Tragedy and its consequences are the focus of this collection of essays.
Monson (English/Univ. of Arizona; Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, 2015, etc.), a native of Upper Michigan’s Copper Country, was so fascinated by a “storm sewer that is designed to flush everything in its path” in his adopted hometown of Tucson that, as he writes in the first of these essays, he walked through it to explore its contents. This walk made him think of a Minnesota bridge that had collapsed years earlier. He compares structures that fail to groups of people considered “stable, impenetrable, and how quickly that unit can give way into something else if stressed enough.” One such stressor was the 2011 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, an event that Monson references throughout the collection. The theme of most of these pieces is tragedy in all its forms, from mass shootings and mining disasters to floods and tsunamis. Even when his topic is as seemingly frivolous as the Arizona Renaissance Festival, tragedy and loss are never far from his thoughts, as when he notes that fairs, like video games and other diversions, are a way “to forget about yourself for a little while.” As in previous collections, Monson experiments with the essay form, with mixed results. Sometimes, he’s too clever—e.g., in an essay about the quest for dominion over water, the text is printed to simulate liquid pouring into the gutter of the book’s binding—and frequent digressions diminish the power of his arguments. However, the best essays start in one place and move in unpredictable, satisfying directions, as when a piece on mixtapes given to him by friends leads him to ask a question that is especially moving given the collection’s emphasis on loss: “What do we leave the world? What marks do we leave in snow among the trees? What magnetic trace do we erase or tape over?”
Provocative if sometimes unfocused musings of a curious mind.