Last week I reviewed the “poetry as essay” collection “Unbearable Splendor” by Sun Yung Shin, taken from the Book Riot “25 Great Essay Collections from 2016”. The next collection that I picked up, from that listing was “Shame And Wonder” by David Searcy. Described as “A debut collection of 21 essays, this book combines a personal voice with a sharp critical eye. Searcy’s subjects are varied, but his perspective on the world is consistently surprising, fresh, and insightful.”
David Searcy is apparently well known for his “two horror-inflected novels, Ordinary Horror and Last Things”, Google him and the matches you get are all for Shame and Wonder, I’m starting to get that uneasy feeling, the publicists are doing a great job with very ordinary material. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Like dispatches from another world, the twenty-one essays in David Searcy’s debut collection Shame and Wonder are unfamiliar, profound and haunting. In his late sixties, the Texan author David Searcy became drawn to non-fiction, writing ‘straight-up’, on note pad and manual typewriter, a series of disparate thoughts and interests. These unframed apprehensions, as he called them – of forgotten baseball fields, childhood dreams of space travel, the bedtime stories he’d invent for his young children – evolved into a sequence of extraordinary essays probing the pivots and pathways of his life, and puzzling out what they might mean. Expansive in scope, but deeply personal in their perspective, the pieces in Shame and Wonder forge beautiful connections that make the everyday seem almost extraterrestrial, creating intricate and glittering constellations of words and ideas. Radiant and strange and suffused with longing, this collection is a work of true grace, wisdom and joy.
Rereading the blurb and the precis of such at Book Riot, I am starting to question why I bought this book in the first place…
Here are my thoughts….From the first page my skin crawled, we are talking narcissism in the extreme, the opening essay, “The Hudson River School”, is basically about a farmer who used a recording of a child’s cry to lure and shoot a coyote. But the essay is about Searcy and his visit to the dentist, and the reasons why he can’t visit the farmer in question, why he doesn’t floss, his “girlfriend”, Nancy, drawing a picture. Now a 60 year old latecomer to non-fiction, calling out his “girlfriend” every few pages, a woman who is painted as his trophy, a woman without a voice, is getting on my goat and I’m only 25 pages in….this was going to need some pretty decent storytelling to win me over…
In the big high-ceilinged living room are all the animals Nancy didn’t see on the way down. All the ones she’d periodically wake herself to look for out in the scrub along the highway. Here they are. The biggest elk I’ve ever seen above the fireplace. On the floor, a brown bear rug. And on the wall across the room above the bookcase is a group of horned and antlered beasts so fully and expansively themselves they lose significance as trophies.
Exploring the psyche of somebody who hunts may be an interesting subject for a reader like me, a vegan pacifist, a person who consciously does not harm any animal (even flies) – I am willing to open my mind to other views, however in the hands of Searcy (as this is ALL about Searcy) I simply cannot have any compassion. Sorry mate, they are no longer “so fully and expensively themselves” because somebody put a bullet in them!!! He seems to think white males with guns have a right to own everything “your wind, your emptiness, your animals, your house”, I’m surprised there wasn’t a “your woman” thrown in there.
Essay two, “El Camino Doloroso”;
How striking and encouraging to discover that a ‘51 Ford pickup or whatever had a soul. Who would have thought?
Oh my goodness, an essay about cars, and the cars have souls!!! The animals that hang on walls in essay one don’t have souls, they’re just possessions you can treat as you want, lure to their death, but the fucking cars in essay two do!!!
An “everyman’s” essay collection, guns, motors, toothpicks, a beaten up typewriter, an “invented” writer for us, do we recall Hemmingway and be oh so macho? I’m fully aware of the record companies, and television programs that create boy bands, girl bands, the next big “voice”, I didn’t realise that publishing companies were up to the same trick, the next big writer. Put in a dash of this, a splash of that, a spicy after-shave blend for the well-rounded man, a great gift for Father’s Day, or Thanksgiving, or Xmas, no need for socks or chewing tobacco, buy the latest writing sensation talking all things guns, cars and balls. Puke.