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Wisecracks, shenanigans overpowering

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Alberta Twitter sensation Kelly Oxford's debut book, a collection of autobiographical essays, is broadly about taking risks and embracing the imperfection in life.

"A lot of my life sounds like a lie because ... I do a lot of weird and stupid things," she tells her children in the book's introduction.

Far from being unbelievable, though, most of the situations the essays describe are relatively mundane.

As a pre-teen in Edmonton she takes a job as a dishwasher for a day; hijinks ensue. As a 17-year-old she flies to Los Angeles to find a movie star; hijinks ensue. She takes her family to the zoo or Disneyland; more hijinks.

A stay-at-home mom of three, Oxford was plucked from obscurity in Calgary in 2010 in the manner of American Justin Halpern of Sh*t My Dad Says fame.

Her clever observations on Twitter drew hundreds of thousands of followers, attracting the attention of book publishers and Hollywood producers. She and her family have since relocated to Los Angeles, where she is writing TV and movie scripts.

The risks Oxford takes in Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar are generally small. In every anecdote she has a well-padded safety net behind the scenes.

"Dad gave me a hundred dollars, which doubled my available spending money," she writes about her trip to L.A. "As far as I knew, that was plenty; I'd never paid for anything in my life."

And each tale wraps agreeably for Oxford, with few consequences or repercussions. Stories end with her leaving the scene, driving home, flying away, passing by. If she's learned anything from her adventures, the lessons are vague.

With the stakes so low, the book relies on Oxford's wit and storytelling ability. If you're a fan of her tweets, you already know she can craft a bright, pithy one-liner: "I'm the Helen Keller of body language. If Woody Allen and I had dinner, we wouldn't even have to open our mouths."

But an essay is more than a collection of one-liners, and Oxford doesn't quite pull it off.

The book's best writing is that in which she puts aside the biting quips and exposes herself. An essay in which she recounts internships at a brain-injury clinic and seniors' home, for example, is honest and revealing with an edge of humour that keeps it from being syrupy.

The problem? There's not enough of that writing; it's lost among the wisecracks and shenanigans.

Reading the book feels a bit like being cornered at a cocktail party by a garrulous woman who's spent all day cooped up indoors.

At first you're drawn in by her vivacity, laughing along and urging her to go on. But before long, you find yourself glancing surreptitiously at your watch, nodding and smiling, while inching your way toward the door.

Wendy Sawatzky is associate editor digital news at winnipegfreepress.com and commander in chief at wendysawatzky.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 J9

History

Updated on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 11:19 AM CDT: corrects typo in byline

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