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    Obessing over life with humor


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


    A Morbid Memoir

    By Stacy Horn

    St. Martin's Press, $22.95

    * * *

    It seems as if a lot of young writers are publishing memoirs these days, doesn't it? Jonathan Ames, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, Dave Eggers. Everyone has a story to tell. And it's making a lot of talented young authors at least semi-famous.

    But not everyone can publish their daily journal and have it appeal to the masses. New York is full of thirty- and forty-something writers; they can't all sell the stories of their lives so far. There's got to be something interesting, right? A hook.

    Stacy Horn isn't all that special. She's having an "early-onset midlife crisis" at 42. Her business, an online community she created called Echo, is in trouble. She has no real love life to speak of. She watches too much television.

    So what? What's so intriguing about her that we should read her memoir, Waiting for My Cats to Die?

    For starters, her introduction -- a laundry list of her problems -- sucks you in. Halfway through page two, I was laughing so hard I nearly cried. "I'd read about midlife if I could, except there's nothing out there that doesn't feel like work to read. Gail Sheehy makes me want to hit someone. I admit I've never read her, but the idea of a book called Passages annoys me."

    The conversational tone is engaging. It's as though she's sitting across the table from you, having a casual chat. (Except in Horn's case, it would more likely be an instant-message session on the computer.) And you like her right away. She's funny and smart and willing to share all her shortcomings with you. (Some find this irritating. I find it makes me feel better about myself.)

    Then I came to the part that really piqued my interest -- her, uh, eccentricities.

    Horn spends "way too much time with death." She obsesses about it. "I buy every death book, go to every death movie."

    To combat her irrational fear of dying, she submerges herself in it. Hacking her way through old, forgotten cemeteries. Digging through abandoned basements. Consulting her "dead-people support system," which includes her grandmother, great-great grandmother, a gravedigger who died in 1954 and the ghost that occupies her apartment.

    This makes sense to me. But I'm worse -- unlike Horn, I couldn't even read Sherwin Nuland's How We Die. "I know it's pathetic," she writes, "for me to be sitting here and the worst thing I have to worry about is that I am going to die someday. Boo-hoo. Get a life. I know."

    I know just how she feels.

    And then there are her cats. Veets and Beams, who are not related, are both diabetic and need insulin injections every 12 hours. Beams, with failing kidneys, also needs a subcutaneous drip every other day, and has a stomach thing Horn "can't spell or pronounce." Before the story ends, she's hauling one or both of them to the vet at least once a week.

    I appreciate the cat business. I dote on mine to, what some say, an unhealthy degree. "When I'm at a movie, I can't even bear to watch a cat being threatened," Horn writes. "Blow people to bits, I'm fine, but do something bad to a cat and I'm haunted by it for the rest of my life -- and that means I'm haunted by something that didn't even really happen."

    Waiting for My Cats to Die, at once hilarious and sad, may not appeal to everyone. My immediate thought was that I liked it so much because I'm also completely neurotic about my cats and embarrassingly obsessive about death.

    But we all have idiosyncrasies, don't we? You may not hang around overgrown cemeteries or value the life of strange pets more than humans, but you do something weird. Don't you?

    Maybe you could publish a memoir, too.

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