'What a nutjob!' - Geoff Dyer
'Questions that occurred to me as I read this brilliant, baffling book: What the hell is this? Who the hell is this? Is this poetry?' - Tom Bissell
Can civilization save us from ourselves? That is the question J. D. Daniels asks in his first book, a series of six letters written during dark nights of the soul. Working from his own highly varied experience – as a janitor, night watchman, adjunct professor, drunk, exterminator, dutiful son –he considers how far books and learning and psychoanalysis can get us, and how much we’re stuck in the mud.
In prose wound as tight as a copper spring, Daniels takes us from the highways of his native Kentucky to the Balearic Islands and from the Pampas of Brazil to the rarefied precincts of Cambridge, Massachusetts. His travelling companions include psychotic kindergarten teachers, Israeli sailors, and Southern Baptists on fire for Christ. In each dispatch, Daniels takes risks – not just literary (voice, tone, form) but also more immediate, such as spending two years on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu team (he gets beaten to a pulp, repeatedly) or participating in group psychoanalysis (where he goes temporarily insane).
Daniels is that rare thing, a writer completely in earnest whose wit never deserts him, even in extremis. Inventive, intimate, restless, streetwise and erudite, The Correspondence introduces a brave and original observer of the inner life under pressure.
Tightly written, often brilliant… Alive with deft asides and daring intuitive leaps. Daniels is a very good writer, and [this is] a very good book… The self is the well from which all these essays are drawn; or perhaps it’s the sewer into which all these essays drain… A complete work about a work-in-progress, the self-portrait of a writer slowly coming into his own.
What a nutjob! Increasingly these three words constitute my highest praise for – almost my ideal of – a writer, and in this regard J. D. Daniels takes the biscuit. I love the way he throws out everything, both in the sense of throwing it all at us, and the opposite: discarding everything that might be deemed necessary to the seemly construction of narrative. So The Correspondence gives us the best of both worlds.
The Correspondence gives off the unmistakable crackle of an original writer who has found a new form. It's hard to say who or what is meant to be on the receiving end of these “letters”, but if you care about modern life you need to read them.
The Correspondence is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, a whole new music that changes the score of masculinity, and a new kind of writing too, one that pushes form and sentence into radical, contemporary shapes. The word ‘honesty’ has become something of an irritant in contemporary literary culture: J. D. Daniels does something more moral than be simply honest. He invokes the grandeur and abasement of experience with a tactility of language that makes a psychological landscape of it, rather as the ancient Greeks did, and his notions of justice and truth are as richly textured as theirs. I have lent this slim, meaningful book to one person after another, and received the confirmation that it has changed their view of the world with its economy, its potency, its different fall of light.
Daniels sees what others don't, feels what others won't, and writes what others can't. He is a blazing virtuoso of the English sentence, an oracle with a vulnerable and willing heart, and he has produced a shockingly perfect book.