As with Ess’s various other personae (she’s published under quite a few pseudonyms over the years), Darryl’s is balanced precariously between the languid and the intensive, between a desire to poke and prod at orthodoxy and a blanket good faith so unshakeable that it’s almost scary ... There’s no wink here, though Darryl is a relentlessly funny book ... Darryl is unmissable. It’s so unmissable I almost want to tell you its unexpected ending—but I won’t ... you’d better hurry up to devour Darryl before [Ess's next novel] comes out. You might get caught blindfolded, staring at a locked bedroom door, while inside, someone’s reading the copy of this smoking hot novel that should have been intended for you—denying you all that pleasure, all those delightful words.
... wild unpredictability ... this book that’s unlike any other. Imagine if Chuck Palahniuk was a woman with a sense of humor about it, or if Chad Kultgen was less interested in heterosexuality. A novel in the tradition of disaffected white men who are weird about sex ... I don’t know how else to talk about this book. It’s written like a diary, Darryl spilling his guts out to you, but like any self-involved diarist, he is the most unreliable of narrators. It brushes up against Dennis Cooper’s 'The Sluts,' one of the most daring unreliably narrated novels in recent history, making that world of hustlers and the men who review them on messageboards close enough to touch. This novel uses a deadpan, reasonable, low-key tone to explore utterly unhinged concepts, wholly deranged rationales, in a dizzying whirl of subcultures and ideals and catastrophic decisions and their consequences.
I honestly don't think I've ever read anything funnier. Comedy, the kind that gets you laughing til your eyes water, the kind that gives you the hiccups, is a really difficult thing to do in a novel. I think I've only read a handful of books that really nail it. So many little things have to be right for it to work, and Darryl delivers the whole kit and kaboodle ... Jackie Ess takes her characters seriously. She gives Darryl all the room in the world to make a fool of himself, but she never sneers at him, never hides behind cynicism. And it's thanks to that that we're able to glimpse what he sees, for a moment. From start to finish, there's never any doubt that what Darryl's doing matters, that he's looking for something real, even if he can't put his finger on it, that he's digging for fire ... Darryl's narration is reflective and searching, spoken by someone still in the thick of things ... It may seem to veer close to cringe comedy, at times, but the book has a way of remaining warm and scornless. And unlike cringe comedy, Darryl's humiliations invite us in. They disarm us ... His meditative moments intensify the action, deepening its meaning and mystery. These are real stakes he's playing for ... Darryl is a character who will be living in your head for years ... there's so much of Jackie in this book! ... her sense of humour, her searching seriousness, and the brilliance that comes through in just about everything she touches.
As a literary endeavour, Darryl is simultaneously polished and uneasy, making strategic use of glibness as a sign that something dangerous is being glided past. It’s often hilariously cutting at the expense of the sexual subcultures it ranges across, in the sorts of ways that this cishet reader would have felt guilty about enjoying if he were into feeling guilty about enjoying things. (The chapter on the ‘trans flat’ was brutally funny, but only a trans author could possibly have gotten away with writing it.) But I found it most interesting in its eschewal of melancholy, its use of Darryl’s primary ontological instability as a way of shucking off the twin narrative temptations of nostalgia and closure. Most iterations of the ‘trickster’ archetype have a self-congratulatory aspect: they picture a figure who successfully puts one over on the world, dancing around its snares and evading its tedium. Darryl introduces a genuinely novel figure: a chaos-agent who is at every turn a loser, on whom the world continually puts one over, but whose very passivity is explosively charged.