The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean is a fabulous book. This book is unlike anything I have ever read before. Orlean features many mini-stories of all kinds of different unique characters. Interestingly, she doesn’t just profile famous people, but ordinary people too. In her book, the first person she writes about is an “ordinary” ten-year-old boy named Colin Duffy and later writes about the famous Rose Tarlow.
Originally she was supposed to write about Macaulay Culkin but decided that he wasn’t as newsworthy as little Colin Duffy. I thought this was fascinating because while given the opportunity to write about a famous star, she chose not to. Although she decided not to write about the well-known actor, she kept the same title, “The American Man, Age Ten.”
Before each of her profiles, she gives a little story introduction with a darker background rather than the original page color. By having the small sections, I think it does a good job of setting up the character she reveals to readers. For example, towards the middle of the book, Orlean sets up Tiffany Darwsish, or Tiffany, the 80’s singer and star. In the darker page set up, Orlean talks about what “Tiffany wants you to know,” which is pretty interesting that she includes that. After the dark section, it is pretty much a day in the life story.
In many of Orlean’s short stories, I noticed that she is honest about everything and doesn’t seem to give you the narrative that the characters themselves paint. For example, in the Tiffany story, the manager makes it seem like he gives Tiffany so much freedom. But, Orlean reveals that he has a tight grip. The manager made it seem like he let Tiffany choose her own outfits, but multiple characters reveal that is not the case. She includes quotes from other people and notes her own observations to paint a bigger and more accurate picture.
Every single story included was interesting and gave that feeling where you couldn’t put the book down. Each story initially appeared in magazines, and Orlean brought it back to life in this book. One of the best stories I came across in the book was about Silly Billy, the clown. Silly Billy was one of the best clowns in New York during the 1980s and started his own family of clowns, if you will, all having their own personality traits, making them unique and fun. I liked this story the most because Silly Billy graduated from college and started working as a marketing associate to find out that he loved making people laugh and making balloon animals.
This book does a really good job of profiling people who wouldn’t get much coverage, if any, in day-to-day life. And if she did profile a famous person, it would be about something deeper than the accomplishments or their resumes, but about their actual lives as real people and not just celebrities. If news sources reported profiles like these, maybe society would stop idolizing certain higher ups and realize that everyone is interesting, big, small, talented or not. Susan Orlean not only brought life to the stories in this book but brought life to the people by showing that they are more than just their title or names.