I’ve Been Wrong Before: Essays

Atria. Mar. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781501199646. $17. SOC SCI
James follows up his debut novel, Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe, with a collection of heart-wrenching, hilarious, and provocative essays. “Lovers’ Theme” is set against the backdrop of the San Francisco drag scene and offers glimpses into key themes of the collection: sexual identity, anxiety, grief, memory, and the relentless abutting of the social, political, professional, and sexual roles we all play. In “The Land of Sweets,” the author’s exchanges with a Disney Princess-obsessed coworker at first seem to serve as a way of juxtaposing his anxiety against an optimistic person’s life; the essay takes a sharp turn, though, revealing aspects of grief and self-preservation that happen behind the scenes as people are forced to pretend they’re fine while “grieving in shifts.” James explores the problem of struggling to maintain “philosophical amusement” in dark situations and the problematic messiness of memory, despite (or perhaps because of) social norms designed around preserving “Kodak moments.”
VERDICT This is a profoundly moving book that doesn’t let up and is well worth the emotion it is sure to engender in readers.

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