Dirtbag, Massachusetts

Mari Rey’s Rating: 2.5/5

New York Times Bestseller, Isaac Fitzgerald’s memoir Dirtbag, Massachusetts is filled with essays that make your head spin. From a less than perfect childhood to joining the Free Burma Rangers (“FBR”), his life is complex and riddled with stories of turning to alcohol to numb the pain he’s carried his entire life.

Fitzgerald’s escape from a tortured home life to private school is the first time he feels free. It is this sense of liberation that makes him crave keeping a safe distance from home. He takes you on his journey into young adulthood in San Francisco, seeking purpose in Burma, and coming full circle by moving closer to home as he starts healing from his childhood trauma.  

I purchased this book while in Portland back in December and wanted to learn more about Fitzgerald as he struggled to find himself outside of his parents’ trauma that so deeply wounded him, leading to a young adult who struggled to find a sense of purpose.  

I was compelled to read this book, since I struggled with anger issues too and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms because of my father’s alcoholism and the violence that plagued our family when he drank. The page-turning revelations fell short and seemed far-fetched as his essays delved into outlandish experiences.

As an adult child of an alcoholic (ACoA), I think this book missed the mark as it only scratched the surface of the trauma that one carries and struggles to shake as we age and learn to process the pain. The parts of the book that I enjoyed most were the beginning as he gave us glimpses of his childhood and the ending where he divulged more about his parents’ and how their mental illness and substance abuse shaped him.

The middle of the book was less than lackluster. Some of his experiences seemed outrageous and it was hard to fathom that a young man living in San Francisco would have so much happen to him in a few short months of living in the city.  He found refuge at bars, which was compelling only in the fact that the lifelong marathon he has been running to avoid turning out like either one of his parents had only led him to struggle with the same problems they had.

That is the thing with ACoA’s. We try to run away from our past, try to outrun the childhood that haunts us, and try to fight at all costs to avoid turning out like our abusive addict parent(s). Ultimately, we end up at the same starting line they did, fighting the same demons. It is a never-ending cycle until you seek the help that can help you cope with your difficult childhood and more complicated adult life.

Fitzgerald’s early twenties were colorful as he worked bar jobs to keep a roof over his head and just so happened to stumble into the porn industry on accident, all the while struggling  through relationship to relationship, ultimately finding family in likeminded humans that helped guide him into the next phase of his life. As he’s aged, he still finds refuge at bars, which is disappointing to hear. All his wild stories involved his use of alcohol. It was written in the pages of his book that he too may use alcohol as a coping mechanism to escape the anguish of his life.

This memoir may not be my cup of tea, but I am confident that his audience found his essays compelling. One thing is for sure, Isaac Fitzgerald has led a very interesting life, albeit far-fetched, the candor in which he uses to describe his twisted messy life will keep you hooked while you turn the page.


Mari Rey’s Rating: 2.5/5