What do Joyce Carol Oates, snotty bloggers, right-wing radio freaks and a VH-1 reality show have in common? They all get on this author’s nerves—and thank goodness.
In his cult memoir Candyfreak (2004), Almond portrayed himself as a goofy and affable obsessive, a sweets nut willing to do anything within his considerable journalistic powers to track down the perfect piece of chocolate. With his first collection of nonfiction essays, he takes on a darker, funnier, more mature persona: still affable and obsessive, but far less goofy—a pop-culture-saturated intellectual, a kindly grouch, vitriolic Boston Red Sox hater, neurotic new father and Kurt Vonnegut fanatic. Actually, this project was “supposed to be about Vonnegut,” declares Almond, but “the folks at Random House…wanted a book of essays instead. So it goes.” That being the case, it’s little surprise that the chapter on Vonnegut is the collection’s deepest and most thoughtful, especially notable for its priceless recounting of a literary panel/smackdown featuring a crusty Vonnegut, a hostile Joyce Carol Oates and a vapid Jennifer Weiner (no question about whose side Almond is on). When the essayist gets around to discussing himself, he proves to be secure with his insecurities, comfortable enough with his readers to share astoundingly embarrassing events from his sexually confused adolescence, including an episode featuring his mother, a dog and a used condom. Almond has an original, fresh voice and compelling stories to share. Never the least bit pretentious, both his prose and subject matter are accessible, and his righteous indignation is as pleasant as righteous indignation can be. Whether bemoaning the inanity of reality television, justifying his love for the cheese-metal band Tesla or good-naturedly ragging on Oprah Winfrey, he scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection.
Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.