We have gone from living inside your headphones to pouring ourselves out onto the page like a couple of Edna St. Vincent Millays.
There aren’t many podcasts that become phenomenons, but My Favorite Murder, styled as true crime/comedy from comedian and writer Karen Kilgariff and former Cooking Channel host Georgia Hardstark certainly qualifies.
Begun in early 2016, the podcast amassed a fiercely dedicated listenership. The format was a blend of haphazard storytelling – a murder story retold by one host to the other, and interspersed with their funny, irreverent, profanity-laden observations on life, behavior, and mental health. Their following blossomed into a supportive on- and offline community, with the pair selling out live shows at major venues worldwide.
This dual memoir, told from alternating perspectives, gives some insight into their pre-podcast lives, including personal experiences that underscore the messages behind some of their beloved quips (fuck politeness; buy your own shit, stay out of the forest; you’re in a cult, call your dad; etc.).
It skews towards mental health and self-help, although like listening to the show, it branches into more directions than would seem reasonable, leaving you wondering where it’s going but enjoying the messy, sometimes silly or surprisingly serious journey. On the podcast, this comes across effortlessly; on the page, a little less so.
Both have been through their share of ordeals – eating disorders, drug/alcohol abuse and addiction, career disappointments, insecurity and self-doubt, family struggles, anxiety, depression, bad relationships, bad decisions in general – to name a few topics covered there and here. Hearing these candid experiences addressed directly and shamelessly hit a chord with countless listeners. I know it resonated with me, and the timing felt especially apt when I first tuned in to the podcast and couldn’t believe they were speaking this language I desperately needed to hear.
This is to say that it makes sense that their book would be a loose “how-to guide” told through memoir/advice essays. Although the podcast is nominally about true crime, I didn’t expect the book to be, and it’s not. There are a few crime stories mentioned, with some tenuous connections to the life lessons being illustrated, but that’s it.
Both of the women have been refreshingly open about their dedication to therapy, and a heavy focus of the book is on the benefits it provides. That’s helpful to hear, sure; but it’s not particularly enlightening or enjoyable to repeatedly read some iteration of the message that therapy is amazing, everyone should go, etc. That’s probably all true, I aspire to have some someday. But the message is repeated too frequently, and without any consideration that therapy, especially in the quantities these two consume it, may not be so easily and widely accessible for reasons beyond merely making the choice to go.
There are plenty of lessons and mantras given, some more useful, some sounding like empty self-help-speak, and some uncomfortably personal even for memoir territory. As with hearing about someone else’s dream that was obviously significant to them but to you is just a dream, so is it with hearing about someone else’s therapy revelations. I hope they resonate with readers who need to hear them? I don’t know what else to say about it.
There’s also a difference between Georgia’s chapters and Karen’s, and depending on who you may have sparked with in listening to the podcast, you may enjoy some chapters more or less accordingly. Strangely, because I probably have more in common with Georgia, I tend to prefer Karen’s perspective. I don’t mean that to sound critical on a personal level at all, but I’ve felt it in the podcast and the book’s divide in narrative voices emphasized it. I got more out of Karen’s chapters, content- and hilarity-wise. That may be completely the opposite for others.
And Georgia writes one story, of being caught alone with a photographer, flattered that he wanted to photograph her, and it turning into a terrible situation that’s one of the most powerful and meaningful stories she’s told. It’s interspersed with the wisdom and insight she’s drawn from this ordeal and how the podcast itself drew the memory to the surface and helped her process it. Her walk through this incident was remarkably brave and commendable. It’ll stick with me.
Worth knowing: Despite some valuable life advice (Karen’s warning not to spew all your bullshit to too many people or treat your friends like the audience of your “one-woman show” felt spoken eerily directly to me as I suffer someone performing just such a show) and the occasional hilarious bit wrapped around a relatable life story, this is really only accessible to the podcast’s listeners and will more than likely leave others lost, confused, and wondering what the big deal is.
It pains me to write this because their storytelling has helped me greatly in the past and provided much-needed laughs and emotional boosts, but I’m not sure this book, in this form, needed to happen. There’s very little here they haven’t already discussed in some form on the podcast, even several of the same stories exactly as I remember hearing them told there. Although sometimes the chatty, meta tone works, elsewhere it reads as not necessarily edited. And Benjamin Dreyer would massacre this thing with his red copyediting pen for all the ‘??’ and ‘?!’s.
Die-hard MFM fans will nevertheless be thrilled, as will those who find some piece of advice hits home, with a few truly laugh-out-loud moments mixed in. 3/5
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered:
The Definitive How-To Guide
by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark
published May 28, 2019 by Forge Books (Macmillan)