Isaac Fitzgerald has lived many lives. He's been an altar boy, a bartender, a fat kid, a smuggler, a biker, a prince of New England. But before all that, he was a bomb that exploded his parents' lives-or so he was told. Fitzgerald recounts his ongoing search for forgiveness, a more far-reaching vision of masculinity, and a more expansive definition of family and self.
... it’s the unpublished, unknown chapters of Fitzgerald’s life that make his new memoir resonate as a modern look at what it’s like to feel lost in America ... Painfully honest but sincerely funny ... [Fitzgerald] manages to handle these indisputably heavy subjects with clear-eyed, darkly humorous care ... Whether writing about his struggles with body dysmorphia, his limited stint as an adult-film actor at San Francisco’s historic Armory building or how the two overlap on the Venn diagram of his life, Fitzgerald’s willingness to strip himself bare, both on the page and off, offers apt insight into why he chose to subtitle his memoir a 'confessional.' Connoting both religious overtones and Fitzgerald’s direct, heart-tattooed-on-his-sleeve brand of raw candor, Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a confession in all the best senses of the word ... Fitzgerald is also more than willing to second-guess his younger self with ruthless accuracy ... it is in celebration, not trauma, that Dirtbag, Massachusetts finds Fitzgerald tapping into his most vulnerable self ... Fitzgerald shows again and again that there is beauty to be found amid the pain, as hard as it can be to look.
... introspective yet entertaining ... The writing is heartbreaking in its simple and straightforward description of the world in which he was trapped ... a memoir composed of essays, some initially published (in somewhat different forms) almost 10 years ago. Perhaps because of this, the book’s most wrenching scenes only come after 200 pages, while in the opening essays about his childhood, Fitzgerald skims over the surface of what he endured. Vital information is scattered throughout and the book’s haphazardness somewhat dilutes our understanding of adolescent Isaac’s emotional turmoil, as well as the self-destructive tendencies of his 20s ... That said, this essayistic approach frees up Fitzgerald to tell long stories, unhampered by the demands of chronology ... Like every story in Dirtbag, Massachusetts, it’s one worth hearing and thinking about, even if, like life, it’s sometimes messy and out of order.
Fitzgerald nestles comfortably on a bar stool beside writers like Kerouac, Bukowski, Richard Price and Pete Hamill. Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a book by and for hard-drinking but softhearted men like these, and for those who take voyeuristic pleasure in their ne’er-do-well ways ... He writes about the bar with an affection that surpasses any he has for his former lovers, most of whom go nameless in the book ... aside from his mother and a porn producer and actress named Princess Donna, women are hardly mentioned in Dirtbag, Massachusetts; the action is nearly all centered on the doings of men. That’s not necessarily a criticism. The book’s charm is in its telling of male misbehavior and, occasionally, the things we men get right. The fights nearly all come with forgiveness. It is about the ways men struggle to make sense of themselves and the romance men too often find in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey. If you’re looking for a book about what’s wrong and right with American men, you could do a lot worse than Dirtbag, Massachusetts ... There is much sin in Fitzgerald’s confessional, although none of it mortal. Instead, it is an endearing and tattered catalog of one man’s transgressions and the ways in which it is our sins, far more than our virtues, that make us who we are.