Falling Into Manholes: A Review
The publicity people behind Wendy Merrill’s Putnam-published memoir proclaim her to be a “fabulous, new Everywoman.” In Falling Into Manholes, Wendy—the “Everywoman”—writes about life, love and loss. She examines her past as thoroughly as a medical examiner intent on filling in the blank for cause of death. She reveals deep, dark secrets. The humiliating kind that most people usually hide from the public.
Like how she used to grocery shop at 2:00 a.m. in questionable neighborhoods, so when she stood in line next to street drunks, junkies and prostitutes, she would look normal toting her binge and drinking supplies of potato chips, cake, ice cream, cookies and wine in a box. How she doesn’t remember the night she lost her virginity. How her skills at cleaning up after a bout of bulimia gave her the self-dubbed title as the “Emily Post of puking” and—bonus—made her a standout maid at a local Motel 6. How she turned to cocaine to disguise her drinking problem. How binging on a Safeway sheet cake led to vomiting pink butter cream frosting out her nose. How she used to loiter outside the corner liquor store, waiting for it to open, before heading to work dressed in a business suit and high heels with her blond hair swept up into a conservative bun. How in the height of her drinking days, her body shook so much and all the time that, once, when a big earthquake hit, she didn’t even notice. In sharing these most embarrassing moments, Wendy can be called courageous.
But can she really be called an “Everywoman?” Not unless every woman you know is an anorexic, bulimic, alcoholic, drug addict and co-dependent. Oh, and sex addict, as well. Instead of “Everywoman,” Wendy is more like every woman you know rolled into one. When it comes to labels, like her height—but unlike her bra size—Wendy seems to be overly endowed. Of course, it’s precisely because Wendy has a few more issues than most women that her story now appears in hardback, wrapped in the color—you guessed it—siren red.
Wendy at 50 may not be your everyday girl next door, but when she was 16, Wendy says she was. “Keep in mind that I was a late bloomer. I was the tall, scrawny tomboy on the sidelines of the seventh-grade dance floor wearing a miniskirt and white patent-leather go-go boots (stuffed with rags to fill them out), awkwardly holding my J.C. Penney’s plastic fringed purse to cover my knock-knees, pretending not to care that nobody was asking me to dance, and dying inside.
“…A few years later, I turned into the sweet-sixteen, never-been kissed good girl yearning to be bad who didn’t have breasts to speak of (I’m still waiting for those) and was convinced that I was the tallest girl in the world, already over six feet, or, as I used to say, five feet, twelve inches.”
The good girl days didn’t last for long. When Wendy was 16, her mother came home from work, put dinner in the oven and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. “Within two weeks, I was smoking pot or drinking almost every day,” writes Wendy. “Within a month, I was anorexic and then bulimic.”
Maybe it’s Wendy’s good girl/bad girl paradox that makes her an Everywoman. “I longed to be both invisible and noticed,” she writes.
As Wendy writes her story of loves won and lost, she asks, “Why is this [breaking up] so painful?” “Am I ever going to get better” “Will I ever be in a relationship that doesn’t have to end?” “And why does it [getting better] always have to involve feeling bad instead of good?
Her questions do sound like refrains heard from many women across America today.
To help her work through her questions, Wendy turns to one 12-step program after another. Then, she turns to a therapist. Then, after sleeping with her therapist, she turns to a second. A woman, this time.
Wendy says she has a New York attitude with a northern California address. Perhaps the reason her publicist calls her an Everywoman is really because of her voice on the written page. Wendy is self-depracating. Wry. Funny. She strings together adjectives, pop culture references and clichés in a way that makes her sound real, like every woman’s best friend.
Case in point: “I’d like to be able to say that after Billy, I was able to buy a first-class ticket back to myself and live happily ever after above ground, but, alas, this was not to be the case. There was apparently some additional fieldwork required in the seemingly endless curriculum of the school of hard knocks (or head heads, or hard…never mind) before I could honestly say that I had lived and learned. It was more like, live and continue to yearn.”
One reviewer compared Merrill’s voice with that of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City. Try this, “A few months ago I broke up with a younger man—let’s call him Brad (since it rhymes with cad)—who lives in L.A. and works in the music business. He was another never-been-married-or-had-a-successful-relationship forty-year-old man/boy who lies about his age from Hollywood.”
Too, Merrill’s one-liners could get her a gig on the reality TV show, Last Comic Standing. Take, “I had tried Internet-dating my blues away, but it felt like I was shopping at the hardware store for a book of poetry, and I was discouraged.” And, “By the time I got to college and was asked the ubiquitous college question, ‘What’s your major?’ I could have truthfully answered, ‘Alcoholism, with a minor in bulimia’….” And, again, when writing about school, “I had always aspired to an A+; I just didn’t think it would end up being my bra size.”
Wendy goes through one failed relationship after another and while her story is entertaining, it does grow exhausting to the point where the reader asks, When will she ever learn? Indeed, Wendy asks the same question herself. But it’s her actions, not her words, that the reader hopes Wendy will finally get right. It’s one thing to know it’s time to leave an unhealthy relationship; it’s another to do it. In the end, the reader is left wondering if Wendy ever will marry—her wry words with wise actions—and hoping she will.