It’s hard to write about Shame and Wonder, albeit for good reason. David Searcy’s collection of 21 essays are unlike anything I’ve read before, though they feel achingly familiar. The subject matter is the stuff of everyday life, or an era just passed: comic strips, the prizes in cereal boxes, the craft of folding a perfect paper airplane. But woven through each essay is a haunting quality, humor and loss uncomfortably conjoined on the page.
The book opens with “The Hudson River School,” in which Searcy’s dental hygienist tells him the story of her father, a Texas rancher who uses a tape recording of his infant daughter’s crying to lure a sheep-thieving coyote to its doom. Searcy is unseated by the tale and ventures out to meet the man and ask him about the story. It’s a genial exchange, but on the page it assumes the spaciousness of a haiku, eerie, wide-open and wild. The story of a trip to Turkey sponsored by a tourist organization is filled with the rush of scheduled activity punctuated by bottles of Orange Fanta, but on a coastal ride in a hired car, “[A]ll of a sudden there’s the water. There’s the blue you get in children’s paintings. Blue as that primordial blue you’ve had in mind since childhood.”
The accessible tone of Shame and Wonder belies the depths these essays plumb. They come in peace, then sock you in the solar plexus. Read them; you’ll see.