11. A biography or memoir: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
List Progress: 16/30
Memoirs have a fine line to walk. Every person is unique and has a particular and nuanced story to tell, but audiences read memoirs to find something relatable and true about human nature as a whole. This line becomes even more narrow with a comedy memoir. Allie Brosh came to online prominence through her blog Hyperbole and a Half, telling wild personal stories interspersed with intentionally-chaotic drawings. This was spun off into her first book, also called Hyperbole and a Half, which was published in 2013. She then proceeded to go on hiatus online, and no real updates came out until she published Solutions and Other Problems in 2020. In the intervening years, Brosh lost a sister, ended a marriage, suffered major health issues and had several mental health spirals. Her comics always had an edge of darkness, but there is no way to keep things truly light while writing about that string of life events. And through some of the deep dives into her own psyche, Brosh is so far beyond the pale of what most people live with that she is no longer relatable; it is her book and she has the right to share her raw, unfiltered truth, but it does make for a somewhat rocky ride for the audience.
The tiniest bit below the surface, under the funny drawings and stories about dogs, Solutions and Other Problems is about how to survive while truly and completely immersed in nihilism. If Brosh’s words are to be taken at face value, she believes that nothing has any meaning or inherent value and that all actions and decisions are intrinsically random. If someone believes that, then they also have to come up with some reason for bothering to stay alive, despite all of the difficulties of human life, and continuing to move forward. Especially after her sister’s death by suicide in 2013, Brosh thought about all of these questions and worked through them on the page. She takes some strange detours to get there, but she does ultimately come to conclusions about why to keep going: essentially, finding both solutions and the other problems that come from them. It is a bracing and immersive read, but not always the most enjoyable one.
At points, Brosh feels constrained by her own established format: while some of the artwork is incredibly evocative and some of it is quite funny, a lot of the illustrations feel begrudging, like she’s including them because that is the Allie Brosh Style. And some of the stories are so odd that you have to wonder how her actions ever seemed like good choices: it’s difficult to think of someone else whose response to “I want to learn to live without fear” would be “I will watch a bunch of horror movies, take a lot of drugs, and get myself intentionally lost in the woods”. Almost no one else’s mind works like that, the audience has to sit back in befuddlement.
These issues sound like bigger deal breakers than they are. There are parts of Solutions and Other Problems that knock you back on your heels with how powerful they are. But like life (and by the sound of it, especially Allie Brosh’s life), it is a mixed bag with a fair amount of randomness thrown in.
Would I Recommend It: Soft yes.