cover image The Best American Essays 2017

The Best American Essays 2017

Edited by Leslie Jamison. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-544-81733-3

The personal is political in this long-running series’ latest installment, in which guest editor Jamison (The Empathy Exams) argues that the intimate voice of the personal essay allows for more nuanced public discourse. This is evident in former marine Jason Arment’s dispatch from Iraq, “Two Shallow Graves” which vividly depicts war as a series of banalities punctuated by horror, and in essays that variously touch on the opioid epidemic, rape culture, and broken-windows civic policies that result in police brutality. In “Cost of Living,” an essay teeming with subtle irony, Emily Maloney shares her experience shouldering her own massive medical debt while working in a hospital’s billing department. In “Sparrow Needy,” a piece redolent with metaphor and longing, Kenneth A. McClane mourns a brother lost to alcoholism against the backdrop of 1950s Harlem. June Thunderstorm’s “Revenge of the Mouthbreathers” is a delightfully shrill polemic about anti-smoking ordinances as a tool of oppression against the working class. In one of the lighter pieces, Megan O’Gieblyn extols the virtues of the Midwest, with its unflappable citizenry, unpretentious food (conveyed by a rapturous description of a “wedge salad”), and idyllic landscapes (“the great oblivion of corn”). Jamison has done an exceptional job curating this volume, selecting essayists who are diverse in ideas and experiences, and essays that are challenging, passionate, sobering, and clever. (Oct.)