I went to the same mfa school as Joanna Ruocco

But she graduated before I did mfa school. Even though I never met her, I think about her writing a lot. Joanna Ruocco is sort of like almost the best writer on planet earth.

The first thing I ever read by Joanna Ruocco was a story called “Unicorns.” At the time I was doing the mfa. “Unicorns” was very important to my development as a writer. It’s probably the greatest story ever written about people who doing an mfa.

Every six months, I find myself googling “Joanna Ruocco” to see what she’s up to or if she has a new book. In July of 2014, during a “Ruocco” google session I learned she had a new book called Dan coming out from The Dorothy Project. At the end of July I emailed The Dorothy Project to see if I could get a review copy of Dan.

It did not take me very long to read Dan, but it took me a long time to write this review. It is almost the end of the year. Dan was officially released at the beginning of October. It’ll probably be January, by the time I finish writing this review and send it off to whoever will publish it.

There’s also the ongoing problem I have writing reviews. Basically everything so far in this review is a perfect example of why I struggle writing reviews. I seem to be much more interested in talking about everything except the actual book.

My first attempt at writing a review fell short. I wrote: “The main character in Dan by Joanna Ruocco is named “Melba.” I once had a piece of toast named “Melba,” but that piece of toast got killed really bad because I put it in my mouth. Most things I put in my mouth don’t survive.”

My second attempt was equally flawed, “A lot of people have called Dan a “tiny” book, but I don’t understand what this means. I feel very sad whenever people talk about the size of a book in a book review. I also get sad when people say stuff like, “This books is certainly not for every reader,” but I can’t quite articulate why.

This is a little unrelated to what I’ve written so far, but a person I know hung out with Joanna at a party about six years ago and it was sort of interesting because someone at the party got punched. It seems weird whenever I hear about a person getting punched. Don’t people realize it’s the twenty-first century?

Whenever I hear someone say, “Wow this book is so innovative and bizarre,” I sort of get sick and don’t close my mouth for three or four days. The last time I kept my mouth open for this long a new form of mold developed on one of my lips.

Like most books, the young woman in Dan is getting used by the english language. I think a lot of microsoft word documents are angry at me whenever I don’t capitalized the ‘e’ in the word “english.” I probably would capitalize the ‘e’ in the word “english” if it didn’t look so stupid.

Once, I tried to write this review in a coffee shop. Someone next to me put something in their mouth and said, “Mmmmm. What is this?” A little while later a different person said, “Do you want me to show you that interesting website?”

Everything I’ve written so far sort of makes me want to go to a movie and molest some popcorn. I’m reminded of a friend who once got sad because the review of his play was about everything except him. I feel embarrassed whenever imagine Joanna Ruocco reading this review and realizing it has nothing to do with either her or her book. Even the parts that are supposed to be about her were made up.

This is almost exactly like this other review I once wrote.

Yesterday, I saw this guy. He was at Macy’s because he wanted to buy a new watch. He said, “Macy’s recently expanded their watch department.” My plan was to somehow vaguely connect this guy in Macy’s to Dan but the connection kept feeling forced. There wasn’t even really a guy in Macy’s. He sort of got created after I saw a magazine advertisement in an article someone left on the train. In my head, the Macy’s scenario ends with me yelling, “YOU SURE AREN’T GOING TO FIGURE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE LOOKING AT WATCHES IN MACY’S!”

Originally my plan had been to create a bunch of fake blurbs for Dan. Here a few:

  • Jon Stewart, from “The Daily Show,” had this to say about Dan by Joanna Ruocco: “A crowning achievement. So fricking good it makes me leak semen. If Dan was not a book named after a weird town, it would be a very bad man. I released many pounds of laughter steam out my mouth from deep inside my loins. When you press your eyeball on something as magical as this your only options are poo or jizz.”
  • Basketball star Tyson Chandler said, “If Dan was a basketball I would not dunk it. I would take it home with me and look at it for a very long time. People don’t understand why I dunk basketballs. I would stop dunking them forever if they were not basketballs.”
  • One of the clerks at the store Bloomingdale’s was very complementary of Dan: “It was like a piece of furniture crafted in elegant hardwood using time-honored artisanal techniques.”

I probably would have given up writing this review if I hadn’t seen a review of this book by Joy Williams. The review starts with Joy talking about the time she was reading Dan on a plane and the person next to her started talking shit about Joanna Ruocco.


Mark Baumer works at a library in Providence Rhode Island. He recently ate something. Follow him on twitter: @markbaumer.

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