“Nastiness is rich. Nastiness is fun. Who needs all that boring, cliche Hallmark stuff when you’ve got flying dentures? Nastiness has texture. Nastiness has the power to transform. Describing and embracing my nasty memories, as opposed to camouflaging them with baby’s breath and doilies, has helped me integrate my past with my present and made me a more jolly and contented individual. I thoroughly recommend it.”
Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints by Simon Doonan
recounts the story of growing up in the eccentric Doonan family in working class England in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Now the Creative Director of Barney’s New York, Doonan spent his formative years in the company of a family of loving eccentrics. Mother Betty was fabulous and glamorous with a relentlessly bleached, gravity defying hairdo. Father Terry was the purveyor of Chateau Doonan – his homemade parsnip wine. The Doonan household was populated by a variety of kooky relatives and lodgers. Of especial influence were his schizophrenic grandmother and uncle who brought colour to his life in addition to a live-long fear for his own mental health. Growing up gay in working class England at that period of time was no piece of cake. He surrounded himself with like-minded people, such as Biddie, who went on to a successful career as a drag queen. Doonan and Biddie went in search of the Beautiful People but ultimately found the beauty in the friends and misfits they gathered round.
Doonan’s memoir is light, funny and somewhat chaotic. Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, although darker, also comes to mind. “RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year-round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull, an electroshock therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing, and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances…” – catalogue
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris is another memoir of growing up amongst eccentrics. “David Sedaris returns to his deliriously twisted domain, hilarious childhood dramas infused with melancholy; the gulf of misunderstanding that exists between people of different nations or members of the same and the poignant divide between one’s best hopes and most common deeds.” – catalogue
In the world of fiction there is Roddy Doyle’s The Van which is part of the Barrytown Trilogy. Another unconventional Irish family, the Rabbitte family story began with the acclaimed Commitments. “Set in the heady days of Ireland’s brief, euphoric triumphs in the 1990 World Cup, The Van follows Jimmy and Bimbo as they haul their mobile food outlet through north Dublin, selling”grub” to the drunk and the hungry, and keeping just a step ahead of the environmental health officers. It is a hilarious and tender tale of male friendship and of familylife.” – dust jacket.