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Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing up Groovy and Clueless

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From the author of Kiss My Tiara comes a funny and poignant collection of true stories about women coming of age that for once isn't about finding a date.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Susan Jane Gilman

10 books371 followers
Susan Jane Gilman’s new novel, “Donna Has Left the Building” will be published in June 2019. She is also the bestselling author of three nonfiction books “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress,” “Undress me in the Temple of Heaven,” and “Kiss My Tiara," as well as the novel, "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street." She's provided commentary for National Public Radio. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Ms. magazine, among others. Her fiction and essays have received several literary awards.

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5 stars
1,914 (24%)
4 stars
2,756 (35%)
3 stars
2,275 (29%)
2 stars
707 (9%)
1 star
188 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 725 reviews
Profile Image for Amyss.
54 reviews2 followers
July 5, 2008
Her parents were hippies but all she wanted to do was wear a tutu- and she did- to school!! See? It's funny because she is so QUIRKY! So many zany things happen to her, so she has to write about each terribly hilarious embarrassing episode of her white, overprotected, privileged life! But never fear, there is heart and love in the gooey middle! She realizes this when she tests her meddle in a foreign country (Switzerland! oh the culture shock!! The sockets look WEIRD!)that allows her to continue her lily white, privileged, overprotected life EVEN THO SOME PEOPLE DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH THERE! Gag me.
Profile Image for John.
2,007 reviews197 followers
August 23, 2007
For those who've yet to read it, the book can be divided into roughly three [unequal] parts: childhood, high school/college and Susan-as-an-adult. The first part was the best for me - perfect mix of funny and sad, just like a good sweet-and-sour sauce should be. The second section is shorter than the others, which is a good thing.
High school pretty much consists of a looooooooong riff on virginity, with a drawn-out celebrity stalking adventure thrown in. Her college years are covered by one anecdote; all I'll say about that is that Henry seemed like a "metrosexual before his time" and the more he went on about needing to screw his girlfriend the less convincing he sounded. This section was the low point for me. Stick with it though as the later stuff gets better.
Ms. Gilman's conclusions on the concentration camp tour of Poland were the high point of the book for me; her subsequent Congressional job and wedding plans are well-written, interesting stories that coast the book nicely to a smooth end.

I did have a major problem with her presentation: how could she possibly have gotten into Stuyvesant (one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation) and Brown, and have been that clueless? Her rant on having all those deductions from her first actual paycheck (as a high school student) struck me as preposterous. I don't see how she could possibly have not known about deductions (nor have missed the student withholding exemption status when she filled out her tax forms)? Her ignorance about Judaism (she is a native New Yorker raised in an ethnically Jewish, though non-practicing, household!) was so very far-fetched that I had to consciously disregard it as a failed fictional device. I deducted a star for this, and the uneven middle section.

That having been said, I enjoyed the book a lot, and would consider it as gift material for friends and family.
Profile Image for Lormac.
508 reviews63 followers
July 13, 2015
Susan Gilman's book is memoir which takes the form of essays - each a funny or poignant story of a part of her life. Her first chapter is a recounting of her summer at a "leftist" commune in the Catskills when she was five years old and asked to play a part in a psychedelic movie being filmed by one of the campers. The final chapter is set in Geneva where she finds herself living - a New Yorker abroad - in her thirties.

If I had read this book when I was in my twenties, I would have given it 5 stars. I would have seen myself in Gilman, reveled in her indiscretions, applauded her chutzpah, and, in general, wished to be her. If I had read this book in my thirties, I would have given this book 4 stars. I would have seen her decisions played out in my life and the lives of my friends, understood her workplace dilemmas, and sympathized with her urges and yearnings. But I just read this book for the first time, and here I am - let's just say I am well out of my thirties - and I can't give it more than three stars. I guess now I am looking at Gilman not as myself, or a possible friend, but instead, as a daughter, which gives the whole book a different filter. The book made me feel fretful. Obviously this is not Gilman's fault, but I just came to this book a little too late.

