cover image MANY CIRCLES: New and Selected Essays

MANY CIRCLES: New and Selected Essays

Albert Goldbarth, . . Graywolf, $16 (310pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-321-6

Goldbarth's virtuosic essays bob and weave throughout this delightful, even brilliant, collection. Well worth reading and rereading, some of these pieces from the past 21 years were published in journals such as the Georgia Review and Parnassus and in previous books. Goldbarth (Dark Waves and Light Matter), also a National Book Critics Circle Award–winning poet, synthesizes isolated facts and sweeping concepts, locating himself within the general "we" even as he writes in first person and discusses exceptional individuals. In the title essay, the author circles around several topics—including Mayan archaeologist John Lloyd Stephens's troubles at an excavation and the dissolution of Goldbarth's friends' marriage in the face of repressed memory treatment—exploring accidental, analytic and associative connections. Goldbarth's playful and dissonant style ranges in one essay from witty ("But if the subject is shaky footing, let's make it literal for a while") to abrupt ("He caught her with her tongue up her therapist's ass, he said") to florid ("So tell me: who is this man here, doing a whoop-whoop whirl of dervish dance steps in that tumble of fretwork stone?") to critical ("A lesson: the authority of two-bit village big shots is as fervent to keep itself whole and unchallenged as is, for example, that of reigning academic theorists"). No subject falls outside Goldbarth's interest, from the planet Mars to Marie Curie to his own grandfather. While many of these essays aren't autobiographical, they are nonetheless deeply felt. Goldbarth's fresh prose and expansive content are helping reconfigure the essay as a form. (May)