"I hate her." "I'd fuck 'er." Such was the banter, no doubt typical, between myself and a male friend while flipping through Diary of an Emotional Idiot, the debut novel from New York spoken-word star Maggie Estep. Being a young woman, and a pretty one, Estep is not just a new writer--she's a face, her sensuous pout playing a starring role on the book's cover. She's also a pair of legs, displayed prominently in the New York Times' "Style" section. And thanks to MTV--which has featured her numerous times--the look, the voice, the lifestyle and the satellite dish have conspired to make a new product, somewhere between "writer," "actor," "model," and "rock star."
Despite all these reasons to hate her, after reading Estep's book, I can't. Timeless brilliance this is not--it's more like talking to a crazy girlfriend on the phone for three hours, occasionally laughing so hard you wet yourself. Estep's alter ego Zoe explains her life, from neglected toddler to baby-punk burnout to broke-down Lower East Side junkie to sober, chain-smoking scribbler. Along the way she loses her virginity to a slow-burning horse thief, a huge letdown, and then exchanges fluids and heartbeats with a string of men and a couple women. Estep's got a penchant for Capitalizing Words to Make Them Funny and inventing names for people, like Itty-Bitty Backpack Chick and Eye Guy. The book's supposedly about Zoe's inability to have a healthy relationship (she's Repulsed by Intimacy), but it's really a love song to humanity: Emaciated sexy garbagemen, sweet guys who put down the needle and pick up the Ben & Jerry's, grandparents who take you to Cats. No wonder Estep's real-life rock band is called I Love Everybody--and the more screwed up, the better. It doesn't go far below the surface or attempt to plumb the inner void that most of us--artists and addicts especially--wrestle with. But if the book has a message, it's probably something like, "Embrace the Awkward." Which, Estep's legs and lips notwithstanding, seems to me the very antithesis of MTV.