Journalist and novelist Gonzales (Lucy, 2010) gathers scattered essays that speak to his current interest as an observer of the human capacity to endure.
The author has expressed that interest in books such as Deep Survival (2003) and Surviving Survival (2012), which make one wonder how our species has lasted as long as it has. “In a sense,” he writes, “my career as a writer has been a long quest for…authenticity. And these essays are a product of that quest.” In the opening essay, Gonzales turns his attention to the federal prison at Marion, Ill., a place that will make readers wonder how anyone survives incarceration—especially among the criminals who are tucked away for safekeeping in this “modern-day replacement for Alcatraz.” It might be enough to lament the fate of those whom society has condemned, but Gonzales digs deeper, making it clear that there is good reason for such facilities but also noting a takeaway: Act tough enough without actually killing or maiming someone, and “the guards finally back off and leave you alone.” That’s good to know, just as it’s good to know how to navigate one’s way around another kind of prison, a mental hospital, which lends Gonzales a poignant closing image: that of inmates “standing in the rain, trying to figure out the right thing to do.” In between, Gonzales visits impenetrable swamps, tightrope walkers, oil rigs, airplane landing strips on the edge of the Arctic Ocean and his own family history—including that adventure that no one wants to have: a bout with cancer.
Gonzales travels where few people might want to go, and he brings back wondrous tales. This is more diffuse than his previous books, but it will be a pleasure for his admirers.