Twenty-one stylish, purposeful, wide-ranging, and carefully wrought essays, most previously published in the New Yorker.
Wilkinson begins with a sampling of short pieces, no more than a few of pages each, that take fun in tweaking celebrities and often display a certain impish charm (“My new best friend is Cash Money,” he declares in one). A few of the other, longer pieces step off the beaten path to introduce a friend of Larry King’s, profile Elmore Leonard’s researcher, or offer a glimpse into the strange world of funny cars (“a peevish and irascible species of hot rod”) and a practitioner of the sport, John Force (“Fundamental American archetypes intersected to produce the solitary, romantic, migratory, and daredevil elements of Force’s nature”). Most of the essays are serious, at times fighting for control over an unruly emotion or subject as in the two sympathetic and melancholy essays on New Yorker editor William Maxwell that were later expanded into My Mentor (2002). A crushingly poignant portrait of a boy/man with Asperger’s Syndrome stands in striking contrast to a hair-raising one of mass-murderer John Wayne Gacy (“he has said that the only crime he is guilty of was operating a cemetery without a license”) based on interviews with him in prison. As creepy in its own way, though far sadder, is an essay on suicides and suicide notes: “Life isn’t worth the bother. . . . I know I didn’t say much, but I am in a hurry,” wrote one man. In an especially puissant piece, Wilkinson explores his sense of fatherhood and the eccentricities of his child. “Throughout my son’s life,” he muses, “I have now and then thought of him as a household divinity—that is, as an uncorrupted presence of joy.”
A deft and memorable collection with both focus and elbow room from a class act in the world of magazine journalism.