Allie Brosh’s “Solutions and Other Problems” (2020) is funny, poignant and immensely readable.
A combination of prose and stick-figure illustrations, the book humorously and compassionately addresses childhood terrors, depression and substantial loss. It is a follow-up to the best-selling “Hyperbole and a Half” (2013).
After “Hyperbole” was released, Brosh disappeared, and her fans wondered why. With the release of “Solutions and Other Problems,” her fans know Brosh’s absence was due to a myriad personal problems, including physical illness, divorce and the suicide of her sister.
Although I have been aware of Brosh for years and could identify her distinctive drawing style, I never read her work. I assumed a book illustrated almost comically would be inconsequential and the prose would be stilted and exist only to support the artwork.
I was wrong on both counts.
Brosh is a skilled stylist, blending humor and pathos effortlessly. When she describes the little girl who lives next door, I laughed out loud.
“She gets up at 5 in the morning and hangs out directly in front of my door like a bridge troll — all who wish to pass must answer her riddles, and the only riddle she knows is: Do you want to see my room?” (pages 35-36)
When she writes of a screaming match she and her ex-husband, Duncan, had in a grocery store over who had the authority to buy bananas, I alternated between laughing and cringing in recognition at the absurdity — and vehemence — intimates bring to their disagreements.
However, it was the chapter entitled “Losing” where I realized just how skilled a writer Brosh is. The chapter starts out with her acknowledging that people say everything happens for a reason, which she agrees is technically true, then adds, “But some of the reasons are too arbitrary to seem legitimate.” (page 166)
From that rather restrained opening, Brosh moves into a bit of fantasy about a giant who tries to make meaning of a pinecone landing on his head. Nothing too heavy in the opening pages of the chapter, and then Brosh moves into what she refers to as “the serious part” of the book.
She details her cancer scare, trying to come to terms with her mortality and a seven-hour surgery that revealed she did not have cancer.
The ordeal leaves Brosh depressed. First, she cancels Thanksgiving; then she cancels Christmas: “Instead of going home to spend time with my family, I played meaningless games against a computer and didn’t get out of bed. On New Year’s Eve, my little sister drove her car in front of a train. She died instantly.” (pages 196-197)
That is brilliant writing.
Brosh begins the chapter almost nonsensically about the giant.
By the end of the chapter, she announces her sister’s suicide with no embellishment, no appeal to the reader’s emotion. She just sets it down on paper and lets the act speak for itself.
After reading “Solutions and Other Problems,” I read “Hyperbole and a Half.” Some reviewers have compared the two books, maintaining “Solutions” isn’t as tightly written and meanders unnecessarily. Maybe.
Then again, who’s to say what “meandering” is or isn’t necessary when attempting to make sense of life’s tragedies?
At any rate, I recommend both books. From my perspective, Brosh is not to be missed.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)