Author: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Publication date: July 11, 2019
Genre: short stories, humor, adult fiction
My rating: 5/5 stars
When I heard the creator of BoJack Horseman had published a book, I knew three things for certain:
- I had to read it.
- It would destroy me.
- I would love it.
Now, I will confess that I also initially had some reservations. Obviously, Raphael Bob-Waksberg writes well for television. BoJack Horseman is a brilliant show that makes you cackle with laughter but also brings you to tears (for me, those tears are figurative, but some of my friends have literally sobbed over it, so yeah, it gets heavy). Could his signature wit translate just as well to the page? Would the monologues and ruminations that make BoJack so compelling fall flat when not spoken aloud by an anthropomorphic horse in Will Arnett’s voice?
I needn’t have worried. This is an absolute gem, and just in time for the end of the year, it has skated onto my list of best-reads-of-2019. Actually, it’s more of a fancy necklace, made up entirely of stories that are polished gems in and of themselves. By turns side-splitting and gut-wrenching, Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory is a kaleidoscopic view of love in all its forms, fractals and colors shifting from dating to marriage, friendship to family, joy to despair. Though thematically unified, the individual stories never feel repetitive or redundant, each taking a slightly different take on what it means to love in this day and age (though not necessarily always in this world).
The writing here is top-notch, and the author really shows off his linguistic virtuosity here in a way that a single novel, or even a single TV show, could. His characters range from teens to adults (and one dog), and while many stories are in the typical first- or third-person, Bob-Waksberg also takes some stylistic risks, with multiple stories told in second-person (either as narratives or as imperatives), as well as some lists and a poem. I was thoroughly impressed at how easily he was able to shift to different tones and voices for his varied characters, even going so far as to alter his page alignment (justified or not) in certain sections, or to choose when sentences would ramble and when to make them elegant. He casually buries philosophical brilliance in paragraphs of sarcastic sniping, but it always feels entirely fitting, not jarring or pretentious. It just…works.
By way of summary, let’s just say that this book includes:
- Practical jokes
- Depressing reflections
- Goat sacrifices
- A literal game of Taboo
- Bad choices
- Spooky hexagons
- Lots of fun playing with font style and size on chapter titles
- Parallel dimensions
- Greeting cards
- Awkward dates
- “SPIN! THAT! WHEEL!”
- A Frankenstein-esque monster that is a genetically reconstructed hybrid of the first ten US presidents, all rolled into one
…and so much more! The rest of this review, for the sake of my sanity and yours alike, will be a rundown of the individual stories, followed by a lengthy section of my favorite quotes from the book, because I flagged quite a few of them, and I think they might give you a better idea of what actually happens in this one. With all that said…let’s go.
Salted Circus Cashews, Swear to God – a short but oddly brilliant reflection on the difficulty and complexity of trusting someone when entering a new relationship…told through the metaphor of a can of cashews that may or may not have a spring-snake-toy inside. This was a perfect start to the collection and basically dissolved any uncertainty I felt about whether this would be a good read.
short stories – vignettes that point out all the inherent contradictions in the complex world of love and dating (For example: 3. “You’re not like other girls,'” he said to every girl.)
A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion – a hilarious hyperbolic satire of wedding culture, complete with goat sacrifices and a Shrieking Chorus
Missed Connection–m4w – a trippy, sad sort of story about hesitating to act and the possible painful results thereof
The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks – meditative, very real exploration of the way that, the longer you stay in a place, the more you come to associate specific memories (especially negative ones) with specific locations, leaving ghosts on every street
We Men of Science – sci-fi, parallel universes, and a billion ways to screw up your own life when you start to make assumptions about “your” world and the other lives you intersect with
Lies We Told Each Other (a partial list) – a sketch of a relationship, from beginning to painful end, rendered in single brushstroke phrases that paint a sparse-yet-totally-specific picture of the way things can deteriorate over time.
These Are Facts – probably the one I liked least in the collection, following a teenage girl’s reunion with her estranged half-brother on a family vacation. I liked the writing, but the story itself didn’t hook me quite enough.
Lunch with the Person Who Dumped You – a short, fun take on what to do when you have that awkward request for a reunion lunch, and how to navigate every possible outcome. The flippant, gameshow-like narration lets this one really sing.
