"Driven by its faith in the transformative power of humor, Elephants in my Room is a lighthearted personal romp."
Driven by its faith in the transformative power of humor, Elephants in my Room is a lighthearted personal romp.
Christie Nicholls’s Elephants in my Room is a quirky collection of personal stories. First focused on travel with family, the book opens with a story about a childhood obsession with a dog, Ferdinand, during a summer stay in Brazil; it milks humor from zany childhood logic. Next follow stories about brushing up against the cultural divide between a fun-loving American family and staid Brits during a family wedding in England; there’s also an element of stand-up comedy to Nicholls’s experiences as a non-native speaker in Sweden.
The book’s second section focuses on odd jobs and shares a variety of less-than-successful efforts to earn money. These include babysitting brats, working at a deceitful call center, waiting tables, and dog walking. They are followed by tributes to people who’ve passed, entries that highlight formative experiences while paying homage to influential people, including grandparents and a piano teacher. Misadventures in love close the book. Family coping mechanisms bind the material, including the liberal uses of alcohol, humor, and swearing.
A hilarious story about renting a manual transmission car in Iceland despite having little experience driving a stick shift produces laugh-out-loud moments. Such moments are balanced by poignant accounts, such as of losing a grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and another about overcoming fear of a grandfather to forge a stronger bond. Elsewhere, tones vacillate; a story about a teacher who lives with eighteen cats is ripe for humor, both earnest and flippant.
Driven by a belief that comedy enables people to “recycle painful energy into something as inexplicably brilliant as a big, full-bodied belly laugh,” Elephants in my Room is a lighthearted personal collection that muses on past struggles—and the lessons learned from them.
- Clarion Foreword Reviews
"Life’s lessons come through loud and clear in this delightful collection of 17 expressive,pointed, and humorous essays of the author’s life experiences." - BlueInk Reviews
Life’s lessons come through loud and clear in this delightful collection of 17 expressive,
pointed, and humorous essays of the author’s life experiences.
Christie Nicholls holds a Ph.D. and works as a stand-up comedian and television-
commercial actress. She describes Elephants in My Room as “a nice little collection of
honest, if not humiliating, true stories (a.k.a ‘elephants’) from my past.” The book is
arranged topically into four parts: Nicholls’ travels, her jobs, people who have died, and
the males in her life.
The author’s essays are amusing and often off-color. For example, when describing her
mother’s bowling pose, she writes: “...Mom would lift a leg, like a graceful dog urinating.”
Indeed, it’s such metaphors—suggestive or not—that make this collection memorable.
The music accompanying a ballet performance she attended was becoming “threatening
and hypnotic, like a mob gathering to do something really big.” Piano books “were more
like cookbooks—where...I’d make something that would one day be digestible to the
Detailing her awkward time as a telemarketer (a short-lived job), she reports: “. . . I had
stumbled onto something profoundly prostitutional [sic]; I could talk to lonely old men and women like a platonic sex phone operator. When they reached climax in our
conversation, I would simply run their credit card and take my cut.”
As each essay unwinds, Nicholls’ reveals lessons learned. Discussing her grandfather,
who was confined to a wheelchair, she sees a teaching moment in his ability to remain
happy, despite all: “I knew that smile. It was fulfillment. The kind of pure, unadulterated
fulfillment that comes from keeping your head up, no matter the circumstances.”
Some readers will likely be offended by the “f-bombs” generously sprinkled throughout,
as well as the author’s explicit depictions of sexual acts and bodily functions. Most,
however, will laugh along with the honesty Nicholls displays as she shares her life, if for
the wonderful imagery alone—fresh and compelling.
- BlueInk Reviews
"ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM is a witty, vivid, well-written series of true stories about growing up, relationships and family.
In the author’s description at the end of her book, Christie Nicholls refers to herself as a “splendid conversationalist.” Book-form storytelling is necessarily a monologue, but after reading these 17 stories, her claim makes perfect sense.
How could you not want to talk to a formerly canine-loving child who, “created a very clumsy superhero/alter-ego known as ‘Dog Woman,’” only to then reveal her brother’s modified name for that same innocent superhero?
The stories in ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM center around the texture of human relationships. In telling them Nicholls draws on a breadth of writing craft. She has an ear for dialogue (even when people are too drunk to speak); a love of language; skill at balancing between dialogue, detail and location; and a solid sense pacing. She’s also tops at deriving larger meaning from small moments.
Nicholls is often funny in a Mark Twain-social-satire/awkward-teenagers-do-awkward-stuff/and flatulence-is-a-gift kind of way — that’s a lot of ways to be funny. From describing her mother to an audience in “Stand-Up Sweden,” to her relentless observation of a step-grandparent’s eyebrows, to the mordant “The Brentwood Buddhists,” and finally, to the slapstick potency of “The 30-Second Fart,” she’s got all kinds of humor...
So much of this book is grand — “Part III: Dearly Departed,” in particular. This set of four stories about Nicholls’s older relatives, showcase her strength in observing one-on-one relationships. Her delicacy, and her blessed failure to oversimplify humanity are deeply satisfying in these pieces. She uses a purse on the counter and purple, sequined flip-flops perfectly, offering unprofound bits of life that reveal profoundly. In the introduction to ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM, Nicholls writes, “Why read this book? It’s funny and honest.” It is Nicholls’s honesty that underpins and elevates her wit, tenderness and social observation. She is funny, she is honest and she’s delightful to read.
