I REALLY WANTED to love My Heart Is an Idiot, the new collection of memoir essays from Found magazine creator Davy Rothbart. I've been a fan of Found for several years, have enjoyed Rothbart on This American Life, and had high hopes for his book. But while a few of the essays are excellent, the collection as a whole is a bit meandering.
As one would expect from the title, most of My Heart Is an Idiot focuses on Rothbart's fumbling attempts at love and lust with various women. These encounters convey desire, awkwardness, and heartbreak in a way that's highly relatable—sometimes too relatable. The overall impression is of sitting in a bar with Rothbart while drinking cheap beer and talking about girls. It's a pleasant enough experience, but I kept waiting for the book to have a bit more kick.
Rothbart is very good, though, when he's not talking about his love life. An essay about a fraudulent literary competition and another featuring the discovery of a corpse are both very good. By far the strongest essay in the collection is an account of Byron Case, a teenager who was sentenced to life in prison for a 1997 murder he almost certainly did not commit. The essay comes as something of a wild left turn—it's toward the end of the book, and up to that point Rothbart's accounts featured fairly low stakes. For one essay, though, the casual atmosphere melts away, and Rothbart creates a sense of drama, dread, fear, and outrage concerning his subject. It's a stark and jarring departure from the rest of the book, and is easily the best 40 pages between the covers.
There was also essay on 9/11 to which my main response was "Jesus Christ, not another fucking thing about 9/11," because I am apparently an awful human being.
Rothbart's at Holocene on Tuesday, October 9, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Found and debut a new issue of the magazine. The gathering will focus on what Rothbart does best, which is... well, find things. He shines as a scrounger, a scavenger, and an investigator, making art out of happenstance. I'd definitely read another collection of his, but hopefully one more investigative than introspective.