I first came across Mary-Louise Parker when she played feisty feminist Amy Gardner in The West Wing. I loved her smart, witty character and the banter she had with sometimes-lover Josh Lyman (even though it was inevitable that he would ultimately end up with Donna Moss). Before I digress on to the wonderful drama that was The West Wing and the fantastic actors and actresses who starred in it, I’ll just say that Amy was one of my favourite characters and I thought that she was played perfectly by Parker. When I noticed that she was releasing an autobiography of sorts, Dear Mr You, I was keen to read it, and the premise of the book intrigued me.
Parker has written an innovative autobiography made up of letters to men of her past, present and future, imagined and real, to describe the highs and lows of her life so far. Looking at her life in the view of these men and relating how she feels/felt about these men, she relives her fondest and saddest memories. Parker is often cryptic in terms of names of people she writes about or vague when it could be an unknown who falls into a particular category (I’m thinking in particular of “Dear Future Man Who Loves My Daughter”, one of my favourite chapters.) She also writes about men who she has met at a particular time of her life who she may only have met once, but the significance of the memory it provokes is important to her. There is no name-dropping as is common in a lot of autobiographies, just beautifully written stories, considering her deepest fears, happy moments and traumatic events in her life, as well as an exploration of her relationships with her family.
The narrative invokes a multitude of emotions from laughter to sadness. Parker is particularly moving in parts when she discusses her father, her relationship with him, his pride in her achievements and his own internal battles over the years. She talks with great love about her own children, those she trusts and has her say about those who have let her down. She is self-deprecating, yet exudes a sense of self assurance. There is no sense of arrogance about her at all, which is refreshing in a celebrity autobiography.
Dear Mr You has an unusual format, which works exceptionally well as a structure, and the narrative is really well written. Parker strikes a fine balance of appearing to have the same worries, fears and insecurities as everyone else, whilst acknowledging that she has been privileged in many ways. There is a touch of feistiness in her writing, of absolute independence and individuality, with the confidence to barely acknowledge the business that she works in and is indeed, well-known for. There is a lot to admire in this book and had I not been aware of who Mary-Louise Parker was, I’d have still enjoyed it. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t hoped for a little The West Wing set gossip, but in all honesty, the book is the better for it. I don’t read a lot of autobiographies because they do often tend to be a narrative full of “look how fabulous I am” anecdotes and bitchy stories about other celebrities. However, this autobiography was an absolute delight to read and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.