cover image Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction

Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction

Brian Dillon. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-68137-282-2

“Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name should be something like: an effort, an attempt, a trial,” Dillon (The Great Explosion) aptly observes at the outset of this self-reflexive collection of essays about essay-writing. Dillon considers the form as a kind of literary fragment, as a vehicle for aphorisms, and as a channel for emotion, especially melancholy. He introduces readers to many of his writing heroes, among them Cyril Connolly, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Theodor Adorno, and is adept at explaining Hardwick’s exquisite comma placement and William Gass’s “shameless” penchant for alliteration. His appreciation of the essay form is tied to his own depression as a teen while his mother died of scleroderma, which led him to seek “some assurance that the world could not only be recast in words but had been made of language in the first place.” In the essay, he writes, the world is remade over and over and “the greatest art is nothing but a delicately broached negation.” His book is both an argument for and an example of the essay as the most complex and human literary form. (Sept.)