“Inspiring, tragic, and at times heart-rendingly funny.” —People
Unsentimental, unexpectedly funny, and incredibly honest, Tragedy Plus Time is a love letter to every family that has ever felt messy, complicated, or (even momentarily) magnificent.
Meet the Magnificent Cayton-Hollands, a trio of brilliant, acerbic teenagers from Denver, Colorado, who were going to change the world. Anna, Adam, and Lydia were taught by their father, a civil rights lawyer, and mother, an investigative journalist, to recognize injustice and have their hearts open to the universe—the good, the bad, the heartbreaking (and, inadvertently, the anxiety-inducing and the obsessive-compulsive disorder-fueling).
Adam chose to meet life’s tough breaks and cruel realities with stand-up comedy; his older sister, Anna, chose law; while their youngest sister, Lydia, struggled to find her place in the world. Beautiful and whip-smart, Lydia was witty, extremely sensitive, fiercely stubborn, and always somewhat haunted. She and Adam bonded over comedy from a young age, running skits in their basement and obsessing over episodes of The Simpsons.
When Adam sunk into a deep depression in college, it was Lydia who was able to reach him and pull him out. But years later as Adam’s career takes off, Lydia’s own depression overtakes her, and, though he tries, Adam can’t return the favor. When she takes her own life, the family is devastated, and Adam throws himself into his stand-up, drinking, and rage. He struggles with disturbing memories of Lydia’s death and turns to EMDR therapy to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder when he realizes there’s a difference between losing and losing it.
Adam Cayton-Holland is a tremendously talented writer and comedian, uniquely poised to take readers to the edges of comedy and tragedy, brilliance and madness. Tragedy Plus Time is a revelatory, darkly funny, and poignant tribute to a lost sibling that will have you reaching for the phone to call your brother or sister by the last page.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Comedian Adam Cayton-Holland's tragicomic memoir chronicles his childhood and his early years on the stand-up circuit—and the shadow cast by his younger sister Lydia's suicide. Staying true to the aphorism that provides the book's title (“comedy is tragedy plus time”), Cayton-Holland leavens his grief with jokes that may hit a raw nerve for readers with fresh emotional wounds of their own. But that dark humor, like the book’s more poignant moments, is clearly rooted in a deep wellspring of familial love. Those who cope with emotional burdens by making light of them will find Cayton-Holland a kindred spirit.
Self-mockery and true pathos make for a powerful mixture in this nuanced memoir about a comedian's alternately blessed and crushingly tragic family history. At first, it seems like there's little about Cayton-Holland's life that would evoke sympathy: raised in Denver by a pair of idealistic parents, the author and his two sisters (whom he refers to as the "Magnificent Cayton-Hollands") come off as a family that makes others envious, overflowing as they are with well-nurtured talent and densely layered inside jokes. Cayton-Holland is a costar and cocreator of the sitcom Those Who Can't, and the book opens with a scene of his L.A. showbiz success that feels almost scripted. But while he and one of his sisters found professional success (the sister is a lawyer), their younger sister Lydia struggled with mental illness. Visiting home after a work trip to Montreal, Cayton-Holland checked on Lydia; when she didn't answer her phone the next morning, he drove to her house and discovered that she had killed herself. Cayton-Holland's wry and wiry voice here elegantly transitions from half-cynical stand-up pose to thoughtful interpretation of the contradictions of grief ("I like to remember her constantly; I try not to think of her at all") without losing a beat. This is a vivid and heartbreaking account of two bright lives, one blessed with hard-fought success and one cut painfully short.
Please, stop feeding the narcissist.
Finally, the tragedy that Adam always needed in order to justify his unjustifiable brooding and narcissism against his lifetime of excessive privilege and inheritance. He was quoted in The Atlantic as saying, “Maybe this was her gift to me.” How fitting that the book he always wanted to write would ultimately be a wild capitalization upon the loss of his little sister. Disgusting.