Darling Days, iO Tillet Wright: Book Review

Despite the darkness, there is light: iO Tillet Wright's Darling Days is a tale of love and forgiveness in a grime-filled New York.

darling days io tillett wright book reviewHarper Collins / Maggie Davies
Darling Days Book Cover Darling Days
iO Tillet Wright
Harper Collins
September 27, 2016

Born into the beautiful bedlam of downtown New York in the eighties, iO Tillett Wright came of age at the intersection of punk, poverty, heroin, and art. This was a world of self-invented characters, glamorous superstars, and strung-out sufferers—ground zero of drag and performance art. Still, no personality was more vibrant and formidable than iO's mother's. Rhonna, a showgirl and young widow, was a mercurial, erratic Glamazon and iO's fiercest defender and only authority in a world with few boundaries and even fewer indicators of normal life. At the center of Darling Days is the remarkable relationship between a fiery kid and a domineering Ma—a bond defined by freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

iO Tillet Wright was probably always meant to write a memoir. No life so full of stories, so packed with characters and heart and emotion, could or should ever go untold; there is too much humanity in it. And how lucky we are that the memoir has been written. An apt description of the memoir, titled Darling Days, comes straight from iO’s own Instagram: “It’s the story of my life from birth to 22, including wild NYC streets, growing up in poverty, with addicted parents, finding myself and my sexuality, losing my virginity, first love, all that. It’s a story of forgiveness and compassion and survival.”

The book outlines the story of a child.  This sweet little character takes you through a rough and tough home-life with a larger-than-life mother, both in form and in personality, a city that’s rapidly changing, and a neighborhood filled with characters. It moves on to the school life of a child confused about their body and their sexuality, then to post-school. Through it all, the line that you follow is one of relationships: Wright’s relationship with his larger-than-life mother, as his life falls apart. A relationship with a semi-there father. With friends that become family.

The memoir is one of decisions: ones that are accepted, ones that aren’t, and ones made by others. It’s all against the backdrop of New York City, which shines as much as it reeks.

I, like the rest of us, am a sucker for a hot mess, magnetically pulled to the anti-hero. Reading and rereading the somehow glamorously enticing tales of mess ups, screw-ups, addicts, pouring over memoirs of lives that are glittered with a disorder that shines in a strange light. But they can sometimes leave me feeling a bit empty. This is where Wright’s memoir strikes a chord that I’ve never felt plucked before. 

Give me a good New York City tale of suffering, of bad decisions, of fiery nights and love and regrets and pain. I like redemption. And this is what Wright manages to do with the grace that I have rarely seen elsewhere. It is a balance: the messy parts are given the credit they deserve – the pain is discussed honestly and brutally – but they are not dwelled upon and made to sound desirable. iO makes you want what comes after. The forgiveness, the growth, the redemption after a life that was not easy. It is a memoir written with a voice of empathy and warmth that keeps you cozy amongst cold, dark situations. 

And so what shines the brightest in this memoir is how loud the light must be against the dark – but you never forget that it’s there. What I mean is that Wright’s life is, unarguably, one that was not easy. It was poverty. It was hunger. It was bodily confusion, emotional confusion, and so many more kinds of uncertainty. But the story never dwells, because the story grew. Darling Days somehow manages to balance what is so hard to balance: an appreciation and honest rendering of the past without dwelling. Because there is a strange sense of optimism that you would not expect from a story like this.

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Carliann Rittman
the authorCarliann Rittman
Contributing Writer
Currently at NYU, probably feverishly reading messy memoirs about musicians.