The co-founder of The Toast and Slate advice columnist demonstrates his impressive range in this new collection.
In a delightful hybrid of a book—part memoir, part collection of personal essays, part extended riff on pop culture—Ortberg (The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, 2018, etc.) blends genres with expert facility. The author’s many fans will instantly recognize his signature style with the title of the first chapter: “When You Were Younger and You Got Home Early and You Were the First One Home and No One Else Was Out on the Street, Did You Ever Worry That the Rapture Had Happened Without You? I Did.” Those long sentences and goofy yet sharp sense of humor thread together Ortberg’s playful takes on pop culture as he explores everything from House Hunters to Golden Girls to Lord Byron, Lacan, and Rilke. But what makes these wide-ranging essays work as a coherent collection are the author’s poignant reflections on faith and gender. Since publishing his last book, Ortberg has come out as trans, and he offers breathtaking accounts of his process of coming to terms with his faith and his evolving relationships with the women in his life. The chapter about coming out to his mother, framed as a version of the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, is just as touching as a brief miniplay entitled, “The Matriarchs of Avonlea Begrudgingly Accept Your Transition.” Throughout, Ortberg’s writing is vulnerable but confident, specific but never narrow, literal and lyrical. The author is refreshingly unafraid of his own uncertainty, but he’s always definitive where it counts: “Everyone will be reconciled through peace and pleasure who can possibly stand it. If you don’t squeeze through the door at first, just wait patiently for Heaven to grind you into a shape that fits.”
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, often both at once. Everyone should read this extraordinary book.