I Hate You, Please Read Me by Joshua Dalton
House of Vlad, February 2021
Available for preorder
Joshua Dalton’s first book is a collection of tweets, short stories, conversations between himself and “FP” (Favorite Person) and even a short screenplay for the pilot of an episode of The Show, written by Dalton’s alter ego – introduced in the first short story – Marshall Crawford. (Marshall Crawford is a struggling screenwriter, whereas Joshua Dalton is a social media addicted, gay man with BPD, though these personalities are not mutually exclusive.)
The tweets (which, if this were twenty years ago, we’d refer to by the much more respectable term, “aphorisms”) reminded me that while this generation is now known for its depression memes, soon it will be known for its excessive suicides. They constitute a catharsis of negative feelings, like Dalton is transforming feelings of inadequacy and exclusion into a palatable product for general consumption. His irreverent treatment of serious mental issues introduces an element of the absurd, which translates into comedy, which both distracts from and complements the depressive tone of the book.
The stories are similarly fascinating. For the most part, they follow a sort of dream logic. Like in, “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Trauma,” Dalton writes, “From his stomach, a tree erupted. And there were all these tiny babies. They hung from the tree’s limbs like crying apples — all of them screaming.” (36) It’s poetic but literal. The seamless transition from normalcy into the surreal extends our horizon of experience, so reading it, I’m thinking, “Ah yes, a baby tree. Of course.” It all makes sense in context.
“Favorite Person” doesn’t seem to like Joshua Dalton all that much. Based on the rest of the book, I’m not shocked that he’d go willingly into that unhealthy relationship. By this point, I felt like I knew Joshua Dalton pretty well, so now my interest in these awkward situations isn’t so much to assess their literary merit. It’s more like watching your favorite reality TV character react, once they’re made aware of a situation that’s been developing without their knowledge in the first half of the episode, only to be revealed to them five minutes from the end. How is JD going to deal with this plot twist? In the book, the answer is usually left open, which to me appears like Dalton is also confused about what to do. And that makes sense, because he shouldn’t be in that position in the first place – ffs, JD, get out of that relationship.
You may hate me, but I think your book is pretty great, Joshua Dalton.
Despite the wide range of content, the collection appears unified – a curated collection of Dalton’s modes of consciousness. It feels like you’re reading a person instead of a book. And maybe it’s not fair of us to expect a book to be consistent moment to moment (if it’s done well). I always remember watching Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits saying, “Maybe all there really is is just the next thing. The next thing that happens. Maybe you’re not supposed to remember anybody’s promises.” I take that to mean that it’s not fair to expect people to be consistent, moment to moment, day to day, when that’s not how people work. You end up limiting someone else’s potential by expecting them always to be the same.
That’s the sense in which I say that reading this book is less like reading a book and more like getting to know Joshua Dalton. Because he’ll say something like, “it only hurts when I’m awake to feel it,” and then follow that up with a chapter on Batman the Millennial—you know, expressing a broad range of human emotion and capacities.
It’s funny, and it’s dark, and it’s usually fucked up. For those of us left wanting after the cancellation of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend after only four brilliant seasons, Joshua Dalton’s book fills that void.
Charlene Elsby has a Ph.D. in philosophy from McMaster University, where she worked on Aristotle’s notion of non-existence. She is the president of the North American Roman Ingarden Society and vice president of the North American Society for Early Phenomenology. She is the author of several academic works on metaphysics, ontology, aesthetics, literature, and logic. She has published two novels: Hexis (CLASH Books, 2020) and Affect (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2020). She lives in Ottawa.