A strange kind of hangover has been hard to ignore, especially on television, as new episodes of our favorite shows filmed before the pandemic were rolled out after. The lingering last rays of normal were jarring to witness, as scenes of people gathering, hugging and carrying on as if nothing were wrong only served to highlight the disconnect of the early days of lockdown. Something of that dynamic pervades the experience of reading Sandra Tsing Loh’s latest book as well, as it was done and dusted just before things shut down.
Loh’s particular essayist’s gift is informed and expanded by her work in theater and performance; her frank, self-deprecating wit is built on a foundation of acute observation of the ridiculous hypocrisies and foibles that give everyday life its texture. She is uniquely capable of being sanguine, savage, and sophisticated in her assessment of social contretemps and the unlikely opportunities for joy that punctuate the social morass — especially that of Los Angeles. In The Madwoman and the Roomba: My Year of Domestic Mayhem (Norton) she turns her attention to the pleasures and terrors of family life.
The scenarios — academically unambitious teenagers, life partners that get on your last nerve, being audited, friends with too much zinfandel in their namaste, talking politics at parties, fad diets, bad vacations, Costco impulse buys — are rife with knotty details, and all too familiar. At least they were. That’s the strangeness of reading this book now.
It sparks disdain and empathy, chortles of schadenfreude and of recognition, as her work always does. But it does something else too, something much less expected — it creates nostalgia for the innocent dysfunctions of the time before. We surf her prose, with a hearty supply of “I know, right?!” at the ready, eating it up like moldy gentrifier jam — yet at every turn surprised by a gathering sense of loss. I can see the follow up now: an account of realizing how much we miss everything we were so sure that we hated.