Synopses & Reviews
A sharp-eyed, uniquely humane tour of America's cultural landscape — from high to low to lower than low — by the award-winning young star of the literary nonfiction world
In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us — with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that's all his own — how we really (no, really) live now.
In his native Kentucky, Sullivan introduces us to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century polymath genius who concocted a dense, fantastical prehistory of the New World. Back in modern times, Sullivan takes us to the Ozarks for a Christian rock festival; to Florida to meet the alumni and straggling refugees of MTV's Real World, who've generated their own self-perpetuating economy of minor celebrity; and all across the South on the trail of the blues. He takes us to Indiana to investigate the formative years of Michael Jackson and Axl Rose and then to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina — and back again as its residents confront the BP oil spill.
Gradually, a unifying narrative emerges, a story about this country that we've never heard told this way. It's like a fun-house hall-of-mirrors tour: Sullivan shows us who we are in ways we've never imagined to be true. Of course we don't know whether to laugh or cry when faced with this reflection — it's our inevitable sob-guffaws that attest to the power of Sullivan's work.
"The age-old strangeness of American pop culture gets dissected with hilarious and revelatory precision in these scintillating essays. Whiting Award winning critic and journalist Sullivan (Blood Horses) surveys 10,000 years of intriguing, inexplicable, and incorrigible socio-aesthetic phenomena, from the ancient Indian cave paintings of Tennessee (and their hillbilly admirers) to the takeover of his Wilmington, N.C., house by the teen soap opera One Tree Hill. Along the way he visits a Christian rock festival brimming with fellowship and frog-devouring savagery; witnesses the collapse of civilization in a post-Katrina gas line; hangs out in the professional-partying demimonde of MTV's RealWorld; marches with exuberant Tea Partiers; scouts the animal kingdom's gathering war on mankind; and traces the rise of rocker Axl Rose from his origins as a weedy adolescent punk in the small-town void of central Indiana. Sullivan views this landscape with love, horror, and fascination, finding the intricate intellectual substructures underlying the banalities, the graceful in the grotesque, the constellations of meaning that fans discern amid the random twinklings of stars. Sullivan writes an extraordinary prose that's stuffed with off-beat insight gleaned from rapt, appalled observations and suffused with a hang-dog charm. The result is an arresting take on the American imagination. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Sullivan's essays have won two National Magazine Awards, and here his omnivorous intellect analyzes Michael Jackson, Christian rock, post-Katrina New Orleans, Axl Rose and the obscure 19th century naturalist Constantine Rafinesque. His compulsive honesty and wildly intelligent prose recall the work of American masters of New Journalism like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe." Time
"Sullivans essays stay with you, like good short stories...and like accomplished short fiction, they often will, over time, reveal a fuller meaning...Whether he ponders the legacy of a long-dead French scientist or the unlikely cultural trajectory of Christian rock, Sullivan imbues his narrative subjects with a broader urgency reminiscent of other great practitioners of the essay-profile, such as New Yorker writers Joseph Mitchell and A. J. Liebling or Gay Talese during his 60s Esquire heyday ...[Pulphead] reinforces [Sullivan's] standing as among the best of his generations essayists." Bookforum
About the Author
John Jeremiah Sullivan is a contributing editor at Harpers Magazine and the southern editor of The Paris Review. He is the winner of a Whiting Writers Award for emerging writers and a National Magazine Award for feature writing. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he currently lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife and two daughters. He is the author of Blood Horses (FSG, 2004).