Unless you’ve been living under a rock, blissfully unaware of your surroundings and current events, you know the tenuousness in the air right now. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Midwest, the East Coast, or in a coastal city in California, like I do: everyone feels it. The world is, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, on edge.
It could be the escalating tensions across the world surrounding the war in Ukraine. The Chinese spy balloon, followed by three additional unidentified flying objects shot down? Possibly the train derailment in Ohio, or the nitric acid spill in Texas. Maybe that COVID continues to kill and disable hundreds of Americans a day, or simply the dystopian reality we face more each week, as the cost of living explodes and more Americans than ever struggle to put food on the table and obtain necessary healthcare.
Or maybe, it’s as simple as not knowing what we’re going to put on our lists to read this summer.
It is rare that I post a book review, movie list, or a sponsored bit of content on here that comes across as trite and/or paid for. This is obviously because, in spite of the inability to pay bills with blog posts, I have been committed to keeping my content authentically about my own experiences. In short, this is largely an opinion and complaint website, where you can enjoy it and commiserate, or not; like an online diary in the early 2000s, or vague Myspace updates with glitter borders, this site is my home and my hobby and – well – mine.
If that sounds selfish, perhaps it is. In reality, as a stay at home mom with little to speak of in my real life, it is all I have that is really just for, or about, me.
This changes, though, when I come across something that I uniquely identify with, which is what has happened recently with a friend’s book. Entitled Existential Thirst Trap, I came across this new release (coming out May 8th of this year) when the author – someone I have known for the better part of two and a half decades – posted about it on Facebook. A collection of short-form essays by Robert Dean, this book paints a painstakingly real portrait of what many of us just hitting our 40s have lived since growing into adulthood. At least, in part.
When Bobby sent me the pre-print, I immediately found myself hooked. Each essay is funny, and yet acutely poignant. Light-hearted, and paradoxically existential and – well – a little traumatizing. “Existential Thirst Trap” is perfect for a name, because with each essay you want more, to keep reading; while at the same time stuck in your place thinking about the depth of meaning behind simple stories and common experiences.
Described on the back matter as “a love letter to punk rock ethos, mixtape culture, and experiencing life one shot of Jameson at a time,” it is so much more than that. It is, again, the relatable journey many of us have lived snippets of ourselves. Set against the backdrop of early 21st century America, and every crisis that has unfolded as we’ve all tried to make our way in this ever-unbalanced world, each essay unravels layers like an onion – about mental health, parenthood, marriage, divorce, moving across the country, more than once, and learning to make peace amidst this chaos and conflict that is life. And while it is relatable in so many ways at its very core, it is at the same time an inspirational portrait of someone who when kicked down over and over again by circumstances both in and out of his control, responded by simply deciding to get up and kick back.
Those are, in truth, my favorite parts.
On living in New Orleans, he describes memories of roaming and working on Bourbon Street, calling “the street run by too many whiskey-swilling, scumbag pirates” (pg. 3) He describes memories of living there today, “wondering how I’ve managed to dance so close to chaos for so long and still remain unscathed” (pg. 7).
On politics and soul searching through food: “food is the cross-generational salve that takes the pain out of a sting” (pg. 23).
On continuing to get up, time and again: “muscling my way through the debt, the firings, the layoffs, the regrets, and rejection of both professional and personal varieties” (pg. 42).
On the end of a marriage: “Being lonely in a home you share with someone stings harder than actually being alone” (pg. 79).
On dating after divorce: “Tinder is hard enough when you’ve got kids, a divorce, and are a weirdo looking for nirvana” (pg. 41).
And on so, so much more.
My favorite essay, by far, is buried in the middle: Bare Soul. A brilliant depiction of the drudgery of life, and the quest for finding peace within it. Of the conflict between seeing friends and family move on to the life that was expected for us all, while crafting an existence for yourself both in and outside of it all. I feel this myself, deep inside. That we often live in a world that is for show – the picket fences and suburban homes, all the while wondering if this is really the life for us. Masterfully, this essay describes finding the stories both from outside as well as within this disjointed and personally conflicting reality; one we are in many ways all living today amidst the ongoing chaos and struggle of today’s world. Again: finding a life outside it all, but also within. And, as all writers seek to do, telling the stories that rise from it all.
For my own part in this, it has been an experience of its own watching Bobby – Robert Dean – grow over the years, as a person and a writer. As I said, I’ve known him for the better part of two and a half decades. It’s hard to think of him and not think back to that tall, lanky kid with long, blonde hair. He always wore these oversized jeans and band shirts, his hair flopping around as his steps were more of a stride (he is really that tall). I can remember sitting at the lunch table in the cafeteria in high school, watching him dip his square of pizza into nacho cheese, and thinking to myself my God this guy could care less what anyone thinks. That we all could be that carefree. In that sense, as well as the way he talked and the sheer size of his presence (he really was the tallest person I knew), there was an ease in him being around, the way people so authentically themselves make you feel. While Existential Thirst Trap describes his own struggles over the decades, along with an ongoing battle with anxiety, he is among the few people I have known for this long who actually seems to have – at least some of it – figured out.
Reading some of his earlier writing, and seeing his progression and maturation as a writer in Existential Thirst Trap now has been, for lack of a better term, an honor. It is the glow up we should all hope for – to experience and grow, and to be able to articulate and share it all with others unabashedly and without reservation.
Existential Thirst Trap is full of familiar prose, and stories told in the style of satire, sarcasm, honesty, and realism we find in writers like David Sedaris. I have seen David Sedaris in person more than once, this book is so similar in tone and tenor, and the way I am left feeling when it ends. Bukowski is mentioned more than once in the book, as well, and it is in that spirit that this book unfolds. Raw. Real. Relatable. This summer, I highly recommend it to anyone, and everyone.
Existential Thirst Trap is available for preorder today on Kindle HERE and in paperback HERE.
For more updates from Robert Dean or to get more information on connecting with him, check him out over on Instagram @ literallyrobertdean or message me via the Contacts tab and I can connect you.
Author’s note: I have received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this post, or the links herein; with the exception of pre-print access to the manuscript for purposes of this review.