As if the ego were a living, breathing thing needing to be disrobed, Katie Schwartz bares all in her charmingly neurotic collection of essays, Emotionally Pantsed. Throughout the book, she effortlessly breezes past her sexual misadventures, strained familial relationships and many of the other territories that drown the modern memoir in a sea of self-absorption, giving readers a fair and painfully honest account of herself without settling on superficial narratives or cheap laughs.
Her style, while conversational and confessional, is an entertaining sleight of hand trick. Clever turns of phrase and truly comedic moments cast a humorous light on what is actually quite a dark terrain. From one essay to the next, Emotionally Pantsed becomes increasingly tragic, as if we are all staring too long at a person’s private parts that were exposed against their will the initial laughter gives way to the somber realization that we are all poking fun at a much more vulnerable, fragile person than we realized.
While emotional instability is the current that runs through the entire book, Schwartz oscillates between serious social commentary and absurd asides while painting a very intimate portrait of a modern woman who’s constantly struggling to keep her head afloat.
Schwartz is meticulous and cunning, making her readers feel like they are part of her world. The more that she draws us in, the harder it is to watch as each layer of emotional clothing is stripped away. While readers will alternate between wincing from discomfort and gawking with anticipation, Schwartz’s bait-and-switch routine ultimately forces them to part with all of the labels and comfortable cliche’s that she formerly hid behind.
By the end of the work, she is no longer a fast-talking Jewish-American woman whose body issues, neuroses and sexuality can be so easily dissected: she is naked, unarmed and incapable of running away from the reality that she is trapped inside of her skin and forced to play the hand she was dealt a discovery so harrowing to our Teflon narrator that we have no choice but to start peeking beneath our own layers of comfort with a fresh set of eyes.