A collection of personal essays by a man with a knack for stumbling into alcohol- and lust-fueled predicaments.
Rothbart (The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, 2005) is the creator of the fanzine Found Magazine, which features the provocative and poignant notes people leave in coffee shops and on sidewalks. On the evidence of these pieces, his life is similarly haphazard. In “Shade,” his pining for a woman who resembles a beloved movie character leads him to a long-distance relationship and a disastrous road trip. In “Tarantula,” a one-night stand ends with him in a swimming pool with a dead body. And in “What Are You Wearing?” a random caller becomes a regular phone-sex partner. In small doses, Rothbart’s say-yes-to-anything attitude and self-deprecating tone is entertaining and engaging. The best piece, “99 Bottles of Pee on the Wall,” tracks his obsession with a scam artist who runs a series of fraudulent literary contests; the slow burn of his outrage—and growing crush on a female author who got taken—is smartly paced, and he’s candid about his quixotic pursuit. But taken together, there’s an overall pattern to his responses that gives these essays an off-putting, manipulative aspect. Rothbart’s proclaimed modesty actually comes packaged in loads of hyperbole—every girl he falls for is the most beautiful girl in the room, every night was the most amazing night ever, every dumb drunken thing was the dumbest, most drunken thing he could have done. Such posturing makes the poignant tone of “New York, New York,” about a bus trip he took right after 9/11, feel engineered for emotional effect. And it makes a more serious work of reportage about a man he claims was wrongly convicted for murder less convincing than it should be.
Rothbart has admirable wit, but his sensitive-wiseacre persona gets repetitive.