Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
image via cnsnews.com
Thematic strength isn’t something you usually find in a book of journalistic essays, but apparently Sullivan is drawn to strangeness wherever it rears its head. And in this world, strangeness is de rigueur. These essays wander from a Christian rock festival to a brother of Sullivan, who exhibits all sorts of odd behavior after a near-electrocution. Then there’s a near-encounter with Guns n’ Roses’ Axl Rose, a fey old gay man, then America’s ancient cave dwellers and those who find and sell their artifacts. Perhaps the oddest two are one on Jamaica’s Rastafarians and another on a naturalist’s theory of why animals – worldwide – seem to be increasingly attacking humans. Two pieces on reality shows could very well have been left out – their oddness speaks for itself.
It would be easy to treat each of these subjects as caricatures, but that isn’t Sullivan’s angle. There’s something a bit confessional in his work; he’s very rarely cynical, and he seems to be at least a little invested in each subject he approaches. As such, his writing is both expository and personal, and there’s not a little bit of charm to each. It’s as if Sullivan wants us to admit to a lot of this strangeness in each of us. And that’s a refreshing point of view in a literary world replete with postmodern cynicism.
My rating 17 of 20 stars
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