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Age before beauty Navel Gazing'

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Book offers humorous, genuine take on growing older

Getting older is one of those realities that we're all forced to face eventually. No matter how mightily we might struggle against it, the passage of time is an unavoidable inevitability. Plenty of people have put pen to paper in an effort to voice the complexity of their feelings regarding their mortality. Many of these meditations are built on strength and sadness and seriousness. Others strive to see the humor in it all.

You can probably guess on which side Michael Ian Black's latest book falls.

'Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (but also my mom's, which I know sounds weird)' (Gallery, $24.99) is Black's attempt to come to terms with mortality both his own as he turns 40 and that of his increasingly ill mother through his trademark deadpan wit and self-deprecation.

The vignettes that make up this book cover a surprising amount of ground considering the relative narrow focus. We get to hear about Black's experience with running and the dynamics of his relationships with his wife and children. There are stories of his developmental years the time he tried to start a punk band; the time his two mothers sat him down to give him the 'It's OK that you're gay' speech when he isn't actually gay as well.

However, the lion's share of the book is built around his perspective regarding his mother's health, both physically and in an emotional sense. There's no doubt that Black's relationship with his mom is fraught he himself acknowledges that fact on more than one occasion. That tension is an inescapable presence, even as he does his best to avoid developing the same sorts of issues with his own family. Even when his mom continues to get sicker and sicker, the pettiness and old resentments never really go away. He loves his mom, but he doesn't always like her very much a reality of so many familial relationships.

Conventional wisdom says that the best comedy is based in truth. We also like to say that the truth hurts. What Michael Ian Black has done in 'Navel Gazing' renders both of those notions accurate. While Black is an unrepentant wiseass happy to undercut even the most poignant moment with a goofy joke or a wry aside there's no question that everything he's addressing here is rooted in something very real. Whether he's talking about what his mother's deteriorating condition means to him or the fact that he can't quite deal with losing his hair, Black somehow manages to use his own (mostly put-on) selfishness to shine a light on something more universal.

One thing: in case it's not clear, 'Navel Gazing' is a very funny book. The subject matter might make you think that it's a bit of a downer, but Black has a knack for lightness that keeps things from ever getting too intense. Put it this way he's certainly not walking on eggshells.

Confronting the stark truth about age could be sad, but the way Black does it certainly isn't. He embraces his vanity and self-centeredness without apology; you can practically hear the slight smirk as you read which is very much meant to be a compliment. Few can do ironic detachment as well as Michael Ian Black; that tone permeates the book. However, the ubiquity of that tone makes the moments of real emotion resonate all the more. The jokes never stop for long, but those brief instances in the spaces between are sweet and genuine and heartbreakingly real.

'Navel Gazing' is a funny, engaging look at one man's attempts to deal with getting older. Michael Ian Black has a distinct and entertaining voice a voice uniquely suited for a smart, snarky take on a subject that could easily be taken too seriously.

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2016 19:47


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