Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Editor’s note: Author Jamie Brickhouse will be doing a reading, talk, Q&A, and book signing at Brazos Bookstore (2421 Bissonnet) on Tuesday, May 12, at 7 p.m.
Mother knows best.
Long before you were old enough to complain, for instance, she knew when you were uncomfortable or ailing, and she fixed it. She told you to ignore detractors. She helped you follow your heart. She reminded you to take a sweater. Mom always knew best—except, as in the new memoir Dangerous When Wet by Jamie Brickhouse, when her counsel could derail your life.
Jamie Brickhouse “had no business being a child.”
Then again, he never was a child, really. Starting at age five (an age his mother wished she could freeze him, Peter-Pan-style), he was his Mama Jean’s sounding board, fashion advisor, and cheering squad. He recalls the fascination of seeing her put on makeup; his days were spent watching her sew and going to downtown Beaumont, Texas, to shop and visit the beauty parlor. He also dimly recalls his first drink at age five.
Though his mother warned him that others would never love him like she did, his first-grade teacher came close. Brickhouse adored that woman who shared school gossip with him and invited him into her home. Later, after a playground friend became his “first boyfriend,” that same teacher warned Brickhouse that the boy was a “sissy.”
By junior high, he realized that he was, too, but since Mama Jean had had a fit when Brickhouse’s older gay brother came out and had offered a psychiatrist to Brickhouse if he was “like that,” Brickhouse denied his sexuality.
Years later, he also denied his HIV status to her, just like he denied his alcoholism.
From the time he was a toddler, Brickhouse had had an obsession with sex. His love of drink also came early, and the two intersected when he went to college. Even after he found the love of his life, he couldn’t let go of either vice: many nights after work as a book publicist, he drank until he could barely function and often woke up in the arms and homes of strangers.
His boyfriend knew what was going on. Brickhouse hoped Mama Jean never would.
For some reason, I’ve been awash in mother-and-gay-son memoirs lately. Dangerous When Wet is the newest one, and only a little different than the others.
Don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t a bad book, but it doesn’t really stand out a lot. Author Jamie Brickhouse is a funny guy, but I would say that charm is more prevalent in this book than are laughs. That may be, perhaps, because his thumb-sucking, profane, force-to-be-reckoned-with Mama Jean is ultimately like so many other moms: an exasperating reason for eye-rolls to their children, but adorable to others.
The small bit of humor lies with her antics, at any rate. The alcoholism, the blackouts, the promiscuity: not so much.
I do think this book is worth a try. I enjoyed it enough, but if you’re drowning in similar memoirs, too, you could just as easily skip it. Dangerous When Wet isn’t the worst book of this genre, but it’s not the best, either.
Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir
by Jamie Brickhouse
2015, St. Martin’s Press (us.macmillan.com/smp)
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.