This year I read a book that was so good it gave me that sick-sweet feeling of envy-awe when I finished the last page. Damn, I thought, I wish I’d written that!
It’s a book of essays called Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan, a young writer I had never read (this is only his second book). The essays originally appeared in substantially different form in GQ, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Oxford American, and Ecotone. As that roster implies, Sullivan’s range is vast. But what distinguishes these essays is the way Sullivan made me care about things I don’t normally give much thought, including Christian rock, the Nashville Fugitives, reality TV, Michael Jackson, the Tea Party, Axl Rose, Native American cave paintings, and country blues. The trick, I now realize, is that Sullivan makes the reader care about these subjects because he cares in a deep, soulful, and utterly non-judgmental way. The maraschino on this delectable, multi-flavored sundae is that in addition to being perceptive and wise, Sullivan can also be piss-your-pants funny, as in this description of a rented RV: “The interior smelled of spoiled vacations and amateur porn shoots wrapped in motel shower curtains and left in the sun.” Or this: “She made rum cakes you could eat yourself to death on like a goldfish.”
Yes, I wish I’d written Pulphead, every last singing word of it. This writer, not yet 40 and well on his way to greatness, is not to be missed.
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