When I was twenty years old, I became a kind of apprentice to a man named Andrew Lytle, whom pretty much no one apart from his negligibly less ancient sister, Polly, had addressed except as Mister Lytle in at least a decade. She called him Brother. Or Brutha—I don’t suppose either of them had ever voiced a terminal r.
It was maybe an hour before midnight at the Avalon Nightclub in Chapel Hill, and the Miz was feeling nervous. I didn’t pick up on this at the time—I mean, I couldn’t tell. To me he looked like he’s always looked, like he’s looked since his debut season, back when I first fell in love with his antics: all bright-eyed and symmetrical-faced, fed on genetically modified corn, with the swollen, hairless torso of the aspiring professional wrestler he happened to be and a smile you could spot as Midwestern American in a blimp shot of a soccer stadium.
Late in 1998 or early in ’99—during the winter that straddled the two—I spent a night on and off the telephone with a person named John Fahey.
The first moves with the courteous lento of one of Peter Taylor’s stories; the last has the directness of something by Raymond Carver; the second, more placeless and more contemporary, could be by lots of writers—Jennifer Egan, or maybe Sam Lipsyte. Actually, all are the opening sentences of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, from his second book, “Pulphead” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $16). It is obvious enough that they are by a talented storyteller, who has learned from fiction (as well as from the essayistic tradition) how to structure and ration his narratives. He seems to have in abundance the storyteller’s gifts: he is a fierce noticer, is undauntedly curious, is porous to gossip, and has a memory of childlike tenacity. Anecdotes fly off the wheels of his larger narratives. In a touching piece about the near-death of his brother (who electrocuted himself with a microphone while playing with his band, the Moviegoers, in a garage in Lexington, Kentucky), Sullivan...