Still I love her passages about growing up in New York. She gets the whole 70s and 80s vibe down pat. The chapter about her infatuation with Mick Jagger is really worth the price of the book alone, so if you do get a chance to read this book, I would say, "Go ahead - don't rely on an old fogey's review." (Unless, of course, you are an old fogey too.)
Profile Image for Kris Holland.
73 reviews6 followers
April 18, 2012
Slightly boring memoir. I got the impression the author thought she led a crazy, rebellious life, but she came off too often sounding overprivileged & whiny. I enjoyed her book Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, but I couldn't be done with this one fast enough.
Profile Image for E.
265 reviews2 followers
June 22, 2012
A plodding series of monotone stories. Should be subtitled Tales of Growing up Stoned and Self-absorbed.
Profile Image for Cindy (BKind2Books).
1,501 reviews30 followers
May 31, 2019
I enjoyed this memoir. Susan Gilman is very similar to other snarky female writers like Notaro and Lancaster. This book, a series of essays examining various events, is divided into three parts - young / elementary school age; teenage; and young adult. I think the first section was the most humorous. The teen years are angsty enough and reading about them is mostly painful, even when it’s marginally better. (Hey, she met Mick at a party and got to talk to him? - how many teenagers can claim that?).

Quotes to remember:

More than anything else, your relationship with God is your own business...Don't let anybody else tell you otherwise.

Messiahs, saviors, they were beyond me, but Mary I could understand. Maybe that is what her story was meant to be about - that in the darkness of winter, in the face of poverty and prejudice - I should fear not - I would be taken in - I would be chosen yet - fear not! There were children to be born - and stars to appear - and kings to arrive - Fear not! God had not overlooked anyone! God had not overlooked me, as unattractive and unlikable and pathetic as I was.

...any moron can do this job...The only skills you might ever need are crowd control and anger management.

At some point, I suppose, all of us in our lives confront some unavoidable, outsized horror...inevitably a moment comes for all of us when we realize that we cannot beat the devil on this one: we have been targeted for injustice or tragedy. And nothing in school, nothing in daily life really prepares us for this. Maybe nothing can, except art, perhaps. Or faith.

Let me get this straight. You're a non-practicing Jew and a 'recovering' Catholic and you'd like me to perform an interfaith wedding ceremony with a lesbian Wiccan priestess? Well, Jewish law does not list 'sheer curiosity' as a reason to do so, but it's as good as any I can come up with. [snort]
Profile Image for Febz Beloy.
9 reviews5 followers
June 14, 2009
it’s a fun, wildly imbecilic memoir of a Manhattanite who thought of the world as her playground. I instantly felt this connection with her.

I was the child who bragged and lied in Show and Tell to distinguish myself from the hordes of crying and pee-crazy 5-year-olds in Kindergarten. I admit I lied not to be difficult but to be special. I conjured and fantasized on what I wanted to be when I grow up. I wanted to be a doctor, a ballerina, a social worker, a fireman and a nun. All the while feigning nonchalance when the girls in my class also had grander ambitions. I even firmly believed that we’d all be riding flying saucers by the year 2000 just like in the Jetsons.

Gilman also reminds me of my dysfunctional family. A mother who is predictable in her unpredictability. A father who chokes up while watching boxing. A brother who has his own distorted sense of reality. Another brother who has a killer sense of humor but a naivete that makes you want to protect him from the viciousness of the world.

Like her, I wanted to be subservient. I abhor authority figures and I am a feminist in my own little way.

The book was like an epiphany at a time when I felt like an oddity - being 26 and single in a couples’ world can surely have its toll on anyone.

Her “coming of age” stories surely made me laugh with chapter titles like Love and the Maharishi, Mick Jagger Wants Me and Speak at the Tuna to name a few. Her stories also gave that nod of approval that it was okay to grow up ambitious and engage in some spectacularly imbecilic behavior.

According to one of the reviews of the book – Susie Jane Gilman channels the voices of her inner geek, freak, hipster, and princess with razor sharp wit and no small measure of grace. I could not agree more.

