I respect the heck out of the first hundred or so pages of this book, and I wanted to place Mimi Pond’s The Customer is Always Wrong alongside her previous work Over Easy (which I loved and hoped to see more of in the semi-sequel). Perhaps I was expecting something a little bit more upbeat, (though there is a lot of charm and humour within the work), but I found the beginning section, in which Madge meets a boyfriend that is less than predictable and still stays with him through his good and bad, to be a mini-book in and of itself. It is presented with clear focus (after 35 years!) and stayed with me the longest because of its frank depiction of a bad situation. It was the first part of the book and felt real and honest and lived-in, rather than saccharine.
Now here’s the part in which I am conflicted, because obviously this book demands a lot of attention. Pond is famous for writing the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, but her memoir of working and living in a seedy part of Oakland in the early eighties is a slice of life that cannot be accomplished by anyone other than the person living there, Pond. She calls herself Madge in the novel or memoir, and her sections are probably the ones that are the most memorable because she lived them (to what extent is up to the reader to decide). I am realizing now that when the focus shifts away from her, to a co-worker or an acquaintance or a customer, that Pond tends to be somehow outside of the story, even when she is inextricably linked. Obviously as the cartoonist and the writer, she stands on the outskirts of every event, but until the last hundred pages or so, the lightning-sharp focus of the introduction does not return until she must make a life-changing decision.
Here’s the thing, maybe it’s the lack of life or death that makes the middle feel so bloated. Though a technical accomplishment, the almost 450 pages feel a little heavy, and perhaps a shorter, more focused memoir would have paired up a lot better towards telling her story. But please go out and get Over Easy and then follow it up with The Customer is Always Wrong. Pond is deserving of attention and recognition for what she brings to the field.
The Customer Is Always Wrong was provided by Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. It may be purchased from your friendly independent bookseller or other fine bookstores.