It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort

In her memoir It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort tells the story of meeting Aaron, the love of her life, and how they planned their life together, parenthood included, in the face of his brain cancer diagnosis. The first sentence provides the context for everything that follows in the book: “You are holding a book by another youngish white woman who had a pretty charmed life until her father and husband died of cancer a few weeks after she miscarried her second baby.” While Purmort’s memoir is about young widowhood, losing a parent, grief in general, single parenting, and other harder aspects of her recent life, she also weaves in plenty of stories pondering relationships, dating, love, and the role of family. As the title hints, readers will laugh and cry.

One of the features I look for in nonfiction is a personable, inviting narrative voice. I don’t have to relate to the writer or have experienced aspects of the writer’s life to enjoy the book. (Better if I haven’t.) All I need to race though a memoir or essay collection is a sense that I’m in the hands of a solid storyteller. What is a solid storyteller? In my opinion, it’s someone who knows what details to share and what to leave to the reader’s imagination. It’s also someone who can tell a story in a natural voice without even a hint of pretension.

Nora McInerny Purmort tells her sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking stories with the perfect balance of intimate detail, boundaries, and writing that is “breezy” without being shallow. She covers formative moments in her childhood and talks about her family in a David Sedaris style, which allows the reader to understand her love and devotion to her parents and siblings, imperfections and all. When she speaks about the loss of her father, we appreciate the enormity of it because we’ve come to know him through the incidents Purmont carefully chooses to share with the reader. And the loss of her husband, tragic because of the details (young, newly married, a new father), becomes even more moving for the reader to experience as Purmort aptly gives the reader a sense of Aaron’s personality, his best qualities, and his love of her.

I liked Purmort’s honest advice about how to deal with people who have experienced a loss as well as her other practical advice like why you should quit your job, what to look for in a husband, and much more. It’s Okay to Laugh is a refreshing read, and I’d definitely read Purmort’s next book. I hope she is working on one!


Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and elsewhere. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines and she’s a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. Nina lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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