Not That Kind of Girl isn’t life-changing or earth-shattering. It’s not even the first of its kind (the style is reminiscent of Lawson’s Let’s Pretend this Never Happened). But it feels like a natural extension of Dunham’s work as an artist, her fight to bare [sic] it all. As part of the advance guard in this wave of millennial feminism, she plays her part admirably and Not That Kind of Girl just proves that she’s not the kind of girl who gives up the fight.