Fitzgerald nestles comfortably on a bar stool beside writers like Kerouac, Bukowski, Richard Price and Pete Hamill…The book’s charm is in its telling of male misbehavior and, occasionally, the things we men get right. The fights nearly all come with forgiveness. It is about the ways men struggle to make sense of themselves and the romance men too often find in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey... an endearing and tattered catalog of one man’s transgressions and the ways in which it is our sins, far more than our virtues, that make us who we are.” - New York Times Book Review
“Isaac Fitzgerald’s memoir-in-essays is a bighearted read infused with candor, sharp humor, and the hope that comes from discovering saints can be found in all sorts of places.” - Rolling Stone, "Top Culture Picks of the Month"
“Dirtbag, Massachusetts is the best of what memoir can accomplish. It's blisteringly honest and vulnerable, pulling no punches on the path to truth, but it always finds the capacity for grace and joy.” - Esquire, "Best Memoirs of the Year"
“Told without piety or violin strains of uplift, but rather, an embrace of the chaos of just getting by.” - Chicago Tribune, "Books for Summer 2022: Our Picks"
“Fitzgerald reflects on his origins—and coming to terms with self-consciousness, anger, and strained family relationships. His writing is gritty yet vulnerable.” - TIME, "27 New Books You Need to Read This Summer"
“Fitzgerald never stopped searching for a community that would embrace him. That search took him from San Francisco to Burma (now Myanmar), and he candidly shares the formative experiences that helped him put aside anger to live with acceptance and understanding.” - Washington Post, "12 Noteworthy Books for July"
“[Fitzgerald] reflects on how his journey has both formed him as a man and helped to change his views of masculinity, race and identity. And while his recollections are pervaded by considerations of manliness, he never shuts out other genders or ways of being.” - Los Angeles Times
"Isaac Fitzgerald contains multitudes in this frank, engaging memoir: severely lapsed Catholic, lifelong rabble-rouser, well-inked tattoo aficionado. [The tales] recounted here find the bittersweet spot between dirtbag and sublime." - Entertainment Weekly, "Best New Books of July"
“Equal parts illuminating and poignant, Fitzgerald’s essays attempt to untangle what it means to be a man in this world and in his own body.” - Buzzfeed, "Summer Books You Won’t Be Able To Put Down"
“A modern look at what it’s like to feel lost in America… he manages to handle these indisputably heavy subjects with clear-eyed, darkly humorous care… Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a confession in all the best senses of the word… Fitzgerald shows again and again that there is beauty to be found amid the pain, as hard as it can be to look. It’s a fitting lesson from a writer who is clearly as talented as he is tattooed.” - San Francisco Chronicle
“Introspective yet entertaining…The book’s highlight is a 45-page essay titled ‘Maybe I Could Die This Way.’ It starts off with Fitzgerald giving away his motorcycle because he knew he was in trouble after driving 70 miles back to San Francisco blackout drunk from Santa Cruz…Near the chapter’s end, Fitzgerald revisits that motorcycle incident with a twist designed to make you reflect, both on the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and how we must constantly find new ways to connect and bring meaning to the world. Like every story in Dirtbag, Massachusetts, it’s one worth hearing.” - Boston Globe
"Big hearted, vulnerable, honest, funny and so so good. I knew some of it, was surprised by some of it, loved it all. Highly recommend." - Craig Finn, frontman of The Hold Steady
“Isaac Fitzgerald has written about tattoos for grown-ups and pirates for kids, which is actually a good indicator of the range of themes offered up in his new memoir. Dirtbag, Massachusetts explores trauma and violence along with self-forgiveness and grace. Oh, and smuggling medical supplies into Burma.” - Goodreads, "Readers' Most Anticipated Books of Summer"
“There will be tough stops along this journey—including discussions of violence, homelessness and trauma—but we suspect Fitzgerald’s signature tenderness, humor and generosity will carry readers gently the whole way.” - BookPage, "13 Writers to Watch in 2022"
“Fitzgerald weaves a raucous mosaic of a rough-and-ready New England rarely seen with a transfixing story of his path to finding himself. . . The result is a marvelous coming-of-age story that’s as wily and raunchy as it is heartfelt.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Isaac Fitzgerald grabs readers' attention with the title of his memoir—Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional—and never lets go. He's a mesmerizing storyteller who deploys unexpected delights from his very first line… heaping helpings of humor, joy, pain, sorrow, grace and insight… Fitzgerald joins the ranks of some of the very best memoirists, including Tobias Wolff, Tara Westover and Dani Shapiro. This entertaining and thoughtful book reveals Fitzgerald's talents as a master craftsman of unusual insight and will leave readers eager for more." - BookPage, starred review
“Fitzgerald’s confessional has a punk rock grittiness . . . Reading Dirtbag, Massachusetts for the first time is akin to digging into an open wound, hoping to find the offending shard of glass and in the process learning that there’s far more beneath the surface. Fitzgerald has created a transformative experience for the reader that leaves them gasping for air long after they’ve put down the book.” - Shondaland
“Tenderhearted . . . Fitzgerald’s stories are introspective and exude self-awareness. Readers will leave with a true soft spot for him.” - Library Journal
“Vulnerable, revealing, and tender, Fitzgerald’s Dirtbag, Massachusetts has it all—faith, sex, fear, resilience, and love. His is a story of a real American family and a beautiful and creative American son.”
