cover image Falling into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl

Falling into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl

Wendy Merrill, . . Putnam, $22.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15455-3

Merrill’s debut collection of essays—which details her many troubled relationships, struggles with bulimia and alcoholism, and sexual adventures—tries too hard to entertain the reader and ends up disappointing instead. Merrill sets the stage as she warns that these essays are “embarrassingly honest tales, some of which I have been reluctant to admit, even to myself, until now.” Her essay “First Born” explores her family background, providing some history to Merrill’s bulimia and alcoholism, which took over her life by the time she was 18. She excessively describes her binging, purging and bathroom obsession, and wanders into clichéd sentences (“Johnnie Walker was a devoted and attentive lover who followed me around like a shadow”). As she emerges from rehab with a clean slate, it is evident to Merrill that she has replaced her addiction to alcohol with an addiction to men; unfortunately, it proves to be equally unhealthy. Despite her intuition that most of the men she engages with are nothing but trouble, Merrill continues to date ones who take her money, cheat on her, string her along and stand her up. Merrill’s best essays are not about dating: in “Behind Bras,” she volunteers to play tennis with inmates at San Quentin prison, and in “Still Born,” she writes about growing up with her mother and her mother’s death when Merrill was 16. (Mar.)