Magazine article World Literature Today

Born Again Skeptic and Other Valedictions

Magazine article World Literature Today

Born Again Skeptic and Other Valedictions

Article excerpt

Robert Murray Davis. Born Again Skeptic and Other Valedictions. Norman, Oklahoma. Mongrel Empire. 2011. isbn 9780983305248

Robert Murray Davis's collection of personal essays, Born Again Skeptic and Other Valedictions, opens with a piece titled "Is This an Autobiography?" The short answer to that question is yes-the essays are for the most part autobiographical. However, the threads woven through the book tell far more than just one man's experiences; they offer insight into the American condition: the arc of our recent, collective history as well as the trajectory of an individual life. Davis, who taught English at the University of Oklahoma for thirtyplus years, covers an array of topics ranging from memories of his parents to his ambivalent relationship with Catholic theology to literature, books, and academia. Sociopolitical issues and broken relationships are also frequent-and sometimes parallel- subjects.

These are not personal essays bursting forth from (mis)adventures, as in the vein of David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," but they do provide a glimpse into man-and-moment in a similar fashion. In "Borders," Davis employs a dark humor to discuss the demographics of Sun Lakes, a community for "mature adults" where he has retired in the rogue state of Arizona. Bordering the Gila River Indian Community, Sun Lakes is divided into sections that seem based on class-in various senses of the word. One resident tells him, "You might be able to find a woman in Phase I who lives the way you do. My new cleaning woman lives in Phase I. She's sleeping with my yard man. …

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