The 17 stories in Christie Nicholls’s memoir ELEPHANTS IN MY ROOM speak to readers in an infectiously appealing, compassionate, sarcastic, observant narrator’s voice, and are both funny and moving."
~Ellen Graham for IndieReader
Shortly after my third mug of ice cream, I noticed some rumbling in my tummy. I ignored it, because that’s what we do with gas in public; we tell it to go away, and it (usually) obeys. To coat my internal stew of garlic cheese noodles and coffee ice cream, I made some chai tea. Just as the caffeinated concoction inside me was beginning to talk (and possibly walk), Arms started to tell me about something serious. “I have to tell you something scary,” he started. “My best friend who lives in Colorado—he nearly died last night.”
Ohno, I thought. Not the roommate—oh that’s scary, yes, of course— but I need to fart. Otherwise I’m going to . . . fart. Arms ignored my neurotic arm and leg crossing and continued to vent. “It was a bad drug trip. They found him lying there on his back and they rushed him to the hospital. ”
This continued to the tune of “Blah blah blah, go Paaaahhhckers (Packers), go Baaaahhhhdgers (Badgers), cheese curds, brats Aflac.”
My mind was on one thing and one thing only: God. Yes, like most disgruntled white people, I’m agnostic, sometimes atheist, but, in this moment, I was Jesus Christ, on the cross, begging for God to prevent the superhuman pressure about to blow. I squirmed, I crossed my legs, I re-crossed them. I turned my body into the tightest pretzel you’ve ever seen. I tried to scare the excess air away by clearing my throat loudly—all the while nodding and consoling Arms as he blabbed on and on about his friend. I prayed to a deceased family friend; I asked her to cause some sudden distraction so I could get to the bathroom and detonate my asshole.
Just as I was about to pass out from holding my breath, I heard a little voice respond to my prayer. The voice came directly from my butt and it said: “Eeeeeuaaaahhhh. Eeeeeuaaahhhh.”
At first, I thought it was a fever dream—there was no way I sud- denly couldn’t control my own body. But, as if an old white man had possessed me, I continued to release what would end up being an un- controllable, melodic, multisyllabic, THIRTY-SECOND FART. With the first couple of high-pitched squeals, I immediately turned into a bright-red fire truck. I clutched my temples as the supernatural gas played a concerto of Beethoven-inspired high notes. Arms was com- pletely, out-of-his-mind shocked by the duration of my fart and so he just giggled.
Hee hee hee, ho ho ho.
The worst part of the situation was that I couldn’t move for fear of what might fall out of me. I was frozen solid — a petrified, red-faced farting deer—caught in headlights that were laughing at me.
The sounds progressed into what you might call a dolphin mating call: eee, eee, eee, eee. Then it changed into what I’d call the trombone, a sliding, deep, tonal masterpiece. It was the machine gun expulsion that actually startled Arms, with its violent and seemingly endless rounds of: furt, furt, furt, furt, furt, furrrrrr, rur, rur, rur, rurt, furt, furt. My asshole concerto ended on the chipmunk exhale: haffffffffffff, which sounded just like a city bus lowering me to the stop at Humiliation Street.
Somewhere around machine gun, Arms, looking genuinely petri- fied, asked “Are you okay?”
He was sure I wasn’t, because I could not respond. I’d never been more humiliated in my entire life, and I had zero strategy for how to recover. My only solution was to act gravely concerned about my own health. Amidst the most amazing fart production of my life, I wasn’t even laughing, I was acting serious!
To this day, that is one of my biggest life regrets—that I felt ashamed of this supernatural miracle.
"Comedian Nicholls’s effervescent debut memoir recounts family shenanigans, adventures abroad, and other entertaining and embarrassing experiences with a mix of humor and humility. The book is split into four sections, each one providing a theme for the stories (or “elephants”) it contains. The first section, “A Broad Abroad,” recalls traveling with her mismatched family. The standout story “I Love English” begins with Nicholls joking about her father’s family crest being “a light-bulb, a middle finger, and an Entenmann’s Danish” as a way of introducing a story about a booze-fueled wedding in England. The “Boys to Man” section recalls her dips into the dating pool, including “Mother Nose Best,” set in Wisconsin, in which Nicholls is determined to prove her mother wrong about her foul-smelling boyfriend.
In every story, Nicholls exhibits a gift for description; as she describes screaming a nonstop litany of curses while incompetently driving a stick-shift rental car through Iceland (“I accelerated and the car cried out ‘help me’ ”), readers will both cackle hysterically and want to tighten their seat belts. Her stories of childhood exude a clear love of family while never sacrificing the absurdity of growing up. If readers are looking for a combination of laughing and crying, the “Dearly Departed” section, filled with heartwarming stories of Nicholls’s grandparents, is sure to deliver. Family photos are given hilarious captions to underline that these stories are as true as they are absurd.
There’s no overall arc to the collection, but each anecdote stands well alone. Readers will admire the fluidity with which Nicholls describes her intensely relatable way of stumbling cheerfully through life. Nicholls’s zeal for storytelling about the everyday proves that any event can form the kernel of a good memoir. She sticks the landing by simply bearing and sharing it all.
Takeaway: This laugh-out-loud collection of anecdotes will delight any fan of funny and heartfelt memoirs."