As a contributor to many publications such as GQ, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Southern editor for The Paris Review, is an accomplished essayist. His collection, Pulphead: Essays, brings together fourteen of his best long-form works from the past decade. Sullivan writes on intriguing topics, including a visit to a large, annual Christian rock festival in Kentucky. There he meets a group of young men from West Virginia who he connects with and learns their varied motivations for being there. A strong sense of place and emotion is stirred when he places himself among the throngs of believers, many of whom come to this event year after year. A supporting “character” is the RV that Sullivan rents to attend the occasion; he explores the benefits and foibles of having such a vehicle there.
A more personal essay describes Sullivan’s experience after his brother Worth is electrocuted in a bizarre accident, and the resulting aftermath of the coma that follows. As in many of the essays, humor worms its way into otherwise sobering events, such as recounting how many details of this incident were remembered because it had appeared on reality show Rescue 911, hosted by William Shatner. Perhaps the most fascinating of his subjects is Mister Lytle, the last of a scholarly group known as the “Twelve Southerners”. Sullivan spends some months living with the 92-year-old man, and the experiences that they share are captivating. A window into the Old South that still existed not too very long ago is opened and strikingly examined.
Other topics include the Gulf Coast of Mississippi just days just after Hurricane Katrina; the experiences of reality show characters after "their" season has passed; and one essay each on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. John Jeremiah Sullivan is a writer who captures the longing, introspection, and world-weariness that exemplify the feelings of his Gen X contemporaries.