Mr Apology: Essays Hardcover – 6 Feb 2004
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"A deft and memorable collection with both focus and elbow room from a class act in the world of magazine journalism." Kirkus Reviews, Starred"[Mr. Apology] crystallizes three aspects of Wilkinson's talent. . .vivid descriptions of the settings in which he conducts his interviews, keen psychological insight and an intuitive sense of when to step back and let his subjects speak for themselves." Publishers Weekly
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In the second part the laughs taper off as a tone of seriousness envelops his reflections about his son who has many of the characteristics of Asperger's syndrome. "The world with its lights and intensities bears down on them with terrific force." He also warmly remembers his mentor, William Maxwell, an editor at "The New Yorker." Although the subjects are obviously close to his heart, he does not stray into sentimentality and is objective so much so that it seems like he is interviewing himself.
Within the third part Wilkinson examines the rule of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot as seen by two Cambodian women who are now mysteriously blind like numerous others from that tribulation period. The author effectively translates the daily horror and puts the reader in the women's vantage point. The text is difficult at certain moments to digest. But his essay on John Wayne Gacy, convicted of killing thirty-three boys, the most in America, is ultra creepy; some of these passages you might want to skip entirely. However, even if you have a weak stomach, the rest of the essays should be considered compulsory reading due to the author's ability to articulate clearly each person's reason for being.
The book is divided into three sections. The first consists of stories about, among others, interesting creative people (Paul Simon, Bob Weir), athletes (hockey enforcers Tony Twist and Joe Kocur), and people with unusual occupations (funny car driver Joe Force). There is a terrific story about Larry King which has nothing to do with his TV career, but deals humorously with his life as a child and a teenager. Many writers would play some of these stories for laughs, poking fun at or distancing themselves from at least some of the subjects of these stories (for example a cab driver in New York whose goal is to drive his cab to the Arctic Ocean). Wilkinson does not do this and treats all of his subjects with respect and dignity.
The second and third sections deal with weightier matters. To mention a few there is an essay about instances of non-organic blindness in Cambodian women who witnessed and lived through brutal torture during a war. I found this section difficult to read because of the inhuman (or, actually, tragically human) mistreatment of captive Cambodians, but not because of Wilkinson's writing which was the only reason I was able to finish the piece.
There is an amazing piece which resulted from the author's many hours of interviews with convicted serial murderer John Wayne Gacy. I cannot imagine reading a better interview with this kind of subject, although I would also recommend Robert Mladinich's masterful FROM THE MOUTH OF THE MONSTER about another serial killer, Joel Rifkin. Given the sheer savage soullessness of Gacy's crimes, Wilkinson's writing is understated and is not at all sensational. I'd like to mention a couple of his many comments about Gacy I found interesting. At one point he likens Gacy, who would clearly be an unappealing person had he not committed any crimes, to a person in a bar with whom you have begun a conversation and cannot subsequently get rid of. And later he writes that Gacy "lives with the knowledge of having done something horrible by refusing to live with it. He is like someone who inhabits a parallel world..." This is an incisive description, and, parenthetically, seems a stunningly apt description of President George W. Bush's relationship with his Iraq war. But I guess that's another conversation.
I have saved for last Wilkinson's achingly touching essay about the birth of his son, and his wife's and his gradual realization by the time he is pre-schooler that he is socially awkward and probably has Asperger's Syndrome. Wilkinson's love for the child and his fear of what he will encounter in the world are heartbreaking. The next essay is a companion piece about a friend's grown son who has Asperger's. Both of these essays, while emotionally intense, are dignified and Wilkinson never lapses into melodrama or self-pity.
Alec Wilkinson writes intelligent prose for intelligent readers. I'd give
MR. APOLOGY 100 stars if I could.