Stripping Gypsy: a review (sort of)

I have this bad habit of borrowing armloads of materials – whatever catches my eye – from my municipal library and not getting through them before their due date. I used to be a voracious reader, but a few changes to my lifestyle over the last few years (including no longer spending nearly two hours each day on the subway), have left me with bigger eyes than my literary stomach, and as I get older I seem to have less ability to focus my mind on a book (though apparently I have endless concentration when it comes to, say, maniacally refreshing my Twitter feed). It takes a pretty riveting book to pin me down, these days.

Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee by Noralee Frankel was not that book.

This was not one of my wander-around-and-see-what-looks-interesting impulse-borrows; I don’t feel too awful if I don’t get absorbed by those ones and have to Lemon Law them, or if I never get around to cracking them open in the first place. No, I put this book on hold and was really looking forward to reading it. I excitedly dove into the preface…

Determinedly slogged through the first chapter…

Resignedly pecked at a few more pages…

…and suddenly the three-week lending period was up. I think I’d worked my way through maybe the first third of the book, but probably less than that. I stubbornly held onto the book, racking up the maximum per-item fine, convinced that I could will myself to finish it, but I simply did not feel compelled to find out what happened next.

Now, understand: Gypsy Rose Lee led a fascinating life. Her biography should be abso-fucking-lutely compelling, but I just wasn’t feeling it. From what I managed to read and by all other accounts, Noralee Frankel did a bang-up job researching this book and clarifying mysterious and conflicting aspects of previous accounts of Gypsy’s life; however, I did not find her presentation of these facts cohesive or, as I said above, compelling: the narrative structure seemed thematic rather than chronological/episodic, so that by the end of a chapter we’d done a lap of much of Gypsy’s story with respect to one facet of her life, and then we’d backtrack to an early point to pick up the next chapter for another theme. I never felt like I needed to turn the page to find out what happened next, because she’d already told me.

One customer review on the book’s Amazon page complained that the author, while clearly zealous about historical accuracy, seemed to have no passion for show business. I have to agree that a biography of a legendary entertainment icon should convey a sense of, well, entertainment. I wasn’t expecting a breathless, fluffy glitz-and-glamour romp, but what I read lacked the drive and emotion of a well-told story.

Maybe one day I will find myself with the time and improved attention span – maybe on a sunny beach somewhere – to finish Stripping Gypsy and properly review the book in its entirety. For now, though, it will have to suffice for me to say that it didn’t make me want to finish it.

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