In this clear and poetic collection of personal essays, Sallis (Bluebottle, 1999, etc.) recounts the beauty and pain he has
experienced as a writer and as a human being.
Best known for his Lew Griffin detective novels, Sallis has a talent for conveying sadness and humor simultaneously. In a
piece entitled "Literary Life," he claims, "I distinctly remember being happy for almost 5 minutes in the winter of 1976."
Striking the same ambivalence, he continues, "Every day I receive letters that say, You write so well, so beautifully. And every
day I send letters that say, Where is my money?" Whether describing the beans he savored directly from the can as a starving
writer or remembering a few words shared with a woman in the Laundromat, Sallis is unfailingly honest, intelligent, and without
pretense in his recollections. As for the human characters he describes, their brief dialogues are reminiscent of Raymond Carver's
work—as is Sallis's provocative minimalist style. Each piece is carefully crafted and understated, and the author roots his ideas
in philosophy and an appreciation of nature. Rain, tall trees, and poetry play recurrent roles. Many of the essays are elegiac and
cathartic, dedicated to individuals who have touched his life—his first wife, his father, a young friend who suffered from cystic
fibrosis, and a high school music teacher. He communes intimately with memory, with those he loves and has loved, and with
his own writing, revisiting buried emotions, unresolved relationships, and unpublished works. In "Temporary Life," for example,
Sallis reworks painful material from a manuscript written after his wife attempted suicide: the story is a touching mix of old and
new work, as a writer calls upon old feelings and the words he uses to express them.
From literary and emotional standpoints, the essays are charming and memorable.