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The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad

Review

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad

written by Mike Birbiglia, with poems by J. Hope Stein

Mike Birbiglia has always been an entertainer. His newest muse is Oona, his first child (and only child, if he has his way). She is the subject of his off-Broadway comedy show, Netflix special and second book, THE NEW ONE: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad.

Mike and his wife, Jennifer Hope Stein (to whom he refers as Clo, for a reason unbeknownst to us), had always vowed never to have a child. When Jen has a change of heart, Mike grapples with his thoughts on his health, family and fatherhood.

He starts off with all the reasons he would not make a good father, opening up to the reader about his flaws. Throughout the book, I emotionally connected with him; his narration makes it easy for us to empathize. He talks about his health issues, his insecurities about becoming a father, and his cynicism about the current state of the world. Even non-parents will relate to his troubles.

"Reading this raw and vulnerable book was almost like opening a page into Mike Birbiglia’s diary; his emotion is truly refreshing.... I recommend it to anyone who is in need of a little joy, love and laughter."

Although he touches on many serious topics, Mike maintains a lighthearted brevity throughout. He makes it compelling, with unfiltered, raw commentary full of self-deprecating jokes and hilarious musings.

Mike spends the majority of the book discussing his shortcomings and struggles as a father. He feels as if he no longer belongs in his family, that he has become a third wheel to the mother-daughter duo. Traveling the nation for his job, he wavers between hanging onto his old life and radically adjusting his present life for Oona. He grasps at straws to find a purpose as a father to her. He cannot compete with Jen, the source of comfort and food. I think showing the underbelly of parenthood was very impactful. Mike brings to light the expectation of parents to absolutely adore their children. Parenthood is supposed to be a joy unlike any other, but that isn’t always the case. I appreciate how Mike’s humor addresses this behavior and somewhat normalizes it.

Interspersed throughout the book is poetry by Jen. I am not an avid poetry reader, but I thought the collaboration fit beautifully. It gave me insight into Jen’s perspective, which is a fascinating juxtaposition against Mike’s narration. Whereas his writing is brash, funny and forward, hers is polite, pretty and soft. Alternating between these two styles gives the reader a fun look into the couple’s relationship. It is a unique combination that adds another dimension to the work.

Reading this raw and vulnerable book was almost like opening a page into Mike Birbiglia’s diary; his emotion is truly refreshing. He is a wonderful comedian who will have you laughing and crying and thinking, all in the span of a single chapter. THE NEW ONE is full of doubt, acceptance and family love. I recommend it to anyone who is in need of a little joy, love and laughter.

Reviewed by Alison Lee on June 19, 2020

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad
written by Mike Birbiglia, with poems by J. Hope Stein

  • Publication Date: June 16, 2020
  • Genres: Humor, Memoir, Nonfiction, Parenting
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538701510
  • ISBN-13: 9781538701515