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Monday, February 1, 2021

Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff

Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff
Published by Books Fluent ISBN 9781735268941
Trade paperback, $14.99, 269 pages

I first remember seeing Melanie Chartoff as a beautiful and very funny cast member on ABC's 1980's late night answer to Saturday Night Live called Fridays. She had such a distinctive voice, she made an impression on me.

Her memoir Odd Woman Out: Exposures in Essays and Stories starts off with Indecent Sexposure, a story about her visit to her gynecologist, who writes her a prescription for a "personal messager" (as they call it in the Sharper Image catalogue), and the address of the new Hustler store on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Melanie puts on big sunglasses and a trench coat, and tries to be as discreet as possible. It just so happens that Entertainment Tonight is there doing a story on Larry Flynt at the grand opening. She manages to avoid being on television, but she is captured in a photo that ends up in Star magazine on the Worst Dressed page, in her trench coat and sunglasses, identified at the grand opening of the Hustler store. What made it worse is that several people mailed her the clipping, along with congratulations, sort of like @-ing someone on Twitter.

From there, Melanie shares her career ups and downs, love affairs, and anecdotes about Ed Asner (oh, Mr. Grant), Julie Newmar (oh, Catwoman!), being hired at age 14 by Phil Spector after he saw her and her friend go-go dancing at a Bar Mitzvah, interviewing Ben Kingsley while he was on Broadway in A Midnight Summer's Dream and she was an arts critic at her college newpaper, answering fan mail for Richard Hatch when they were both on the soap opera All My Children (he was the hot young star, she had a small recurring role).

Her stage experiences are interesting, particularly her Broadway debut in a very experimental show that ended in a disaster that precursed Spiderman's problematic Broadway run. Melanie took the craft of acting seriously, and you get a real sense of the dedication and heartbreak that it takes to have a life in the arts.

She shares her difficult family life, with a father who was a bully to her, her younger sister and mother. Her mother's story is sad, and it colored her complicated relationship with Melanie. Melanie leaving home and creating a successful life away from her family caused a friction that never melted.

The last few essays share Melanie's delight at finding love and marrying for the first time in her 60s, when she had given up on perhaps ever doing that. She thought she was destined to be the odd woman out in social situations. Her decriptions of the physical limitations of aging with her husband will bring a nod of recognition to middle-aged people everywhere.

Odd Woman Out is not just another celebrity memoir, Melanie Chartoff brings the reader into her head and heart and she shares her life with wit and honesty. She is a wonderful writer, it's clear she spent as much time honing her literary craft as she did making us laugh. I recommend it.

Thanks to Books Forward for providing a copy for a honest review.

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