Raphael Bob-Waksberg is best known as the creator of a talking horse who, following his glory days as a TV sitcom star, struggles with depression, alcohol abuse and the general ego death of being a Hollywood has-been. The horse is the title character of the adult animated comedy series BoJack Horseman.
But as his most famous creation has taken off on Netflix, Bob-Waksberg has also been writing fiction. As it turns out, his short stories also combine imaginative and surreal concepts with the deep and dark emotions of being human.
His debut collection of stories, out now, is called Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory. In an interview, he says that, in their own weird ways, these are all stories about love.
“The premise is that love, in all its forms, is difficult and challenging,” Bob-Waksberg says. “And the question, the debate, is: Is it worth it? And I think there are stories that are very pro-love and then there are some stories in the book that take a more cynical view of it. … I wrote this book over a long period of time, and I think my own feelings about love have changed in that time.”
On the story “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion”
Bob-Waksberg: The first large story is about a couple getting married, which is very much based on the wedding that I had with my wife, or was trying to plan with my wife.
Shapiro: Except this one involves sacrificing goats —
Bob-Waksberg: Yes, I said “based on”!
Shapiro: And ritualistic eggs and other parts of a wedding that we don’t necessarily see every day.
Bob-Waksberg: Right. So a lot of this book takes place in a world that is slightly adjacent to our own, perhaps. And my wife and I are both Jewish. And we really wanted to keep our wedding very small and very simple. We didn’t invite a lot of people — and a lot of people were very upset about that — but we really wanted to not have a big to-do. And I was shocked that, even when we were both in agreement about that, of how complicated to just have this small, simple wedding. And some of the things we wanted, I couldn’t explain to you why it was — you know, why must we get married under a chuppah? I don’t know, but we both have to! Or the food: “Oh, we’ll just get some takeout, it’s only 20 people.” “We’re not getting takeout for our wedding.”
Shapiro: And then: “I thought we were on the same page on this! We’ve had conversations about this!”
Bob-Waksberg: “I thought we were on the same page! We’re gonna do it small and simple!” “Yes, but it’s still going to be a wedding. It’s not going to be a potluck in the backyard.” …
I think the story is very recognizable because the premise of the story is a similar kind of thing, but all of these Jewish traditions are subbed out for mysterious, perhaps pagan or made-up traditions. But I think all the things, all the arguments, all the conversations about it are just as ludicrous in the real world. And so the story, which involves goat sacrifice and marriage cloaks and promise eggs, to me is one of the more grounded, realistic stories in the collection.
On the story “Missed Connection — m4w,” which first appeared as a missed connections post on Craigslist
I had this idea to write this fake missed connection that starts very grounded and real, and gradually reveals itself to be a little more allegorical or magical — and just posted it anonymously on Craigslist. … And it got huge. …
I tweeted about it, and it started getting passed around. People started writing posts on blogs — I think somebody called it “the most beautiful Craigslist missed connection post ever.” … I mean, it is an art form in itself. And the whole thing was terrifying to me … because I think part of the magic of this piece is that you, as the reader, you can read whatever you want to believe that it means. I think there were people who read that and thought this random New Yorker had this experience that moved him to write this beautiful thing. And I was afraid that people were going to find out that: Oh, he’s a professional writer. Right? This wasn’t just a magical moment. This was a crafted piece of fiction. I thought people would feel manipulated. … I wanted people to live in that fiction of whatever they believed. I didn’t want to burst that bubble.
But also, what the story is about is about this guy who can’t work up the nerve to talk to this woman sitting on the same train car as him. And in fact, 60 years pass … he’s paralyzed by this idea of who this woman is even though he never actually talks to her. It’s almost like he creates this fantasy in his head, and in some ways, the tension of the fantasy is more exciting than actually talking to her. And I realized I was kind of living that afterward, where I felt like the fantasy of the mystery around me is so much more interesting than if people actually got to know me and see: Oh, it’s just some guy who wrote a thing.
On the book’s title, specifically the phrase “damaged glory”
What I like about it … what I think the phrase means is this feeling of glory that, as humans who exist, there is something marvelous about us, something magical, something stupendous, something exemplary. And I don’t mean that in a religious way, but perhaps religious-adjacent — that we are touched by God, that we have a spark. But also, by nature of being on this planet, we are scarred and weathered and corrupted by the world outside of us, and the flawed architecture inside of us. So I like the phrase damaged glory because I think it represents that. And I do believe that we are all worthy of somebody who will love us, in all our damaged glory.
Dave Blanchard and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.