Essays for a time of isolation

Jordan Kisner writes about seeing the world and the self.

In a late March essay in the New York Times, Jordan Kisner, writing ostensibly about her canceled book tour, describes “sitting at a table near a window and looking out at a row of peony buds slowly pushing up from the blank ground.” The house has been infiltrated by ladybugs, and, she notes, “our stillness is made more noticeable by their motion and endless proliferation, by the constant fluttering of wings. It hasn’t even been a week and we’re already bored.” The article puts to the purpose of COVID-19 sense-making many of the themes that recur throughout Kisner’s new collection of essays: prayer, generational inheritance, the act of gazing at something. Boredom. Curiosity. Change.

The architecture of Kisner’s essays—which echoes, among others, that of Leslie Jamison—is the architecture of articulation. As in many personal essays, Kisner comes to see the world in concert with coming to see herself. Or she comes to see herself in concert with coming to see the world.

A trip to Laredo to report on a debutante ball gives way to a reflection on Kisner’s mother’s Mexican American heritage. A report on an evangelical church in Montauk that’s “named, rather baptismally, WashOut” turns to a memory of