To my female friends, I wish to share this with you. Just ring me if you want to borrow this piece of genius.
Profile Image for Nicole.
70 reviews22 followers
July 6, 2021
I just finished reading it.

And it. Was. AMAZING.

It wasn’t even on my original list of books I wanted to read. I found it on the same shelf as Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (still not sure why I was so eager to read that one, considering my current aversion to all things relationship-oriented, let alone marriage) and added it to the huge tower in my arms on a whim.

But it truly is amazing how some of the best books you’ll ever read are the ones you find by chance. This book is snarky, soulful, innocent and worldly all at once. It deals with feminism, race, religion, stereotypes and world issues in a direct, insightful and hilarious way.

Do not read this book while eating soup or drinking anything. I warned you. :)
Profile Image for Judy.
1,945 reviews28 followers
July 4, 2012
I have to admit that I like the first half of this book much more than the last half. In fact, I have to plead guilty of sort of skimming the final 30 pages. But the first half made me laugh out loud several times. Growing up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Gilman had many experiences in her early years that are universal. I mean who didn't lie during show-and-tell? Who didn't feel constant peer pressure, have an awkward adolescence, and be plagued by school yard bullies? But, Susan Jane Gilman tells these stories in such a way that I had to laugh--especially the tale of being cast in a movie during summer vacation. Sorry, coworkers. I was taking a short reading break at my desk and, apparently, my giggling was disruptive.
Profile Image for Danielle.
16 reviews
July 26, 2007
I can't even begin to describe how much I loved this book. It was a completely satisfying sequel to her first, Kiss My Tiara, and I related to it in a million fabulous ways. I even found an email address for the Author online and had a breif, and extremely fulfilling correspondence with her! A LOVELY woman, and a wonderfully emotive author. Not only does she provide descriptions of her surroundings that are so good you feel as though you REALL GET IT, but you truly feel as though you understand where she's coming from, too.
Susan Jane Gilman rules. If I am half the writer she is someday I'll be damn proud. :-)
Any woman bewteen 17 and 115 should read this book.
Profile Image for Gretchen.
105 reviews
March 24, 2013
I was literally laughing out loud during the first chapters of this book. The author's commentary on her unique childhood experiences was hilarious and irreverent. I was really looking forward to the rest of the book. I had high hopes for it, but started feeling disappointed the more I read. Instead of becoming more self-aware and grown up, the author seemed to just revel in being a clueless, shallow person who seemed obsessed with the size of her breasts and having sex with every male who walks. She falsely seems to believe that by throwing around the F word and embracing liberal ideologies she can be a nouveau feminist. Instead, she just comes across and loud, brash and offensive.
Profile Image for Maro.
8 reviews2 followers
October 22, 2007
yet another memoir of sorts... but this one is inspirational and simply hysterical.
we follow a young woman realizing her identity and also coming to terms with her slightly off kilter family and her specific expectations from the world.
i have given this book to.. my mother, my sister, my friend danielle and a coworker mike... they have all loved it and even become inspired by it.
if you're in the mood to laugh out loud, here's a book that will have you cryin'!! david sedaris meets augusten borroughs. what more could you want.
Profile Image for Alissa.
1,450 reviews56 followers
June 17, 2009
Before Chelsea Handler appealed to the higher power of vodka, Susan Gilman penned her memoir about dancing naked with hippies at dawn, playing horny teenage host to Mick Jagger at a friend's dinner party, dreaming of joining the workforce as the world's first feminist belly dancer, outwitting strict politicians and, in general, growing up "groovy and clueless" before finally coming upon a personal epiphany in the dressing room at David's Bridal. A hilarious, colorfully-worded romp through life the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Steph (loves water).
464 reviews19 followers
April 11, 2016
I read this because Ms. Gilman and I are the same age, and we had a few things in common growing up, but were light years apart in our upbringing. Batgirl, Tony DeFranco, Mick Jagger. Mostly I found her a little annoying and over the top, but at the end I recognized that she was brutally honest in her account. I don't know if I could be that honest in my own memoir.
133 reviews5 followers
July 29, 2021
She gets 4.5 stars for saying pretty much everything this privileged, white feminist thinks and feels. I kept thinking...she gets me!! I'm her!!! It's super white privilegy, but so am I.

