Weschler's collection of eclectic essays, which reference Eastern European history, Vermeer, Einstein and Ground Zero, among other topics, will alternately enlighten, entertain, confound and confuse.
At least the author, a longtime writer at the New Yorker, isn't above admitting that his perceived “convergences”—oddly diverse photos, paintings or historical happenstances that he feels bound to connect—are often tenuous at best. His own daughter, he points out, would often explain them by saying simply: “Daddy's having another one of his loose-synapsed moments.” We know just what she means when Weschler (Vermeer in Bosnia, 2004) tries to pair a photo of two Ground Zero firemen with Grant Wood's classic painting, American Gothic, or when he earnestly contends that the photographer who shot that famous 1967 photo of Che Guevara's bullet-riddled corpse was somehow thinking of Rembrandt's 1632 painting, The Anatomy Lesson. A photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion leads Weschler to a shot of a nuclear A-bomb test. The visage of Newt Gingrich looks to the author like the spitting image of Slobodan Milosevic, which leads to a strained comparison of their biographies and political DNA. The nascent, struggling democracies of Eastern Europe, on which the author spends much time, recall Oliver Sacks’s 1973 bestseller, Awakenings, which described his treatment of neurologically damaged patients at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. While much of this feels like wild overreaching, other Weschler flights of intellectual fancy are curiously entertaining and compelling. An essay on “The Graphics of Solidarity” traces the passionate poster art secretly created by intrepid graphic artists during the early-1980s struggle between Polish shipyard workers and their Soviet puppet government. An eerie full-page ad, featured prominently in many magazines the week before 9/11, shows a Lufthansa jet streaking narrowly between several skyscrapers. The author even makes a persuasive case for the influence of deep-space photos and lunar landscapes on the art work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Ultimately, readers attuned to Weschler's esoteric subject matter and obscure cultural references will no doubt enjoy this odd collection of delicacies. To others, the exercise may smack suspiciously of dilettantism.