Reflections on life and literature flavored with wit and wordplay from a master of the genre
Solve for X, the fourth collection of creative nonfiction by Arthur Saltzman, demonstrates the writer's continuing effort to expand on the thematic range, lyrical capacities, and imaginative possibilities of the essay in a signature style marked by what Publishers Weekly deemed Saltzman's "riskily mellifluous language."
The twenty-five essays that constitute this volume investigate a wide range of concerns: from child prodigies to the problems and pleasures of chance, from the generation of our species to the generation gap, from the mind-body problem to the paradoxical purpose of pointlessness in human endeavors, from the culture of cars to the culture of guns, from our phobias to our foibles. Here too are investigations into the methods and meanings of Dante and Henry James as well as the seductions and pitfalls of literary popularity. Leavened with a companionable wit and an often self-deprecating humor, the pieces are pervaded, girded, and highlighted by persistent wordplay and literary allusions from a lifetime spent on both sides of the educator's desk.
Collectively these essays serve as verbal forays, poetic meditations, luminous departures, and lessons in delight. As Modern Language Review attests, "Saltzman's prose is pithy, allusive, elegant. . . . In stylistic virtuosity, [he] comes perhaps closest to Updike." In Solve for X we are invited to witness Saltzman's ongoing improvisations and negotiation with and through words as conducted in the busy intersection of fact and figuration, argument and invention, experience remembered and memory remade.
Arthur Saltzman is a professor of English at Missouri Southern State University. His work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast, Modern Fiction Studies, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Literature, Baltimore Review, and numerous other journals. He is the author of ten books, including the essay collections Objects and Empathy, Nearer, and The Obligations of the Harp as well as the critical works The Novel in Balance and This Mad "Instead": Governing Metaphors in Contemporary American Fiction.
"Fully engaging in a personal essay is much like eavesdropping on a writer caught in the act of thinking his or her way through a problem. In Solve for X, that virtuoso of language Arthur Saltzman again proves to be well worth listening in on. His thought process is as deeply complex and wide-ranging as the subjects of his meditations, and his style is by turns charming, engaging, disturbing, and provocative. In this collection, we see Saltzman the juggler, tossing about literary and pop culture allusions while never losing his sharp focus or keen balance in literary acts that are equal parts spellbinding improvisation and well-practiced genius."—Michael Pearson, professor and director of creative writing, Old Dominion University, and author of Shohola Falls: A Novel and Imagined Places: Journeys into Literary America
"That bracing thought that arises while you're in traffic or in the shower—the one you really should have scribbled down, pushed further, trailed? Arthur Saltzman's on it. Playing with—and on—words, he works with associative vigor towards always-surprising insights. Though Saltzman 'opt(s) for the integrity of irresolution,' be assured that along the way we get exacting, fully realized dramatic arcs of thought, a sense of awe, and real range (prodigies! guns! pointlessness! sartorial quirks! cool cars!). Saltzman has a gift for analogic playfulness: 'Everything that rises hits the verge' he writes, and indeed, we are led in essay after essay to balance with him on that pleasing, precipitous cusp."—Lia Purpura, writer-in-residence, Loyola College in Maryland, and author of On Looking and Increase