LITERATURE

Essays One: Reading and Writing

Farrar. Nov. 2019. 528p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780374148850. $30. LIT
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Davis (Can’t and Won’t) does for the essay what one of her subjects—Rimbaud—did for the prose poem: fires language with emotive, radiant wisdom. Her inherent generosity, displayed in “Revising One Sentence,” shows us that process. “[T]he act of exploration that is writing,” notes Davis, “is very different from the finality and public-ness of publishing.” Lucid observations, and the curiosity—probing, restless—behind them thread through 34 short- and long-form pieces, closing with the haunting, and haunted, “Remember the Van Wagenens.” Perhaps Davis’s finest gift is to remind us we’re each only temporary manifestations of life. That’s why, despite infrequent horror and darkness, fleeting joy and beauty, we ought to embrace it while we can. A simple truth, but one that bears repeating, as it is chronically ignored. Nearly as distressing as experiencing tragic moments, would be failing to report them. Perhaps, Davis concludes, suggesting that memories grow in language, all writing desires to bring lost things, moments, into the “present presence” and charge them with life to make their past more real.
VERDICT Those familiar with Davis’s work, and even new readers, will find much to ponder—even love

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