cover image White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

Geoff Dyer. Pantheon, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-87085-3

“What a certain place—a certain way of marking the landscape—means; what it’s trying to tell us; what we go to it for”: these are the themes that loosely connect the nine essays in Dyer’s (Another Great Day at Sea) scintillating new collection. In “Where? What? Where?,” Dyer discovers a village soccer field while retracing Gauguin’s peregrinations in Tahiti, and reflects that “much of geographical travel is actually a form of time travel.” In “Space in Time,” while visiting the lightning-rod studded landscape of Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field in Quemado, N.Mex., he writes that massive outdoor art installations of this sort “have more in common with sacred or prehistoric sites than with the rival claims and fads of contemporary art.” Dyer’s essays are more than simple travelogues, and are about deeply personal experiences in which he serves as both a distant observer and active participant. This dichotomy is especially evident in the title essay, which recounts his unsettling encounter with a creepy hitchhiker on the road from Almogordo, N.Mex., to El Paso, Tex. Most of these pieces are distinguished by Dyer’s humorous insights and caustic wit, but the book’s concluding essay, “Stroke of Luck” (which recounts his temporary loss of vision after he suffers a slight stroke), is more evocative than the others, leaving the reader to appreciate the author’s trained eye for details of the world’s more far-flung locales. Color illus. (May)