A Playful Conglomeration of Experiments

Guest Post by Shamae Budd

Patrick Madden’s third collection of essays is a playful conglomeration of experiments (in form, in collaboration, in thought). Interspersed among more traditional personal essays, you will find a menagerie of borrowed forms. The collection opens with an essay masquerading as an eBay listing for “Writer Michael Martone’s Leftover Water.” (Or is it an eBay listing masquerading as an essay? We can’t be sure, which is half the fun.) You will find blackout poetry (“Insomnia”), an essay written with the help of predictive text algorithms (“Unpredictable Essays”), mixed up proverbs (“The Proverbial ____” ), and a series of “Pangram Haiku.”

“Repast”—an essay in the form of several (functional) word searches—recollects the funeral services of the author’s mother. Madden recalls:

I
made
a
perfunctory
attempt
to
speak,
but
ultimately
I
simply
couldn’t
find
the
words.

Its “word search” formatting feels like a playful nod to poetry: slowing the reader down, making the essay more difficult to get through, mirroring the slow reality of grieving.

Many of the essays celebrate collaboration by featuring writers like David Lazar, Jericho Parms, Elena Passarello, and Mary Cappello. The inclusion of unexpected, lyric insights from other voices frequently elevates already charming solos into harmonic duets.

If you are interested in exploring disparate topics alongside a clever, self-aware, humble, insightful, digressive mind, give Madden’s collection a try. It will lead you from silly to thoughtful and back again: from a linguistic discussion of the word “erstwhile” to the civic responsibility of voting; from the opening notes of a Mercedes Sosa song to “the impossibility” of seeing others as they really are; from riddles about bus drivers to the “disarming pain” of grief “that still catches [him] unawares.” It will lead you to make unexpected connections.


Disparates by Patrick Madden. University of Nebraska Press, April 2020.

Reviewer bio: Shamae Budd received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Brigham Young University and now teaches creative writing there. Her essays have appeared in Under the Gum Tree, Hippocampus Magazine, Bird’s Thumb, and elsewhere. She lives in Utah with her husband, their one-year old boy, and a big red poodle.

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