In her debut book, Yeah No Totally, Lisa Wells writes, "I did too much time in the purgatory of Portland [Ore.] dating." She describes it as "an insidious hell of self-important small-talk, where one must pretend to care about things like 'the blogosphere' and 'So-and-so's European tour,' and generally behave as if the apocalypse is not nigh."
It then stands as a shining example of great irony that Yeah No Totally could fit into that description so easily.
The book is a collection of short pieces that meander back and forth from memoir to nihilistic philosophical treatises on the likes of dating, sightings of low-grade celebrities and living as a Portlandian. It could have been authored by MTV's Daria, a thundering "meh" left on a park bench for someone to find, if, you know, they're into that sort of thing. Or whatever.
What's frustrating is how good the book could be. Wells' musings employ a brutally dry humor and phrases like "the marginal Gatsby" or "the vague threat of success hanging in the smoke-free air" sing from the page. Wells' off-kilter minutiae is spot on, but it is disconnected and random. And it doesn't help that so many of Wells' observations are similar to Wells' condemnations: self-important small talk and the minor existential crisis of affluent white people. It's infuriating to read such beautiful nothing.
For those who know the people, places and scenarios Wells scoffs at, Yeah No Totally may carry more weight. But even then, the narcissism is palpable. The content is the sort one expects to see furiously scribbled in a moleskin, not cleanly laid out and perfect-bound.
Paul Constant of the Seattle Stranger wrote, "A few of the essays here are weak, half-formed ideas that could have used some serious editorial meddling and encouragement." One he describes as "at best, a very good blog post ... But, man, listen to this lively description of nature," he adds.
In the opening to one of the pieces, Knell of the Worried Well, Wells lashes out at her own creative process.
"I am seven days into myself at this artist's house and tired of my mind--of steeping in my own snark and gloomy mood," she writes. Readers are likely to reach the same conclusion before even getting to that part of the book.