DEAR MR. YOU, by Mary-Louise Parker. Scribner, 228 pp., $25.
When it was announced that actress Mary-Louise Parker would publish a memoir about the significant men in her life, a flurry of articles imagined dish on her relationships with actors Billy Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
But those names don't appear in "Dear Mr. You," nor do any others. This lyrical, funny and passionate book by the star of Showtime's "Weeds" and HBO's "Angels in America" is not your typical celebrity memoir.
The book consists of 34 letters. It begins with "Dear Grandpa," to the grandfather she never met, followed by "Dear Daddy," to her beloved late father, also a central figure in the final letter, "Dear Oyster Picker": "you who reached your bruised hands into the sea to bring my father his last meal: the shells you pried loose from the beds are in a bowl on my bookcase. I treat them like Fabergé eggs."
One of them glows, pearly and sparkling, on the book's cover.
When she's cracking jokes, which is often, Parker is a hoot. "Dear Blue," for example, is addressed to a guy she knew in Southern California back when she was a cashier in a food co-op. "When you opened your eyes, everything including you was blue. Everything except your loincloth, which, for the summer I knew you was a light brown man wrap that made you and Gary look like Malibu Jesus dolls and kept you from being arrested for indecent exposure." Some are sweet, like "Dear Abraham," to the man who has been her accountant for more than 25 years, someone who has "treated me like a daughter and taken me from someone who couldn't afford a taxi to being someone who has her own driver." Some are sad, like "Dear Big Feet," to a stranger's son who died while Parker was in the hospital visiting someone else.
In the boyfriend department, there's "Dear Former Boyfriend," "Dear Young Leman," and "Dear Cerberus," which combines the three worst ones and their mythic misdeeds. There's a fantasy man, "Dear Gorgeous," "impossibly tall," traveling in a spaceship through the galaxy with Parker and his Pulitzer Prize "that I will hold sometimes and pretend is mine."
Among the most heartfelt are "Dear Orderly," about the birth of her son; "Dear Uncle," about the overseas adoption of her daughter; "Dear Doctor," about the physician who saved her life by such a slim margin that his team went out for a drink to celebrate.
Just one sticking point: why only men? What happened to the women in her life? Perhaps she should have explained this decision somewhere, as one can't help but wonder.
Or maybe she's planning a companion volume. In any case, she's a serious writer, and I doubt this is the last we'll hear from her.