Book Review - Jamie Iredell takes a straightforward turn in I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac

The local author’s third books collects his recent essays

I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac is Jamie Iredell’s third book. His first two, Prose. Poems. A Novel. and The Book of Freaks, differ in style and approach and his most recent shows even more diversity in Iredell’s repertoire. The Book of Freaks is an anti-encyclopedia in which “the compilers” list and define all kinds of “freaks,” from “Literary Novel, The” to “Fuckers,” to “Girls” and “White People.” His debut, the genre-defying Prose. Poems. A Novel., followed Larry, a young man who journeys from the West to Atlanta, consuming large amounts of drugs and alcohol. Defying convention and mocking the trappings of form and easy classification, Iredell has set himself apart through the bending and blending and innovating of genre.

In I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac we get a more straight-on approach from Iredell, but the result is no less stimulating or distinct. In the collection of essays, Iredell tells stories that range from being a fat kid in Castroville, Cali., to his days as a heavy drug user and drinker in nightmarish relationships to now being a father and husband, as well as an insomniac writer who teaches at local colleges. Originality and exploration through risk-taking comes through on these pages, as well as a whole lot of honesty.

That risky honesty may cause discomfort or anxiety for the reader, but Iredell’s blunt engagement with his past, present, and future makes the book special. In “What You Can Learn from LSD, or, A Work of Art Takes More Than Seven Seconds,” Iredell recounts an episode he had in college when he took three hits of acid and spent the day with his friend Chris, never telling Chris that he was tripping. Iredell tells us about their conversations about philosophy and art — a common conversational theme for them — and how Iredell failed to complete his self-imposed task of writing that day. The piece closes with an insight into his journey from then to now, “I did not finish what I set out to write that day over the rest of that week or month, or that year. But fourteen years later, here I am, and maybe I’m finishing what I wanted to write that morning, but I didn’t know that this was what I was supposed to write in the first place.”

Iredell lives in Atlanta, but that hasn’t always been the case. He migrated his way across the country from California and Atlanta is much better off for his presence. Aside from his own writing, he has done much to promote creative writing here in town. As one of the co-creators of the Solar Anus reading series, Iredell has brought many celebrated authors to Atlanta to engage with local literary enthusiasts. As a professor in SCAD’s writing department, Iredell has had a hand in developing the next generation of writers.

Iredell is also the fiction editor of Atticus Review, whose mission is to “redefine literature” by providing a venue for creative writers of high quality who, according to its website, may not fit into “the media empire’s marketing budget.” There are many people that have helped build a bridge between Atlanta and the larger literary world of the United States and Iredell is a key one.

His wife and daughter are recurring subjects in his essays and prove to be the factors that pulled him from a spiral of becoming a pathetic, burned-out drunk. In the piece “13 Steps to Becoming a Barslut, and What Happens Afterward,” Iredell describes his years of bachelorhood and his successful and failed attempts to lure women away from a bar and back to his place. He explains how this became “really, really old,” and that when he met his wife she did not allow them “to have sex after a first date, then a second, and a third.” He continues, “back then she was going to become a lawyer, and now she is one, and she saw that I was much more than the slut I’d made myself out to be, and I liked the way her brown hair dropped over her little ears, and I still like her hair and her ears, and we keep at it, and I don’t do coke anymore.”

From this relationship came a marriage and from their marriage came a daughter. The last piece in the book, “Dear Kinsey,” is a letter to his daughter where he provides fatherly advice, which is guided by his thoughts on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. His advice includes things about love, sex, family, womanhood, abortion, prostitution, and homosexuality, among other topics. He closes the piece and the book with, “I’ve always wanted to be a better man because of my girls, for my girls, for you and your mom, Kinsey. It’s because of love that any of that is possible.” With these lines we find another side of Iredell that may not have seemed possible in the beginning of the book, given the amount of booze and drugs that a young Jamie Iredell could consume.

Like in his two previous books, Iredell shows us the beauty, ugliness, and freakishness that develops in us all, binding together.

I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac by Jamie Iredell. Future Tense Publishing. 200 pp. $12.