I wish it happened more often, but only about once every five years do I read an author who makes my forever list—meaning, till the end of time, I’ll read any- and everything they write: novels, ad copy, grocery lists, their grandmother’s obituary…you name it. Such is the case for Adam Resnick. Reading his recently released Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation was pretty much akin to a dream date. Two minutes into the book, I felt myself falling hard. Eight minutes in, I was completely head over heels. And by the time our salads arrived (aka, page 12), I was a complete wreck because I never wanted it to end. Never mind that I still had 244 pages to go: I knew this was the only book he’d ever written. Sadly and delightfully, before I could finish the first story, I was already in a state of complete Resnick withdrawal.
Will Not Attend is a collection of fifteen essays that read not just like the best literary short stories you’ll ever come across, but also like outrageously good stand-up comedy sets. They are hysterical reads—both highly irreverent and charmingly touching—with a keen eye for detail and dialogue. Basically, if a group writing project were given to Louis CK and Lenny Bruce and Tina Fey and David Sedaris, they might turn out something half as entertaining as Resnick’s debut collection, which details his curmudgeonly childhood, his f-bombing bear of a father, his five troublemaking (okay, violent and thieving) brothers, and a wide variety of society’s most annoying human specimens, such as: the pot dealer from his teens, the piano lady from the eighth floor, his boundary-crossing English teacher with the yellow Datsun, and the smug cashier at the Strand who refuses to give out complimentary shopping bags. Resnick handles all of these personalities and the scenarios they’re in with a misanthropic brilliance you can’t help but adore. And demand more of.
Resnick is best known as an Emmy Award–winning writer who worked at Late Night with David Letterman, cocreated Get a Life, and wrote the screenplays for Cabin Boy and Death to Smoochy. He’s also written for Saturday Night Live, was a co-executive producer and writer for The Larry Sanders Show, and created the HBO series The High Life. That’s nice and accomplished and all, but I’m not interested in any of it. Because I’m telling anyone and everyone who’ll hear it: if Resnick doesn’t stick with this book-writing thing and give up everything else, the whole planet is gonna be sorry. He’s perfect at it. We need him. Mark my words, trees will actually chop themselves down and send themselves through a chipper to become his next book. Or grocery list.
Resnick isn’t for the faint-hearted. He’s a cranky and offensive loner. He adores profanity. He’s politically incorrect-ish. But like all superior comics, he knows how to present all of these opinions in a foul and forgivable way that will not only make you spit out whatever it is you’re drinking, but also experience enlightenment. I should also mention he’s unexpectedly poetic; there’s a lot of beauty among the darkness. But the best part? Though Resnick himself is an absolute, self-proclaimed neurotic, his writing is fearless. His is an honest and authentic voice that doesn’t care what anyone thinks. It’s unfiltered, uncensored, unapologetic, and, because of that, totally original.
Now, then. I fear I’m gushing, so I feel like I need to say something critical about this selection. For starters, the cover is somewhat unremarkable. And in closing, it should have been 800 pages longer.
Anyway, here are a few stellar quotes from Will Not Attend to whet your appetite. I felt compelled to choose ones low on profanity and spoilers, which put me in an ever-so-slight bind, but…I STILL came away with these jewels.
“The Whispering Canyon Cafe is a cavernous sh*tbox located in the polyurethaned bowels of the Wilderness Lodge. Our server that evening, a stout lass with a wide face seized by rosacea, was decked out in cornball cowgirl attire—a getup she wore as if it had been her destiny since birth. She clomped over to our table and, with a thick Texas drawl worthy of a starring role in the finest production ever put on by a mental institution, loudly announced, ‘Hi, y’all! I’m Sawdust Sally!’ I immediately wanted to kill her.”
“The summer groaned forward like a mail truck overloaded with disturbing photographs from Denmark.”
“My father was like a rottweiler who protected his family unconditionally, but if you touched that weird spot on his hind leg that bugged him for some reason, you might get your face torn off.”
“We entered a small conference room, where Bob introduced me to the other [insurance] agents as ‘the kid who’s gonna put a flame under all your asses.’ This failed to cause much of a stir, but I shook a few hands, unsuccessfully avoiding one guy who had orange fingers from eating gas station cheese crackers, and getting a blast of Jovan Musk from another wearing Speedy Gonzales cufflinks. Any pangs of intimidation I may have had quickly faded.”
“[Jeff Glogower] was a big dude—a typical Perry County mountain man—who played on the football team until getting kicked off for squirting oven cleaner in the face of an opposing quarterback. Since then, he’d found success selling pot, steroids, and select reptiles that were not legal to own.”
“As it was, I was born nervous—a condition built into me the way brake lights come standard on cars.”
“Gina was no great beauty…She was gangly, wore heaps of raccoon mascara, and had crayon-yellow hair that hung from her head like overcooked spaghettini. The skunk black stripe down the middle of her scalp brought to mind a trail of ants walking through a puddle of Cheez Whiz.”
“The trouble began when I happened upon an old photograph of myself tentatively feeding a mentally ill water frog.”
“[The register] was manned by an icy-looking NYU grad student type whose hair was pulled back so severely she resembled some sort of predator fish. The young lady viciously swiped my credit card, flung it back at me, and bagged the book, all in one boorish flurry—as if I’d been the one who’d steered her toward a master’s degree in social work when her true love had always been graphic design.”
“‘So here’s how it works: Whoever dies first, they get incinerated and put in the closet. When the second one goes, mix us together and put us in the lake. Now, if your mother goes first, be patient, because I’ll blow my head off.’
‘We won’t have to deal with this for a long time…’
‘And I want the cat in there too.’
‘You want the cat in where?’
‘I want the cat cremated and mixed in with us.’”
“Who or what she prayed to was anyone’s guess; I pictured a metallic space crab with female breasts and a penis, wearing a yarmulke.”
“It was a betrayal. A scar. It was the my-father-got-rid-of-my-piano story; something she’d share one day with her college roommates, her husband, her children, and her psychiatrist. It would earn a few crucial frames in her final reel of memories and travel with her into the next life. When it comes to the bad stuff, there’s nothing too small that’s not worth dwelling on forever. I say, anyway.”