In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us—with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own—how we really (no, really) live now.
In his native Kentucky, Sullivan introduces us to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century polymath genius who concocted a dense, fantastical prehistory of the New World. Back in modern times, Sullivan takes us to the Ozarks for a Christian rock festival; to Florida to meet the alumni and straggling refugees of MTV’s Real World, who’ve generated their own self-perpetuating economy of minor celebrity; and all across the South on the trail of the blues. He takes us to Indiana to investigate the formative years of Michael Jackson and Axl Rose and then to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina—and back again as its residents confront the BP oil spill.
Gradually, a unifying narrative emerges, a story about this country that we’ve never heard told this way. It’s like a fun-house hall-of-mirrors tour: Sullivan shows us who we are in ways we’ve never imagined to be true. Of course we don’t know whether to laugh or cry when faced with this reflection—it’s our inevitable sob-guffaws that attest to the power of Sullivan’s work.
About John Jeremiah Sullivan
John Jeremiah Sullivan isa contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the southern editor of The Paris Review. He writes for GQ, Harper’s Magazine, and Oxford American, and is the author of Blood Horses. Sullivan lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Most of these essays are reported pieces, some of them profiles (of musical artists Bunny Wailer and Axl Rose), others long-form feature stories (on a Christian rock festival, reality TV, the Tea Party revolt). Yet New York Times Magazine contributing writer Sullivan (Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son, 2004) is always inherently a part of these stories, conscious of himself as an observer and of his perspective as an interpreter, though never gratuitously or self-indulgently intrusive. As a writer for publications ranging from GQ to the Paris Review (where he is the southern editor), the native Kentuckian now living in North Carolina shows his familiarity with what one piece terms “the tragic spell of the South,” whether he’s writing about his complicated relationship with a literary mentor or rekindling memories of an evangelical past while bonding with believers at a music festival. Throughout, he recognizes the danger of “a too-easy eloquence,” and his appreciation of the “unknowable” Michael Jackson in particular challenges a facile understanding. As is usually the case in such collections, some of the pieces are slighter than others, though none seem journalistically dated. Even “At a Shelter (After Katrina)” comes alive on the page through the vividness of its sensory detail. Sullivan’s ambition is evident and suggests that he has a much bigger book in him, whether he’s examining “a historical portal [where] you could slip into it and get behind the eyes of the American mind for a minute” or contemplating “the future of the human race” (hint: It involves a war against the animal world, which may have some scientific basis or may be a flight of fantasy). – Kirkus Reviews
Everywhere and Nowhere
The Los Angeles Review of Books – February 10, 2012 (Excerpt)
IN THE SWIRL OF COMMENTARY surrounding Pulphead, the essay collection by John Jeremiah Sullivan, nothing seems to come up more than the so-called New Journalism. Upon its release, for instance, the volume’s publisher claimed that Sullivan channels “the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion,” while Lev Grossman of Time magazine writes that he is “the closest thing we have right now to Tom Wolfe, and that includes Tom Wolfe.” And J.C. Gabel, in Bookforum, says Pulphead ”calls to mind some of the best New Journalism of the ’60s and ’70s.” Undoubtedly, Sullivan — a 37-year-old writer-at-large for GQ, a contributing editor for Harper’s, and the southern editor of The Paris Review — is an admirer of the ur-texts by the preeminent essayists of the movement. Like them in their best work, Sullivan proves to be a masterful handler of cultural confusion, approaching matters from oblique angles while eschewing boilerplate themes and orderly conclusions.
In his introduction to the 1973 anthology The New Journalism, Wolfe argues that the writers collected therein drew heavily from “the techniques of realism — particularly of the sort found in Fielding, Smollett, Balzac, Dickens and Gogol.” Sullivan’s work, however, isn’t a mere pastiche of his forebears. He’s not engrossed with social status like Wolfe, nor does he succumb to the cynical grandiloquence one often finds in Thompson’s journalistic transgressions. And unlike Didion, whose early nonfiction routinely stripped away façades to expose fraud, Sullivan works in the opposite direction, humanely revealing the complexity within subjects typically seen as neglected, overwrought, or insipid. Wolfe and his contemporaries, rather than illustrating, say, class hardships, chiefly addressed in their reportage newfangled phenomena and fringe subcultures with a mix of literary flair and a detached, ethnological eye. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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