Friday, October 9, 2020
reading: interior states
Interior States: Essays, Anchor Books, 2018.
An essay collection by Meghan O'Gieblyn,
picked up after a friend linked me to one of the included essays,
“Dispatch from Flyover Country”:
Many of our friends who grew up here now live in Brooklyn, where they are at
work on “book-length narratives.” Another contingent has moved to the Bay Area
and made a fortune there. Every year or so, these west-coasters travel back to
Michigan and call us up for dinner or drinks, occasions they use to educate us
on the inner workings of the tech industry. They refer to the companies they
work for in the first person plural, a habit I have yet to acculturate to.
Occasionally they lapse into the utopian, speaking of robotics ordinances and
brain-computer interfaces and the mystical, labyrinthine channels of capital,
conveying it all with the fervency of pioneers on a civilizing mission. Being
lectured quickly becomes dull, and so my husband and I, to amuse ourselves,
will sometimes play the rube. “So what, exactly, is a venture capitalist?”
we’ll say. Or: “Gosh, it sounds like science fiction.” I suppose we could tell
them the truth—that nothing they’re proclaiming is news; that the boom and
bustle of the coastal cities, like the smoke from those California wildfires,
liberally wafts over the rest of the country. But that seems a bit rude. We
are, after all, Midwesterners.
O'Gieblyn comes from somewhere I half know — a life unlike mine but also not
that many degrees off of it: The definite Midwest rather than the ambiguous
Plains states of its western edge; evangelical Christianity rather than
conservative Lutheranism and rural Methodism; homeschooling like I watched
shape friends; an academic/literary path I didn’t go down.
As I went through the book, I realized I’d read a few of the included pieces
before, somewhere on the internet, usually with a sense of recognition for
their subject matter. These are good essays. It occurs to me that reading
them from a place of immediate recognition (I, too, saw Carman in
front of a packed house on a mid-90s tour) probably isn’t quite like reading
them in the New Yorker as someone who grew up on a coast and feels a vague
anthropological interest in the in-between places. I suppose that kind of
reader is closer to who these are written for, but it’s to the author’s credit
that they still work if you’ve spent time inside the frames they discuss.
tags: topics/essays, topics/michigan, topics/reading, topics/religion