Published December 2012
The Sordid Secrets of a Foolish Heart
by alison ross
All hearts are foolish, but perhaps Davy Rothbart's heart is a special kind of foolish. After all, throughout my perusal of his latest book of essays, I kept muttering to myself, "This dude is kind of an idiot." And then after each irascible mumble, I would have a "D'oh!" moment, recall the title of his book (My Heart is an Idiot) and red-facedly realize that maybe the joke's on me. Clearly Rothbart had good reason for the title of his collection.
Plus, it's an interesting irony that someone who enjoys spying on others' emotional secrets via his Found Magazine findings, is now inviting us to eavesdrop on his own heart's antics. That way, one supposes, he looks less hypocritical. After all, he could be accused of cheap voyeurism with Found, but laying bare one's own private upheavals takes testes.
But certainly Rothbart's flamboyant escapades and colorful characters as narrated and meticulously described in these pieces are embellished - products of liberal poetic license? I find it hard to believe that that his life is that outrageously animated. But maybe that's jealousy talking. Maybe I just wish my life were so chaotically enthralling too.
Rothbart's essays focus on specific events in his life and how he has attempted to navigate them. Of course, most of his stories involve love interests in one way or another, hence the "heart" in the title. The "idiot" part comes from his inability to find lasting love because of how, through a cursed immaturity, he continually fucks things up.
Though we do empathize with Rothbart's experiences, especially when he has his heart in the right place and things still go badly for him, other times we are revolted by his actions, because he seems, in a word, heartless. We empathize with him, for example, when he travels to see a former love interest in hopes of rekindling the flame. She rudely rebuffs him and he takes it hard, though he makes new friends in the process. In fact, these friends are the most intriguing and invigorating characters in the entire collection, and the climax of the story heartfelt and genuine.
But in other essays, he describes incidents where he's disloyal to his girlfriend of the moment and seems only casually ashamed, and even callously dismissive of his infidelities. Doesn't Rothbart learn from his puerile misadventures? He may concede to his heartlessness in denigrating himself as "sociopathic," but does he truly mean it? His tone skates the line between disingenuousness and sincerity. It's almost as though, at times, Rothbart yearns for understanding, and others, he's asking us to bask in his narcissistic self-loathing. Perhaps an apt subtitle to the book would be "And My Soul is Ambivalent."
"New York, New York" proves the most tender and universal of Rothbart's pieces. The others touch on universal themes, naturally, but here Rothbart shows remarkable pathos and admirable ability to transcend the pedestrian and platitudinal in this meditative piece about September 11th.
These are wildly entertaining essays, and the humor both delicate and brash. They invite nostalgic reminiscing about your own life, as you find parallels with Rothbart's experiences. You also begin to crave a more exhilarating existence after reading Rothbart's lavish pieces. If only Rothbart's intermittent immaturity did not mar his progress toward a more enlightened path in matters of love. But then again, that's likely precisely the point: to expose his secrets so brutally that through public humiliation, maybe he will reach some sort of redemption, and quit being so damn foolish.