Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright
With a cascade of oddballs, theaters, dancers, confrontations, and concussions, iO Tillett Wright opens her tumultuous childhood to us. NYC in the 90s was a brutal place for the poor, and iO shows us the chaos away from Manhattan’s lushness while keeping the more glowing aspects of the city close at hand. Darling Days is raw and exposed, contemporary without soapboxing or moralizing.
iO Tillett Wright’s childhood is fraught foremost by poverty, compounded by her mother’s raging stubbornness, frustrated further by Wright’s struggle with her gender – she works hard at passing a boy, constantly facing scrutiny on this matter from her peers (though not from her parents). Her dad is wealthy, but has little access to iO because of her mother. They bounce from tenement to tenement, going to auditions and always scraping for food. Wright slowly becomes more and more distant from the mother she once adored and relied upon as drugs and pills poison her mind and body. Wright’s love gains conditional qualities as she grows up, but she is not the kind of person to ever give up or shut down.
The memoir can be difficult. Even interesting people with complex lives must be careful not to drone on and bore us. The memoirist must not over-analyze their own lives, or else their story comes across as a cathartic rambling which serves little purpose. Wright’s method is subtle – everything is in the present tense. It takes places now rather than then, and this has a very illuminating outcome. People’s behavior makes more sense, clunky language is side stepped, and the world does not need to be described. We can imagine this place vividly without a constant reminder of, “Hey, remember when things weren’t the same as they are now?”. Wright deftly avoids romanticizing or nostalgia, pushing against the cult of misremembering and revisionism that plagues so much of our media. Another fantastic maneuver is that Darling Days never tries to make an overarching narrative to life and allows loose episodes to coalesce the story. Wright shows that the past can be recalled honestly and still be compelling.
Darling Days is like if Federico Fellini wrote a script with Robert Bresson and Martin Scorsese directed. That is to say: it is depressing (sometimes) and gritty (a desolate childhood in the spirit of Mouchette) but also buoyant and interested in finding out what makes life worth living. This is not a sob story, or poverty porn. It’s a connection, a reflection on humanity, a reaching-out to others who might relate. Darling Days won’t lie to you, it won’t coddle you, it won’t manipulate you, and it won’t disappoint you.