Review: Jonathan Goldstein’s New Memoir
When does one become an adult? Is it when you sign the lease on your first sketchy apartment? Or is it after the break-up of your first big relationship, when you want to tear your heart out and throw it in the garbage? Or does it come later, when wild nights of dance parties are slowly replaced by evenings of sitting on the couch watching TV on the Internet and petting the cat?
In his humorous new memoir I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow, Jonathan Goldstein suggests that the answer is none of the above. Instead, adulthood is something that we stumble into blindly, the result of living one chaotic day after another.
I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow begins the week of Goldstein’s 39th birthday. Contemplating the approach of the big 4-0, he realizes that adulthood is nothing like he thought it would be. “Forty was the age at which I thought I’d have a house full of oak shelves spilling over with hardcover books. Cabinets loaded with china. Carpets brought home from exotic trips abroad.” The book that follows is broken down into bite-size chapters, one for each week of the last year of his thirties, and humorously considers what it means to be an adult in an infantilized world.
The voice of CBC Radio’s WireTap, author of two previous books and long-time Montrealer, Goldstein’s wit works just as well in print as it does on the radio. Writing in economical prose, he comes to the conclusion that they just don’t make adulthood like they used to. For him, exotic rugs and fine china have been replaced by yoga balls and fast food. Lots of fast food. Goldstein is a poet of artery-clogging cuisine, and it’s the subject of some of the biggest laughs in the book. His description of the McRib echoes existential philosophy: “The McRib is fleeting, and its ephemerality stirs anxiety in the hearts of men. Any day one might walk into a McDonald’s and the McRib will no longer be there. One must seize it before it is driven back into oblivion.” Elsewhere, he uses the ecstatic poetry of William Blake to describe the magical alchemy of poutine.
And yet behind the laughs there is a genuine examination of the weirdness of contemporary life. Every apartment-dweller will identify with Goldstein’s description of turning on his wi-fi to realize “with some regret that all I know about my neighbours is their wireless network names: Krypton, Space Balls, Couscous, and Scarlet.” In one moment of self-doubt Goldstein complains that while “Characters in books and on TV shows often learn about what really matters in life through the guidance of helpful supernatural beings. . . in real life, all we’ve got are our hunches about what matters.”
Nonetheless, the reader gets a fairly good sense of what Goldstein thinks is important. And despite all his carping about life’s small annoyances, he might not be that far off of what a supernatural guide would advise. He spends time with his parents and friends, watches old movies at home with his toy poodle, tries to get in shape, and wonders constantly about what the next meal will be.
In the process of counting down the days until he turns forty, Goldstein comes to a realization that hints he may have finally made peace with his own adulthood. While contemplating a piece of Melba Toast, Goldstein notes that when he was young he “thought that wherever I was was where ‘it was at.’ As an adult, I’ve come to see that where I am is where it is not, will never be, and perhaps, never was.”
When the dreaded day of his fortieth birthday finally arrives, he manages to host a birthday party for himself without having a nervous breakdown. Just after midnight, he falls asleep next to his dog, “listening to the sound of my friends still going strong through the bedroom door. All in all, it feels like a pretty good night.” ■
I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow, by Jonathan Goldstein, Penguin Canada 2012, 256 pp. $24 paperback. The launch party takes place tonight, and will be live broadcast on WireTap. Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent), 7 p.m., free
Jeff Miller is the author of the award-winning short story collection Ghost Pine: All Stories True (Invisible Publishing, 2010). He lives and drinks coffee in Little Italy.