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Review: The searing vulnerability of Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today

Title
So Sad Today
Author
Melissa Broder
Genre
Non-fiction
Publisher
Grand Central
Pages
206
Price
$19.49

In the many years I've been on Twitter, Melissa Broder's once-anonymous @sosadtoday account has been a staple on my follower list. With social media's tendency to encourage people to put their accomplishments front and centre – showcasing their perfect workouts, perfect meals and generally perfect lives – the So Sad Today stream was a potent reminder of that manufactured façade. Broder, an established poet, was able to create a true-to-life voice of searing vulnerability, ugly and raw in all its buzzing anxiety and oddly comical sadness. Unabashedly needy, the account felt like a safe space to fall in a digital culture that constantly demanded our best, if fictional, selves. It made it perfectly okay to feel messed up, and people flocked to it in droves.

After almost three years of anonymity, last year, Broder finally outed herself as the dysfunctional voice behind the famed account, which today has more than 300,000 followers. The big reveal also accompanied the announcement of her personal essay collection, also titled So Sad Today, which promised eager readers the same self-deprecating tone. Peppered with the author's signature dark humour, and some humble advice for coping with feeling alone, the book chronicles the difficult parts of Broder's life that she's made an admirable online career of being candid about.

The highbrow literary world often offers disdain for deals that are offshoots of Twitter accounts, but So Sad Today is certainly not an easily dismissed gimmicky stunt book. In it, Broder is generously open about her mental-health issues, her private desires and her romantic preoccupations, all documented in a style that is refreshing and innovative. Her poignant (and at times profane) writing remains a wonderful antidote to a constant stream of other people's touted successes, delivered with generosity and without any judgment. This book is full of dirty secrets, all of which are transformed into something healing when they reach the light of day.

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In each essay, Broder investigates the daily minutia of sickness, fear and being generally screwed up. She writes insightfully about the role of sexual and romantic obsession in modern relationships, about marriage and polyamory and how the Internet functions in our increasing list of debilitating addictions. Her thoughts on a culture obsessed with women's weight goes beyond self-empowering platitudes, unpacking how the pressing, lifelong need to be thin makes us hate ourselves and other women. She speaks truthfully about getting sober, about being terrified of aging and dying, about being vain and about going on and off anti-anxiety medication. (The latter a harrowing tale, to say the least.) The resulting collection is both gross and gorgeous, infused with explicit sexuality (content warning) and visceral ugliness, and often offers a perfect union of the two.

In one of the more honest and accurate descriptions of therapy I've ever read, Broder refers to the practice as "stupid and annoying," but adds that it works well enough that you should still do it. "I may never become a completely whole person," she writes. "But I may have a shot at becoming three fourths of a person. Three fourths of a person isn't bad." Broder readily admits her feminist failings, and how she feels bad even for feeling bad when she has so much to be grateful for. In fact, a great deal of this book is about how we have created systems that impossibly demand our unshakable goodness, asks that we be cool and collected, and how we punish ourselves when we can't achieve that level of perfection. Most significantly, the author makes a space for self-forgiveness, inviting us to go easy on ourselves in this relentless pursuit of being better.

"I am not pressuring you to dismantle anything," she writes. "I am saying let's be here together, undismantled, and just accept that this is where we are. Let's love each other right where we are, even as we compare ourselves to one another. I am saying, yes, baby, I know it's hard."

Though this collection is often dark and at times even disturbing (I found myself having to skip and then go back to essays that were too difficult), it's also oddly soothing, acting as a kind of exposure therapy that forces us to look at and accept the worst parts of ourselves head on. It does what best memoirs often do – offers kinship, familiarity and comfort in a world where we feel severed from other people, their success and their experiences. In mining the painful details of her life, Broder has not only been incredibly kind to and compassionate with her readers, but has beyond proven her skill as a non-fiction writer. Her poetic sensibilities shine through, as does her skill for conciseness, honed in 140 character Twitter bursts.

Those who grew up dating and building relationships in the digital era will see a great deal of themselves, their insecurities and their mistakes, in Broder's real-life stories. Those who have grappled with the insidiousness of anxiety disorder, addiction, or self-hatred will see even more. But So Sad Today is so much more valuable than a simple triumph over adversity tale, or an insincere assurance that everything will be okay in the end.

Instead, in a world where everyone else seems to be doing better job, it says, "I see you, and you're doing just fine."

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