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Fort Greene author finds that misery loves company

The Brooklyn Paper
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Fort Greene writer Suzanne Guillette has had her share of embarrassing moments. In her debut memoir, “Much to Your Chagrin,” she describes slapstick foibles, like spilling a plate of spaghetti on Philip Lopate’s lap — a gaffe she tried to correct by taking him to lunch, only to have her credit card declined.

Yet Guillette also divulges painful humiliations like disastrous relationships and an identity crisis on the cusp of 30.

At 29, the Massachusetts transplant had a writing degree, but no manuscript. She did have a charismatic and supportive literary agent, and a plan to collect people’s most face-reddening stories.

In search of utter humiliation, Guillette interviewed strangers in bars, in bistros, on subways and on sidewalks. The tales of degradation included a Romeo tossed into the street and forced to ride the subway clad only in a hot pink Speedo swimsuit and skimpy T-shirt — the clothing he’d worn the day before to the beach, where he’d found a lover and lost his wallet.

Then there was an aspiring filmmaker who was working on a movie set when Steven Spielberg made a surprise visit. When a fan sought a photo with the celebrity director, the wannabe auteur couldn’t find the shutter button — on an automatic camera!

But Guillette had to face her own chagrin: the relationship with her agent boyfriend unraveled, and the author found herself initiating interviews as a way of bumming cigarettes. Her addiction to plumbing people’s depths was second only to her growing nicotine jones.

The good news? Personal frustration, isolation and depression had turned her little project from a “novelty book … you’d see by the checkout counter of Urban Outfitters” into a frank memoir, she said.

And, perhaps, a follow up.

Guillette said that after finishing the book, she told a young man that she’d just spent a year collecting other people’s embarrassing stories and experiencing her own misery. The new friend’s idea: “Now you need to ask people about their happy stories.”

Suzanne Guillette will read from “Much to Your Chagrin” at BookCourt [163 Court St. between Dean and Pacific streets, (718) 875-3677] on April 28 at 7 pm; and at Flying Saucer Café [494 Atlantic Ave., between Third Avenue and Nevins Street, (718) 624-0139] on May 26 at 8 pm. For information, visit www.suzanneguillette.com.

Updated 4:53 pm, April 23, 2009
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