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These seventeen prose pieces focus on the condition of wakefulness and the virtue of being awake. While the tone is often intimate, even the most personal disclosures — letters and journal entries, conversations between husband and wife — are graciously nuanced and retrospective, allowing readers to summon their own moments of revelation into the reflective spaces that Donald Morrill creates, line by wondrous line.
What would you be willing to do to save someone, perhaps someone you loved? On a moment’s notice, for instance, would you lunge between that person and an assailant’s knife strike? In that same situation, what would you be willing do for yourself? And what if there were nothing, ultimately, to be done?
These and other such questions live in the untouched minutes—questions most of us are, fortunately, never compelled to answer, though the media exposes us daily to the stories of those who are.
Sounding for Cool is about self-transformation, about growing up on one’s own as a product of contemporary America, and about how to become not just a man, but a contributing adult in society. Donald Morrill presents the day-to-day lives of seven young men (white, black, Hispanic, immigrant, middle-class, thick-headed, poor, and smart), who for various reasons have become homeless. Placed in a Transitional Living Program facility (TLP) by the courts, these men must learn to navigate in the world of “normal” values and reasonable rules. Streetwise and callow, trained to seek shortcuts or to make excuses, they struggle with the structures and assumptions inherent in living a law-abiding, bill-paying life. While sorting out their souls, they learn how to connect with others.
A Stranger’s Neighborhood is a memoir in essays that, by turns, focuses on childhood and home, adulthood and travel. A book of journeying and sojourning in the literal sense, it is also the story of a journey into the self, the past, and our sojourn among others—familiar and foreign—in the present. The stranger’s neighborhood: that place of origins, that place which first shapes a person; also that zone which the travelers enters, wherever the travel journeys, and where one lives when one is a native. It is as much a metaphysical condition as a bodily circumstance. Morrill examines home-life and the wandering life, as his travels bring him encounters with a goddess, a president, racecars drivers and runaway teenagers, pubic relations executives, beggars and boors, artists and gropers, a Nobel laureate, human wrecks, a mad philatelist. Along the way, he probes issues of family and coming of age, of living abroad with foreigners, of substance abuse, money and the imagination, culture shock, lust, vanished friendship, American notions of failure, the fugitive souls, marriage and divorce, fatherhood, and the comforts and confines of staying put.