Book Review: Congratulations, Who Are You Again?
By Harrison Scott Key
Harper Collins: $15.99 | 368 Pages
This is a book about dreams that’s surprisingly…real. No grand overtures about how wishing hard enough and wanting it badly enough results preternaturally in the kind of intense American success story we all grow up aspiring towards. This is a story about work, and toil. Years of it. In pursuit of a singular dream; to write a book, and to have it published and read. In, Congratulations, Who Are You Again? Harrison Scott Key hits at something fundamental, transcendent, and hopeful.
This memoir isn’t just about Key and his particular dream but also dreaming in general. The real work and disappointment that it takes to accomplish anything meaningful. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be. Whatever you hope beyond all hope to do, if it is meaningful, it will be difficult, and time-consuming, and sometimes soul-crushingly impossible seeming. Hearing someone admit this is refreshing in an era of airbrushed success stories.
Key talks of growing up in rural Mississippi, watching the adults in his life do work that didn’t fulfill them and deciding that he wanted more, to do work that gave him joy and meaning. That decision started him down the path to his dream. But, preceding accomplishments were the risks, and the work. The late nights, early mornings and uncertainty.
It is like that for anything a person yearns for, regardless of what it is. What all dreams have in common is that they are only as salient as the dreamer makes them. If your goal is to do any novel and amazing thing, real life will get in the way. No one will notice if the book doesn’t get written today. But myriad other things must be done. Key describes days working at the kitchen table with his children in and out of the room, needing things as children do, and all of them more pressing than the book that didn’t yet exist. Big responsibilities in life can choke and stifle dreams, they distract attention and consume energy until nothing is left for the dream.
He describes internal conflict this brings, as singular aim bumps up against absolute necessity. Stolen moments in the early morning, when he’d escape to a coffee shop before sunrise to get in a few hours of writing before work, guilty that he had left other things undone, but knowing that in order to bring them all to something better he must pursue it. He explores the sheer loneliness that is a dream, providing a powerful reminder that what now feels like a mountain of work for the miniscule impossibility of real success could actually result in the manifestation of what one most yearns for. Key writes that “Dreams are diaphanous and maddening things”, and that strikes true. Dreams must be worked at, or they dissolve quickly again into nothingness.
He is honest to a fault. He doesn’t claim that when the dream comes true life is suddenly perfect. He describes his first traipse into the universe he spent his youth trying to break into and it makes clear that with dreams, the goal posts never stop moving. Once he gets his book published, there arises a new set of difficulties. It’s not easy to go on tour promoting a book, and the toll it takes is recorded in all its gritty reality in this book.
It also provides a reminder of the fact that comparison is the killer of joy, once published, the writer no longer spends all of their free moments writing, but posting, promoting, and comparing sales figures. Meaning becomes obscured by accomplishment and a new struggle begins. The struggle for relevance. Just publishing the book is not enough. Now it must be read, and to be read it must be marketed. That task too becomes overwhelming and all-encompassing. Coming to terms with both the process and the outcome creates a beautiful story of personal growth told throughout with wit, humor, and an ever-present sense of not taking oneself too seriously. Key doesn’t try to tell anyone how to pursue their own dream, but the wisdom he slips in as he describes his journey would be invaluable for anyone attempting to accomplish something meaningful of any variety.
This book is above all, real and touching. It pulls at the dreamer in all of us. It’s a reminder that the specialness of success is more often than not hard work, and that even those who have succeeded greatly did not do so with the ease and confidence that hindsight often convinces us they did. This is the kind of story that you consume in a day or two. Crying at parts, and laughing aloud at others, feeling as though the author has truly hit at something real in the human experience. Congratulations, Who Are You Again? will leave any reader better than it found them, and it might just remind you that your dream is powerful, achievable, and real.