Ashley Cardiff’s essays are darker and even more embarrassing than Lena Dunham's or Chelsea Handler's, says Thomas Leveritt.
These 23 essays arrive in paperback with a slew of metadata—cover, blurb, press release—that either e- or in-vokes short-form forerunners Aimee Bender, Sloane Crosley, and David Sedaris. Against this test it holds up pretty well: Cardiff is a professional blogger on the lady beat, so she’s had years of writing, writing that slips down easy—and at first blush these are deft and funny and sugary, often deliciously bitchy, and many short enough to wolf down in the bathroom during a slow dinner party. Good fun. I LOL’d.
The problem is that it isn’t really that sort of book. It looks like it and reads like it—the rhythms are all flippant callbacks, withering cuts, and essay-ending buttons that play like piano tinkles—“Can you imagine what kind of hero you’d have to be to look noble while jerking off? I’d guess a fireman.” But the mask of facility slips from time to time, as this manifestly learned writer (gerunds, Lucretius) prances gaily for the cheap seats, treating heavy moments to a cavalcade of vagina gags and stooping to others still lower: Aerosmith, abortion, Zunes, MIDIs, rape, toddler dance recitals, all get drive-by zinged. This starts out delightful, then begins to feel minstrelish, then somehow gets tuned out, like Woody Allen compulsively cracking wise to an audience of one. No doubt this is clear policy, agreed at the highest levels at Penguin, her publisher, to keep the sugar-to-medicine ratio high. And if there’s a lot of sugar in here (there is; it’s funny), it’s because there’s also a staggering amount of medicine.