cover image Something That May Shock and Discredit You

Something That May Shock and Discredit You

Daniel Mallory Ortberg. Atria, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-982105-21-1

Slate advice columnist Ortberg (Texts from Jane Eyre) brings the full force of his wit and literary depth to this genre-bending essay collection. Describing it as “memoir-adjacent,” Ortberg intersperses searingly honest passages about his journey as a transgender man with laugh-out-loud funny literary pastiche. In “Lord Byron Has a Birthday and Takes His Leave,” the poet histrionically threatens to die gloriously in Greece to avoid reaching the mortifying age of 40. Sir Gawain tries to escape the sexual hijinks cooked up by Lady Bertilak and the Green Knight in “Sir Gawain Just Wants to Leave Castle Make-Out.” Amid the literary fun, Ortberg reflects upon gender identity. Finding the national conversation about transgender people too child-centric—he only realized he was one at age 30—Ortberg instead returned to the scriptures of his youth to find himself in “stories of transformation... already familiar” to him. In the most moving chapter, he drops the artifice of humor and lays bare his anguish at severing his relationship with his mother as her daughter, with the two finding solace in the story of Jacob and Esau—two brothers who make peace but not before Jacob changes his name, and thus identity, to Israel. Ortberg provides an often hilarious, sometimes discomfiting, but invariably honest account of one man’s becoming. Agent: Kate McKean, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Feb.)