cover image The Best American Essays

The Best American Essays

. Mariner Books, $13 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-395-86055-7

In his foreword to this 14th volume in the Best American Essays series, editor Atwan quotes Ezra Pound's axiom that ""literature is news that stays news."" At their best, these 25 essays exhibit style and content that may endure for a time. There are few salient themes, although family relationships and religious longing run through a handful of the works. Mary Gordon's ""Still Life,"" a meditation on how the work of Pierre Bonnard provided her with ""solace and refreshment"" in dealing with her mother's painful senility, is a delicate but hard-headed examination of loss and fear. In ""The Lion and Me,"" John Lahr recounts with bittersweet ambivalence the uneasy relationship his father, Bert Lahr, had with his most famous role, as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Brian Doyle's ""The Meteorites"" is a moving and unsettling rumination on the nature of love through the eyes of a camp counselor to young boys. Cynthia Ozick's ""The Impious Impatience of Job"" and Annie Dillard's ""For the Time Being"" both deal with the quest for spiritual experience and attendant paradox. Some of the works--such as Dagoberto Gilb's ""Victoria"" and Joan Didion's ""Last Words""--seem lightweight for a collection like this. In his introduction, Edward Hoagland notes that ""essays are reappearing in unexpected places,"" although most of these pieces come from mainstream publications such as Harpers and the New Yorker. Perhaps if Hoagland had gone further afield, the collection would have offered more surprises. (Oct.)