What do Sylvia Plath, Amber Rose, and the Olsen twins have in common? For essayist Alana Massey, they're all considered her best friends — "best friends who happen to be famous strangers," and in her debut collection All the Lives I Want, the pop culture columnist and critic isn't afraid to get brutally honest about the ways these famous females' womanhood shaped her own.
A unique combination of fan girl admiration, biting cultural critique, and brutally honest personal confession, All the Lives I Wantis a bold first collection that covers everything from violence against women, to weight and body image, to romance and sex, and more.
Whether she's pointing out the Winona versus Gwyneth argument to discuss the dichotomy of women that is often forced upon us, using Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes's violent romantic history to obliterate the "crazy ex-girlfriend" trope, or calling upon the power of Amber Rose to get her through a stripping audition, Massey's narratives seamlessly weave together her own personal history with the lives of the women she idolizes. By turning a keen and critical eye simultaneously inward on herself and outward on the pop culture icons she writes about, Massey reveals some uncomfortable truths about not only her own feelings and beliefs, but the those of any woman whose life is shaped by what she sees in tabloids (and in Massey's eyes, that's everyone.)
But what Alana Massey has to say is only made more intoxicating by the way she says it. At times funny and refreshing, other times honest to the point of cruelty, but always genuine in her words, Massey's prose drips with passion and flare. One moment, you're caught up in a laugh-out-loud visualization of the author "crying about the fact that I'm not currently sitting under a pile of kittens and sisters" enjoying Little Women, and the next, you're reading and rereading her descriptions of customers at strip clubs, men that "ask that you answer their questions and that you love them for no reason other than the fascinating beat of their own unremarkable hearts." Beautiful and elegant, Massey's writing shows depth far beyond what you'd expect to find in a book about imaginary famous friends like Anna Nicole Smith and Lana Del Rey.
A collection that celebrates and critiques the lives of everyone from Britney Spears to Courtney Love to Massey herself, All the Lives I Want is sharp, insightful, and hypnotizing debut that proves its author isn't afraid to say what she (and, probably you the reader) are thinking — and here are 13 quotes that brutally honest quotes from it that all women can relate to.
1. "And in that moment, every thought or daydream I ever had about our potential future together filled with broad-smiled children, adopted cats, and phenomenal sex evaporated. Because there is no future with a Gwyneth man when you’re a Winona woman, particularly a Winona in a world made for Gwyneths."
2. "More than once that day, a boy declared, 'Her body is insane.' It was an apt description: Maintaining that particular ratio of muscle tone to fat while retaining some level of feminine curves requires round-the-clock diligence, an obsessive single-mindedness, and a kind of madness that I have little confidence these boys knew or cared about."
3. "Thin and shapely women are always said to be 'flaunting' or 'showing off' their bikini bodies by simply appearing in public. Those who don't fit within the narrow definition of perfection in a given year are 'letting it all hang out.'"
4. "I have heard my body referred to as a 'buffet of bones' and a 'little rib buffet' by two very different men. The idea of being actual meat is at once thrilling and infuriation: being eaten bears the promise of no longer existing physically at all."
5. "'Bitches be crazy' has become modern shorthand for 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' [...] It is a wink, an exaggerated shrug of the shoulders that women communicate preemptively, a shield against the accusation that their behavior is inherently irrational compared to that of men."
6. "The truth about the women who are forced to play these interesting chapters is that they are doing so in the memoirs of men who never deserved them. That the really good story, the story worth telling, has been theirs all along. They just have to survive long enough to tell it."
7. “They know too well the violent hypnosis of those who hope to possess them — men who can smell the blood on the places where a woman is breaking.”
8. "Telling people not to do as Sylvia Plath did is universally understood as a good-natured suggestion that a writer not put too much of herself into her creations — lest she accidentally write about something as ordinary as being a woman. For feelings remain the burden of embarrassment of girls. They are not the stuff of art."
9. “Boys often have permission to become men without the forfeiture of their desirability. And so these men write stories that grasp at girls who are ghosts twice over: first by being dead and second by being shallow shadows of actual girls, the assorted fragments of men's aging imaginations rather than the deep and dimensioned creatures that real girls are.”
10. "But I am hopeful, too, that as more baby girls come up in the world, they will accept the burden of power we deserve and nurture it well so that it becomes undeniably their own. And they when no one is expecting them to, they will crack it open and take everything they were owed from it."
11. "I struggle to think of any line of thinking more linked to being a socialized female than to consider the declaration of simply existing to feel like a form of bragging. But that, of course, is the plight of the feeling girl: to be told again and again that her very existence is something not worth declaring."