However, I docked her a star and a half for un-inclusive language (use of the R word and comparing people in a negative light to a "special ed class"). That shit ruins it.
Profile Image for AJ LeBlanc.
359 reviews34 followers
January 13, 2017
Gilman's writing style is amazing. Several times I had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard. She has a great take of growing up as a full on feminist, but at the same time becoming giddy with delight when Mick Jagger points out that she's got huge boobs. This is a woman who's been everywhere and done everything, and it's a brilliant read. The book starts off with her at four years old, the daughter of hippies, prancing around in a tutu and figuring out how to rule the world. Her first foray into stardom comes in the form of an independent film that has her skipping around naked with another 4 year old, trying to catch a butterfly. We end with Susan getting married and having a total meltdown in the middle of a David's Bridal when she finds a wedding dress that looks amazing on her. The plan was to be married in red or black satin, but she stands on the pedestal in the middle of the store for *four hours*, trying to come to terms with the fact that she loves this pouffy white dress, even though it represents everything she hates. In between she writes for a Jewish newspaper, which leads to her accompanying a group of Jewish teens on a trip through the concentration camps in Poland. She's accidentally labeled "that lesbian Jewish writer" and suddenly receives call after call from unhappy Jewish moms who just want their gay daughters to meet someone nice, and is she doing anything this Saturday? Her parents get divorced and suddenly develop personalities, she jets off to work for a congresswoman in D.C., and later moves to Geneva.

Her life seems improbable, but the way she writes it makes it sound just like everyone else's upbringing, just with different type of parental interactions, series of crappy jobs, and dreaded apartment hunting.
Profile Image for Kathy (Bermudaonion).
824 reviews99 followers
March 31, 2009
Susan Jane Gilman was raised in Upper West Manhattan in the 1970’s, before it became gentrified. Her family was pretty laid back and “groovy” - her grandmother claimed to be a Communist and her mother signed the whole family up for Transcendental Meditation. Throughout it all, Susie retained an active imagination and developed a sense of humor. Her family motto was, “Reality is for people with no imagination.” Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman is her memoir. It starts in her pre-school years and ends when she moved to Geneva shortly after her marriage.

Some of her stories are hilarious - she was tired of her ordinary name, so she convinced her kindergarten teacher that she was changing her name to Sapphire. Her mother signed the whole family up to learn Transcendental Meditation, and her biggest concern was that she might run into a boy she had a crush on who happened to live in the same building as the TM Center. When she wrote an article about gay Rabbis, everyone assumed she was a lesbian and she had to figure out a way to “come out of the closet.”

Parts of the book were touching. Susan was assigned to go to Poland to write an article on the March of the Living - an event where three thousand Jewish teen-agers met in Poland to learn about the Holocaust. Her parents broke up when her brother was in college and she felt her family suffered from a “temporary psychosis that plagued every other divorcing family in America.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I laughed out loud quite a few times. After reading this book, I feel like I could sit and talk to Susan Jane Gilman for hours - she’s so interesting and funny!
Profile Image for Colleen.
211 reviews
September 16, 2018
Susan Jane Gilman is a wonderful, hilarious writer. And I enjoyed each chapter of her life, told with such honesty and humor, I found myself sitting alone and breaking into a laugh numerous times as I read this book.

