With the synthesis of memoir, criticism, and journalism for which she has become known, Leslie Jamison offers us fourteen new essays. In its kaleidoscopic sweep, Make It Scream, Make It Burn creates an exploration of the oceanic depths of longing and the reverberations of obsession.
... fabulously quirky and unconventional ... While the topics are adventurous, the nonfiction collection tackles the all-too-human topic of yearning and its oft-corollary, obsession. Both gurgle beneath the writer’s sonorous and captivating prose ... Her last section, the Dwelling, chimes best.
Jamison makes no claims to objectivity in her reporting. Quite the contrary. An overarching concern in Make It Scream, Make It Burn is with 'the fantasy of objectivity.' Even when reporting on a blue whale whose unusual song becomes a rallying cry for lonely people, or a family invested in the idea that their toddler's nightmares channel his previous life as a pilot shot down by the Japanese in 1945, she investigates her own process and feelings with at least as much rigor as her research into the subjects themselves. Yes, this can lead to a self-involved form of meta-journalism. But the overall result is a heady hybrid of journalism, memoir, and criticism ... Jamison has come a long way from the young woman who struggled to stave off loneliness with starvation and inebriation. In these tributes to what she has described as 'the deep realms of enchantment lodged inside ordinary life,' she shows—as she did in The Empathy Exams—that she's not afraid to buck the trend toward ironic detachment, even at the risk of sentimentality. This is a writer who is incapable of being uninteresting.
Stylistically, the book is almost frustratingly eloquent. Jamison can pin an idea with the speed and fluidity of a pro athlete. She thinks ethically but feels aesthetically. Her writing, although lyrical, proceeds with a precise, searching sobriety—each sentence a controlled swoon ... A question raised by these new essays is whether they advance the work done by The Empathy Exams, ... she avoids interrogating her empathic impulse, even as her skeptical setup feints in that direction. There is nothing wrong with Jamison’s thesis: reaching and imagining are, in fact, good. But she can seem, at times, to be throwing complexity in her own way merely to exercise her thoughtfulness. The resulting essays adopt uncertainty almost as style rather than as subject. Reasoning by metaphor allows Jamison to please everyone ... Jamison cares that we care about the whale. But what does she believe? ... this effort to honor the represented has the effect of centering the representer. Jamison, for whom the themes of imagination, narration, and metaphor will never not be seductive, endlessly elevates the act of portrayal above the thing being portrayed. While this doesn’t invalidate her ethical inquiries, it does reorient them ... That Jamison’s essays are continually searching for their true subject, like wanderers on romantic quests, contributes to their aura of rigor and humility. But seeking can become its own kind of stasis, and I caught myself wishing, as I read this new volume, for Jamison to push beyond articulate hunger ... If Make It Scream, Make It Burn at times feels invested in challenging Jamison’s earlier ideas about empathy, what it actually moderates is her romanticism ... It is true that the distance between who you are and who you long to be—as a woman, as a writer—is interesting. But, as Jamison realizes, there are many ways to be interesting. A whale being a whale is interesting. Jamison being herself is interesting. To be released from metaphor is not the same as to be cut off from meaning.