Sharp prose and exquisitely described images characterize a series of contemplative essays.
Vivian’s (English and Creative Writing/Alma College; Another Burning Kingdom, 2011, etc.) essays embrace consistent themes of calmness, simplicity and peace. The first essay, “Ghost Hallway,” sets the tone for the collection, introducing the spirit of a middle-aged woman Vivian returns home to each evening. She mentors him, slowing him down to see beauty in the ordinary. Readers will feel her touch woven throughout the book. In most of the pieces, Vivian paints vivid images then ruminates on why he is drawn to them: a red-robed bishop shows him how to walk with grace through “the vague malaise dripping like a bad faucet at the heart of town.” As compared to the perfect smiles of most Americans, the snaggle-toothed and ramshackle grins of the Turks signal that “perfection is not possible” and that “maybe there’s something even a little sinister in the very idea of a total whitewash.” The solace of a Laundromat, surrounded by the “smells of clean laundry, in the sudden bloom of hot air from an opened dryer,” portrays the beauty of shared mundane rituals. While many of these essays are set in Michigan or Nebraska, Vivian also takes us to the hills of Turkey, the Danube River, Auschwitz and an abandoned Jewish graveyard in Poland, journeys that demonstrate how disparate cultures broaden his perspective.
Beautiful essays to read and savor one at a time.