Dear Mary-Louise Parker: 4 Reasons Everyone Should Read Your New Memoir, Dear Mr. You

Dear Mary-Louise Parker,

Longtime fan, first-time correspondent. I’ve just finished your piercingly beautiful memoir-in-letters, Dear Mr. You, and I feel compelled to write you a letter of my own. I want to share with you the reasons everyone should read this book.

It redefines the celebrity memoir.
Like most of the world, I’d only known you as an actress before now. You’ve been rightly celebrated for your work on the stage and screen, winning an Emmy, a Tony, a Golden Globe, and a slew of other awards throughout your career. But what a joy to discover your unique theatrical voice also translates to the written word—and does so with elegance, lyricism, and razor-sharp insight.

With your book, you’ve singlehandedly redefined the celebrity tell-all as a work of significant literature. You’ve overturned the idea that the autobiography of a pop culture personality has to be filled with names and backbiting and drama. You’ve shown us a successful memoir doesn’t have to be written in the same, tired old fashion. By structuring your book as series of letters to men you’ve encountered throughout your life, and without ever revealing a single name or salacious detail, you’ve demonstrated just how daring, exciting, and altogether engrossing this art form can be.

Your perceptions of the world are astonishing.
Residing in that lovely gray area between philosophy and poetry, your understandings and realizations about this life are nothing short of astounding. You show a deep sensitivity to a wide range of people and creatures, from a cab driver whose name you never caught to an unconscious boy in the ICU, from longtime friends, lovers, and family members to a goat and a multiheaded mythical beast. But what made my breath catch in my throat countless times was the way you decoded the alchemy behind events large and small, life-changing and seemingly insignificant. You cut through the messiness of human existence, touching upon something I would dare call meaning.

Take, for instance, “Dear Big Feet,” the letter you wrote to a tall young man who lay comatose in a hospital room. You were waiting for your father, who’d just had brain surgery, and in the waiting room you sat with a woman who was clearly the tall young man’s mother. Though your conversation with her was brief, she left a lasting impact, as you searched for answers to why such horrible things happen to good people.

Perhaps there are no answers for us poor humans, but we know a handful of things. We know there exists a planet with four thousand versions of songbirds. Because that is possible and because on that same planet can exist sentient beings made up almost entirely of stardust, and because bonafide poetry erupts mightily from some of those beings, and there is music, sex, and babies that laugh in their sleep; because we are roaming a universe that may be a hologram, with another dimension consecutively projecting itself outside this construct of relativity and gravity; because of all that, there is no reason why my prayers shouldn’t be able to reach your mother whose name I didn’t even know.

If for nothing else, thank you for that, Ms. Parker.

Your letter to the oyster picker is a masterpiece.
Essays are challenging little puzzles to write, but when done well, they can be transformative, even cathartic. Consider “Dear Oyster Picker,” the letter that closes Dear Mr. You, in which you are ostensibly writing a thank-you to the unknown person who picked the much-longed-for oysters that would become your father’s last meal. This piece, however, is really about your father. With such delicate grace, you craft a loving tribute that celebrates his gifts and his love while never once whitewashing his complexities and failings. In short, you are celebrating what it means to be human: loving, complicated, messy, and full of glorious contradictions. You show us how lucky we are.

And finally, I think everyone should read your memoir…

Because you are Ruth Jamison.
And, as such, you uttered what I consider to be the most romantic line in all of moviedom: “You’re just a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode. That’s what you are, a bee charmer.”

I go weak in the knees. From that line, yes. But from Dear Mr. You, too. Like your father, I hope that you keep writing. You have stories to tell, insights to share, and language to spin into honey. I guess you’re something of a bee charmer yourself, Ms. Parker.

Donn Saylor

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