Look forward to reading more by this author!
Profile Image for Beth.
124 reviews
May 1, 2019
Tales of growing up groovy and clueless in the 70's. Susan is hilarious and insightful - kinda like David Sedaris if he were a Jewish straight woman!
Profile Image for Annie Noblin.
Author 9 books435 followers
February 24, 2015
I absolutely adored this book. I read it years ago, probably in 2004, when I should have been studying for a history final in college. It was totally worth the D I got on that test.
Profile Image for Paul Baker.
Author 3 books15 followers
July 29, 2018
People react to the use of irony as humor very differently. Some people miss the point or are offended if they get it, while others like me roll on the floor laughing. If you are in any way a fan of snark, then Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman should be treated as a rare gift.

"Self-deprecating" is hardly an apt description for Ms. Gilman's characterization of herself as "groovy and clueless." In fact, she runs the gamut from such horrendous disappointment in herself to exhilarating joy. Broken into a series of fifteen essays covering different periods of her life, she never fails to entertain. At times, I laughed so hard that tears came out of my eyes, such as in her description of Kindergarten when she figured out that her teacher was buying the stories she invented for show and tell and she decided to up the ante. Other stories are incredibly touching, such as her search for the anti-bridal gown.

The cover design by Brigid Pearson reflects the book so well: a little girl wearing a pouffy white angel dress, with horizontally striped stockings, combat boots and a tiara stares off camera with a look of pure jaundice. Wonderful work!

While Ms. Gilman's views are decided from the left and she frequently swears like Satan's girl scout and her feminism is present throughout the book, it never gets in the way of the amazing story of her life. Anyone can enjoy this memoir!

I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Niki.
52 reviews
January 13, 2011
THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!!!!! Originally suggested to me as an interpretation piece for debate, my friend's mother warned me that I may take a liking to the protagonist....understatement of the week. Gilman's recreation of her childhood and adult experiences are hilarious and easily related to, and the descriptions leave nothing to the imagination. Her gritty description of the punk streets of NYC as a teenager are everything that VH1 describes and complaints about being a feminist bride who is planning her wedding are nothing short of hilarious, even if you have never been around a wedding being planned or never been subjected to the Bridezilla television show. As an 18 year old about to enter college, this book helped me to gain perspective on what it means to be a strong woman, to find your identity and to never lose it, in a very subtle and unique way. If you are open minded and looking for an amusing laugh, I highly recommend this book...you won't be disappointed
Profile Image for Sally.
3 reviews2 followers
September 30, 2012
Enjoyed reading this book, was introduced to me by the authors father. Any questions that I needed to ask he answered. My main question was " did you truly sit at the park bench while your daughter was being hit for a swing"? His answer was yes...and it was the hardest thing to do. He wanted his daughter to defend herself for 1 mouthing off and 2 parents won't always be around to defend kids.

I don't know if I can agree in the way the lesson was taught but I did tell him that I enjoyed the book.
Profile Image for Kayla.
489 reviews
August 18, 2012
I enjoyed this book, which was a loan from a friend, more than I thought I was going to. I expected the laughter as the author takes us on a trip through the hippie antics of her parents but there were unexpected moments of real poignancy...especially in describing the effects of a divorce on children, forever.
29 reviews
March 1, 2008
This was one of those "She was on 'This American Life,' so she has to be good" choices. Turned out to be a good one. Like David Sedaris, Gilman does a great job of presenting her personal point of view in a sympathetic style that doesn't hide that it has been usually flawed.
Profile Image for Karen.
56 reviews
January 9, 2010
I love short stories- perfect for before bedtime reading. I can see a line of maturity in the author's writing and this book is mid-way- which means I can't wait for her next one. She is humerous, very witty and some of her images just plain haunt me.
Profile Image for stellajames.
236 reviews
June 28, 2010
This is one of the funniest memoirs I've ever read. I forgot the title (nice to find it here), and was bummed because I thought about buying my own copy of this. SO so funny. Recommend this to everybody.
Profile Image for Marie.
936 reviews77 followers
April 12, 2008
Enjoyed this memoir of a girl growing up with hippie parents, struggling with her feminist ideals and how to incorporate them into her life.
76 reviews2 followers
May 22, 2011
I saw it on my sister Nikki's list and liked the title. It was a fluffy, entertaining read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 725 reviews

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