Quick read: Shame and Wonder, by David Searcy

Shame and Wonder Essays by David Searcy
Shame and Wonder Essays by David Searcy
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Towards the end of this sometimes bewildering, sometimes brilliant collection of essays by the extravagantly tangential Texan writer David Searcy, there is one that serves as a perfect metaphor for his way of writing and thinking.

The essay is called “Paper Airplane Fundamentals” and in it Searcy compares the design of the “traditional pointy delta” paper plane that most people are familiar with to a design he and his childhood friend used to make in the 1960s – a design they subsequently started flying from the top of the Southland Life building in Dallas, then, at 42 storeys, the tallest skyscraper in the city.

Pointy deltas, observes Searcy, are “for distance, not duration. They will generally go where thrown. They’re not expected to escape, to sail away.” By contrast, the planes Searcy and his friend made, with a wingspan wider than their length, were designed for duration of flight rather than distance.

Once launched from the top of the tower, they were unpredictable: they might get “sucked straight down the side of the building” but they might also “dip and flutter, stabilize and curl into the upward circulation, rise and rise so high that, were you on the ground, you would have lost [them].”

Searcy’s essays are a lot like that, not just because of their unpredictability, but also because they often tread a fine line between success and failure. They’re not easy reading,but if you’re prepared to hang on as Searcy’s train of thought rattles through some wild diversions, you will be rewarded with the kind of unexpected insights that a mere pointy delta writer could never hope to achieve.

In “The Hudson River School,” for example, the story of how a West Texas rancher once used a recording of a baby crying to lure a coyote out into the open so he could shoot it morphs into a meditation on the emptiness of West Texas itself (“how the world must look when you’re not looking”) which in turn leads to a consideration of how all this emptiness fed into the Puritans’ sense of good and evil when they first arrived in the New World.

• William Heinemann, £16.99