Tales from the Back Row

Reading the new (hopefully not the last) book by Amy Odell reminds me of an amazing skit by Key and Peele.  Other authors would probably cringe at the thought, but given Amy’s sharp tongue and wicked sense of humor, I think she will see the comic connection.  The skit is called “Dicknanigans” -wait for it… It begins with hipster arty types (with the requisite fashionable black frame eyeglasses) viewing a performance piece where the leads (dressed in full body unitards) kick each other in the nether regions in front of a video screen connecting their actions to greater themes like love and consumerism. With each clip, the crowd becomes more and more invested, sucking in their breaths as they realize the profound nature of each brutal kick. By the end, the audience uproars with applause. As a viewer, you are rolled over with laughter at the absurdity.  Is this art? What is the audience getting out of it that you aren’t? How should I be reacting to this? This is the premise of this sassy and sharp book.  How and why do people worship at the altar of fashion? Who are these people who seem get it?

Reading Tales from the Back Row is like watching Amy Odell giggle at the madness in front of her. She purports that she is an outsider, but she escorts us to famous fashion shows, interviews with A-list celebrities, photo shoots with one of the most celebrated Street Style stars and interviews for the job “that every girl would want”.  Amy is actually an insider, but she remains an emotional and intellectual outsider.  She never loses her outside the curve status, keenly observing that although fashion is very big business, those that can reasonably live within it are an elite and very niche group.  Being a cool kid is never as effortless as it seems, and those that rise to the top work very hard and possess a sincere love for it.  Insert quote from Pretty Women here: ” they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” Opera or fashion: the drama and the divas are real.

That understanding is the well-executed line that Amy walks. She writes as someone that realizes the fashion world is a little nutty, but she likes it anyway (often begrudgingly).  She makes many efforts to sit at the cool kids table, but each episode just becomes comic fodder.  When she meets her fiance’s family wearing  Alexander Wang pants, I had tears in my eyes.  To one subset, she is the epitome of chic, to the “normals” she is wearing sweatpants to dinner.  The effort to gather attention as a street style star during fashion week is LOL funny.   She is more than willing to discuss her own internalized failings and inability to fit all the way in.  We all learn that it takes an immense amount of talent and effort to appear so unaffected on the street.  Do not listen to what you heard-no one wakes up like that.

As a fashion lover,  I was prepared to be offended by another book intent on trivializing the fashion industry, but I was enchanted instead. She managed to evade the condescension that ended The Devil Wear Prada (the book, not the movie). Amy shows her skills as a journalist with a lot of thoughts and ideas in each paragraph. However, with those thoughts, she is extremely balanced.  She is funny and truthful, giving everyone, including herself, equal comeuppance.   She is biting, sardonic and sarcastic, and with all the names she drops, she never belittles her subjects.  Her point of view mirrors how I feel about my son’s current Star Wars obsession.  I don’t completely understand it (Who is Boba Fet again?), but if it makes you happy, I can get on board with it.  Obviously, fashion and celebrity pay Amy’s bills, so if not totally sold on it, she at least can get with it and enjoy the (fashion) show.


Disclaimer: I am extremely honored and grateful to Simon and Schuster for providing a complimentary pre-release copy of Ms. Odell’s book. However, my opinions are and always will be, my own.