NY Press Review
Looking for love in all the wrong places
When Kimberlee Auerbach was 26, she slept with an Argentinean painter to outdo her preternaturally flirtatious divorced mother. Auerbach—who had a single notch on the bedpost at the time—meets the tall, grungy “Marcos” and “has a flash of him riding a motorcycle without a helmet on a dirt road just outside of Buenos Aires eating a jalapeño pepper without flinching.” The next morning at work, after sleeping with Marcos (having borrowed a condom from her enthusiastic mother), she realizes that he has given her crabs.
Auerbach’s memoir, The Devil, the Lovers and Me, is the chronicle of Auerbach’s hilarious missteps and tribulations—including her father’s unsolicited purchase of an engagement ring for her vacillating boyfriend, accidentally running for junior high vice president on a platform of manual stimulation and imaginary oral sex with a large shark.
The book, which grew out of Auerbach’s successful solo comedy performances in New York, also tells a very different story about the fallout from relationships with manipulative men, and the way that the weaknesses of our parents secrete themselves into our own lives.
The vehicle Auerbach chooses for her story is the “Major Arcana”: 22 tarot cards which supposedly “hold the most meaning…and have strong ties, not only to Jungian archetypes, but also to the Kabbalah Tree of Life.” As the cards—drawn and arranged by a wry, inscrutable old dame named Iris—fall onto the table, Auerbach guides us through 22 of the funniest and ugliest episodes of her 33 years. Although the device of the cards could seem contrived, the strength of Auerbach’s writing and the light touch of Iris (who, according to Auerbach, is a composite character) keep the narrative moving.
Some of the episodes are very painful, not simply because they are well written (they are), but because the description of depression, the manipulative behavior of Auerbach’s lovers and the bleakness of her situation during the bad times is so explicit.
It is this unadulterated quality, however, that is the book’s greatest asset. It’s difficult to read a memoir that reflects so strongly back upon the aspects of one’s own stories that most of us would rather forget—missed opportunities, missed chances to change bad habits and the havoc that insecurity—particularly with respect to relationships—can wreak upon a life. As Auerbach writes, the emotions associated with these parts of the book are "similar to that feeling you get when you’ve lost something valuable and sentimental, something you can’t get back or replace: that pit in your stomach, the tingling in your arms, the regret you feel for not being able to remember the moment when it left you, not being able to go back in time."
When Auerbach furtively looks through her long-time boyfriend’s photo album, searching for pictures of his ex-girlfriend, we feel embarrassed and ashamed for her, but also wonder if we, like her, will “be pasted on a page in one these albums one day, and if his next girlfriend, or wife, [will] look at me with envy.” Auerbach’s memoir is worth the read for the humor and the unapologetic rendering of her life, but don’t expect insight to come easy.