Astute, perceptive forays into America’s nooks and crannies.
In her debut book’s titular essay, about revolutionary deep brain stimulation for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Kisner writes that the barrier “between the physical world and the spiritual world wears thin and becomes porous.” She continues, “the thin places I’ve known aren’t always places, per se. Sometimes a thin place appears between people. Sometimes it happens only inside you.” Combining reportage and the personal essay, the author often finds herself involved in the subjects she discusses. In “Attunement,” she recounts when a “handful of kids delivered my soul to Jesus at summer camp.” But when she was 12, God just “vanished. I didn’t know why.” The essay traces her religious pilgrimage and fascination with Kierkegaard’s “tract on faith and doubt,” Fear and Trembling, and her “late-breaking phantom limb syndrome of the soul.” In “Jesus Raves,” Kisner chronicles her up-close and personal experiences with a church’s hip outreach to young people (“they could be J. Crew models, but they are pastors”). “Stitching” focuses on “ ‘The Bloggernacle,’ a contingent of Mormon mothers who have taken over a sizable piece of the online aspirational lifestyle industry” with their anti-Trump message. “Habitus,” one of the best pieces, roams widely, from a debutante ball in Laredo, Texas, to border immigration to the TV show Say Yes to the Dress to matters concerning the author’s sexuality. In “The Big Empty,” Kisner explores the “enormous, hypersensory multimedia installations” of Ann Hamilton. As a good reporter, the author never judges the people she writes about, often finding common ground with them. She admires the “strange beauty” of the Shakers’ buildings and the “ecstatic, cathartic” quirkiness of their worship—“they simply shook and shook, overcome.” Later, Kisner joined in with a “little dance,” a “wiggle, an homage but also a mini-catharsis of the fine posture and right angles of the morning.”
Thoughtful, engaging, and informative essays from a writer to watch.