Seeing this book's cover, you could make some assumptions. It features the chest of a man wearing a comically yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the smile-inducing title "My Wife Wants You to Know I'm Happily Married." But if you think this a collection of Dave Barry-esque essays, you'd be mistaken. I was.
While the book is undeniably funny (and at times made me laugh out loud), it's not a wordy frolic that endangers one to public snorting. The writing is sturdier than that, a construct built to sustain more than a quick laugh. Joey Franklin leverages humorous moments to make deeper, unexpected connections worthy of his editor, Tobias Wolff, as well as the University of Nebraska's American Lives series.
It starts with a kiss, as Franklin explores his own childhood preoccupation with the act and moves on to an unfortunate reality TV smooch that made one couple look like "two gerbils trying to drink out of the same water bottle." Despite these fanciful segues (which include William Goldman's "Princess Bride" and its perfect kiss rating formula), the essay veers smart. Franklin weaves the historical contributions of Dante, Chekhov and Rodin, while even slipping in the Japanese cultural views on the unsanitary aspects of the practice. All the rumination comes home with thoughts on not just the few transcendent kisses we experience in a lifetime, but also the everyday, pedestrian ones with longtime spouses.
This collection gives us a peephole into Franklin's journey as a religious person (a subject approached plainly with neither preachiness nor apology) transitioning from youth to young husband and father.
Take an essay ostensibly about learning Latin dance from an instructor with "hips that rolled like a bolt of satin unspooling," which Franklin compares with his own early efforts, "like a man with a squirrel down his shorts … trying to free a wedgie." This cinematic description hooks readers to follow the piece through its real subject matter: maturity and sacrifice. First, a spiritual one as Franklin willingly sets aside his natural talent (his Latin steps improved) for a two-year missionary stint with the Latter-day Saints church. And later, through "the gravitational pull of adulthood," he's left dancing the steps of compromise in marriage while he and his wife finish their college educations, young children in tow.
There are ruminations on starter houses with shag carpeting, cockroaches and history, the foibles of T-ball parents (his included) and the vain realities of hair loss. However, despite these seemingly mundane subjects, Franklin brings laughter and connection, illuminating a growth path that is earnest and self-effacing and that makes us hope our sons will be as contemplative and entertaining.
Lucie B. Amundsen is a writer and chicken farmer in Duluth. Her memoir, "Locally Laid," will be published next year.