Esteemed essayist and poet Lopate (At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, 2010, etc.) offers “a motley collection of essays, personal and critical,” loosely tied together around the theme of “the discovery of limitations, and learning to live with them.”
The author divides the essays into sections devoted to family, daily life, city spaces and literary concerns. Yet there is a single “sensibility flowing through disparate subject matters,” that of the good-humored cynic and gentle contrarian. In the first essay, the simple event of Lopate’s daughter losing a balloon presents evidence that life is, in the end, “loss, futility, and ineluctable sorrow.” In another essay, the author concludes that being a baseball fan “means learning to absorb failure and be on a friendly footing with defeat.” And so it goes through essays on sex, marriage, film, writing, politics, the Bible and more. Lopate leaves behind at times the purely personal with telling essays on film and literature. He moves from revisiting Ginsberg’s Howl to thoughts on a wide variety of writers, including Charles Reznikoff, Leonard Michaels, Stendhal and others. No matter the topic, however, another constant throughout is fine writing; the words Lopate chooses are the only words that will do. “The interruptive nocturne of clinics” perfectly captures nights on the pediatric ward where his daughter spent so much of her infancy. Brooklyn, he muses in a paean to his beloved hometown, has “a touch of the amateur, voluntary, homemade about the place.” In a concluding essay, Lopate confesses that writing is his life. Readers are well-rewarded for his obsession.
A master class on the pleasures of the English language well-wrought—a useful complement to his guide on writing literary nonfiction, To Show and to Tell, which will publish simultaneously.