- Min Jin Lee, author of the National Book Award Finalist PACHINKO
“Any fool can confess. It’s the rare writer who reveals, and Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a heart on the sleeve, demons in check, eyes unblinking, unbearably sad, laugh-out-loud funny revelation.” - Marlon James, Booker Prize-winning author of MOON WITCH, SPIDER KING
“Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a wondrously crafted confessional in every sense of the word, one of the finest, and really sneakiest narrative boasts I've read in decades. Isaac Fitzgerald will remind you of the wobbly majesty possible when fears of tomorrow and yesterday are innovatively confronted and masculinity is shredded. Goodness gracious.” - Kiese Laymon, author of HEAVY
“Ebullient, irreverent, tender, Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a record of a love for the world in all its messy fullness that you just can’t fake, and how that came to be. I felt more alive after reading these essays, and whatever I thought I knew, Isaac Fitzgerald taught me something new. He’s a ringleader for the Circus in the House of Love.” - Alexander Chee, author of HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL
“Dirtbag, Massachusetts isn’t just a book; it’s life-work.” - Saeed Jones, author of HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES
“This book, this beautiful, sprawling, chaotic memoir in essays, is indeed a confessional. It is a man peeling back the layers of himself, revealing the white of his bones, the depth of his soul, the truth of his flaws, and the power of the best parts of him, of which there are so many. Isaac Fitzgerald will make you feel absolutely everything as he recounts a childhood no one should have to endure, and how he has tried to rebuild the parts of himself that other people broke. He is charming and vulnerable, curious and candid, full of dirtbag swagger. I loved this book. When I turned the last page, I wanted more but was so grateful to have spent this time with a man who is on the complicated but joyful journey of becoming and being himself.” - Roxane Gay
“Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a diamond of a memoir. Fitzgerald’s sentences are so clean and true that you'll never realize you're cut until you're bleeding. Or you know, crying.” - Mira Jacob, author of THE SLEEPWALKER'S GUIDE TO DANCING
“Isaac Fitzgerald lays himself bare in this stunning memoir, stripping off all the things that no long serve him. Raw, vulnerable, and powerful, this book will be a key in the lock of many hearts and minds.” - Emma Straub
“This book is a rock anthem you're so busy dancing to you almost don't notice when the lyrics slip in and break your heart. What a gorgeous, sensitive, rambunctious, and funny book about the ways we survive our own lives and choices. I loved going on adventures with Fitzgerald in these essays, hunting alongside him for the kinds of chosen family and love and purpose and storytelling that have the power to carry us through even the darkest of days.” - CJ Hauser, author of THE CRANE WIFE
“Dirtbag, Massachusetts is glimmering, dirty, and humble. A masterful blend of humor, intelligence, and craft. This book is the antidote to toxic masculinity.” - Chloe Caldwell, author of The Red Zone: A Love Story
“As an essayist and editor, Fitzgerald had long served as a kind of genial barkeep of the literary internet — an avuncular, boozy presence with killer taste in books.” - Robert Moor, New York Magazine
“Any fool can confess. It’s the rare writer who reveals, and Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a heart on the sleeve, demons in check, eyes unblinking, unbearably sad, laugh-out-loud funny revelation.” - MARLON JAMES, author of Moon Witch, Spider King
Down and out in rural Massachusetts, San Francisco, New York City, and Burma.
For a stretch in his 20s, Fitzgerald worked at an iconic biker bar in San Francisco called Zeitgeist. When business was slow, he read paperbacks from the used bookstore down the block. "All the big drinking books, by big loud men….Life could be tough,” he writes, “but it could also be the stuff of legend. Maybe I could write legends of my own, even though I was often too drunk to write anything down." The author begins this collection of personal legends with a line that he's been using for decades: "My parents were married when they had me, just to different people." What's more, they met at divinity school. In urban Boston, where his mother worked for the Catholic Church, the author experienced a happy but poor childhood. When he was 8, they moved back to the country, and "everything went to shit." Fitzgerald’s anger and despair about the violence and chaos of the years that followed are so deep that they form a kind of bass line to the text, carrying through to the end. In between, the kid racked up some legends. "The True Story of My Teenage Fight Club" is exactly what it sounds like, as the author describes the Fight Club–inspired group that got him and his buddies through the last years of the 20th century. In the title essay, Fitzgerald chronicles his escape from his unpromising hometown for an elite boarding school. "Maybe I Could Die This Way" is about his stint volunteering with a Christian relief organization in Southeast Asia. "The Armory" describes the author’s employment in the porn industry, where he learned a lot about honest communication—which leads him back to his childhood. "Imagine if violent homes came with safe words," he muses.
Fitzgerald unearths inspiration from dirtbags of all shapes and sizes, sharing it with sincerity and generosity.