Acid West: Essays

Joshua Wheeler. MCD, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-53580-3
This unwieldy, sometimes inspired essay collection renders the banal strange and the strange even stranger. Wheeler’s hometown, Alamogordo, N.Mex., provides setting and subject for an examination of how conceptions of American identity have shifted over time. His writing is mesmerizing in descriptions of a minor league baseball game—“Gordo’s mascot getup is the epitome of semipro: the fins only come to his elbows”—or the special suit a daredevil must wear while freefalling 24 miles to Earth. But he can also get lost in his attempts at profundity, as when the cameras attached to the suit to capture the freefaller’s point of view are dubbed “a Digital Empathy Imaging System of Mankind,” or DEISM, “a word we remember from our high school studies of the Enlightenment.” Most interesting is how Wheeler challenges conventions of the personal essay with unexpected stylistic devices, like the onomatopoeic crack of the baseball bat to punctuate shifting streams of consciousness in the essay about baseball, or breaking the essay about his ailing grandmother attaching her shoes to her feet using rubber bands into recursive vignettes in order to show how memory revises and edits itself with each remembrance. The collection is ponderous and self-important on the whole, but punctuated by moments of lyrical insight. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/26/2018
Release date: 04/17/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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