Essayists are driven by wonder, by questions, by perplexity, often by shock at their own ignorance of how time unspools and becomes history. The acronym WTF? about sums it up. Absurdity abounds. Received notions and attitudes require testing. Things need to be shaken, tapped, poked, plumbed, dissected, examined.
Untruths have long been part of the accepted record, beginning with omissions. As historian Judith Nies points out in her restorative essay here, “The Desire of the Country,” the erasure of women from accounts of the early days of Europeans in North America is among those omissions. As is the New England slave trade which exchanged indigenous North Americans for Africans.
Penny Guisinger, remembering her own rock bottom, examines the legacy of her reverence for F. Scott Fitzgerald, and interrogates the myth of the hard-drinking writer in her courageous and insightful essay “Borne Back Ceaselessly.”
Baron Wormser, whose essay “Hannah Arendt in New York” appeared in our recent print issue and was selected by Hilton Als for Best American Essays of 2018, here contributes a fiery meditation on greed and gluttony, called, simply, “More.”
Unlike most “coming-of-age” narratives, “The Road I Choose” by Rachel Lichtman is not retrospective, not colored by adult nostalgia, but written instead — and beautifully and powerfully written — by a writer in the throes of that metamorphosis.
I doubt you will ever read a more heartbreaking and also enlightening essay about the ways we must negotiate and navigate the final care of our loved ones than Robin Wood’s aptly titled, “How Do You Help Your Parents Die?” in which she addresses every layer of that tear-stained, manifold question.
And Ira Sukrungruang examines the reality of boyhood and its cruelties and confusions in “Toxic: an Outline of Why Men Are Violent Idiots / I Am a Violent Idiot / There Are Too Many Violent Idiots.”
To top it all off we have former Solstice Poetry Editor Ben Berman’s humorous, brief, but pointed essay, “The Prose Poem as a Jew” which I heard him read not long ago and knocked over a chair trying to get to him right afterwards to ask for the essay. (For days I had a bruise on my shin.)
Each of these essays arises from a genuine need to question assumptions, each manages to be entirely in earnest while avoiding the mawkish and sentimental, each has something to teach us, something that challenges the conventional.
That’s the thing about wonder: it’s contagious.
— Richard Hoffman