Seriocomic tales of the author’s recovery from a host of bad habits, including drinking, false friends, bad relationships and politics.
New York Times contributor Kreider (Twilight of the Assholes, 2011, etc.) gained a cult following for drawing cartoons that were fiercely critical of the George W. Bush administration, but these essays reflect an urge to detox from things that used to make his blood run hot. For instance, he attends a Tea Party rally but takes pains not to get too riled up, and he recalls one alcoholic friend who routinely deceived him, but mostly frames him as gentle and charming. This kind of emotional poise doesn’t come naturally to Kreider, and the best essays chronicle his emotional and intellectual struggle to temper anger and heartbreak into (at least) stoicism. In the collection’s finest essay, “Escape From Pony Island,” he recalls how a friendship with a self-declared intellectual heavyweight went sour over “peak oil” theory, laying out his friend’s frustrating behavior but also identifying how his own intellectual shortcomings helped sink the relationship. Kreider sets up most of these essays as humor pieces. In “The Referendum,” he boggles at the idea of raising a child—or rather, having “a small rude incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life”—and cartoons depicting him and his friends as rubber-faced and careworn support the knowing, self-critical tone. However, none of the essays are lighthearted shtick, and Kreider closes with three essays that are softer and more nuanced, addressing a friend undergoing a male-to-female sex change, reading Tristram Shandy with his ailing mother and finally meeting his two half sisters in his 40s. Though the author occasionally labors to balance compassion and laughs, his sincerity is always evident.
Earnest, well-turned personal essays about screw-ups without an ounce of sanctimony—a tough trick.