While novelists or memoirists or poets might merely hope a reader takes something from their writing beyond a literal understanding of the words, advice artists go one step further. Just as they use reader questions as prompts for their writing, readers are explicitly invited to use the answers as prompts for living, ways to get unstuck from old, unhelpful truths and latch on to the truths we need. It’s a reciprocal, participatory literature that calls to mind Sheila Heti’s 2012 novel How Should a Person Be?—and not just because How to Be a Person in the World reframes that question as a directive.
There’s so much going on in just that tiny sentence, “You heard of me?” There’s a distinct New York City accent, if an outdated one, turning “heard” into “hoid.” (This feature, known as the coil-curl merger, is really only heard in New Yorkers born before World War II.) Beyond that, he doesn’t intone this query as a question in any typical American English; the pitch and emphasis of the question doesn’t resemble how a non-Jew would ask it. Brooks’s pitch shoots upward at the word “heard,” back down in “of,” and then slightly up again at “me.”
But is really a religious or ethnic thing? Can we call it a "Jewish accent" rather than, say, a "New York accent"?
After making my way through several recent novels written in tiresome hey-look-at-me prose (Emma Cline’s “The Girls” comes to mind), “The Wonder” arrived as a welcome relief. Donoghue’s prose is as sturdy and serviceable as a good pair of brogans, but never nondescript. There are occasional flashes of lyricism — “a cloud loosely bandaged the waning moon,” for instance, a line of perfect description couched in perfect iambic pentameter — but Donoghue’s main purpose here is story, story, story, and God bless her for it.
At its heart, “EveryDayCook” is a midlife-crisis book. “It’s ‘Who the heck am I?’ time,” he said. “I’ve spent years projecting and presenting this thing, but in the end, what am I? I thought it was important to put something on paper.”
It’s a line that so neatly upends and yet somehow fulfills our expectations of where the poem will end. The poem is free verse, although it loosely adopts conventions of the sonnet form. Place—setting—becomes the poem’s argument, and the volta appears at the end, reduced from a traditional Shakespearean couplet to the single final line. And in spite of its abrupt arrival and flat diction, the ending feels epiphanic. “I have wasted my life,” Wright discovers, laments, even seems to marvel—depending, perhaps, on the reader’s mood when they encounter the line. Like a traditional volta, the line turns the poem’s argument in an unexpected direction.
What did I do to unleash this online vitriol? Did I kick a puppy on YouTube? Shred a painting of Ronald Reagan? Star in the female version of “Ghostbusters”?
None of the above. All I did was ask In-N-Out to add a veggie burger to its menu. I did so in my capacity as communications manager for the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to animal-based meat, dairy and eggs.