15 years of essays from Chicago author Mark Slouka
3/5 Graywolf In the introduction to his book of essays, Chicago author Slouka would like to warn you of a few things. First off, he’s not much for introductions. Essays range back 15 years and a fair amount of rage rumbles around in these pages, which is mostly directed at his father and ex-Presidents. Yet Slouka need not worry. The humorous introduction leads into essays with sentiments that haven’t quite passed – and, while it’s essay-scribbling rage, it’s civilised.
The opening essay, ‘Hitler’s Couch,’ may give some idea of the title’s meaning. Slouka links together his fatherhood’s childhood nightmare (being pursued up a dark, claustrophobic staircase) with his father’s memory of hearing of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the Nazi occupation and watching as Hitler’s motorcade made its way through the city of Brno in 1939. That’s further connected to Slouka’s own interaction in the mid-’70s with a war reporter who showed him the swatch of fabric she prized from the couch on which the Führer shot himself. But that connection is fuzzy for Slouka, even a bit dishonest, calling chronology ‘the greatest lie we tell.’
Readers are then opened to a bug-eyed view of history, seen from multiple angles and connected by what we can learn from each outside causality. It’s not surprising, then, that many of Slouka’s essays celebrate leisure time and are suspicious of the spinning transom of cable and Internet news, the psychological value of information’s current pace. Slouka would be an anachronism anywhere you dropped him on humanity’s timeline, and a better writer for it.