I am very vocal about my love for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, written by and starring Rachel Bloom. Because the quality of the show’s writing is superb, I was very excited to hear that Bloom would be publishing a memoir, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are. How often does a book title reference both Disney and feeling like an outcast?
The title and cover might feel cutesy – a logical consequence of the “quirky” heroine that has often been celebrated in recent film and literature, who is always different but in a “good”, and often attractive way. However, Bloom tends to make a point of subverting this trope in her work, so I was lured in nevertheless. The themes of this memoir are those that she often highlights in her other work, from mental health to musical theatre to the value of time spent in the bathroom (yes, really) – except they’re explicitly grounded in her life experiences this time.
For the first time in my life, while I was reading this collection of short essays, I thought this is probably better as an audiobook. This was confirmed by the chapters for which Bloom has posted audio files on her website and Instagram. Hearing her tell the story of the role that theatre has played in her life through a series of musical sketches – what way of narrating this would be more Bloom-esque? – confirmed this impression. If you purchase this, consider an audiobook file (even though the hardcover edition is lovely).
Bloom’s clear voice, even without physically listening to it, is the strongest aspect of this collection. Witty, assertive, and at times anxious, though Bloom is very transparent about her anxiety being a genuine mental health problem that she had to seek treatment for, and not a cutesy trait chucked in for relatability points. Her style often comes through best in asides and clarifications such as in her teenage self’s imagined dialogue of ‘How Can I Explain’ (the aforementioned musical chapter): “I am an underdog whose sheer talent will someday prove everyone wrong, and then they’ll all be sorry…Just to be clear, I mean that…in an “I’m gonna be successful way”, not in a Columbine way.”
Though I’ve often found Bloom’s writing hilarious, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are did not make me laugh as much or as often as I expected. There were sections where I did genuinely laugh out loud, but some of the cultural references flew over my head, and there were parts where it leaned darker or weirder than I foresaw. Granted, this is not necessarily bad – women, even successful American actresses, should get to be dark and weird, because life gets dark and weird, and this message is a key part of what Bloom’s work stands for. My take from that is, this book isn’t Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or one of Bloom’s video sketches. It’s darker, more personal, and more pensive.
Another word of potential warning: those familiar with Bloom will know that she’s not afraid to get graphic at times, when discussing health or sexuality. Rest assured this is far from pornographic – Bloom’s teenage diary extracts reminded me more than anything of a slightly more explicit Tina Belcher. Personally, I don’t really mind this, but it’s something to bear in mind before starting! If you don’t want to hear about Bloom discussing her sex life or why she likes bathrooms so much, you’re less likely to enjoy this book.
Even if those are misgivings, though, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is a fully enjoyable read. Bloom’s writing is snappy, and she has a refreshing amount of perspective when looking back on her own experiences. She also has a great eye for how to reference pop culture without shoehorning it in, instead using these details to ground her experiences in time and showing how she is a product of the time we live in. And if you’re a fan of Crazy Ex, there’s a whole little section devoted to it. Though the briefness of the sections and some of the essays can at times feel jumpy, they mostly feel quick.
All in all, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is a great addition to the genre of celebrity memoirs. If you want to pick one of them up to take your mind off the world and relax, I highly recommend Bloom’s for its honesty and her embrace of her own weirdness.
Image: Sol Noya Carreno