Tin House managing editor Knapp debuts with a collection of essays that attempt to balance highbrow and lowbrow elements.
In “Faces of Pain,” the author and a photographer attend a wrestling event held at the Portland Lion’s Club, where he “saw so many incredible things I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.” “Beirut” is an existential reflection on beer pong and the author’s frat-house 20s. “Mysteries We Live With” is an investigation into true-believer UFO subculture mixed with stories of the author’s own Christian upbringing. Most of the essays flow with self-deprecating charm, but Knapp often trips over his own wordiness and unnecessarily complicated verbiage. In the 90-page concluding essay, “Something’s Gotta Stick,” the author recounts his days at an adult skateboarding camp, lost in nostalgia while hunting for affirmation that would “clarify my relationship to my past, and, in so doing, help me lean into the future as if it were a headwind.” Knapp sees stories everywhere, committed to a belief that the lives around him are each their own unwritten memoirs. While a curious, self-conscious take on memoir, Knapp’s essays are often overwrought. The prolix “Neighborhood Watch” is a story of gentrification and the intersection of neighboring lives in the aftermath of a local man’s murder. The author ponders, again, “the vital and vivifying mystery” of life, that another person’s existence can be so different yet “so close to where the epic drama of your own life is set.” “Why can’t I get out of my own way?” he asks in one essay. “Seems I’m always getting caught in the sticky wicket of self-consciousness, overaware of how the story’s being told. Overaware that a story’s being told. My default mode tends to be this one of narration, meaning, roughly, that an experience doesn’t really become ‘real’ for me until it’s prosed.” These essays, often about trying to be stories we’re not, are carried by Knapp’s struggle toward self-acceptance.
A writer’s up-and-down search for profundity in the insecure and unrefined corners of his life.