A journalist and Dartmouth professor travels after dark from Los Angeles to Dublin to Russia to Nairobi, photographing and profiling a range of night owls—bakers, last-call drinkers, the homeless, and others lurking on the margins of everyday life.
The writing in Jeff Sharlet’s gorgeous new book...takes place between lonely traumas ...
Sharlet takes us to pockets of the world most of us will never see or bother to notice, and he has an unusual ability to find grace in everyone’s story, training his eye on those whom the rest of us avoid, either out of fear or a lack of curiosity ... Sharlet also photographs the most ordinary objects and moments: the light at sundown, a scale, a window lit with the glow of a television. It’s as if there had been a net strung beneath the edits of his previous books and articles, catching all the incredible moments too enigmatic to fit a traditional story ..When we suffer, we often no longer feel connected to the things we know; in many ways This Brilliant Darkness is a document of the searching that follows grief. ... The book ingeniously reminds us that all of our lives — our struggles, desires, grief — happen concurrently with everyone else’s, and this awareness helps dissolve the boundaries between us.
We often say that a book has changed our lives. But it’s rare to say that a book made us more human. This is a big statement, I know, but This Brilliant Darkness feels as transformative and essential as anything I have read in years. Sharlet’s work is an incantation, a prayer for and summoning of the human powers of observation, empathy, and compassion ... an intimate travelogue of human suffering, confusion, and, in fleeting moments, transcendence ... a wholly hypnotic series of short essays, most of which are accompanied by Sharlet’s tender, bare photos. The easiest comparison is to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evans’s photographic and literary chronicle of impoverished Great Depression farmers. Sharlet’s book, though rooted in the same powerful synergy between images and text, feels even more expansive in its attempt at community ... an eloquent, bracing invitation to look at the human cost of this human suffering.
... [a] powerful new work of nonfiction ... a collection of empathetic portraits of those enigmatic figures who haunt the edges of our vision ... The book’s loyalties are with the disenfranchised—the rural poor, the runaways, those living with mental illness, and people who survive by doing sex work. Sharlet is a reporter at heart. He presents his subjects’ stories in punchy and direct prose, then leaves it to us whether to raise eyebrows or take people at their word. He is never interested in passing judgment or offering a moral ... This Brilliant Darkness most frequently reminded me of the short fiction of Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, writing that insists the lives of blue-collar laborers and heroin-addicted misfits are worthy of representation.