Thin Places, by Jordan Kisner
In this perceptive and provocative essay collection, an award-winning writer shares her personal and reportorial investigation into America’s search for meaning.
When Jordan Kisner was a child, she was saved by Jesus Christ at summer camp, much to the confusion of her nonreligious family. She was, she writes, “just naturally reverent,” a fact that didn’t change when she—much to her own confusion—lost her faith as a teenager. Not sure why her religious conviction had come or where it had gone, she did what anyone would do: “You go about the great American work of assigning yourself to other gods: yoga, talk radio, neoatheism, CrossFit, cleanses, football, the academy, the American Dream, Beyoncé.”
A curiosity about the subtle systems guiding contemporary life pervades Kisner’s work. Her celebrated essay “Thin Places”—first published in n+1, and included in Best American Essays 2016)—about an experimental neurosurgery developed to treat severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, asks how putting the neural touchpoint of the soul on a pacemaker may collide science and psychology with philosophical questions about illness, the limits of the self, and spiritual transformation. How should she understand the appearance of her own obsessive compulsive disorder at the very age she lost her faith?
Intellectually curious and emotionally engaging, the essays in Thin Places manage to be both intimate and expansive, illuminating an unusual facet of American life, as well as how it reverberates with the author’s past and present preoccupations.
Praise for Thin Places
“Jordan Kisner’s essays are like intricate tattoos: etched with a sharp and exacting blade of intellect, but made of flesh; richly drawn in their details; comprised of equal parts pleasure and pain. Like tattoos, their natural habitat is that strange borderland where our skin meets the world—where we confront our edges, or everything we can’t keep out. Always, and thrillingly, they look inward and outward with exacting grace.” —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
“These singular ‘encounters with the ineffable’ are full of risk and daring, urgency and contact. They confront species of belief head-on without relinquishing doubt. Beautifully lyrical and observant, Kisner’s fresh voice speaks with uncanny consolation to this extreme, seemingly apocalyptic moment.” —Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait Inside My Head
“Jordan Kisner is a pilgrim for our times. She ventures into the operating room where a surgeon inserts an electrode into a patient’s brain. She mingles with the debutantes of Laredo, Texas as they navigate the fraught space between Wasp and Hispanic privilege. Wherever she is, Kisner probes the ambiguities that we live and dream, exploring the spaces where, in her words, ‘Distinctions between you and not-you, real and and unworldly, fall away.’ She is a tender but fierce writer; rigorous and wise.” —Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland: A Memoir
“Jordan Kisner sees reality with a telescopic, infrared focus uniquely suited to illuminating the hidden, forgotten, or obscured nooks of our cultural moment, excavating the longings and unspoken affinities that lie just beneath the surface. With revelatory grace and insight, these essays refract the world you might think you know in a new and brilliant light.” —Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine