Book Reviews

Brevity Home | Book Review Page |   |  


Review of

Ander Monson's Neck Deep and Other Predicaments

Graywolf, 2007

By Desirae Matherly

[Editor's Note: Click on the crossword puzzle image for a larger version. Print it out and complete the puzzle.]


3    Two dazzling essays utilize an abundance of this ubiquitous punctuation mark, the first in a way that simulates snowfall, and the other as a manner of interruption, in "Failure: A Meditation."

7   School that the author was expelled from three months before graduation because of "breaking and entering; shoplifting; stealing master keys and security radios; rerouting and rewiring of a number of phones; switching a professor's home phone with the pay-phone line resulting in a semester's worth of free calls and a befuddled professor; illegally using a phone line then for illegal activity re: Comerica Bank, re: Unix Systems, re: Shell access, resulting in revocation of telephone privileges, and later wire-splicing, duct-taping around this problem" among other crimes.

10   Ander Monson's "sparkling nonfiction debut" according to the back cover.

11   The location of the fourth car wash described in "The Big and Sometimes Colored Foam."

12   Monson's fascination with amputated limbs has resulted in the fabrication of this fictional relation, which Monson freely discloses in "After Form and Formlessness."


1   The idea that "experience is material" (made explicit in the first essay) is represented throughout Monson's book in every instance where the author is referentially drawing attention to the text itself, as a shaped thing. Fortunately, Monson's vision of prose as ultimately malleable, in nearly every sense, does not deform the righteous beauty of his prose style, nor the verity of his personal history. In the essay subtitled "Adventures in Bourgeois Topologies," Monson writes: "I can't imagine the dullness, uselessness of a life without the aegis of constraint, without space breaks, ending sentences, and thoughts of higher mathematics." What this collection does, hopefully, is restore the essay to its primacy as a nonfiction form utterly distinct from fiction and the memoir. Limitless essays remain to be written that are interesting, new, and utterly unique. Why fictionalize? (Oh! The clue! Here we go: That infamous author who, for a long year, divided writer against writer concerning truth in nonfiction. Hint: His father teaches on the same campus as Ander Monson, as discussed in the Appendix.)

2   The ancient Greek way of inscribing text which travels across the page "like plows moving back-and-forth across a field." (Described in the essay "After Form and Formlessness.)

4   The word (beginning with a “q”) which appears in the Publisher’s Weekly review of the book, but does not appear once within the text itself.

5   Title of essay on Monson's passion for disc golf, distinguished from Frisbee golf for those who don't know any better.

6   Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize in 2006, selected by Robert Polito.

8   The essay that was formerly supposed to accompany and conclude Monson's novel is in this familiar (and typically undervalued) textual form.

9   Form of this common entry point for academic essay composition (my God, are they still teaching it?), attributed to Harvard though no one can verify the connection, least of all the archivists at the venerable institution.

Desirae Matherly is a Harper Fellow at The University of Chicago. She has essays published or forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Eureka Literary Magazine, and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art.