As many as have come my way are collected below. Post a review of Neck Deep on Amazon! It's the right thing to do. The word sucks has a nice ring to it. Technical and nasty. That's the place for reviews, often by people that have no idea what they're talking about, who possibly have not even read the book. If I could review myself more than once I would...maybe. You know all the anonymous reviews on Amazon are probably by the authors, or possibly their husbands slash wives slash partners slash friends, all engaged in some kind of coupling, whether sexual or aesthetic or whatever. See this article in The Observer. It's kind of great, isn't it? Though, for what it's worth, neither of the two reviews up on Amazon of Other Electricities are written by me. That took some restraint.
If you'd like a copy for review for an awesome publication (or an awesome copy for review, or a dilapidated copy for an awesome review), etc., see the propaganda page for publicist contact information. If you'd like a decoder wheel, show up at the readings—there may be a few left. Or sweet-talk the fabulous publicist...
It is increasingly weird to read reviews and post chunks of them here. I find it both fascinating and uncomfortable, and maybe fascinating because of how uncomfortable it makes me. Eventually I will probablly give it up, but still, and in the meantime, still:
Matthew Price in The New York Times Book Review: "Monson, it seems, went to the school of Dave Eggers. In the non-dedication to this playfully self-conscious collection of nonfiction pieces, he quotes the admonition from The Chicago Manual of Style that “a dedication intended to be humorous will very likely lose its humor with time and so is inappropriate in a serious book destined to take a permanent place in the literature.” That’s for posterity to decide, but Monson, one must admit, is pretty darn clever. Calling him an essayist is a bit of stretch — he’s more like a daft, spoofing technician of not-quite-literary forms. In “Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline,” he turns the humble outline into a poetic exploration of his roots in northern Michigan’s copper and iron country:
In “Index for X and the Origin of Fires,” he catalogs the horrifying particulars of a car wreck, from A to Z. At times, Monson lapses into gnomic pretentiousness, but his geek act has charm. Obsessed with the bric-a-brac of electronic culture — “Bitstreams, error correction, data packets, CRCs, compression algorithms” — as well as outmoded technologies like Telex, Monson revels in the ways information flows through the world. Such concerns merge wonderfully in “I Have Been Thinking About Snow,” which uses flurries of run-on ellipses and other typographical trickery to create a virtual blizzard on the page." [Editor's Choice Sept 02]
—July 2007:Steven Poole in The Guardian (UK): "This is a volume of "creative nonfiction", a useful modern publishing term to distinguish such writing from the tediously uncreative nonfiction of, say, de Quincey or Nietzsche....[M]ost of the essays are rather good: a ferry trip that almost casually becomes a meditation on solitude and water, an essay that runs from index cards to a fascination with armlessness, an impressive set of "Four Annotated Car Washes" ("Can I tell you how car washes work?" Monson asks, and, delightfully, he goes on to do so). The author has a miniaturist, free-associative humour, which is what you want in an essayist. The best pieces are those done in old-fashioned joined-up prose, with the exception of a haunting index for an imaginary book - although, thinking of Nabokov and Borges, you may as well call it fiction."
from EconoCulture, by
Amy McDaniel: "The book’s website serves as
a lovely extension of the part of Neck Deep called
from the West End Word, by Sara Porter: "These essays, I’m sure, were meant to be thought-provoking pieces that are brimming with meaning; instead they come off as ponderous, pretentious and rambling. But you have to hand it to Monson — at least the concepts are interesting. He probably had a good idea when he thought of turning an outline from Harvard University into an essay, but what resulted is a bloated mess where the subjects run from Monson’s university days, to his family, to freedom of speech and to outlines themselves. He never sticks to one subject for very long, turning his "Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine vs. the Mind and the Harvard Outline" into a parody of essays. ¶ Monson also resorts to such tricks during his essay "Index For X and the Origin of Fires." In this, he puts words in index form and tries to put various meanings under them. He writes, for example, "Brother" then follows it up with phrases like "a hoot and a bother," "importance of," "phenomenon of" and "relation to danger." He probably is attempting for stream-of-consciousness writing in which ideas flow naturally to make an important point; instead the essay comes across as a bad free-writing assignment from high school. ... But for the most part, Monson’s Neck Deep and Other Predicaments is an exercise in unevenness and bewilderment. Instead of neck deep in promise, this reader finds the book waist deep in pretension."
