Arthur M. Saltzman, Author . Mid-List $16 (245p) ISBN 978-0-922811-49-6

"If the critical essay challenges its topic to wrestle," Saltzman writes in the preface to these 25 pieces, "then the lyric essay invites it to dance." Saltzman undertook these essays, which won the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Creative Nonfiction, to escape critical writing, which may account for their nonlinear quality. While some comprise fragments connected by the slightest thematic filaments, each piece coalesces to reveal a keen mind in love with words. Referring to Howard Nemerov's imagery or Michael Jordan's kinesiology, quoting John Updike, Joseph Heller or Susan Sontag, the best pieces sometimes disguise memoir as literary or cultural criticism. Other times, anecdote gives rise to philosophical query. In "The Girl in the Moon"—a mysterious second-person account of a daughter's MRI test—Saltzman intersperses his text with dispatches from Apollo 11's crew, forming a metaphoric nexus for pondering her future growth. Bits of "How to Play"—an analysis of board games including Monopoly—verge on poetry: "The secret of greed is that you amass to master. Practice buying farther, buying faster." This piece juxtaposes neatly with "A Gambler's Chance," about Saltzman's father's gambling obsession and his death from cancer. In "Call It in the Air"—an exegesis on the "buoyancy" of language—Saltzman scrutinizes Stanley Elkin's prose, for which he has a great affinity. He concludes that Elkin's work "demonstrates that any bit worth doing bears overdoing." But in asking who could "admonish... such yeasty linguistics, such richly marbled wry?" does Saltzman attempt to coerce the reader? Many of these essays deploy riskily mellifluous language; they all ring personal, fervent and true. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
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