Of “Structure”’s many pleasures – cool diagrams of some of McPhee’s finest pieces (“A Roomful of Hovings,” “A Forager,” “Travels in Georgia,” “A Fleet of One,” “Tight-Assed River”), practical writing tips (“If you have come to your planned ending and it doesn’t seem to be working, run your eye up the page and the page before that. You may see that your best ending is somewhere in there, that you were finished before you thought you were”), an illuminating discussion of chronology versus theme – the most piquant is the chance to partake again, from another angle, of the joys I’ve experienced within McPhee’s resplendent oeuvre, in the presence of a voice and mind I’ve come to love.
Postscript: Another piece in this week’s issue that deserves a special shout-out is Nathan Heller’s absorbing “Semi-Charmed Life,” a survey of books on “twentysomething culture.” I particularly enjoyed the opening section, a limpid remembrance of a month Heller spent in Reykjavik when he was twenty-two (“My life at that time was full of passing relationships: people I knew for days, or even hours, and who posed for Polaroid-like snapshots in my memory which outlast many of the long-exposure images I’ve collected since”). I like the way Heller moves from personal history to critical analysis and back again. His method generates several gorgeous lines (e.g., “The skin above her collarbone had the clean, smoky, late-October smell of candle wax”). Writing this descriptive, personal, and sensuous infuses criticism with fresh potential.