Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
My rating: 4/5 cats
i snatched this arc up because Raphael Bob-Waksberg is the creator of bojack horseman. i like my entertainment to be on the sadder side of the emotional spectrum, and bojack is the saddest show on television. do not come at me waving your this is us/million little things banners, because you’re not winning this one – between the writing, the vocal talents, and whatever the tragic analogue to comedic timing is, bojack’s got the trophy for ‘saddest’ sewn up. and i know it takes several villages to create a teevee show, and sometimes their creators’ll create a thing and then wander off to go create another thing, leaving the showrunners in charge of all that follows, but i was confident that this guy’s sensibilities would make for some short stories that would kick me in my feelingparts.
and i was not disappointed.
no, wait, actually, at first, i WAS disappointed. here’s the thing – my looking-back sense of this book as a whole is very positive. however, the second half of the collection was stronger than the first, and it took me a while to start digging it.
i am telling you this because i always feel compelled to review short story collections piece by piece because my life is full of poor time-management decisions, so, if you are reading this (because YOUR life is full of poor time-management decisions), you may read my mini-reviews of the early stories and too-hastily conclude, “oh, so this is a collection of meh stories,” but you would be as wrong in thinking this as you would be in thinking that this is us compares to a bojack in terms of its searing heartblistering devastation — i.e. very wrong.
so to begin:
the first two are pretty much throwaway pieces. not that they aren’t enjoyable, but they are very brief ( < 2 pages) nonstories
Salted Circus Cashews, Swear to God
this isn’t really a story so much as it is a thematic introduction; the risk v. reward of romantic relationships factor heavily in this collection, in which vulnerability is a recurring factor.
love is one of those trust falls that will most certainly make a fool out of you, but what if, comes the whisper, the slick devil persuasion, what if it’s different this time?
the symbolism is kind of fucking genius – using the olde snake in a can gag to invoke those tremulous ‘once bitten, twice shy’ beginning stages of any relationship; all the promises – This time there is no snake waiting, but there’s also an insidious underlayer of salesmanship to the pitch – a “you know you want to” invitation to open that can that invokes a different snake – the one whose persuasive talents led to that very first couple’s very first discord and therefore responsible for every breakup ever.
all in under 2 pages.
so – will you or won’t you? do you dare?
SIDENOTE – i also really like the playfulness with fonts that occurs in this story and several others throughout the collection. it’s weird and wonky and fun.
a series of ten… what to call these? too long to be epigrams, not didactic enough to be aphorisms, too interconnected to be flash fiction, too bleak to be greeting cards.
let’s call them bojack outtakes, because this:
7. “I don’t even think about you,” he couldn’t wait to tell her, just as soon as she called him back.
calls to mind the sulking huff of a very drunk horse, and
6. “I never thought I could be this happy,” she imagined one day saying to someone.
gives me the same sobbing-heart feelings as most of princess caroline’s storylines.
okay, and now the “real” stories begin. i very much liked those first two pieces, but they were too short to really stick in my reader-craw. i spent much more time writing those words and looking for those pictures just now than i did reading the stories in the first place, once again proving that all my time management decisions are bad ones. no more pictures!
A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion
unfortunately, this one didn’t wow me. it’s a fine story, but as the first long piece in the book, i needed a bigger hook to land me. it’s a solid three
star; it’s well-constructed and the lampooning of wedding culture is probably really enjoyable for readers who have gone through the experience themselves or have been to more than two weddings in the past 15 years. it just didn’t inspire any strong feelings in me one way or another, even though i do appreciate all the splattery goat-slaughter parts. is it weird that i relate to that more than i relate to a wedding ceremony? should i bother unpacking that or would that be another one of those wastes of time? self-scrutiny = always a waste! moving on!
i promise you, my feelings for this book WILL skew positive. just not yet. this one seemed like another little throwaway piece and in fact it originally appeared on craigslist in the missed connections section. coming across it there, i think i would have been more delighted. its placement here, at the start of what is already a fairly shaky collection, is less so. it’s a cute modern prufrockian urban love story about a love that coulda been, but again – it’s very brief (a full FOUR pages this time) and i haven’t been landed yet. but i’m going to be landed – you’ll see.
