Book of the Week

Shame And Wonder by David Searcy. Photo: PA Photo/William Heinemann
Shame And Wonder by David Searcy. Photo: PA Photo/William Heinemann

Shame And Wonder by David Searcy

Texan writer David Searcy is far from a household name; as yet, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

But that should soon change if these essays and meditations find the audience they deserve, something which certainly seems possible given the increased appetite of late for thoughtful non-fiction whose precise genre is hard to define.

Sixty-something Searcy covers ostensible subjects ranging from coyotes, Google Maps and dental hygiene, to Santa’s old diocese and the toys that used to come in breakfast cereal. But really, as with the essay form’s great eminence Montaigne, this is the spectacle of a mind considering its world and itself - using the everyday, the specific and the peculiar to poke at universal questions of time, love, loss and perception.

Consider this passage, from the piece which began by talking about cereal toys: “So extraordinarily sensitive to meaning yet transparent to it, I suspect profundities passed through us all the time. We knew all sorts of deep, important things, but only very briefly. What I’d like to know is what might be required to get it back.” Elsewhere the effect can seem simple and homespun at first glance, but if you try reading Searcy on a busy commute, or after a couple of drinks, you soon realise just how intricately his thoughts are woven into these words.

As the title suggests, Shame And Wonder is a bittersweet book, but also a sharp and profoundly wise one. Wherever Searcy starts, he often circles back to a particular set of preoccupations - wide open spaces (Texan or astronomical), old graffiti and the melancholy temporality it suggests, absent friends (many of whom sound like interesting artists in their own right). Fans of nature writing, Americana and the philosophical will all find much to soothe, divert and provoke between these covers.