You’re on an Airplane: A Self-Mythologizing Memoir by Parker Posey
I am 31, which means when I was a mopey teenager, the twenty-somethings I aspired to be like were part of Generation X.
To this day, Gen X is the epitome of cool to me. Britpop! Grunge! Movie premieres where the actresses did their own make-up! Love-life anxieties that centred on the answering machine in your apartment, not the smartphone in your pocket!
Where was I? Oh, yes, Parker Posey. Posey, who was dubbed “Queen of the Indies” in the ’90s thanks to her roles in films like Dazed and Confused, Party Girl, Basquiat and The House of Yes, is the quintessential Gen Xer: kooky, neurotic, anti-establishment, funny.
Which is all to say that I was bound to like this book, and like it I did. If you’re not a Gen X fetishist, or just not susceptible to Posey’s particular brand of flighty charm, you might find it slightly, well, erratic.
It contains the usual celebrity-memoir fare – early childhood memories, titillating anecdotes about other actors, episodes of professional angst, many passages that begin “My analyst says …” – but Posey also intersperses avant-garde photo collages, recipes, long descriptions of specific yoga sequences, a section on how to throw a clay pot, etc, etc.
Adding to the jumbled effect is her gleeful disregard for chronological order. In one chapter she’s a child in Louisiana, then it’s 2007 and she’s dabbling in Ayurveda while filming a horror movie in New Mexico, then she’s back in the ’70s sharing memories of her dad, then it’s the early ’90s and she’s meeting Matthew McConaughey … you get the picture.
The effect can be a little disorienting, but, ultimately, it’s an inspired choice. Reading the book is like watching a jigsaw puzzle come together: bit by bit, sections start to take shape, and it’s thrilling when you finally see how two of them join up.
The writing itself occasionally veers into the nonsensical or the just-plain-bad: “Alyssa is a Harvard graduate, and her beige patent-leather Christian Louboutin pump was swinging her ankle in strides under the desk.” But Posey’s energy and humour never flag, and she has a keen sense of which little details will perfectly flesh out a character. (On her grandmother: “She exuded such intense imperiousness over everything that my uncle Tim didn’t know she hadn’t invented the BLT until he went to college.”)
And there’s more to this book than pure whimsy – Posey knows a heck of a lot about filmmaking, and she gives us some fascinating insights into Richard Linklater’s, Christopher Guest’s and Woody Allen’s respective processes. (Yes, she addresses the Allen question, kind of.)
OK, I can no longer avoid addressing You’re on an Airplane’s central conceit, which is, in my opinion, also its major flaw. The idea is that you, the reader, are sitting on an aeroplane and Posey, your seatmate, strikes up a conversation. She goes all in on this gimmick for the first two chapters and then, thankfully, seems to forget about it. It serves no purpose, and, in a book that’s already brimming with eccentricity, it’s just a bridge too far.
Reviewer: India Lopez
Hachette, RRP $37.99