Mr. Apology and Other Essays by Alec Wilkinson, 2003.

Mmm…essays…I’ve loved Wilkinson’s writing since I came across Midnights in the mid-80s. Even as a young writer he had an amazing gift for vivid description and acute character portrayals, and he’s gotten stronger with age: able to play with form, to write about very personal experiences without being self-congratulatory or maudlin, to explore fringe areas of human behavior and make them more accessible. (He didn’t win me over with the hockey stories, but that’s a tough sell…) What fascinated me most about the book, though, was actually the author photo on the back flap. Wilkinson’s incredibly good-looking, and I remember his photo on the jacket of Midnights as a harbinger of the “as long as they look sexy, we’ll sign them” publishing trend. I’d read a couple of the essays before I turned to the back flap, looking for the brooding, dark-haired man I remembered–and he’s gray! OK, how can that be a surprise–but it makes me realize that twenty years have in fact passed since he was the hot young thing. And just as Jonathan is more handsome than ever to me now and 23-year-olds look like babies, the late-forties(?) Wilkinson with his short graying hair is far more good-looking now. But that’s not what kept drawing me back to the photo. I couldn’t help staring at it because the way he’s looking off to one side, with a purely joyous, spontaneous grin, makes my eyes want to follow his and see what he’s seeing. The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile never particularly drew me, but I think I understand better now why people find her mysteriously fascinating.

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