For the Boy Who Makes Waves by Joe Blair
This essay beautifully illustrates the benefits of simplicity in writing. It is an intimate and powerful vision of a father confronting the limits of parenting and the limitless nature of love.
There are several elements of this essay that just blew me away:
*Focus. Clearly, there is a lot of rich material going on in this writer’s life. He’s a pipe fitter in Iowa getting ready to relocate the family to California. No job. No waiting family or other community. Just a full out pilgrimage west. Already, that’s a book. But Joe Blair shows his writing chops by not insisting on telling the WHOLE story and instead, taking a small slice of his book-worthy life and giving it full treatment. Smart, and great reading.
*A new take on a popular theme. There is one word that does not appear in this essay, but is thematically all over the text: Autism. I’m not trained in developmental disabilities, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Michael appears autistic. He stims (pacing and cracking the belt in a repetitive wave-pattern). He does not communicate in a socially recognizable fashion. He sings, screams, howls. He engages in what looks to my layperson eyes as echolalia – repeating rather than responding to conversation. And autism is a popular theme in writing today. It has gained greater recognition and stirs heated debate in medical and educational circles. But this essay does not wander into that territory. There is no discussion of diagnosis, school issues, dealing with unsympathetic friends and neighbors. In fact, the essay doesn’t even utter The Word. It’s a new twist on a well-covered topic.
*Tension. The writer injects tension into this story at several junctures. The opening graf creates tension by describing items that sound scary: a padlock, a bolted six foot fence. The scene visiting the hugging saint is disconcerting, surreal, and it serves to destabilize us. In the final section, the author is describing Michael’s behavior and casually drops this line “…which might seem cute to you but to me indicates Michael is on the edge of a seizure.” And like that, we’re afraid. Is a medical crisis about to unfold? The writer’s style is quiet and restrained but he does not allow us to be lulled by it.
A quick Google tells us this author is an experienced essayist. I'm not surprised. His skill shows.