As it stands in the current state of the world, we’re forced to severely curb physical human interaction. Without school to attend to, it’s easy to forget about the relationships we have made and could make through meeting people every day. It’s good to remind ourselves of these relationships by contacting friends and family or having company online. Along with these methods, I’ve reminded myself of these relationships with a book.
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory is an anthology of 18 vignettes and short stories by Raphael Bob-Waksberg of Bojack Horseman fame. To fans of Bojack who are familiar with Bob-Waksberg’s brand of wry humor with emotional filling, the above information is all they need to know to sink their teeth in his literary debut. I went in expecting something great, and for the most part, it hasn’t let me down.
If the title wasn’t any indication, the book is about, well, love (or, as the book’s cover blurb puts it, “the best and worst thing in the universe”). The 18 stories span across different human relationships, each approaching the subject with sardonic wit and flair for the experimental. Though the writing hinges heavily on a caustic and absurdist sense of humor, it does so to reach its emotional core. Perhaps that’s why the book opens with “Salted Circus Cashews, Swear to God,” a story of a date gone awry when a man gives a woman a can of cashews whose print reassures her that “there certainly isn’t a fake snake wrapped around a spring that will jump out and startle you.” The words then segue into an introspection about the decaying trust for people that comes with love, all the while the text slowly shrinks into the size of nutritional information on a can of nuts. In just two pages it was weird enough to make me want more, and I was in luck because In All Your Damaged Glory is chock-full of this stuff.
Almost every story has a propensity to be weird, either in format or in narrative. This is made apparent early on with “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,” a story that takes playful jabs at the absurdity of wedding traditions with its worldbuilding. In it, a couple faces resistance when they plan a nontraditional wedding, struggling with tried traditions such as the “Dance of the Cuckolded Woodland Sprite” or a “Shrieking Chorus” to start the “Weeping and Flailing and Shouting of Lamentations.” Then there are stories that deliver through formal subversions, such as the memories of multiple failed relationships disguised as a travel guide of New York, a simple list of fibs told between a couple that tells a heavier truth, and a mutated ruleset of the game Taboo. They’re all as disparate as they’re amusing to read. Unfortunately, it’s also in these shorter, more “gimmicky” stories that one may see the weakest links. Some of the vignettes rely too much on their structural gimmick to truly stand out.
Once you get past all that, however, you’ll find that it’s in the longer entries where the book truly shines. In casual prose, they take their time with their concepts without sacrificing the tenderness of their ruminations. For instance, the kind of larger-than-life struggles one would expect from the “Up-and-Comers,” the story of an indie-rock-band-turned-superhero-team, don’t detract from the beauty and ugliness of the ordinary humanity underneath it all. Taking center stage is an intimate timeline of drunken bouts and the fallout of relationships with a villain-blasting backdrop. It’s a sobering account of the reality of moving on in life.
The more grounded pieces in the collection are as, if not more, powerful as its high concept colleagues. These stories are where the book’s bittersweet illos come in full force. They possess not so much as a pretense of humor. They are as stark as a girl trying to understand her estranged stepbrother on a family trip in “These are Facts,” or deeply personal trauma and guilt from loss laid bare in a theater production in “You Want to Know What Plays Are like?”
Even with its ironic and playful sense of humor, In All Your Damaged Glory delivers with a surprising sincerity to arrive at some emotional truth. Sometimes those deliveries miss, bogged down by gimmicky prose that overstays their welcome. But when they hit, they hit hard enough to make the entire book worth it. They hit hard enough to remind us of the hurt that is love in any form, be it an old date or a friend you haven’t talked to in years. It does what a good book does and reminds you in these trying times that the connections you made are irreplaceable.
Plus, it’s just a pretty funny book.