Dirtbag Massachusetts: A Confessional by Isaac Fitzgerald. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022. 240 pages. $16.73, paperback.

As someone who lives off of Dunkin Donuts coffee and constantly smells like smoke, I felt it was my duty to do a write up on Isaac Fitzgerald’s 2022 memoir “Dirtbag Massachusetts”. This collection of chaotic and wonderfully crafted essays takes us through the interconnected chapters and spaces of Fitzgerald’s life: a Boston homeless shelter, a Catholic confessional booth, a boy’s boarding school dormitory, a BDSM porn compound, a San Francisco biker bar, a FBR (Free Burma Rangers) storehouse. In each of these essays Fitzgerald grapples with the question of what it means to try to do and be good in the face of pain and a fear that you and your body are an unsolvable problem.

If I’m being honest I had my reservations about this book and mainly picked it up because it had stamps of approval from authors who I respect and trust. Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by books about white men finding meaning and being labeled as geniuses for their narratives. Yet so many of their narratives fail to fully interrogate the systems which act upon our world and how other people are affected by those systems. This book doesn’t make that mistake. Instead it gives us an honest account of the human truths that are hardest for us to deal with. Good people can fuck up in some pretty major ways. It’s easy to self-medicate when you don’t know how to deal with yourself. The people who you love the most are often the ones most capable of causing you the deepest pain. 

Though there are plenty of lines in this memoir which will stay with me, the one I feel best encapsulates this book is, “Which is to say, some days you are happy to be alive, and you know you’ll never forget the feeling or lose the knack. And other days you do forget; you do lose it. Nothing happens in order, and you have to do it over and over again” (p. 61). We learn, we grow, we move forward, and we backtrack. This memoir serves as a reminder that life isn’t linear and all we can do is show up for each other in the ways we know how. If that’s something you feel like you need to hear or if you just want a funny, thoughtful memoir with some light insurance fraud go put “Dirtbag Massachusetts” on your summer reading list.