cover image Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays

Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays

Leslie Jamison. Little, Brown, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-25963-7

These illuminating and ruminative essays from Jamison (The Recovering) explore obsession and alienation, combining reportage, memoir, and philosophy. The first (and most successful) section is largely focused outward, beginning with a profile of “52 Blue,” a blue whale with an extraordinarily high-pitched song who never found a mate, but did garner many human admirers who identified with his (perceived) loneliness. Jamison moves on to considering reincarnation, through uncanny cases of children seemingly remembering past lives, taking an approach “skeptical of knee-jerk skepticism itself.” In Part II, Jamison progresses into aesthetics and literary theory, discussing an exhibit of Civil War photography and James Agee’s sociological tome about Alabama tenant farmers, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which notably “documents the process of documentation itself.” Part III is decidedly more personal, as Jamison details struggles with intimacy and a series of doomed relationships, hitting a high note with her consideration of the evil stepmother archetype in the light of becoming a stepmother herself. Jamison is positively brilliant when penetrating a subject and unraveling its layers of meaning, such as how 52 Blue represents “not just one single whale as metaphor for loneliness, but metaphor itself as salve for loneliness.” Fans of the author’s unique brand of perceptiveness will be delighted. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie. (Sept.)