When Hugh Raffles’s two sisters died suddenly within a few weeks of each other, he reached for rocks, stones, and other seemingly solid objects as anchors in a world unmoored, as ways to make sense of these events through stories far larger than his own. As Raffles follows these fundamental objects, unearthing the events they’ve engendered, he finds them losing their solidity and becoming as capricious, indifferent, and willful as time itself.
... among the most mysterious books I’ve ever read — a dense, dark star ... The stones in this book tell strikingly similar stories — stories whose contours we might know, but whose details and particular, individual impacts have been lost or blunted ... Raffles is serenely indifferent to the imperatives and ordinary satisfactions of conventional storytelling. Character, coherence, a legible and meaningful structure — these are not his concerns. The organization of the book feels profoundly random. There are no attempts to suture together the various stories, no attempts to enact something 'learned' by the author. The photographs accompanying the text are dim and blotchy, and Raffles favors slabs of prose unbroken by punctuation. I intend all this as praise ... There is no great dawning of understanding; clarity arrives in sudden shafts — and any coherence is for us to supply. Raffles makes us sift for meaning; how do they connect, these juxtaposed narratives about Indigenous history, whaling, his sister Franki’s photographs of women at work? ... We’re called to engage in that signal human activity: interpretation. What intuition the book requires, what detective work — and what magic tricks it performs. Stones speak, lost time leaves a literal record and, strangest of all, the consolation the writer seeks in the permanence of rocks, in their vast history, he finds instead in their vulnerability, caprice and still-unfolding story.
...a spellbinding time travelogue ... Raffles winds his way from New York to the Arctic Circle, and from the breakup of Laurasia to the World War II internment of his grandmother, who sliced mica for Nazi warplanes at a factory in Theresienstadt ... Raffles’s dense, associative, essayistic style mirrors geological transformation, compressing and folding chronologies like strata in metamorphic rock. The most mesmerizing section is 'Iron,' which tells the history of Greenland’s far north through one meteorite.
In a high-voltage jolt of insight, Mr. Raffles converts what might seem a dry scientific concept into a potent literary metaphor to help anyone whose sense of time has been fractured by loss ... Unconformities is so rich in erudition and prose-poetry that I read it like a glutton, tearing off big bites of lost time until I was sated ... One hundred pages of notes ground the author’s vivid writing in rock-solid scholarship ... The joy of “Unconformities” is in Mr. Raffles’s language, most exquisite in the form of lists that invite readers to slow down and savor a catalog of names and images ... The Book of Unconformities is a poignant and healing descent into deep time and its relevance to the human experience.