Oh man, I really was not expecting to be in the position of writing this bitter review, but, alas, here we are…
It’s funny, really, because I went into Risk! the MOST excited after having read the very first story and received such a positive feeling throughout my reading, which is exactly what made me request a copy from the publisher, who kindly provided one. With Great Beauty by A. J. Jacobs is a story set on finding an online match for his babysitter who “happens to be crazy hot.” The author talks to guys he meets online through her profile, which grants him an insider’s look into what it means to be a beautiful woman, living vicariously through her: “because with great beauty comes great responsibility.”
An incredible start to the collection; it set the mood for what’s to come, in my mind. And yet I continued reading only to discover how utterly mistaken I was. The introducing story is the peak of happiness that this collection hits.
I was expecting this to be in the vein of The Moth Presents All These Wonders by Catherine Burns, where we have a mix between the happy and sad, tragic and wistful. But this is just non-stop tragedy thrown your way, and I felt misled.
The consecutive stories that follow in Risk! all settle for the same damn shock-factor: death. It all comes across quite jarring since nearly every essay settles for announcing these out-of-nowhere deaths and suicides and killings. There’s no build-up preparing the reader; it’s like those jump-scares in horror movies that are only there to shake you up and don’t add depth to the story.
Also, some trigger warnings before certain pivotal stories would’ve been much appreciated. I settled for checking out the Q&A at the end of each essay to get a clue for what’s ahead. There are deeply unsettling stories featured in here that at times made me feel physically revolted, enough to lower my need to reach for this book. It’s sad that these jarring stories came to overshadow those that are full of fragile, wide open, lingering truths.
Taking away filters may be fun for the teller, but I don’t want anyone else to be hurt.
Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst of it all. The worst of it all I can grant to Nimisha Ladva’s An American Family. Oh damn, my heart beats furiously just thinking about where to start with this one.
This story has a) no redeeming quality whatsoever b) literally raised my wrath without even trying, while I read it in the morning, which c) pissed me off for the rest of the day.
And it all comes down to this moment on her wedding day with David, who’s Jewish:
She leans in, puts her hand tenderly over David’s head, and gives him his gift. That is when I see it for the first time.
My mother has painted a swastika on it.
This, instead of being addressed, is then excused as being a part of their culture way before “the evil bad Nazis took it”. UMMM…
How can the mother be this desensitized to not realize the scope of the person in front of her? Never thought I’d need to write this down, but take a minute before pulling out the swastika and consider the connotations of whether or not it’s appropriate in front of a person who’s clearly not Hindu.
And David, if there’s ever been a clearer sign for a Jew to make a RUN for it (on his wedding day, no less), this is it. But the man wasn’t even fazed. Moral of the story: American culture has him so brainwashed he doesn’t even blink at the sight of a swastika from his own in-laws. I am terrified that my own people are forgetting history this rapidly. Stop depleting your roots, PLEASE.
I feel like the quote from Yosl Rakover Talks to God, on the world moving on all too quickly by not holding Nazis and their silent accomplices accountable, seems all too fitting in here:
“The world will consume itself in its own evil, it will drown in its own blood.
The murderers have already pronounced judgment on themselves, and they will not escape it. But You, I beg You, pronounce Your guilty verdict, a doubly harsh verdict, on those who witness murder and remain silent!
On those who condemn murder with their lips while they rejoice over it in their hearts.
On those who say in their wicked hearts: Yes, it is true that the tyrant is evil, but he is also doing a job for which we will always be grateful to Him.”
After, it was pretty much impossible for Risk! to have any redeeming points. That’s not to say that I didn’t try multiple times to move on. But you know, when you have such a favorable first impression of a book, you subconsciously hold on a little longer hoping for that spark to reappear… But it never did with this one.
This is where the subtitle, “True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share,” paints a clear picture for why it’s best to keep some things to ourselves.
Expected publication: July 17th, 2018
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