As he approached the festival, waiting in a line of cars, he watched a woman lean out of an orange Datsun.
She “blew a long, clear note on a ram’s horn.” (MORE: Read Lev Grossman on the new Charles Dickens biography) Three things I want to say about that.
(This memory made Darius laugh so hard he removed his glasses.) Half of their childhood friends had been murdered—shot or stabbed over drugs or nothing. Sullivan, who is thirty-seven, and whose pieces have appeared in places like in the past decade, has been compared to Tom Wolfe and David Foster Wallace.
But he is kinder than the former, and less neurotic than the latter (whose own compassionate sensitivity got blocked by obsessive self-consciousness, or, when unblocked, sometimes emerged as outright sentimentality).
It’s also not published with anything like the gravitas JJS has earned. Though DFW might be a better comparison, actually, except that JJS isn’t quite as clever as DFW (who is?
Pulphead Essays Vocabulary For Writing Essays
The title is too faux-cool (as is the flap copy—in my experience anything billed as “mind-bending” won’t actually bend your mind). ), and on the plus side, he never makes the mistake of taking himself too seriously. Maybe that’s the key to JJS: he’s a man who happens to have been born in trivial times, and he meets a lot of trivial people, but he treats it all so very, very seriously.One, it’s incredible that some lady played a ram’s horn right in front of JJS as he arrived at Creation, but what makes that detail work, and what makes this an essay — and not, say, a tweet — is the orange Datsun; most writers, in their eagerness to get to the horn, would have skipped the Datsun. And — and I’m sorry to go on and on — twenty-three pages into this essay, which is a blisteringly fast 40-page read, JJS finds a new gear and pulls the rug out from under us with a personal revelation that throws everything that came before, and that comes after, into a completely new light.Two, rather than simply stunning us with this detail, JJS has the characteristic grace to tell us that he, too, was stunned by the horn. Third thing: you can absorb all of the above, RV included, in a single two-page spread of (pp 8-9). (JJS would never mix three metaphors like that in one sentence, but you get what I mean.) There are other writers (not many) who are as funny as JJS, and others (even fewer) as smart, but those writers tend to use humor and smarts as defenses.Actually, all are the opening sentences of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, from his second book, “Pulphead” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; ).It is obvious enough that they are by a talented storyteller, who has learned from fiction (as well as from the essayistic tradition) how to structure and ration his narratives. So good was it, I thought, that when picked its favorite long-form essays of the week, mine would be among them. After I read his DFW essay, I made it my business to become something of a JJS scholar. I did this partly because I enjoyed reading his work, but also so I could bite his style more effectively. Even more galling, they had included and it was by John Jeremiah Sullivan. JJS, as I have come to think of him, may be the best essayist of his generation.Such moments occur again and again in Sullivan’s work.In the same essay, he mentions his father, who is shocked into life by a brief bolt of story: “My father was a great Mark Twain fanatic—he got fired from the only teaching job he ever held for keeping the first graders in at recess, to make them listen to records of an actor reading the master’s works.” In “Mr. still faintly curled from having been rolled through the heavy typewriter.” He notices that Lytle’s equally aged sister has hands whose knuckles are “cubed with arthritis.” Lytle himself sags so exaggeratedly into the sofa, “it was as if thieves had crept through and stolen his bones and left him there.”Sullivan has a very good eye—he memorably describes the Virgin Group tycoon, Sir Richard Branson, as “that weird and whispery mogul-faun, Sir Richard”—and ears pricked for eventuality.“Violence of the Lambs,” the book’s weakest entry, which is about animal-on-human attacks, comes with another rug-pulling stunt at the end, but it’s the kind that just makes you say “hey, asshole, I want my rug back! He’s not exactly a national secret — he’s already won two National Magazine Awards, among other things, and he’s not yet 40.” The collection is not as cohesive as it wants to be, which is to say that it’s not cohesive at all, and it shouldn’t pretend to be, even a little. But he’s the closest thing we have right now to Tom Wolfe, and that includes Tom Wolfe.