Chirpy, largely forgettable essays on relationships.
Joseph (Creative Writing/Minnesota State Univ., Mankato) assumes a kind of Everywoman tone in these vignettes about the men in her life. There are moments of sharp, biting prose, especially in the first essay, “Tongue Twister, Tongue Tied,” in which her father—a kind of chain-smoking Ralph Cramden who rarely wore a shirt and referred to her brothers as “assholes”—lectures the author as a young girl about sex only once, offering advice on promiscuity (“when a girl goes with this one, and then with that one, and then with that one over there, and with who knows how many others, what happens is people start to talk”). The first man who swept her off her feet was a hapless older demolition-derby racer (“Love in the Age of Ick”) who called her Momma and wanted to fatten her up to increase her “rack.” “Did I really love him,” wonders Joseph, “or did I just hate myself?” In “What’s (Not) Simple,” she delineates her relationship with her first husband, Karl Bennett, a man twice-divorced, 20 years her elder and with a daughter three years younger than she: “I sort of suspected he had some weird ideas about what a woman’s place might be.” Regardless, they married when she was six months pregnant; the product of that ill-starred union is called “the boy” in subsequent essays. He was born on Hitler’s birthday, had “trench foot” because he rarely took baths or changed socks, stayed indoors to play video games and held alarming political opinions. Nonetheless, Joseph assures us he was adorable. Her frank character portraits flay her subjects as blithely as herself—for example, her friend Andrew Boyle must have been a pervert because he took “art photos” of his naked girlfriends (“It’s Me. It’s Him. It’s Them”), and the hard-drinking English chair at the university where she taught routinely insulted her when drunk (“Lighten Up”). The low-key approach often veers into flat-footed, hackneyed prose.
Well-meaning and obviously cathartic, but hardly transformative.