...[a] highly original and often disturbing book of essays ... Sure, he comes off alternately as hapless and helpless in these pieces, but I began to think of the letters as earnest quests by Daniels to discover whether there was something he could do to make himself happy, or at least happier ... The difference between The Correspondence and most of its peers is the sincere attempts Daniels makes to find out whether there is some other way for him to exist, some way to break completely with the past, with his demons, and forge a new identity through new experiences. Daniels’s work is deceptive. On one hand, the book is short, simple, and easy to read in a single sitting. But then something smacks you in the back of the head as you walk away and realize with a jolt that what you just read is deep, dark, and complex. You read it again and realize that The Correspondence is raw, funny, and contains more moments of true pathos than any piece of personal nonfiction you will encounter in a long time to come.
J.D. Daniels’s debut essay and short story collection, The Correspondence, is so good, so clean and incisive, with such taut, muscular prose, that I’m already dreading the number of terrible imitations it will undoubtedly generate in MFA programs across America in the coming year ... Daniels’s prose [is] paced and structured with precise deliberation; it suggests roughness, but at the same time it’s been polished to diamond sharpness ... But the thoughtfulness that elevates his essays is not as fully realized in Daniels’s short stories. 'Letter from Devil’s Tower,' about a married van driver having a last affair with an old girlfriend, is so flat that it dies on the page ... The Correspondence clocks in at a slim 126 pages long, and 'Letter from Devil’s Tower' takes up 14 of those pages. That’s more than 10 percent of the book spent on a dud of piece — but the remaining 89 percent is so smart and elegantly written that it’s still well worth your time.
...from the moment you crack it open, you’re in the presence of an original voice ... These essays and stories move high and low at once. Some read a bit like the earthy and doomed short stories of the West Virginia writer Breece D’J Pancake, as tweaked by an ironic miniaturist like Lydia Davis. It’s an intoxicating combination ... The problem that confronts the reader of The Correspondence is that, after the near-brilliant first three essays, the pieces begin to display glitches. The second half of the book (two stories and another essay) is lesser work, uneven in tone. Given that the first three essays fill only 76 pages, this entire book begins to seem like a premature birth. The second half can’t come close to cashing the check the first half has written. This is a book proposal as much as a book. The short stories are of a piece with the essays; they’re essentially written in the same voice and fit inside the same loose narrative arc. But they lack the gravitas of the earlier letters, and the wit fizzles ... The Correspondence doesn’t have a proper ending. But its beginning is packed with so much promise that 2017 looks better already.
...a tightly written, often brilliant, occasionally exasperating collection of essays ... Daniels is a very good writer, and once it’s through with its twitchy throat-clearing, The Correspondence reveals itself to be a very good book ... Indeed, each essay is better than the one before it; the second half of the book dispenses entirely with the cycle of boasting and self-negation that mars the first.
...the key to The Correspondence is, yes, the correspondence, the offhand revelation, the tricky intimacy that the form demands ... bluster? Perhaps. But Daniels is also articulating a strategy for survival: How to get knocked down and stand back up. That this is the central focus of the collection should hardly come as a surprise ... This slow stripping-away of all but the most necessary elements is a strategy that, at one point or another, every piece in The Correspondence shares ... Does it matter, faced with so much intimacy, whether this is fact or fiction? How do we tell the two apart? It brings to mind a different sort of correspondence, the one between experience and story, in which it is not fact but sensibility that becomes the essential building block of what we like to call the truth.