Alongside and through his scrutiny of the formatting of both a page’s text and its white space, Monson repeatedly examines self, memory, and the nature of truth in nonfiction in the contexts that compel him ... Monson probes self, truth, and memory through his own subjectivity and cultural interests, though in this collection the poles of arid Tucson and wet, green Michigan and their relative traumas and violence play a crucial role in depicting these themes; along the way, Monson never loses sight of form and its relationship to content ... reading this collection as a whole, we’re drawn to the threads between the essays, though they might look different in each setting ... In many ways, Monson’s essays feel so pedestrian—perhaps that’s why I’m charmed by them. He’s just a suburban dad living in the desert, getting all scratched up doing yard work, reminiscing about his childhood in the UP, putting up a massive Christmas display, and fixating on the violence close to home. At the same time, his essays stun because he un-perforates our sentences blistered with trauma and violence.
I Will Take the Answer is a clutch of cultural studies that on the surface revels in frivolity ... But his underlying intentions are serious, born of a belief that the more we keep spelunking through our memories of these artifacts, and their own histories, the closer we’ll get to a truer sense of being. He’s funny, but not a prankster; he’s inspired by Roland Barthes but disinterested in academic scrutiny; he’s a historian but only to the point where he can make history round back to the personal ... Zipping between past and present, mystery to mystery, from natural history to cultural artifacts, he’s trying (trying) to assert that our character is often constructed out of these sedimentary layers of thought, experience, and fact—and, more interestingly, that we engage in our culture-making to both express our sense of that being and to bury the past ... Fun as the zipping is, a little bow-tying wouldn’t hurt on occasion; I Will Take the Answer at times reads more like notes toward an essay collection than the finished thing, a statement I suspect he’d take as a compliment.
Monson’s attention to the layering of both physical and emotional landscapes makes his interest in the profound evident throughout the collection ... Monson’s writing, while reaching for what’s beneath, remains close and accessible on the page. His frequent direct address, sincere and casual, communicated something I’ve rarely experienced as a reader—an explicit and genuine interest in reaching out for the reader, any reader, all readers. But this attempt comes with its risks—making unfounded assumptions about the reader such as statements beginning with 'like you,' which appear in a couple of essays, as though the reader can somehow be known to the author. That said, the different tones of Monson’s voice, speaking on a wide array of subjects between the scholarly and the personal—achieves a great balance throughout the work, a sense of both groundedness and wonder.
Many of the essays share [Monson's] short stories’ concern with interiority (Monson writes at length about tunnels and mines, and the inside versus the outside of rivers). But the essays are more varied in form and theme. Some of them make clever use of the physical form of the codex itself ... Some of them are taxonomical and academic seeming ... 'The Sadness of March'...is dense and technical and I found myself feeling rather irritated with Monson for insisting upon the validity of his question, and indulging in a rather esoteric exercise ... Monson parses the world and its constructs so finely, that anyone could be forgiven for feeling a little out of their depths. A little suspended disbelief may be required and certainly more than one reading, but if you wade deeply into these adventurous exercises the reward is often well worth it, and sometimes the innovation is less cumbersome than it initially appeared.
As in previous collections, Monson experiments with the essay form, with mixed results. Sometimes, he’s too clever—e.g., in an essay about the quest for dominion over water, the text is printed to simulate liquid pouring into the gutter of the book’s binding—and frequent digressions diminish the power of his arguments. However, the best essays start in one place and move in unpredictable, satisfying directions ... Provocative if sometimes unfocused musings of a curious mind.