A miscellany of essays, critiques, narrative explorations and diversions from a literary iconoclast.
These are shorter works by Tillman (Someday This Will Be Funny, 2011, etc.), but it’s a generous set, allowing one essay for each letter of the alphabet. The collection starts with a return to previous targets, as “The Last Words Are Andy Warhol” examines the little-known 1968 book a: A Novel using a shopping list as context for delving into Tillman’s beloved Warhol. “Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane Bowles” is a fond remembrance of the famously besotted writers. A little later, “White Cool” gives a heartbreaking flash of famed jazz musician Chet Baker. Tillman is a fantastic writer in long-form or short, and the exercise of turning that famous intellect on herself seems to make her more abrupt yet more focused. In “Try Again,” she discusses the creative process: “No one strong-arms you into becoming an artist or writer—most often you’re dissuaded—and volunteers who bemoan their chosen gig seem disingenuous. Visual artists are often called to account for their choices and asked to defend their positions. Few occupations other than finance, politics and crime entail this reckoning. Writers and artists may ask themselves why they make art or write, and many feel the pointlessness of their self-chosen jobs, but all rebuttals and answers to their existential questions rest on faith in Art or Literature. Faith itself will be tested.” The collection doesn’t even really serve as an introduction to Tillman’s work, although it certainly represents her wit. The most weighty piece here is “A Mole in the House of the Modern,” a piercing deconstruction of Edith Wharton. In short, it’s a nonessential pastiche of book reviews and other miscellaneous writings that reads less as a collage and more like someone handed you one drawer of a great writer’s file cabinet.
The world’s culture dissected, one cunning, bemused essay at a time.