Weston Cutter, in the Star
Tribune (Minneapolis): "What makes these essays sneakily
engaging is Monson's forthright presence.
—February 2007, from Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
This esoteric collection, awarded the second annual Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, is described by contest judge Robert Polito as "astonishing," a "dismantling and reinvention of the essay as an instrument for thought." Readers are bound to agree; in his first nonfiction book, poet and novelist Monson (Vacationland) offers a parade of quirky, at times avant-garde methods for exploring his obsessions with everything from frisbee golf ("The Long Crush") to car washes ("The Big and Sometimes Colored Foam: Four Annotated Car Washes") to the lost art of sending telegrams ("Afterword: Elegy for Telegram and Starflight"). He pits working-class values against those of Michigan's suburban upper crust-grappling with his own point throughout-in "Cranbrook Schools: Adventures in Bourgeois Topologies," an ironic, semi-nostalgic look at his pre-expulsion years in an elite boarding school. In "Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline," a well-crafted outline unpacks the history of mining in northern Michigan. "Index for X and the Origin of Fires" is perhaps the best of the bunch; Monson explains it in his notes as "the original index to my novel, Other Electricities, before it was trimmed out and became this something else. One hopes it still refers to a (or the) recognizable world." Wonderfully recondite and cunningly executed, Monson's work will make a brilliant discovery for open-minded fans of narrative nonfiction.
—January 2007, from Matt Bell's blog [link for full text]:
The winner of Graywolf Press's 2006 Nonfiction Prize, Neck Deep contains twelve essays about subjects as wide-ranging as disc golf, mining in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, car washes, snow, juvenile criminal activity, the end of telegram service, and classic video games. At the same time, each of the essays is also about form, an idea reflected both in the varied forms the text is written in and during explicit discussion of it in several of the essays. Monson frames his topics and writings in terms of topology, which he defines as "about electricity or water or anything that flows equally throughout a form, that moves through channels." It is with the creation of forms and channels that he controls his subjects, giving him an angle to consider them from while at the same time changing them slightly. Applying the Harvard outline to an essay about mining in the Upper Peninsula and his family's involvement in the industry (in "Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline") might seem gimmicky at first, but actually allows Monson to organize and rank the information he's providing. Digressions slip to the right of the page, indented into the essay, while main points and emotional stand outs anchor the left side of the page, gathering the smaller details beneath them. It also provides an interesting way to read the essay, taking in as little or as much information as possible: Try reading only the main ideas (I, II, etc.), then read it again adding in the concrete details, then the smaller subsections. Reading this way lets the essay grow and shrink in a way that illuminates Monson's thoughts and thought process in a way a traditional essay might not.
Of course, all this talk about form is not to suggest that Neck Deep is dry, technical, or academic. In actuality, Monson's essays are incredibly witty and fun, especially when discussing topics which remain sources of pure joy for him, such as disc golf or the classic computer game Starflight (which brought me back to the joys of my childhood full of pirated games on 5.25" floppies). He's also a master of the elegy, a literary form that underlies nearly all of his writing. There's equal parts regret and joy, obsession and carefree appreciation, all adding up to a great book of essays and one of the early highlights of 2007. Neck Deep and Other Predicaments comes out in February, and shouldn't be missed.
—November 2006, from the always-cheery Kirkus Reviews:
An eccentric, idiosyncratic collection of essays, most previously published (some online only), on topics ranging from car washes to high-school felonies to the nature of prose itself, from Monson (Other Electricities, 2005). Some of these pieces have the structure of traditional essays; others experiment with the form. One piece is merely an index. Another, about snow, has words scattered to resemble a blizzard. Yet another, a meditation on failure, features words competing for space with rows of periods. Says the author, "I love the idea of failure in art-the failed experiment." And some of these pieces qualify. But there are some goodies here, too. In one piece, an attempt to come to terms with his younger, more tormented self, the author-booted from Cranbrook School for assorted teen screw-ups-returns some years later to walk the grounds, to sit and ruminate. There are a few genial pieces, about car washes and disc (Frisbee) golf, though a talented undergraduate could have produced them. Monson shares a bit of trivia along the way, including why STOP is a feature of telegrams and who invented the first automatic car wash. And we learn a little of his family history in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One grandfather operated ferries that ceased operations when the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957. The author, who notes that he teaches at the same school (Grand Valley State Univ.) as James Frey's father, references Melville and Twain, among others. Poetic quality aside, there is not enough that informs the mind or heart.