Notes from No Man’s Land

“The world was not waiting for a telephone,” begins Eula Biss in her striking essay “Time and Distance Overcome.” I started her new book, Notes from No Man’s Land (Graywolf Press 2009), last night and I cannot put it down–mostly because I keep rereading this eight-page essay. I’ve been trying to figure it out. I mean, how did one slim essay about telephone poles make me gasp? Maybe it’s her deft weaving of tidbits like, “Mark Twain was among the first Americans to own a telephone” (how fitting is that?) with an account of the obscure “War on Telephones.” Or maybe it’s how she maneuvers the quotidian of telephone poles into a brutal, illuminating discussion about lynching. Or maybe it’s how she is not afraid to talk straight–her writing looks you dead in the eye and speaks–but that she does so with an empathy so tangible, a hope so strong, that you arrive at the end sure that you’ve read something honest and sad and necessary. These are feats to be admired over and over again.

Amy Lee Scott, assistant editor

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