THE NEXT AMERICAN ESSAY by John D’Agata

THE NEXT AMERICAN ESSAY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sometimes challenging anthology that expands the usual definition of essay.

Iowa Workshop grad D’Agata, who collected his own unconventional essays in Halls of Fame (2001), here selects one per year starting in 1975, when he was born, bookending them with Guy Davenport’s prologue and Joe Wenderoth’s epilogue. D’Agata’s choice for 1975, John McPhee’s “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” is a relatively conventional essay by a widely read author; other choices falling into this category are Joan Didion’s “The White Album,” Susan Sontag’s “Unguided Tour,” Barry Lopez’s “The Raven,” Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse,” Alexander Theroux’s “Black,” and David Foster Wallace’s “Ticket to the Fair.” Some selections are fragmentary, such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Erato Love Poetry,” or stream-of-consciousness, such as Albert Goldbarth’s “Delft.” Goldbarth and Anne Carson are among several writers here who are known for their poetry at least as much as for their essays. D’Agata’s interjections between each piece sometimes comment on the year represented, sometimes discuss the author presented, sometimes appear to have nothing to do with the piece that follows. The editor is partial to making lists. He is also partial to wordplay, as when he mentions that his mother read to him while he was in the womb: “And as we now know, but did not know then, a fetus at eight weeks has developed its ears but not yet the ability to hear. What this means is that anything you read to a fetus will go in one ear, but not come out.”

In a note about the title, D'Agata says that by “next” he means “the essays that might be inspired by these.” Based on this anthology, that could mean pretty much anything.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-55597-375-2
Page count: 488pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2002




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