It’s a great shame that what Robert Atwan described twenty years ago as ‘our most dynamic literary form’ (in his Foreword to The Best American Essays 1997) continues to be dogged by these powerful misconceptions.
They have resulted in too many people dismissing the essay as something of little interest that languishes in a literary dead-end, or that’s confined to the academic backwaters of student assessment.” The thirty-six views offered are intended to counteract such commonly encountered misperceptions of the genre.
These beliefs—or intuitions—about the role the past plays in our present are often evoked as if they are timeless and self-evident truths.
It is precisely because they are neither, yet still we are persuaded by them, that they tell us a great deal about the forces that shape our culture and the way we live.
Even if my thirty-six views were multiplied tenfold, it still wouldn’t give a perfect 360-degree perspective that ringed the essay round, containing it within a stockade of complete control and circumscription.
Such multiple efforts, like the thirty-six I’ve offered, would simply lay down more paths of meandering circumambulation.
We never tired of this joyful, dark and never less-than-original collection of essays from a writer who thinks deeply and never shies from the hardest of questions.
‘Tumarkin, who brings her own experiences to play, writes in a sometimes fierce voice that is utterly her own and brings with it an inquiring mind that together make for a thought-provoking experience.’ Jason Steger, ‘Everyone is looking for the next Helen Garner and Maria Tumarkin shares with Garner a gimlet eye for the flaws in official systems, along with a fascination for the narratives nested in everyday lives.
She talks to a wide range of people, looks at the historical record, and examines people’s lived experiences with humour, compassion and great warmth.
She is unflinchingly honest at all times, and there is no artifice evident in this collection – a remarkable feat for a writer working in such self-conscious times.