Although Adam Cayton-Holland’s first book is subtitled A Tragi-Comic Memoir, fans of his comedy and/or his TV show should expect little, if any, of the 'comic' part. 'A tragic memoir' doesn’t sound as zippy, but it better reflects the devastating story within Tragedy + Time: the suicide of Cayton-Holland’s younger sister and best friend, Lydia ... What follows is a memoir, as Cayton-Holland chronicles his childhood, struggles with depression and academics in college, and his comedy career, but filtered mostly through the loss of Lydia ... He aims to show that, as he started to find his path, Lydia was losing hers ... Tragedy + Time is unsparing in its pain and deeply moving in its chronicle of a life cut short (and its aftermath). Cayton-Holland has found peace in the six years since Lydia’s death, but Tragedy + Time shows just how hard-won it was.
...Tragedy Plus Time (named after the comedy axiom Comedy is tragedy plus time) may be a memoir, but its present-tense tone and trembling details give it an in-your-ear immediacy ... As Cayton-Holland captures his childhood in Spielbergian freeze-frames of ’80s youth, then traces his rise in Denver’s scrappy alt-comedy scene (which he helped create) onto mainstream clubs like Comedy Works, he’s soaked with the sense that something violent and defining will happen at any moment. Lydia, emotionally alluring and often joyous but intimidating in her intellect, became haunted ... but the most harrowing parts of the book — where she’s admitted into the psych ward at Denver Health after overdosing on pills, and where she takes her own life with a gun, only to be found later in her bed by her brother).
Self-mockery and true pathos make for a powerful mixture in this...memoir about a comedian’s alternately blessed and crushingly tragic family history ... Cayton-Holland’s wry and wiry voice here...transitions from half-cynical stand-up pose to thoughtful interpretation of the contradictions of grief ('I like to remember her constantly; I try not to think of her at all') without losing a beat. This is a...heartbreaking account of two bright lives, one blessed with hard-fought success and one cut painfully short.
Cayton-Holland...grew up in a family under the guidance of 'flower children' parents, who raised him and his two sisters 'to rage against the injustices of the world.' But exposure to the suffering of others, combined with his own natural hypersensitivity, caused the author to seek ways of 'circumventing the hurt and upset.' As a child, he developed personal rituals—he was later diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder—to make sure 'life as I knew it didn’t collapse.'...His brilliant and beloved younger sister Lydia, who shared both her brother’s hypersensitivity and quirky sense of humor, chose to live a quiet life outside the hustle and bustle of Denver ... While she struggled with depression and exasperated family members with her despair, the author’s career soared. The reality of just how serious her illness was only registered when Lydia killed herself in 2012 ... This candid and humane book not only memorializes the life of a beloved sister; it also celebrates the gift of awakened spiritual and emotional sensibilities that loss inevitably leaves in its wake.