Humour—what exactly each person finds funny—is such a personal thing. I mean, it’s about as personal as what turns you on and what kind of erotica/porn you like. So reviewing True Lies: The Book of Bad Advice, Mariko Tamaki’s collection of funny essays/stories-that-are-true-but-kind-of-not-true, and telling you which ones I thought were funny feels a bit weird. I mean, how am I to know what I think is funny is what anyone else would find funny?
So let me tell you all about this odd little book of writing that doesn’t quite know what it is. It reads very much like a comedy set, actually; you can just picture Mariko Tamaki standing up on a stage with a mic walking around telling you hilarious embellished stories about her life. (A lot of these stories were performed on various stages in Toronto, in fact). Reading this book is like sitting down for coffee with your really funny friend, and having to ask them when they’re finished, “No, but really. Did it really happen like that?”
Tamaki warns in the introduction: “I have no problem admitting that I am a liar at heart. It’s true. I am.” She then goes on to “compare lies to pearls: they look better strung together in a set.” Of course, when you’re reading the stories, you have no idea where the truth ends and the lies begin. But does it really matter?
Giving too much detail about the stories would ruin the punchlines, but let me select some choice titles to give you an idea of what’s in store here: “Reasons to Give a Blow Job,” “Cats Are Not People,” “Sometimes Psychics Let You Down,” and “The Epil-Lady vs. The Hairy Asian.” Those titles pretty much tell you everything you need to know. Can you imagine someone not inviting you to their orgy because you’re too hairy, especially for an Asian? How rude. There’s also a great fat- and body-positive story called “Angry Naked Women.”
Some of the most hilarious stories, however, have seemingly innocuous titles. “A Tawdry Dukes of Hazard” involves an unfortunate childhood misunderstanding of the word “molester.” There’s also an unfortunate misspelling of tights in this story, where a young Mariko needing a jazz dance uniform leaves a note for her parents indicating “Must have black tits by tomorrow.”
“Within Reason” provides an amusing list of reasons you may not be getting laid that have nothing to do with “greater forces” like astrology. Such reasons include your friends being too good-looking, everyone thinking you’re sleeping with your BFF, being a fag hag, and being a bad kisser and/or a bad dancer.Don’t worry there are elaborations on these reasons in case you’re thinking of protesting.
In “An Open Love Letter to the Homos,” Tamaki tells us: “A lot of people think that the reason I love homosexuals is because I myself am gay. I seriously doubt this. There are a lot of people who are gay and don’t even like homosexuals, including themselves. It’s called QUEER LOATHING, and there are lots of movies about it. Chances are if you’ve ever seen a queer movie, unless it was a dirty porno, it was a queer loathing movie.” Ah, so sad and so funny and so true.
If you’re familiar with Tamaki’s other YA work like (You) Set Me on Fire, you’ll find a similar brand of dark humour in True Lies; it’s edgier and darker than some of her later work though, especially her most recent book Saving Montgomery Sole. And, of course, there’s all the grown-up stuff in True Lies that would never make it into a YA novel. While it’s not the most even of story collections—some I just, gasp, didn’t find funny—this short little book is well worth your time for the genuine hilarity that some of the weirdo tales provide.