If you loved Tiny Beautiful Things, or pored over Agony Aunt articles in your mother’s magazines as a kid, you’re going to want to read Dear Prudence, a collection of the best and wildest letters and responses from Slate.com’s advice column. The wonderful folks at Scribe were kind enough to send me a copy for review, and I dove in with glee.
First, the philosopher behind the pen: “Prudence”, in this collection, is Daniel M. Lavery (author of the brilliantly-titled Something That May Shock And Discredit You). He wrote the Dear Prudence advice column from 2016-2021, so he covered a lot of juicy years in terms of personal crises for readers.
“Nothing in particular qualified me for the job outside of a general interest in advice-column history,” he says in the introduction. He points out that it’s not exactly a job you can train for, but it’s an endlessly fascinating one for the right type of person. It’s the same fascination that draws us to read a collection like Dear Prudence: “the quiet, private gratification of gawking at someone else’s problems without having to commit a vulgarity like eavesdropping or going through their mail” (the same reason so many AITA posts go viral).
The letters and responses – with Lavery’s additional commentary – are arranged in thematic chapters, with titles like “Can I break up with him without hurting his feelings?”, “Wait – am I in the wrong here?”, and “My kids are growing up. Can someone please stop this?” Given that many letters and responses were written at the height of COVID-19, there’s also a whole lockdown-themed chapter (which you might find triggering, if it’s all a bit too fresh).
I loved the letters, Lavery’s responses, and Lavery’s approach to Dear Prudence overall. He’s open to admitting when, in retrospect, he gave bad advice, and offers us a version of what he could have said instead. It shouldn’t be refreshing to see someone admit, in print, that they got something wrong – but it is!
My favourite letter in Dear Prudence (and I suspect it’s Lavery’s too) came from a woman who had been putting her husband’s toenail clippings in his coffee. You wouldn’t think anyone could be Team Wife in that scenario, but context is everything!
My only quibble with this collection is that it ends kind of abruptly. I was expecting a bit of an outro, or maybe a summary of the advice that Lavery had dispensed throughout Dear Prudence, but it just ends with no parting words of wisdom. So, let me sum it up as best I can for you: assume the best in others, assert your boundaries with others, and see a therapist.
Buy Dear Prudence on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)