Such a pleasure to finally hold a hard-bound book of Sharlet’s essays in my hands, the true stories he’s held closest to his heart, collecting on the side as he worked on The Family and C Street. Knowing Jeff, I’ve read some of these before, on screen at KillingTheBuddha.com (a site he founded and I continue to help edit) and amid the ephemeral pages of Rolling Stone and Harper’s. But between the covers of Sweet Heaven When I Die, on thick stock, they’re richer with the re-reading. For the many essays that were new to me, I got a fresh look at what I’ve always loved about his writing, the anti-scripture of a man who is crazy about a world that drives him mad, in love with ordinary people around us that he can see are larger than life. The comparison to Joan Didion is apt. He writes passages like this, from the tale of a college love from Colorado and a return visit to see her years later:
She thought she might study religion. She bought herself a concordance. She would sit cross-legged on the floor, the concordance’s giant pages spread on her lap like the wings of a gull, a cup of wine or a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a Marlboro in the other. Her back curved like calligraphy—she had worn a brace as a girl, and her legs were a bit crooked, and her toes wrapped onto one another because when she was little she’d refused to abandon a pair of shoes that she’d loved—and she would parse scripture.
Read Sweet Heaven because you love words and stories. Read because you long and love. Read Sweet Heaven because you believe, or wish you did.
Buy this book, for yourself and a friend.