cover image Inciting Joy: Essays

Inciting Joy: Essays

Ross Gay. Algonquin, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64375-304-1

Poet Gay (The Book of Delights) examines in this stunning collection how joy deepens when accompanied by grief, fear, and loss. In “Joy and Losing Your Phone,” he describes relying on the help of strangers; “Joy and Death” is a reflection on losing his father to cancer; “Joy and Time” covers the privilege of not being “on the clock”; and in “Joy and Laughter,” he observes that “one of laughter’s qualities is that it can draw us together.” Gay gracefully turns from lighter pleasures (imagining a book about great album covers, for instance) to confronting cruelties, such as racist violence or the “brutal economy” of capitalism. “Grief Codex,” the longest and most intricate essay, touches on football, toxic masculinity, couples therapy, and grief: “we might always be holding each other through our falling,” Gay concludes, positing that “holding each other through the sorrow” is one definition of joy. Gay’s curiosity is present on every page (“I am a fan of the digression,” he writes) and his precise yet playful prose sparkles: a friend wears “a goldfinch of a grin,” while a mall parking lot “away from the cast even of the aged streetlights” is a safe space. This resonant, vivid meditation shouldn’t be missed. Agent: Liza Dawson, Liza Dawson Assoc. (Oct.)