TFT Review of ‘Legs Get Led Astray’ by Chloe Caldwell
Legs Get Led Astray is the debut essay collection of The Faster Times’ own Chloe Caldwell, and a couple of the essays in the collection (“The Art Teacher” and “The Shit You Say”) debuted in a slightly altered form right here. But don’t read Legs Get Led Astray just because Caldwell is a member of the Faster family. Read it because it’s a fine debut, brimming with emotionally affecting essays about youth, growing up, life, drugs, sex, relationships and myriad other topics (including masturbation).
Caldwell overcomes her shortcomings — an occasional over-reliance on repetition as device and hipster name dropping — by her emotionally affecting prose and uncompromising honesty. These essays have the instant familiarity of a friend telling stories at a party. That one friend you have that always has something interesting to say about the places she’s been, drugs she’s done or orgies she’s participated in. Legs Get Led Astray reads like an intimate conversation between author and reader.
Most of the essays in the collection have something to do with Chloe’s coming of age in New York, and Legs Get Led Astray is one of the more adept portraits of urban youth of a certain time and place (New York, whatever you want to call the mid 00′s). Her portraits of her friends and acquaintances aren’t always flattering, she’s far more interested in honesty. In one of the collections’ most harrowing essays, “The Legendary Luke,” we are introduced to a painfully real portrait of a hipster by that name, vapid enough to claim that Kerouac “isn’t even obscure enough for me.” What’s impressive isn’t that Caldwell so accurately portrays the unsavoriness of this eventual love interest, but that by the end of the essay she actually makes us feel for the guy.
This uneasy feeling of wanting to jump into the pages of the collection and intervene isn’t unique to “The Legendary Luke” either: much of Legs Get Led Astray deals with the risk taking, regrettable decisions, pain and failure that accompany the long transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Caldwell writes in “My Heart Was Still Beating”: “There were days when I preferred the boys I babysat to the adult boys in my life.” Indeed, Caldwell writes equally adeptly, if not more so, about her relationships with these children as she does with her adult relationships; and the essays dealing with her babysitting adventures are among the most humorous and poignant in the collection. She’s able to say a lot about these little characters and her relationships with them in just a short space and it’s pretty hard not to get choked up while reading “My Heart Was Still Beating” or “True Love.”
There’s really so much to recommend Legs Get Led Astray. If you liked “The Art Teacher” or “The Shit You Say” (if you haven’t read them yet then go do that now, I gave you the links damn it) there’s plenty of more to discover and appreciate with the rest of the collection (and the versions in Legs Get Led Astray are different enough to be worth re-reading). Legs Get Led Astray is daring, funny, occasionally brilliant, and, above all, eminently readable.
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