Reading It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry feels a little bit like someone’s exposing himself or herself to you at the park or on the train. Except maybe you paid them to do it, but you really didn’t know what you were getting into, so you feel embarrassed but kind of like it anyway?
Something like that.
I’ve been a dedicated fan of Joey Comeau’s work since I started reading his and Emily Horne’s three-panel webcomic A Softer World during my freshman year of college. Two or three sentences, each word precisely right (or precisely, perfectly wrong), makes a whole story bloom in my head. This one in particular breaks my heart a little bit every time I read it.
I’ve read many of the stories in It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry in bits and pieces, online or in randomly picking it up for a few minutes at a time. I remember rushing to read “Red Delicious” when I got home; it was the first story I read online and my favorite. When I picked it up during the recent Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, though, was the first time I read all the stories in one sitting, and it was from this that a pattern emerged. Many of the stories are about discomfort and exposure–intentional exposure, the characters pulling their chests open in front of one another in a way that is honest and a little obscene. It’s difficult to read this, sometimes. I want to help the character close up their exposure because seeing someone that exposed makes me feel exposed too. We avoid embarrassment, awkwardness, too-much-information moments that make us feel like we’re imposing upon other people with the truth of ourselves. Whether it’s right or wrong to do this, I can’t say, but it’s both frightening and refreshing to read about this indecent exposure and imagine being honest like that, not just with one person but with everyone. Talking about imaginary third testicles and two pee holes. Exhausting, but liberating.
I guess I should actually talk about the stories themselves: they’re generally rather short, averaging at maybe 7 or 8 pages. The first few make up what I think of as “the sexy arc”: desire and nakedness and, again, exposure. People putting themselves out there at the risk that the gesture, the feeling isn’t returned. It’s hard for me to summarize them individually, both due to my hatred of summarizing and because I don’t think I could do them justice. “Patricia” is more than just a story about some guy who travels through time to have sex with geniuses. “Historians and Degenerates” is more than a story about a man whose historian fugitive wife writes a memoir about all of his sordid sexual acts. (You can read “Historians and Degenerates” online here, by the way. I was going to link to “Red Delicious” but couldn’t find it anymore. “Historians and Degenerates” is good too, though.)
After the sexy arc comes a pair of sneaking, subtle horror stories that made me cringe in the way horror stories should. As with his other stories, it’s the precise and evocative wording, at least in part, that makes them so effective.
The last three are hard for me to categorize–and really, so are the others, but I did it anyway, for some reason. “Where Are You Off Too Now?” is another one I read online, and since it was around 4 a.m. during the Read-a-Thon I took the time to read it aloud to Jessica. Yelling “HARLOT HARLOT HARLOT” was quite cathartic, although I hope in retrospect that I didn’t wake anyone else in the house. The last story, “Cry Me A River,” is a story of death and confusion and regret. A slight feeling of regret tinges many of the other stories in the collection–all you need to do is refer to the title. I am usually drawn to books with long or strange titles, and It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry is no exception. It really stands for the whole collection of stories. There are missteps and moments that are worthy of regret, but there is also a defiant sense of refusing to regret, of doing something impulsively and it being over before you can be sorry for it.
When I had the opportunity to buy the first printed collection of A Softer World, along with Joey’s works It’s Too Late To Say I’m Sorry; Overqualified; and Lockpick Pornography at Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco in 2009, I was, to put it lightly, excited. Joey looked like he’d had a bit of a rough night, but he (and Emily Horne) kindly signed my entire stack of books anyway while I fidgeted and got embarrassed for not being able to hide my enthusiasm. I feel naked in front of people I admire, like I’m burdening them with my admiration. Maybe next time I’ll just pull my shirt open and then run away. Not likely, but it’s a thought. Then again, simply feeling naked in front of someone and actually being escorted out of a public venue by the police are two different things entirely.
Reading It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry reminded me that Joey Comeau has at least two more books I haven’t read, so I purchased Bible Camp Bloodbath (horror story) and The Girl Who Couldn’t Come (sexy stories) for my Kindle. The prices on Amazon are really quite low, and based on the quality of the rest of his work, they will be more than worth it. Perhaps I’ll review them in a sexy/scary double feature at some point. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend any of his works or collaborations, including and especially this one. It made a good companion read alongside Sweet Valley High: Mystery Date, I can say that much.