Take an itinerant writer who’s worked as a cemetery plot saleswoman, a factory worker, and a park ranger. Join her for a rollicking ride around the country, around the world. Observe as she mines her fascination with abandoned places, with atomic dread, with the looming apocalypse of which her childhood pastors repeatedly prophesied. Zigzag from a late gun baroness’s mansion to a desert town created expressly so it could be bombed, and from a man-made cave lined with fairy-tale dioramas on to demolition derbies, to shuttered textile mills and farmhouse auctions. Keep going. Settle into a soundtrack featuring the diverse stylings of Buddy Holly, Freddie Mercury, Liberace, Memphis Minnie, and Kansas Joe. Glean some of this writer’s Gandhi-portioned empathy, her sense of awe, her curiosities surrounding faith, decimation, loss, death, and infertility. Prepare to never view the world you live in, the places you go, in quite the same way.
On January 16, 1870, the New York Times published a brief article—no more than a few hundred words—describing a “meteorological phenomena” that occurred above my town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “The night was very clear,” the unattributed reporter wrote, “the stars shining brightly; but the mysterious light came out in a broad circular spot and spread slowly,”—wait for it—“like the moonlight coming through a cloud or the reflection of a prairie fire, putting out the stars nearest to it.”
* Mary Camille Beckman *
Leslie Jamison’s debut collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, released April 1st from Graywolf Press, and reviewed here.