I feel like I need to say this upfront: I think My Heart is an Idiot is one of those books you’ll either love or hate (and I suspect many of you will fall in the hate category). Because yes, Davy Rothbart’s heart is indeed an idiot. But a lot of times, it’s also an asshole (something I determined by the first essay and confirmed periodically throughout the book). The feminist in me kept going UGH, YOU’RE SUCH A JERK. Which is why, as I turned the last page, no one could have been more shocked than me to find themselves the newest member of the Davy Rothbart fan club. Seriously, who woulda thought?
The book is a collection of sixteen essays, many of which recount Rothbart’s ill-fated romances. He’s someone who falls in — and, we soon discover, out of — love easily, willing to put everything on the line in his search for The One. He’s also kind of a bonehead about it, and his work affords him many opportunities to get carried away. As a contributor to various publications, Rothbart travels a lot. He wears his heart on his sleeve, living life to the fullest and mingling with a fair share of eclectic people along the way.
But the book is called My Heart is an Idiot for a reason. Some of his great loves, no matter how ridiculous or unattainable, will probably always haunt him. One such love is Shade, a character in a movie, of whom he writes, “It’s been seventeen years since I came out of that theater, and I still compare every girl I meet to Shade.” The events in that essay themselves read like scenes from a movie: he finds his Shade and plans a road trip with her, only to dump her a few hours into the trip because she’s not Shade…but maybe that hot Mexican girl he just encountered at Subway is (see where the whole asshole thing comes in?). There’s more to the essay, including a surreal twist of events and a surprise ending, but it’s one of many in the collection that highlights some of Rothbart’s more idiotic moments.
That said, there’s a weird mix of dark humor and poignancy in his writing that made me keep reading. He’s at his best when he’s recounting the chance encounters he’s had on his unconventional journeys. One of my favorites was “What Are You Wearing,” in which he finally meets the woman he’s been having random phone sex with. In “New York, New York,” he writes about trying to get back to New York City via Greyhound on September 12, 2001, interviewing passengers on the bus and witnessing what the aftermath of September 11 brought out in people. It builds slowly and ends up being as close to perfect as an essay can possibly get. Another favorite was “The Strongest Man in the World,” about a man Rothbart knows through his work at Found magazine. The man, Byron Case, is now locked up in a maximum-security prison for a murder that he likely didn’t commit.
A lesser writer in a similar situations could not have pulled this book off. There are plenty of cocky male writers out there who celebrate their conquests and are loved by their like-minded male audiences for writing such mind-blowing, manly literature (a.k.a., books I throw against walls). Un-PC though Rothbart may be at times, he’s better than that. By a lot. His craft is amazing — I plan to buy this book for my collection just so I can have it on hand to examine whenever I want. For all of his issues in the love department, Rothbart still manages to come across as earnest almost to a fault, someone I’d want to know — though probably not date — and grab a beer with.
My Heart is an Idiot: Essays was published in September 2012 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.