Every year at the AWP bookfair I buy about $500 dollars worth of books and read them over the course of a year. This is my attempt to say a little something about the ones I loved.
REGRET by Ryan Spooner
If this is the quality of book being put out the newly formed The Lettered Streets Press (Chicago, Seattle), I eagerly await more of their titles. REGRET by Ryan Spooner is a standout debut collection of essays, if you could so easily box them in a genre; for they have the lyricism of poetry, the brutal introspection of the best creative nonfiction, and the razor sharp thinking of criticism. The subject matters are familiar for a first collection of essays – growing up poor in the South, grade school fisticuffs, the mystical quandaries of first relationships; but the book also weaves in transgressive threads. My clothing metaphor is appropriate here for the collection focuses in on the speaker’s love of clothes and identity as a “dandy” and how that complicates the typical male gender roles that the book so incisively maps. Of course, it’s not only the intricate stitching of the subject matter that makes these stories so pleasurable, but also the quality of the thread. Forgive me for stretching out this sweater, but few people in reviews talk much just about the quality of prose in a collection. It’s not just the clean lines of the phrases and how the prose constructs voice and inflection, but it’s also in the collection’s diction. It does not revel in words just for the indulgence, it revels in accuracy, and the pleasure is how often it finds an exact word or phrase that feels like it couldn’t have been articulated any other way. Who but Ryan Spooner can use the word ‘Ozymandian’ and do so in a way that feels both necessary and correct? I can’t give a book any bigger compliment than to say that at many points in this collection I found myself pounding my fist on the table and yelling “Yes,” just for how goddamn accurate an idea was phrased. Note this passage when the speaker reflects on the male gaze:
“There’s an inversion of inside and outside—that safe, soft dichotomy ruptures—and it baffles you a little it. And though the feeling I anticipated in that moment was glee, the actual response was panic, and I suffered a sort of contrapasso: I felt punished by what I’d wanted.”
Again and again, the book describes the necessary paradoxes of feelings and human motivations so accurately that I get that electric jolt in the brain I usually only get from reading good criticism.
For the love of God, buy this book. You won’t REGRET it, like I do this final sentence.