A frank, witty, and dazzlingly written memoir of one woman trying to keep it together while her body falls apart—from the “brilliant mind” (Michaela Coel, creator of I May Destroy You) behind Shutterbabe
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE • “The most laugh-out-loud story of resilience you’ll ever read and an essential road map for the importance of narrative as a tool of healing.”—Lori Gottlieb, bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
I’m crawling around on the bathroom floor, picking up pieces of myself. These pieces are not a metaphor. They are actual pieces.
Twenty years after her iconic memoir Shutterbabe, Deborah Copaken is at her darkly comedic nadir: battered, broke, divorcing, dissected, and dying—literally—on sexism’s battlefield as she scoops up what she believes to be her internal organs into a glass container before heading off to the hospital . . . in an UberPool.
Ladyparts is Copaken’s irreverent inventory of both the female body and the body politic of womanhood in America, the story of one woman brought to her knees by the one-two-twelve punch of divorce, solo motherhood, healthcare Frogger, unaffordable childcare, shady landlords, her father’s death, college tuitions, sexual harassment, corporate indifference, ageism, sexism, and plain old bad luck. Plus seven serious illnesses, one atop the other, which provide the book’s narrative skeleton: vagina, uterus, breast, heart, cervix, brain, and lungs. Copaken bounces back from each bum body part, finds workarounds for every setback—she transforms her home into a commune to pay rent, sells her soul for health insurance, turns FBI informant when her sexual harasser gets a presidential appointment—but in her slippery struggle to survive a steep plunge off the middle-class ladder, she is suddenly awoken to what it means to have no safety net.
Side-splittingly funny one minute, a freak horror show the next, quintessentially American throughout, Ladyparts is an era-defining memoir.
Copaken (Shutterbabe), a contributing writer at the Atlantic, returns to memoir in this often flimsy tragicomedy of all the ways a woman can fall apart. Structuring the work as an inventory of body parts (uterus, cervix, heart), Copaken tells war stories of ailments (including a near-fatal hysterectomy), divorce, sexual harassment, and literal battles as a combat photographer in the '80s to investigate the complicated relationship between her body and the patriarchal world she inhabits. She writes heartfelt tributes to the people who mentored her including the late Nora Ephron, who used "the most humiliating parts of herself... as her superpower" and skillfully explores the roots of her own emotional undoing, exacerbated by medical bills and her father's death in 2008. While funny and tender, the work's tone is frustratingly inconsistent; Copaken can careen from being urgent at one moment to deeply indulgent the next, while some anecdotes hit with a thud, as with a story about a fight with her now ex-husband in which she "strained vocal cords until they broke," which, Copaken offhandedly explains, was particularly tragic because she planned to perform a live storytelling at the 92nd Street Y later that day, undermining the tension almost completely. The tangle of platitudes yields an amorphous, rushed-feeling narrative. Copaken takes a fresh approach to difficult topics, but the delivery is lacking.
Interesting & Frustrating
As a fellow multiple time laid off female journalist who has also often had to fight the health insurance game, I found parts of this book systematically infuriating and the discussion essential. I do feel at times the book could have used a heavier editing hand as some rants are repeated. I feel Copaken discusses vital societal issues with valid arguments but in some sections she comes off as petulant and a name dropper. Definitely worth the read but an editing trim could take it to the next level.