I can’t say that “You’re Ugly, Too” by Lorrie Moore was the uplifting uniquely American story I was hoping to read after Saul Bellow’s “A Silver Dish” but it was funny. In fact, sometimes hysterical.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell:
Zoe Hendricks teaches history at a small midwestern college where she is considered an odd duck for sometimes bursting into song. Her eccentricities are blamed on the fact that she is from the liberal east coast and she is still … gasp … single. Her students are midwesterners who “seemed to know very little about anything but they were good-natured about it.” However, when she starts teaching critical thinking skills, they begin to perceive her as a threat and start to write negative reviews about her job performance. And so she needs to get away.
Zoe singing for her new students
She decides to visit a sister (Evan) who is a part-time food designer in Manhattan. Evan lives with a boyfriend she is considering marrying but he has a peculiar way of climbing into bed and watches “fuzzy football” because he is too cheap to pay for cable television. Evan has a man picked out for her sister who is “nice, fun and just going through a divorce” and she plans to introduce them at her Halloween party that night. (Having once been set up on a blind date to a Halloween party with a man going through a divorce, I yelled out: run for the your life!)
Although Zoe’s recent dates have led her to believe that all men really want is a “Heidi” (blonde, buxom, cheerful and unambitious), she agrees. The man (Earl) shows up “dressed as a naked woman, steel wool glued strategically to a body stocking and large rubber breasts prodding like hams.” Obviously a true romantic.
Zoe, who’s recently undergone several “grams” to determine an unknown medical condition, can’t keep her eyes off the rubber boobs which seem to be constantly flopping about and mocking her. (The title comes from a joke among breast cancer victims: The doctor says to his patient “You want a second opinion? Okay, you’re ugly too.”)
Zoe endures the date until realizing Earl actually has the hots for her sister. Her tipping point comes after he asserts that female hormones are being “sprayed around and now men are screwing rocks!” Of course, she does what any normal woman in such a circumstance would do. She tries to shove him off the edge of a high-rise balcony.
I love the sardonic humor of Lorrie Moore’s writing. Here were just a few laugh out loud moments for me:
“Heidi did not do things like stand in front of the new IBM photocopier saying,”If this fucking Xerox machine breaks on me one more time, I’m going to slit my wrists.””
“I’m not married? Oh my God,” said Zoe, “I forgot to get married!”
“Do you suppose,” she babbled at the Xray technician, “that the rise in infertility among so many couples in this country is due to completely different species trying to reproduce.”
I’ve known many women undergoing breast cancer treatments (and scares) and dark sarcasm is often the way they cope … so this story rang true for me. Be honest: If you were on a blind date with someone like Earl, would you fantasize about shoving him off the edge of a balcony? I would!