"Dustin Parsons's debut collection of essays, Exploded View, is an intricate diagram of the lived experiences of a loving son and father. Part memoir, part map of home, part schematic exploration of work and family, this book is as innovative in form as it is heartfelt and smart. Parsons writes of landscapes I know—western Kansas and fatherhood—but does it with such heart and grace and skill that he makes the familiar unfamiliar and wondrous. As only the best architects of language can do, he gathers up the bones and fragments of a life and builds a body that is so much bigger and grander than any summation of its parts."
—Steven Church, author of I'm Just Getting to the Disturbing Part: On Work, Fear and Fatherhood and nonfiction editor for The Normal School
"It is difficult, upon closing this book, not to feel a sense of sadness when seeing how far the contemporary political climate has drifted away from the kind of empathy Parsons elicits and displays. That he does so with unwavering minimalist precision and a keen sense for the rhythms of everyday life puts him in the tradition of lyrical poets such as Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams. As the latter knew, so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, or a red cardinal for that matter — that is, on our ability to imagine the strain (and pain) of others."
"For its genre, the book is big and, in a way, Parsons writes like a musician who is a multi-instrumentalist. He stretches the lyrical essay all the way to poetry, although he is also a realistic writer of considerable skill. The diagrams amplify the sense that the work is truly hybrid."
—Joe Bueter, Literary Mamas
In Exploded View “graphic” essays play with the conventions of telling a life story and with how illustration and text work together in print. As with a graphic novel, the story is not only in the text but also in how that text interacts with the images that accompany it.
Diagrams were an important part of Dustin Parsons’s childhood. Parsons’s father was an oilfield mechanic, and in his spare time he was also a woodworker, an automotive mechanic, a welder, and an artist. His shop had countless manuals with “exploded view” parts directories that the young Parsons flipped through constantly. Whether rebuilding a transmission, putting together a diesel engine, or assembling a baby cradle, his father had a visual guide to help him. In these essays, Parsons uses the same approach to understanding his father as he navigates the world of raising two young biracial boys.
This memoir distinguishes itselffrom others in its “graphic” elements—the appropriated diagrams, instructions,and “exploded view” inventory images—that Parsons has used. They help guide thereader’s understanding of the piece, giving them a visual anchor for the story,and add a technical aspect to the lyric essays that they hold. This mixture ofthe machine-like and the lyrical helps the reader understand the author’s worldmore fully—a world where art comes in the form of a welding torch, wherecreativity involves finding new ways to use old machines, and where delineatingbetween right-brain and left-brain thinking isn’t so easy.
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