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by Ander Monson

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 2007
ISBN: 1-55597-459-7
Publisher: Graywolf

An eccentric, idiosyncratic collection of essays, most previously published (some online only), on topics ranging from car washes to high-school felonies to the nature of prose itself, from Monson (Other Electricities, 2005).

Some of these pieces have the structure of traditional essays; others experiment with the form. One piece is merely an index. Another, about snow, has words scattered to resemble a blizzard. Yet another, a meditation on failure, features words competing for space with rows of periods. Says the author, “I love the idea of failure in art—the failed experiment.” And some of these pieces qualify. But there are some goodies here, too. In one piece, an attempt to come to terms with his younger, more tormented self, the author—booted from Cranbrook School for assorted teen screw-ups—returns some years later to walk the grounds, to sit and ruminate. There are a few genial pieces, about car washes and disc (Frisbee) golf, though a talented undergraduate could have produced them. Monson shares a bit of trivia along the way, including why STOP is a feature of telegrams and who invented the first automatic car wash. And we learn a little of his family history in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One grandfather operated ferries that ceased operations when the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957. The author, who notes that he teaches at the same school (Grand Valley State Univ.) as James Frey’s father, references Melville and Twain, among others.

Poetic quality aside, there is not enough that informs the mind or heart.