Black Lawrence Press

Partisans: Essays

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Excerpt from “The Mercy Kill”

I was fifteen and staring hard down the long barrel of summer. My dad had just left my mom for another woman, and this hit me like a bag of bricks. It was proof positive that I didn’t know, couldn’t know, anyone. Not really. Not on the inside.

Every night after dinner I’d shoot free throws in the driveway. My mom would come out the front door trailing Rex—a dog we’d owned for at least ten years, since the days when my parents’ marriage was solid. “Joe, doll,” she’d say, “please remember to open the garage when you play ball.” She’d thumb toward a cracked window on the garage door, one of several I’d broken shooting baskets that summer. “I’ll have to ask John Parsons to fix that.” John Parsons lived five doors down, and my mom walked with him and his dogs religiously, every night as soon as the dishes were done. She had since March, when my dad moved out.

My dad was never much of a honey-doer, so our place had always looked sort of neglected. Now it was worse. Recently, though, John Parsons had offered to help my mom around the house. “Anything you need, Mary Anne,” he’d told her. “You call me.” And when the battery in her VW Rabbit died, she called him. When the garage door went off the rails, she called him.

As my mom and Rex walked up John’s driveway, he and his two fat beagle-mixes would be waiting on the porch. From there they’d head down to the ball fields at the elementary. When she’d come home an hour or more later, I’d still be shooting baskets, though it was too dark to see the rim. “Oh, boy,” she’d say, smiling as she let Rex loose in the front yard. “Didn’t we have fun?”

I’d drop the ball in the corner of the garage by the rake and the shovel, neither of which had been used in a long, long time. I’d shut the garage door, which, thanks to John, now went up and down ten times smoother than my jump shot. And I’d follow my mom and Rex inside, a little bit happy because she seemed so happy, and a little bit grateful because John had reached out to her, to us.

What I didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that my mom and John Parsons would walk the dogs together nearly every night for three years. And they’d keep doing it even after John was charged with murder.

Praise

  • In his new collection of essays, Partisans, Joe Oestreich piles his readers into a tour van and barrels unflinchingly down the highway into subjects like guilt and murder, race, privilege, youth, music, marriage, work, and other deep territory of contemporary American life. Guiding you with a mix of muscle, humor, and grace, these essays are part escapist travel narrative, part personal essay, all blended with artful but fearless critical reflection on social issues, ethics, and morality. We’re not just watching road signs go by in this book; we’re stopping and living, truly experiencing people and places from the neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio, to the resorts and jungles of Mexico, to Paris, to the suburbs of South Carolina. Partisans is always driving, always pushing us to consider where we stand and how we understand our personal and collective legacy of youthful angst and artistic idealism. To read this book is to be bounced, rattled and changed by the ride.

    —Steven Church, author of One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters Between Humans and Animals and Ultrasonic: Essays
  • What I love about these essays is how they capture a very particular but strangely ineffable way of being in the world. They tell stories of smart people doing battle with the stupidities that surround them, of adulthood thwarted and childhood cheated and the heartbreaking ways that our dreams both sustain us and bury us. Throughout it all Joe Oestreich is wise, good humored and deeply literary. I read Partisans in fits of recognition and admiration. It’s a formidable collection by a genuine talent.
    —Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion
  • Joe Oestreich is the begotten son of Mitchell, Didion, and McPhee—but also an absolute original. These essays cover so much ground and break new ground at every step. Playful, rebellious, searching, Oestreich takes us through disparate landscapes while making of each one a place and people we come to know intimately. And what we discover is not our differences but our glaring commonalities. Partisans is the best essay collection I’ve read in years, from a writer working at the highest level of the craft.
    —Brad Land, author of Goat
  • In these punchy, often very funny personal essays, we get snapshots from a well-considered life both home and abroad, at childhood and beneath the shadow of middle age, in the barber’s chair and onstage at your local rock club. Joe Oestreich writes with such a warm voice and an easy closeness, I spent most of these pages feeling as if he were across a bar table from me and we were making a rowdy evening out of his gifts for storytelling.
    —Elena Passarello, author of Let Me Clear My Throat and Animals Strike Curious Poses

Joe Oestreich

Joe Oestreich is the author of three books of creative nonfiction: Partisans (forthcoming in 2017 from Black Lawrence Press), Lines of Scrimmage (co-written with Scott Pleasant, 2015), and Hitless Wonder (2012). His work has appeared in Esquire, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, Fourth Genre, The Normal School, and many other magazines and journals. Four of his essays have been cited as notable in the Best American series, and he's received special mention twice in the Pushcart Prize anthology. He teaches creative writing at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, where he directs the MA in Writing program.

Oestreich Author page

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