Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Women Are Crazy, Men Are Stupid
By Howard J. Morris & Jenny Lee
246 pp., Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $22.99 (hardback)

At first glace, this book seems like a hipper, wittier version of "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus." And indeed, that's basically what it is. But despite its slim size, it manages to be quite a bit more than just that.

First, the fact that the book is co-authored by an actual couple gives it greater depth and credibility than the original, and an ability to express itself and fresher and more honest language. If John Gray had said that women were "crazy," instead of just "from Venus" (whatever that means), he would have been pilloried as a misogynist. Yet Howard J. Morris can get away with it because his girlfriend Jenny Lee is standing right there beside him (figuratively speaking) saying the same thing.

I was first attracted to this book by that provocative title and the romance comic cover, but I stayed with it because it is funny, insightful, and compelling. The basic structure is a chapter written by Howard, followed by a response from Jenny, but both of them often quote conversations with each other and occasionally one or the other will intrude into the other's part of the book, so that the whole thing essentially plays out as a dialogue, which is appropriate, as both writers have done television comedy.

For TV comedy writers, they have a remarkable ability to confront serious matters head-on. Yes, they do it primarily through the lens of humor, but don't think this book is a series of Tim Allen one-liners (even though Howard did use to write for "Home Improvement"). Both writers seriously address problems they had in previous relationships, for instance (both are divorced).

The most refreshing thing is the relative even-handedness evident from the title. When I tried to read Gray's book (and I'll cop to never being able to finish it), it seemed that he was mostly reassuring "Venus" people that they were perfectly OK, that it was the flawed "Mars" people they had to learn to put up with -- or even better, learn to manipulate into being "better." Meanwhile, any men reading the book were generally exhorted to see things from the Venus point of view.

There is, to be truthful, a bit of that attitude here, that "stupid" is somehow worse than "crazy," that indeed to some extent it's men's stupidity that sometimes drives women crazy. But it's amazing, frankly, to see Jenny cop to being crazy, to say that women, or at least most women, are overemotional (what she sees as the source of the craziness) and to admit that she occasionally does things that she knows are crazy when she does them, like buying a hideously expensive pair of boots. Even more importantly, she describes an occasion where she was able to see her craziness for what it was while it was taking hold of her, and managed to clamp it down before the blowup it threatened could develop.

Sure, a lot of the book is coaching men how to put up with women's craziness and how to be less stupid, but a significant amount - maybe not half, but not just a smattering here and there, either - is telling women how to put up with men's stupidity and how to be less crazy. In an era when relationship books nearly always place almost all the blame on men, this is a breakthrough. Having a woman actually describe a conscious effort to change her own behavior in the process is almost a miracle.

The book ends with a defense of both women's craziness and men's stupidity, arguing that what makes us attracted to each other in the first place is inextricably linked with what sometimes tears us apart. Women are magical, says Howard, and their magic is bound up with what men see as craziness. Jenny says that what women think of as "stupidity" in their men is in fact one of the sources of their strength, their ability to be the rock of stability that women need. We complain about each other, but in fact we wouldn't want it any other way.

I've saved the best for last. Although presented as a series of essays that becomes a dialogue, despite being a incisive analysis of one of the most serious and important subjects we can discuss, by the time you reach the end of the book you realize it's actually a story, the love story of Howard and Jenny, and if it's not quite "happily ever after" (because both of these people are grownups who recognize that nobody can ever know the future), it's definitely "happy for now and as far into the future as we can see clearly." Which is pretty damned happy, for my money, and about as good an ending as you can expect from a love story that is intellectual, realistic, and ruthlessly honest, as well as being romantic and, yes, magical.