Isaac Fitzgerald grabs readers’ attention with the title of his memoir—Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional—and never lets go. He’s a mesmerizing storyteller who deploys unexpected delights from his very first line: “My parents were married when they had me, just to different people.” Not only that, but they “met at divinity school, which is a pretty funny way to start an affair.”
Fitzgerald’s raucous life started in low-income housing in Boston’s South End. In the soup kitchen that he frequented, he was “surrounded by stories of the highest comedy and the deepest tragedy, by the sounds of pealing laughter and suffering silence.” True to that upbringing, he fills the 12 essays in Dirtbag, Massachusetts with heaping helpings of humor, joy, pain, sorrow, grace and insight. Throughout, Fitzgerald writes in carefully chosen prose that reveals “just enough that you know it wasn’t pretty.” The topics range from his upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church to life in an old mill town in central Massachusetts where he endured his father’s violence and his mother’s mania. Despite all of this, his parents instilled him with a deep love of literature, and his education continued when he applied to a nearby boarding school as a means of escaping his home life.
Throughout his gritty life, Fitzgerald has filled an incredible variety of roles: an often drunk, high, shoplifting teenager; a biker who found happiness working in a San Francisco bar; a relief worker in Myanmar; an actor in porn movies. More recently, he has talked books on the “Today” show and written the children’s book How to Be a Pirate. Indeed, this is a man who writes equally well about Sara Crewe, the heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, and Gavin McInnes, the founder of the neo-fascist group Proud Boys.
With Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Fitzgerald joins the ranks of some of the very best memoirists, including Tobias Wolff, Tara Westover and Dani Shapiro. This entertaining and thoughtful book reveals Fitzgerald’s talents as a master craftsman of unusual insight and will leave readers eager for more.