cover image Serious Face: Essays

Serious Face: Essays

Jon Mooallem. Random House, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-52550-994-3

New York Times Magazine writer Mooallem (This Is Chance!) “whip[s] through our colossal, mystifying, stupidly beautiful world” in this rich collection of essays. “A House at the End of the World” profiles B.J. Miller, the executive director of a Zen Hospice in California who pioneered the notion that death is a “human experience instead of primarily a medical one,” and “This Story About Charlie Kaufman Has Changed” offers a portrait of the elusive auteur Kaufman, filled with Mooallem’s first drafts that received “discouraging feedback.” A number of the essays deal with clashes between humans and nature: in “We Have Fire Everywhere,” a show-stopping piece about the Paradise, Calif., wildfire, the heat—and trapped motorists’ terror—are brought to vivid life, as is a sense that “something was different now. Fire was winning, finding ways to overpower our fight response.” And “Why These Instead of Others,” the harrowing story of two friends’ Alaskan kayaking trip that goes awry, turns into a portrait of human resilience and helplessness. Mooallem has a real knack for evoking places, people, and emotions, and the individuals he writes about put a human face on larger issues such as climate change and conservation. This is well worth the price of admission. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (May)