Review: Rachel Bloom's "I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are"
A Promised Land by former President Barack Obama isn’t the only long-awaited memoir finally out in November 2020. This month, just when fans and readers are craving her particular fusion of humor and vulnerability, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator and star Rachel Bloom will release her first book, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which premiered in 2015 and aired its finale in early 2019, follows main character Rebecca Bunch’s (Bloom) musical, four-season journey to self-actualization. In season one, Rebecca pines after romantic interest Josh Chan; in season two, she dates him; in season three, she struggles to move on from him; and in season four, she progresses toward finding herself. Although a comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend helped a lot of us Jewish women juggling careers, families, mental health struggles, and love lives, to feel less alone. Of course, the show doesn’t only appeal to Jewish women, but the series’ fan base is relatively small—and exceptionally loyal. They’ll no doubt love I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are.
While the book is not Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the humor and key takeaways are quite similar. The book employs different formats—poetry, essay, listicle, illustration—to create a reading experience that’s both funny and empowering. For example, Bloom opens her memoir with a poem entitled “Normal,” which she authored at age twelve. In it, she asks in free verse what “normal” means and challenges whether “normal” matters if nobody can define it. She proposes that no one is truly normal. The first conventionally written chapter details her experiences being bullied as a child, when she “was a pale kid with transition-lensed glasses and a rolling backpack, with lopsided bangs.” An image of Bloom at that age is currently her Twitter profile photo, a reclamation of childhood awkwardness.
As in recent celebrity memoirs like Abbi Jacobson’s I Might Regret This and Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds, Bloom uses different mediums throughout the book to tell her story. Toward the book’s middle, she details a conversation between her 23-year-old and 13-year-old selves. For Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans, this specific story-telling device will feel familiar. To describe her early career, Bloom facetiously presents her 2010 LinkedIn profile to readers, which includes the positions “Singing Waitress on a Boat” and “Telemarketer for Nonprofit Theatres.”
Toward the end of I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, Bloom finally dives into the story behind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. True to form, Bloom relays her daily life starring in Crazy-Ex Girlfriend in a chapter entitled “Hello Bathroom My Old Friend,” including a schedule of an average day on set with bathroom breaks in bold. This angle might remind fans of the show’s finale, in which Rebecca Bunch has a life-altering dream during a nap on the toilet. Indeed, the Golden Globe-winner writes that, on the toilet, she “didn’t have someone futzing with my hair or touching up my dark circles or sticking a freezing hand down my shirt to adjust my mic pack [or] have to read a script or watch an episode cut or make conversation with someone’s agent.” Put simply, co-creating and starring in her own show was as exhausting as it was glamorous. Bloom quips: “If I wanted to tell even a quarter of the stories from that time, it would take up a whole other book.” Yes, please!
Written from mid-2019 through early-2020 while Bloom was pregnant, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is mostly light-hearted and driven by her signature comedic style. However, the afterword takes a profoundly serious turn. Bloom shared on social media that while she was in labor, her close friend and songwriting partner Adam Schlesinger—who originally rose to fame as the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne—was put on a ventilator due to COVID-19 complications. Schlesinger died on April 1, 2020. In the afterword, Bloom addresses this loss, remarking that she has not yet fully processed Schlesinger’s death because we remain in the midst of the pandemic. I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is dedicated to him.
From the first chapter to the moving afterward, Bloom’s publishing debut is heartfelt. But what struck me most about I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is its humility. Bloom views her overwhelming success as neither a divine promise nor the inevitable result of her work ethic. Rather, her fame and the popularity of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend required the support of friends and co-creators like Schlesinger, some luck, and a winding path. Bloom reminds readers that challenges, failures, and rejections are compatible with success: “There are so many people I need to thank, but there’s one that really stands out. No, not God, LOL. I’m talking about Rejection.” The book doesn’t offer a recipe for material gains, but rather exemplifies self-discovery and self-love. Just as when Rebecca Bunch learns that Josh Chan is not the be-all end-all, Bloom maintains that being your abnormal, authentic self is enough. That authenticity includes confronting the discomfort of longing to be “where the normal people are.”