The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks ★★★☆☆
okay, it’s not this one, but again, this is a good story – it’s sweet and nostalgic and perfectly fine and relatable – especially for someone who has lived and loved all over NYFC and understands perfectly how many places are past-haunted and inspire flashback montages of happy and crappy romances. it just didn’t give me anything i hadn’t encountered elsewhere in my reading life. decent story, no fireworks.
We Men of Science
this is the one i liked the least. i know – so far this review is a drag, but right now we are only on page 45 and there are more than 200 pages to go and soon you’ll forget all about these iffy ones just like i did. this one has fun doodles, including CATS! but it’s also a sci-fi-lite story with alternate realities and, i guess, multiple ways to screw up your relationships. perfectly acceptable as a story, just not my thing. you will probably like it more than i did because we are different people. however, this one does have one of the most bojack-y* ruminations:
Perhaps a better me would have done the right thing and left, or a worse me wouldn’t have worried about it, just indulged in the transgression, but I am only as good as I am, and I could only do what the person as good as I am could do.
A statue isn’t built from the ground up—it’s chiseled out of a block of marble—and I often wonder if we aren’t likewise shaped by the qualities we lack, outlined by the empty space where the marble used to be. I’ll be sitting on a train. I’ll be lying awake in bed. I’ll be watching a movie; I’ll be laughing. And then, all of a sudden, I’ll be struck by the paralyzing truth: It’s not what we do that makes us who we are. It’s what we don’t do that defines us.
Lies We Told Each Other (a partial list)
a bitterbleak comedy, in outline form, bullet-pointing a couple’s relationship arc—all the empty reassurances, promises, self-delusions, and gaslighting that goes into maintaining a healthy modern relationship. another brief one, but it’s astute and funny, plus it gets points for successfully suggesting the entire body of a relationship using only these skeletal snippets.
These Are Facts
i don’t know what the hell i think about this one. this is the problem with reviewing each and every story when NOBODY ASKED YOU TO. on the one hand, i’m interested enough in the characters and the situation to want to read more – like, i think i could read a whole novel with these characters, or maybe a salinger-style story cycle. on the other hand, isn’t that supposed to be one of the hallmarks of a “good” short story – that it leaves you wanting more? WWRCD? (in which RC is raymond carver, duh) i don’t know – i still feel like a short story dummy in many ways, as far as what they are “supposed” to “do” and what i, as a reader, am meant to “get” out of them. i liked a lot of moments in this story, i folded over a few pages because of an especially lovely turn of phrase or insight, but i’m not sure what, if anything, it left me with. for a story that ends with the words Yeah. I know, i really really don’t.
Lunch with the Person Who Dumped You
another little bitty comedic interlude of a story. it’s that thing when you’re meeting someone for dinner but you’re hungry NOW and you shove whatever’s handy into your face to tide you over and it’s not that you don’t enjoy the eating of it but you’re really ready for dinner to happen.
this is dinner happening. this is the story that started turning it around for me. fun fact: i don’t usually love dog-voiced stories, but this one made me smile and got me all soft in the heart. in a book filled with love stories, this one–about the waxing and waning of a human romance seen through the fuzzy filter of doggy-understanding — this is the one that got me a little choked up.
ManMonster scratches my back and he makes a noise like, “Rufus rufus rufus.” And I know that noise “Rufus” can mean many things. Sometimes “Rufus” means “I am happy to see you” and sometimes it means “I am upset,” and this time I discern that it means both things at once.
he is Goodog.
