For fans of John Jeremiah Sullivan, Leslie Jamison, Geoff Dyer, and W. G. Sebald, the twenty-one essays in David Searcy’s debut collection are captivating, daring—and completely unlike anything else you’ve read before. Forging connections between the sublime and the mundane, this is a work of true grace, wisdom, and joy.
Expansive in scope but deeply personal in perspective, the pieces in Shame and Wonder are born of a vast, abiding curiosity, one that has led David Searcy into some strange and beautiful territory, where old Uncle Scrooge comic books reveal profound truths, and the vastness of space becomes an expression of pure love. Whether ruminating on an old El Camino pickup truck, those magical prizes lurking in the cereal boxes of our youth, or a lurid online ad for “Sexy Girls Near Dallas,” Searcy brings his unique blend of affection and suspicion to the everyday wonders that surround and seduce us. In “Nameless,” he ruminates on spirituality and the fate of an unknown tightrope walker who falls to his death in Texas in the 1880s, buried as a local legend but without a given name. “The Hudson River School” weaves together Google Maps, classical art, and dental hygiene into a story that explores—with exquisite humor and grace—the seemingly impossible angles at which our lives often intersect. And in “An Enchanted Tree Near Fredericksburg,” countless lovers carve countless hearts into the gnarled trunk of an ancient oak tree, leaving their marks to be healed, lifted upward, and, finally, absorbed.
Haunting, hilarious, and full of longing, Shame and Wonder announces the arrival of David Searcy as an essential and surprising new voice in American writing.
Praise for Shame and Wonder
“Astonishment is a quality central to David Searcy’s Shame and Wonder. . . . What unites these twenty-one essays . . . is the sense of a wildly querying intelligence suspended in a state of awe. . . . Searcy is drawn instinctively to moments, the way parcels of time expand and contract in memory, conjuring from ordinary experience a hidden sense of all that is extraordinary in the world, in being alive.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation toward the world: continuous awe and wonder . . . Everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.”—NPR
“Peculiar and lively . . . Like a down-home Roland Barthes, [Searcy’s] quirky observations and sudden narrative turns remind us of the strangeness we miss every day.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Often nostalgic and whimsical . . . brings to life the shadows of our kaleidoscopic world.”—The Dallas Morning News
“What makes Searcy such a master storyteller is that he is a master observer, sharing his vision through essays that read like exquisitely crafted short stories.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“In twenty-one captivatingly offbeat essays, Searcy finds the exceptional in the everyday . . . and contemplates the mysteries therein with grace and eloquence.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A collection of essays laced with wisdom and beauty.”—Paste
“Slyly brilliant—a self-deprecatory look at life in all its weirdness.”—Austin American-Statesman
“A work of genius—a particular kind of genius, to be sure.”—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Hangdog dejection and unlikely epiphanies infuse these offbeat, beguiling essays by novelist Searcy (Last Things). He rattles around the Dallas hinterland (with an overseas excursion to Turkey's St. Nick tourist circuit) and stumbles across oddball stories and subjects: a rancher who uses a recording of his crying baby daughter to lure a troublesome coyote within rifleshot; a giant boulder topped by a scraggly tree covered with pocketknife-carved hearts; the barely-remembered tragedy of a Jewish tightrope walker crushed in a fall in Corsicana, Tex., in 1884. Many pieces recall a sunlit Eisenhower-era boyhood filled with baseball, paper airplanes, woodland excursions with a homemade slingshot, and TV space operas. Others explore Searcy's lifelong fascination with the emotional valence of hard science, which he indulges by repurposing the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment, which tested the speed of light, as a symbol of the quest for meaning. Searcy's writing is by sharp turns goofy, wry, and melancholy, tentative at times but always curious and superbly evocative. (An Internet pop-up sex ad "drops down like a rubber spider on a string. As clear and simple and alarming and imperative as schizophrenic voices probably are.") His essays meander along wisps of metaphorical connection, leaping from tooth-flossing to 17th-century housing, from Zuni religious rituals to cereal box prizes, from his mother's still-life painting to medieval Platonism. The result is a funny, haunting journey through mysterious enlightenments. Photos.