A wide-ranging collection of literary essays in the guise of a memoir.
“At the center of [this book],” writes prolific poet, novelist and essayist Skloot (The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life, 2008), “is an attack of unrelenting vertigo that began—out of nowhere—on the morning of March 27, 2009, and ended on the evening of August 12, 2009, as suddenly as it had begun. Those 138 days seemed so anomalous, such a weird and isolated period in my life.” Well, yes and no. As it turns out, a viral attack in the brain some two decades earlier might well have presaged the vertigo, and some hip problems the author later suffered initially seemed equally out of the blue. Yet less than half of these essays (most previously published though often revised here) deal specifically with issues of health and disorientation, and some of the best—“Senior Speech,” about the stigma of speaking Brooklynese, and “The Bottom Shelf: On Novels I Keep Trying and Failing to Read” (by Styron, Bellow, Mann et al.)—work better as stand-alone pieces than in contributing to a larger thematic whole. Perhaps best of all is “Anniversary Fever,” which combines Skloot’s deep appreciation for poetry (and T.S. Eliot in particular) with a sense of how “the marking of anniversaries…helps me find order in a world that can be snarled and chaotic for anyone, not just for the brain damaged, or to find harmony in the jangle and dissonance of experience.” More than once, he shows a father’s pride in the success of daughter Rebecca’s best-selling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: “I’ll admit to having twenty-seven foreign and five American editions.”
At the age of 66, the author finds connections among these pieces that are stronger than those readers might discover.