Rules for Taboo
another tiny (3-page) story, but coming as it did after a GREAT story, i was more pleasantly disposed towards it. on the one hand, this story is an instruction-booklet for how to play the board game taboo. on the other hand, it’s an instruction-booklet for why couples shouldn’t play games, in mixed company, that encourage the sharing of personal history because what begins as an innocent night of fun can quickly turn into an airing of grievances and too much insight into a relationship’s stress fractures.
this one is the one. my favorite. it has so much energy and is so much fun. it’s one of the longest ones in the collection (it might even be the longest – it’s either this or the penultimate story, but i REFUSE to do any math/research into the matter because i am LEARNING how to be more judicious about my time expenditures – have you even NOTICED the lack of pictures?)
if you know me, you might think it is strange that my favorite story in this collection is about the exploits of a rock band who are also superheroes. i know me and i think it is strange, but it is more about the very small and ordinary human things that are happening underneath all the flash and glamor of being in a rock band and being superheroes and it is deeply moving and sweet in its most quietly uneventful moments and it got me all over. this isn’t true spoiler, but it is a maybe-spoiler to someone because it is the end of the story. it doesn’t, you know, reveal the name of the murderer or anything. also, spoiler alert, there isn’t a murderer.
i just liked it. so i typed it.View Spoiler » I remember one time I asked Iris if she was afraid to die. This was when we were trapped in the Man-Pig Pit of Dimension K and it really looked like we might not make it home. Iris said, afraid or not, it didn’t really matter. That the thing about death is that it’s terrifying and overwhelming and it can happen at any moment. And when we’re confronted with death we can either be cowardly or we can be brave, but either way we’re going to die, so…
And I thought, Whoa, that’s dark.
But here I was, sitting in my childhood bedroom with a guitar. The Up-and-comers were over and done with and it was just Lizzy and me and it was the afternoon and it was summer in Tulsa and Lizzy was lying on my bed, looking as calm and beautiful as I had ever seen her, and she was asking me to play her something I had written.
And I thought about how, actually, if you wanted to, you could say the same thing about life. That life is terrifying and overwhelming and it can happen at any moment. And when you’re confronted with life you can either be cowardly or you can be brave, but either way you’re going to live.
So you might as well be brave.
« Hide Spoiler
Move across the country
another l’il shorty: 2 pages, second-person, a short sad circle about the self-defeating patterns of behavior in a depressive cycle – recognizing the ways in which it causes relationships to end but unable to avoid it happening again and again – but maybe it will be different this time.
snakes rattling in a can.
You Want to Know What Plays Are Like?
i did not think i was going to like this one. it seemed gimmicky – ANOTHER second person pov, right on the heels of the ministory preceding it, plus a theater-focus, but then it really expanded into something… else and became a funny-sad little powerbomb of a story, one of the strongest in the collection.
I TOLD YOU IT WAS GOING TO GET BETTER! are you still here? probably not, but that’s fine, now i can just talk about you behind your back.
i don’t have any feelings about this one, but i will say that he manages his rhyme scheme and scansion much better than lang leav ever has.
The Average of All Possible Things
yes, this one YEEEEESSSSSSSS!! sooo, this one maybe hit a little too close to home. not necessarily the details, but the feels. like lucinda, i am regular, and average, and boring, and fine. and my life and opportunities and expectations?
Everything was beige, and stucco, and fine.
and all the other stuff?
The truth was Lucinda never even wanted to work there in the first place; she just kind of fell into the position, the same way she seemed to always just kind of fall into everything. A person as unexceptional as Lucinda doesn’t live a life as much as a life just floods in around her, filling up whatever empty space a life should be occupying.
that’s me in a nutshell these days. i’m not proud of this wallow, but things in my life are still trending sour. (since you’re not here anymore, i feel okay about being a little confessional and self-pitying) this story described so many of my moods, i just had to love it.
More of the You That You Already Are
FRANKLIN PIERCE IS MENTIONED IN THIS STORY.
that is all.
We will be close on Friday 18 July
aaaaand the book closes with a one-page downer of a story. which is the perfect way to end a book. this book, any book.
so you see – (not that you are still here to see) – now that i have finished reviewing this, i’ve already forgotten reviewing, let alone reading the earlier, less-satisfying stories, and i’m left with an overall glow of appreciation for this book.
and maybe you have saved a life or birthed a baby or prevented a crime and made a more lasting contribution to the world in the time it took me to self-indulgently prattle on about all of my thoughts and feels about some short stories, but iiiii did all this while wearing a onesie with a monkey on it, so i win the cozy trophy.
* bojack the show. this feel more like a diane moment. HOLY SHIT I JUST REALIZED WHAT A NERD I AM!