Rufus – oh my god, this story both broke and warmed my heart. It’s told entirely through a dog’s point of view, as he sees his owner enter and fall out of a relationship…and how his unflinching loyalty makes him unmistakably Goodog.
Rules for Taboo – when game night is both a literal poor choice and a metaphor for poor real-life choices
Up-and-Comers – superheroes in a band, lots of drinking, dysfunctional friendships, poor relationship choices…in other words, a bizarre and fascinating story that takes a totally absurd premise to explore a wide variety of important ideas
Move across the country – or, how sadness and poor choices will continue to follow you, no matter how far you go
You Want to Know What Plays Are Like? – my other favorite, this blurs together expectations about theater and how difficult parts of family history can’t be escaped, in art or in real life
the poem – okay, I’ve read and written a lot of poetry, but I’ve got to say, the rhyming and meter and inflection in this piece are among the best I’ve read in a very long time. And on top of it, this wacky poem manages to tell an entire story as well, in a sort of sing-song that even further heightens the story
The Average of All Possible Things – when an average girl with an average life and an average job has a rough breakup, but admitting things aren’t quite average is a little too hard
More of the You That You Already Are – another case of the absurd premise with serious underpinnings: a guy who plays Chester A. Arthur at a theme park based on US presidents, whose park is being taken over by some misguided scientists, but who also has a sister with cancer who he cares very deeply about
We will be close on Friday 18 July – takes a typo on a sign and turns it into a sort of wistful musing on what could have been. A fittingly melancholy conclusion to this collection.
“A statue isn’t built from the ground up–it’s chiseled out of a block of marble–and I often wonder if we aren’t likewise shaped by the qualities we lack, outlined by the empty space where the marble used to be. I’ll be sitting on a train. I’ll be lying awake in bed. I’ll be watching a movie; I’ll be laughing. And then, all of a sudden, I’ll be struck by the paralyzing truth: It’s not what we do that makes us who we are. It’s what we don’t do that defines us.”
“You did it kind of as a joke and kind of for real, the way eighteen-year-olds do everything.”
“FACT: The things that are the most important aren’t shared; they are important only to us…No one can ever really understand the tangle of experiences and passions that make you who you are. It’s a secret collection, a private language, a pebble in your pocket that you play with when you’re anxious, hard as geometry, smooth as soap.”
“‘Fine!’ she said. ‘Enjoy your fucking married life with your fucking husband and your fucking house in the fucking suburbs with your fucking white fucking picket fucking fence fucking fucking.'”
“I loved Mutt, in that way that you love something when you’re at a place in your life when you’re ready to love something and there’s a thing there that you can love.”
“If ends are encoded in every beginning, we wonder,
then what is the point?”
“One night at a bar, you pick up a hobby of a person that somehow grows into a habit–a person whose flaws sparkle off yours in glorious coruscating patterns; a person who gets to know not just the you you sometimes show, but the you you truly are; a person who–when you weren’t looking–slipped a naked, wounded heart into the pocket of your jacket with a bow and a note that said, ‘handle with care.'”
“It turns out making an asshole a president just means you end up with an asshole president. Probably could’ve guessed that–being president doesn’t change you, not really; it just brings out more of the you that you already are.”
“He used to call her a koala because of the way she wrapped herself around him in bed, like a koala on a branch. She had wrapped her whole life around him, like a koala on a branch. And now the branch was gone and Lucinda had to deal with the fact that her life was now wrapped around nothing–which of course was all perfectly normal. All the pain Lucinda now felt was normal. The emptiness was normal. The harsh incinerating b boring awful raw barren obsessive numb five-hundred-volt nothingness now completely consuming her was so totally average.”
“A poem’s a thing that is hard to pin down, though the words
pile up in your head.
A person’s a thing that is tricky to read, but it’s trickier
yet to feel read.”
Tl;dr – shut up, drop what you’re doing, and read this book right now.
It’s just that good. If you’re single and content, if you’re stressed about dating, if you’re in a happy relationship, if you’re struggling with family issues, if you love dogs…this book has something relatable for everyone, no matter how happy or sad or loveless or in love you are. Just go ahead and dive in.