author: Selma Blair
published: 17 May 2022
genre(s): nonfiction, (auto)biography
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Selma Blair has played many archetypal roles: Gullible ingenue in Cruel Intentions. Preppy ice queen in Legally Blonde. Fire-starter in Hellboy. Muse to Karl Lagerfeld. Face of Chanel. Cover model. Advocate for the multiple sclerosis community. But before all of that, Selma was known best for being one thing: a mean baby. In a memoir that is as wildly funny as it is emotionally shattering, Selma Blair tells the captivating story of growing up and finding her truth.
The first story Selma Blair Beitner ever heard about herself is that she was a mean, mean baby. With her mouth pulled in a perpetual snarl and a head so furry it had to be rubbed to make way for her forehead, Selma spent years living up to her terrible reputation: biting her sisters, lying spontaneously, getting drunk from Passover wine at the age of seven, and behaving dramatically so that she would be the center of attention. Although Selma went on to become a celebrated Hollywood actress and model, she could never quite shake the periods of darkness that overtook her, the certainty that there was a great mystery at the heart of her life. She often felt like her arms might be on fire, a sensation not unlike electric shocks, and she secretly drank to escape. Over the course of this beautiful and, at times, shocking memoir, Selma lays bare her addiction to alcohol, her devotion to her brilliant and complicated mother, and the moments she flirted with death. There is brutal violence, passionate love, true friendship, the gift of motherhood, and, finally, the simultaneous devastation and surprising salvation of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. In a voice that is powerfully original, fiercely intelligent, and full of hard-won wisdom, Selma Blair’s Mean Baby is a deeply human memoir and a true literary achievement.
To be honest, nonfiction isn’t my go-to genre, unless it’s a person I’m a hardcore fan of or whom I am fascinated by. And I’m not a hardcore fan of Selma Blair, although I am appreciative of several of her movies. But I saw a couple of interviews she did prior to the release of this, and I found myself really wanting to read this. And I’m very glad I did.
Blair holds nothing back, telling her story in all its wonderous and raw glory. There are moments when it is absolutely bonkers, not at all flattering to her, and those were the parts I appreciated most. There is something very vulnerable and special about someone baring even the most gritty parts of themselves. And there are some gritty times in Blair’s life. Her childhood, to say the least, was problematic, as was her relationship with both her parents. It led her to walk a path that was deeply dysfunctional and physically damaging. And of course, her MS was a part of the story, woven through her life long before she knew what it was that was happening to her body.
There are times when the story feels like it’s being told from a bit of a distance, as if the writer isn’t Blair herself but a third party. It’s very detached, a clear sympton of the emotional pain she still feels for various times of her life. But detached doesn’t mean that she shys away from the darkest moments.
She is clear that she is not the epitome of all MS experiences, that her experience is just that… hers. So some with MS might relate to her story, but others may not. And Mean Baby is not a chronicle of her MS; that is just a part of her stories. In reality, the book is a story of so many things… of loss and grief, of dysfunction, of emotional pain, of dark places and bad choices, of generaltional trauma, of impossible expectations. It’s truly a story of a lifetime of struggle, and it is written proof that all that is Hollywood does not glitter. And somehow, no matter how dark it is, it is somehow incredibly hopeful.