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

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