An eclectic collection finds Lazar (Creative Writing/Columbia Coll., Chicago; Occasional Desire, 2013, etc.) attempting to reach beyond category, or at least beyond the personal essay.
The author’s hyper self-awareness may well be a mark of the personal essayist, often tempered by self-deprecation or wry humor, but the tone here is generally too elevated for that. Even the opening essay, “Ann; Death and the Maiden” is mostly about Lazar, who confesses, “writing this makes me queasy. I hope for obvious reasons.” Maybe not as queasy as readers, who learn about the writer’s former student, manic-depressive and suicidal, still married, with whom he conducted a sexually explosive relationship of “film noirish meetings in back alleys and cheap motels.” She wouldn’t take her medication and went off the rails, and they drifted apart; ultimately, he found out about her death on Facebook. “Have I been a flaneur of some of my own darkest impulses with some of my friends and a woman I’ve loved, being close enough to my own worst-case scenarios to feel their hot breath while watching others take the heat?” Both “flaneur” and “queasy” seem to be touchstones in the author’s writing, though he insists in a conversation on the essay (the collection’s longest piece) that when he writes of himself, it is never “just for the sake of my own self-analysis. The idea of that makes me queasy.” There are distinct parts to this collection: memoir-ish personal essays, ones that are more academic about the nature of the essay and the relationship of writer and reader, and a series of aphorisms that features a section on “Mothers, Etc.,” with drawings to illustrate. Among the nonmother aphorisms: “Far from the madding crowd—inside it. The flaneur”; “Hell is where you mostly live; heaven is where you rehab.”
Sometimes-provocative material residing in a collection that often feels forced together.