A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Memoir of the Season
A BookPage Most Anticipated Book of 2022
"Any fool can confess. It's the rare writer who reveals, and Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a heart on the sleeve, demons in check, eyes unblinking, unbearably sad, laugh-out-loud funny revelation."-MARLON JAMES, author of Moon Witch, Spider King
Isaac Fitzgerald has lived many lives. He's been an altar boy, a bartender, a fat kid, a smuggler, a biker, a prince of New England. But before all that, he was a bomb that exploded his parents' lives-or so he was told. In Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Fitzgerald, with warmth and humor, recounts his ongoing search for forgiveness, a more far-reaching vision of masculinity, and a more expansive definition of family and self.
Fitzgerald's memoir-in-essays begins with a childhood that moves at breakneck speed from safety to violence, recounting an extraordinary pilgrimage through trauma to self-understanding and, ultimately, acceptance. From growing up in a Boston homeless shelter to bartending in San Francisco, from smuggling medical supplies into Burma to his lifelong struggle to make peace with his body, Fitzgerald strives to take control of his own story: one that aims to put aside anger, isolation, and entitlement to embrace the idea that one can be generous to oneself by being generous to others.
Gritty and clear-eyed, loud-hearted and beautiful, Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a rollicking book that might also be a lifeline.
Journalist Fitzgerald (How to Be a Pirate) weaves a raucous mosaic of a rough-and-ready New England rarely seen with a transfixing story of his path to finding himself. In a series of essays, he recounts his impoverished childhood in 1980s Massachusetts and follows his escape from it through a litany of jobs and identities. In "Family Stories," he charts the "stained and tattered map" of his dysfunctional Catholic parent's lives and their bumpy road from "city poor to country poor." A poster child of the "classic New England family, incapable of discussing... things openly," Fitzgerald buried his past in drinking, drugs, and porn: "bonding relationships," he writes in "The Armory," "were based on the consumption of porn and communal jerking off." By his mid-20s, he was "on the other side" starring in pornos. As he takes readers along on his search for salvation, he barrels through many venues from San Francisco to Southeast Asia to Brooklyn to Kilimanjaro recounting the "conversations that changed me" and eventually helped him overcome old ideals of masculinity and untangle his complicity in a racist society (in his case, "hipster racism"). "To any young men out there who aren't too far gone," he writes. "I say you're not done becoming yourself." The result is a marvelous coming-of-age story that's as wily and raunchy as it is heartfelt.