Lingering Questions

Vu Tran reviews About a Mountain by John D'Agata in The Wilson Quarterly:

D'agata-about a mountain Our relentless search for solutions to our self-created problems, D'Agata posits, has made us displace our grasp on reason and reality, on the problems (the questions) themselves. This is where his myriad investigations dovetail with suicide. D'Agata learns that Levi Presley was the fourth person since 2000 to jump off the Stratosphere, and that shiny Las Vegas has the country's highest suicide rate, though he hunts fruitlessly for someone in town to explain why. His investigation into the circumstances surrounding Levi's death is similarly stymied, yielding only arbitrary details of the boy's life (his affinity for Applebee's restaurants, purple-tinted glasses, a girl named Mary, etc.). So, eschewing psychoanalysis, D'Agata reconstructs Levi's journey through the Stratosphere's carnival of games and wares and advertisements, up its 1,149-foot tower, and to his death, in the book's most profound statement on the absurdity of how we as humans invent, communicate, and self-destruct.

About a Mountain is ultimately about that absurdity: the unreasonableness of reason. Yucca Mountain may be the most thoroughly studied parcel of land in the world, but its endless unknowns reveal “only the fragility of our capacity to know.” The one certain truth is that we interpret the elusive universe at our own risk, that meaning — however one may confront or pursue it — is inevitably fluid, conditional, and ambiguous.

More here.