New And Selected Essays

In the preface of Gonzales’ (Surviving Survival, 2012) latest book of nonfiction, which collects essays from his formative years, the author admits that most of the pieces arose from a deep personal need to confront the hazardous side of life. The research for “Marion Prison,” for instance, involved a trip to the southern Illinois maximum-security penitentiary where he interviewed guards, wardens, and inmates whose heinous behavior made them unmanageable under normal lockdown conditions. “World Trade Center” follows his trip to Ground Zero just days after the 9/11 attacks, during which he inspected the chaotic aftermath and interviewed people who worked in nearby buildings and watched through binoculars as jumpers fell to their deaths. For the title essay, Gonzales went to Chicago’s Cook County Hospital to observe up close a neurosurgeon sawing through the skulls of patients with brain tumors and bullet wounds. While often unsparing in his graphic descriptions, Gonzales is also a brilliant prose stylist who vividly and insightfully takes readers to the scenes and circumstances most would rather not witness firsthand but yearn to comprehend. --Carl Hays

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While watching marine biologists at work on a research vessel off southeastern Alaska, Hildebrand asked the chief scientist to explain the point of his research. "We chase stories," the scientist answered simply. Hildebrand admired the reply, and offers this collection of essays as a literary equivalent. The pieces in the book, written over a 20-year period, present glimpses of landscapes and the people who populate them. The essays are extremely varied: in one, the author accompanies Hmong immigrants deer hunting in Wisconsin; in another, he tries to follow the course of the Big Two-Hearted River using Hemingway's classic story as a guide. (Hemingway took some liberties with the Michigan landscape.) "Touching Bottom" draws a melancholy yet lovely parallel between a wounded mallard and the author's dissolved marriage. At one point Hildebrand laments, "Perhaps we have lost the language to describe a landscape beyond the terminology of real estate brokers." Not true, if this collection is any example. Rebecca Maksel
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