A Word about Sean Wilsey’s More Curious

Andrew Maynard

More CuriousIn his new collection of essays aptly titled More Curious, (McScweeney’s Books), Sean Wilsey takes the reader on a journey through American landscapes and sensibilities. Wilsey’s collection is comprised of pieces that appeared in publications ranging from McSweeney’s to National Geographic over the past decade. The typical worry with this type of collection—independent articles and essays likely written without any intention to be compiled—is it can read more like a magazine or a best-of collection than a cohesive book. In this case, these worries should be sidelined: it quickly becomes clear that Wilsey is too careful and, yes, curious, with connecting landscapes, objects, and ideas, to fall into this trap.

In Wilsey’s introduction to More Curious he successfully sheds light upon the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal and the false relationship of transparency and purity in the media by asking the reader to imagine a situation in which you filtered Coors “through charcoal to remove color and taste, then added citrus flavor, [you] creat[e] an evil swill called Zima (think non-lethal floor cleanser), which sold 1.3 million barrels (322,400,000 bottles) in its first year.” Wisely has a knack for these surprising metaphors, and it is in these moments when he is at his best, when More Curious bubbles with discursive thought and associative investigation.

Born in San Francisco and now a dual resident of Brooklyn and Marfa, Texas, Wilsey is both troubled and enamored by the effect of place on self. In one of his stronger essays, “Travels with Death,” Wilsey begins: “To better understand the comedy and poverty of the United States, I decided to cross them very slowly.” If More Curious had a thesis statement, this would be it. What follows is Wilsey’s journey: a 2,364-mile drive from Marfa to New York, in a beat-up 1960 Chevy that can’t exceed forty-five miles per hour without risking the possibility of the engine exploding. This slow approach allows Wilsey to simultaneously relate the story of his physical journey (his road trip) and the mental one (a rumination on loss and mourning). Not yet ready to deal with the death of a woman who might as well have been his mother, Wilsey says: “Driving slow both satisfied and ran contrary to my instinct to flee. And, pleasingly to my mind, it made fun of the two main preoccupations of our entire country: velocity and ease.”

Death is often at the forefront of these essays, but so is, more subtly, optimism. Whether Wilsey is attacking NASA or soccer or his love of skateboarding or the time he spent volunteering as a greeter for victims in the Plaza Hotel the week after 9/11, he is constantly searching for glimpses of beauty in humanity—in the juxtaposition of west Texas and Brooklyn and in the fabric between “velocity and ease.”

If there is one notable weakness of this collection, it would be that there are times in the later essays when characters and places (Marfa, Texas, most notably) are treated as if they had not already been given their due diligence earlier in the book, but these editorial lapses are overshadowed by the complexity of Wilsey’s characters and prose. Wilsey draws inspiration from and hopes to achieve quality comparable to the likes of Thomas Pynchon—he says this explicitly in the introduction to More Curious. The following essays prove that such comparison is not unfounded.

More Curious
Sean Wilsey
McSweeney's, 2014
ISBN 978 1940450179



Beyond and Back: Writing That Risks
Robert O'Connell

Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960
Charlie Kennedy

Sunday Best: People on Sunday by Geoffrey G. O'Brien
John Gibbs

I've Always Wanted to Use Malarky in a Review: Trances of the Blast by Mary Ruefle
Cassie Duggan

The Streets of Buffalo, à la Carte: Thea Swanson’s The Curious Solitude of Anise
Charles Haddox

A Witty and Delightfully Engaging Collection: Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby
Charlie Kennedy

Spanish Author's Debut in English: End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente
Erin Berman

A Riveting Read: Emmaus by Alessandro Baricco
Erin Berman

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter by Rachael Hanel
J. Haley Campbell

This Feeling of Empathy: Participants by Andrew Keating
Joe Ransom

Portrait of a Poet: Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine
John Gibbs

Rediscovering Levine: A Reissue of Sweet Will
John Gibbs

Meandering Toward Meaning in Michelle Herman's Stories We Tell Ourselves
Morgan Vogel Chinnock

Skin I'm In: Ariana Nadia Nash's Instructions for Preparing Your Skin
Cassie Duggan

SplitLevel Texts: A Cruel Nirvana and The Treatment of Monuments
Patrick James Dunagan

A Race to Understand a Troubled Place: Michael Lavigne's The Wanting
Alex Rieser

Lenore Zion's Wicked Smart Novel Stupid Children
J. Haley Campbell

Into the Tangled Dark: Jay Ponteri's Wedlocked
Morgan Vogel Chinnock

Stalking Wolf Haas's The Bone Man
Charlie Kennedy

A Painter's Poet: Karen Rigby's Chinoiserie
John Gibbs

Bridging the Gaps: Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra
Erin Berman

Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People, A Novel
Charlie Kennedy

Courttia Newland Explores London’s Social Rifts in The Gospel According to Cane
Andrew Blackman

A Sharp Debut: Jamie Sharpe's Animal Husbandry Today
John Gibbs

Susan Wheeler's Meme: A Contagious Book of Poems
Cassie Duggan

Joshua Cohen's Verbal Gymnastics: Four New Messages
Juli C. Lasselle


The Grittiness and Challenge of Zadie Smith's NW
Charlie Kennedy

Minnesotan Dragons in Mindy Mejia’s The Dragon Keeper
Inge Lamboo

Pianos and Poems: Oni Buchanan's Must a Violence
John Gibbs

Verbal Tumbleweeds: Davy Rothbart's My Heart is an Idiot
Catherine Wargo Roberts

As Labyrinthine as the Streets of Moscow: Caroline Clark's Saying Yes in Russian
paul kavanagh

A Bell Ringing in a Place Thought Dead: Safe as Houses
Michelle Boise

Purple Passages and Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch
Patrick James Dunagan

On Lecturing Poetically: Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey
John Gibbs

Travels in Puerto Rico
Charlie Kennedy

Breaking New Ground: Between Heaven and Here
Erin Berman

Invest in Stock: Norman Stock's Pickled Dreams Naked
John Gibbs

As if it Fell from the Sun: Celebrating Poetry from EtherDome
Chelsea DeRose

They, Too, Sing America: Buckley & Ott's Poets' Guide to America
John Gibbs

Renegade Documents:
Tlemcen or Places of Writing & Opera Omnia
Patrick James Dunagan

Something Out There: Catherine Chandler’s This Sweet Order
Jonathon Penny

Jennifer Miller's Daring The Year of the Gadfly
Eric D. Goodman

Coastal Poetry: Dear Oxygen and California Redemption Value
Patrick James Dunagan

The Cosmology of Transience: Kevin Opstedal's California Redemption Value
Alex Rieser

Collective Memory in Evelyn Posamentier's Poland at the Door
Trena Machado

We Have to Stop Being Fearful: Paul Kavanagh’s Iceberg
Charles Haddox

A Life's Work: Sheer Indefinite by Skip Fox
Patrick James Dunagan

Syntax as Music in Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest
Karen Biscopink

Alone Together: David Landrum's The Impossibility of Epithalamia
Robbi Nester

Nature, Terror and Renewal in Zilka Joseph’s What Dread
Michelle Regalado Deatrick

Meditating on Aline Soules' Meditation on Woman
Carol Smallwood

A Little Night Music: Kenneth Frost’s Night Flight
Christina Cook

The Joy of Carol Smallwood's Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms
Aline Soules