Salt-of-the-earth collection of photos paired with loosely related essays by contemporary literary luminaries.
Using the theme of “twos” and “pairs,” Pinney (Photography/Columbia Coll. Chicago; Girl Ascending, 2011, etc.) includes a number of heartfelt but ultimately uninspiring color photos bolstered by the essayistic efforts of some of today’s most established mainstream writers. Acclaimed novelist Patchett (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013, etc.) serves as the editor and provides an encomium-filled introduction. Other contributors matching words to images include Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Gilbert, Richard Russo, Barbara Kingsolver, Billy Collins, Maile Meloy and Susan Orlean. Unfortunately, no matter how the “two” theme is rendered, it often rings hollow: Many of the brief accompanying essays suffer from a sense of being a specially commissioned piece of workmanlike writing rather than the product of inspiration. A few of these essays, however, do leave memorable traces, especially Gilbert’s musings in “Two Heads on a Pike,” about the extraordinary and empathetic instincts her indispensable proofreading foil showed when considering her work, acting in both antagonistic and complementary ways to improve Gilbert’s work. In “The Dollies,” Elizabeth McCracken most successfully embodies the “two” theme, delivering a brief but touching portrait of an odd but abiding bond between twin sisters. “If you were twins, you couldn’t be alike,” she writes. “You had to share. Better to take all of math and forgo music than to be only so-so at both. Better to love public speaking and understand you would never be able to carry a tune. That made sense to me. Who would want to be only average at anything?” On the whole, the book is well-intentioned. However, neither the photos nor the accompanying essays contain the sort of deep, evocative power to make for more than a fleetingly interesting project.
A quietly ambitious multimedia production that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.