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Book Review: "Suburgatory"

Laura Santana |
November 6, 2011 | 1:43 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Keenan's newspaper-formatted new book is sure to bring laughs about the twisted places that are the suburbs (skirt! books).
Keenan's newspaper-formatted new book is sure to bring laughs about the twisted places that are the suburbs (skirt! books).
Sometimes writers don’t need to look to their imagination to inspire memorable characters but instead simply look to their neighbors. This is the case with Linda Erin Keenan’s fantastic first book “Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia,” a hilarious work written like news articles. 

Keenan worked at CNN as a senior producer and head writer, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Anderson Cooper, Aaron Brown, and Lou Dobbs. Keenan spent seven years at CNN before leaving New York City with her husband in order to start a family in the suburbs. Her new life as a stay-at-home mom inspired her to write the funny and surprisingly scandalous “Suburgatory”.

“Suburgatory” seems to be the complete antithesis of Keenan’s serious work on CNN covering events like 9/11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the New York City Blackout. It is riddled with references to current events and objects in the news like the Kindle, Lady Gaga, “Glee,” and Casey Anthony. These funny modern jabs make “Suburgatory” that much more fun to read – as if Keenan is a friend chatting with the reader about what’s in entertainment news now. 

The “Twisted Tales” in this book are separated into four distinct categories: news stories, op-ed pieces called “Shout Outs,” fictional advertisements called “Paid Advertising Content,” and an advice columnist called “Dr. Drama.” These all connect together to make “Suburgatory” seem like a funny newspaper that pokes fun at homophobia, racism, sexuality, class discrimination, and so much more. 

The news stories’ titles pretty much speak for themselves of how over-the-top and funny Keenan writes. Here are just a few titles of news stories taken from Keenan’s “Suburgatory”:

“Asperger’s Dad Unlikely Sex Symbol at School Pickup”

“Woman with Eating Disorder Considers Meth”

“Four-Year-Old Gets Perez Hilton as ‘Manny’”

“Mercedes-Driving Dad Dreams of Easier Life for His Children”

“Mom Crushed to Learn that Facebook Isn’t Job”

Most of the “Paid Advertiser Content” pieces were very effective in inciting smirks and chuckles at Keenan’s neighbors’ outrageous behavior. Apparently most of the mothers in Keenan’s neighborhood will negatively judge other mothers who had to have a Cesarean birth (C-section) instead of a vaginal one. One stand-out fake advertisement that solves this problem is for “C-Secrets, Inc.” This fictional company provides C-section mothers with a believable vaginal birth story and training to practice telling their tale so that “hippie-addled” mothers will leave them in peace. 

Another funny advertisement was for “Status Wrappers, Inc.” The ad asks, “Does that cute new sweater really seem that cute when people see it sitting there in a bag from Kohl’s?” This company promises to cover up Wal-Mart and other “shameful” bags by providing customers with Nordstrom and other fancy department store bags to put their purchases in. “Status Wrappers, Inc.” also gives Annie’s Organic food boxes to cover up Happy Meal boxes so that suburban mothers can go about their frugal lives without being judged by their label-conscious neighbors. 

One of the best “Shout Out” columns was “Casey Anthony Was Always Guilty by Reason of Eyebrows,” a hilarious tirade about how Anthony’s well-groomed eyebrows while on trial for her daughter’s murder obviously made her guilty. Keenan writes, “Come on, jury! A woman still worried about those brows while ‘grieving’ a dead toddler? If that was me, my eyebrows would be as big as Borat’s mustache.” 

Another “Shout Out” column gave ridiculous, immature behavior scenarios and quizzed readers on whether a toddler or a certain prominent news anchor committed the actions. Guess who “turned a very angry red, balled up his fists, and screamed when he read something he didn’t like”? The anchor. 

What didn’t work with “Suburgatory” was that some of the stories were just too short. Even though articles were kept brief to mimic those in actual magazines or newspapers, it was sometimes disappointing to reach the end of a character’s story and never hear about them again. 

Who wouldn’t want to hear more of how a father and mother explain to their son about the relationship between their two lesbian pet hamsters? 

Or about how nervous mothers try too hard to make “Sex and the City’s” Cynthia Nixon and her partner feel welcome in their neighborhood?

An article about a stay-at-home father’s hilarious obsession with taking his son to Ikea for the cheap food and free childcare could easily have been developed into a delightful short story out of its entertaining three pages. There were so many captivating and unforgettable caricatures and storylines that many of Keenan’s articles could only have been improved by being longer to satiate readers’ thirst for more about her subjects. 

It seems like ABC picked up on this idea and has since developed “Suburgatory” into a new television show airing before “Modern Family” on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ABC tweaked Keenan’s idea a bit and changed the storyline to include a teenage girl leaving New York with her family, but the whole concept of suburban neighborhoods being like stuck in a hell of neurotic, judgmental, and C-section-obsessed women is still present.

“Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia” is sure to make readers laugh out loud dozens of times. This book would be a great way to relax because it’s easy to just read a couple of articles and then go back to work without needing to remember any previous characters or storylines. Each segment stands on its own as entertaining pieces of an overall fun and funny read that should not be missed.


Reach reporter Laura Santana here. Follow reporter Laura Santana on Twitter.


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