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Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant: by Joel Golby

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant: by Joel Golby

No matter the topic, from the inane to the severe, Golby’s wit bleeds through every page.

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant: by Joel Golby

3.5 / 5

Whether waxing about The Libertines’ Pete Doherty eating an American-sized English breakfast or sharing his own painful experience of taking an exercise class just so he could talk to Dolph Lundgren, VICE writer Joel Golby winks one eye at the absurdities of modern culture while rolling the other one. His literary debut, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, collects like-minded essays, stories, and observations about such concerns as hot sauce and the physical dangers of the board game Monopoly.

Golby captures reality with a youthful urgency and fully recognizes that our culture is simply bizarre. His ruminations about life and adulthood reflect someone who may have been damaged by a hard world but still thinks cynicism is for suckers. “Hot Sauce Capitalism” chronicles his obsession with chipotle-flavored Tabasco sauce, a charming read that may not be deep enough to take seriously; then again, maybe that’s the point. A preface outlining curious differences between British and American culture starts strong before running dry as he details his fascination with our storied tradition of trash tv shows.

His topics are often humorous, yet some of Golby’s most compelling material is bittersweet. On the surface, “A Can of Lager and a Three-Course Meal” lovingly mocks the strange adulthood ritual of dinner parties, replete with mind-games about how to avoid cleaning up the dishes and a curt dismissal of the pretentious “wine guy.” But there’s a genuine pang when he realizes the very reasons he mocks his friends–domestic pursuits, kids, housework–just might be the special thing he wants for himself.

That duality is a lot of what makes Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant work. Essays about watching (and tipping) online gamers and envying the idol-like masculinity of pop-star Pitbull (“‘Respect Pitbull,’ I say. ‘Show your respect to Pitbull.’”) feel shallow, almost like stand-up bits that struggle to gain any traction. On the other hand, opening essay, “Things You Only Know When Both Your Parents Are Dead,” not only demonstrates Golby’s personal scars, but proves that his eloquent prose style is a coping mechanism.

In the essay “Party Hard,” Golby ruminates upon the ravages of time and age. Now in his 30s, he accepts the loss of his youthful party days with an odd nostalgia. Gone is the carefree raging of his 20s, when hangovers were a myth and adulthood and responsibilities were merely whispered rumors. Faced with the cold actuality of his third decade on the planet down and staring down the barrel of his fourth, he betrays a moment of fear and acceptance united as an immutable reality. He details specific times when, through childhood exhaustion or herculean amounts of booze, he passed out at parties. Perhaps youth truly is wasted on the young.

No matter the topic, from the inane to the severe, Golby’s wit bleeds through every page. Every rambling footnote and manic aside feels appropriate, never breaking the line between extended exposition and over-indulgent blather. Each essay reads like the musings of a chain-smoking grad student sitting at the end of the pub, slamming pint after pint while spewing a color commentary both pretentious and endearing. While not everything succeeds, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant is an undeniably strong debut from a young writer with an equal knack for understanding the ridiculous and the sincere.

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