When the Department of English hosted creative nonfiction writer Dustin Parsons and his wife, poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, for a reading of their creative works this past fall, I managed to obtain a copy of Parsons’ essay collection, “Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood, with Diagrams.”
Though “Exploded View” has been on my shelf since November, when I finally got around to reading it this past weekend, I devoured it in just two sittings.
Parsons, a Kansas State University alumnus, grew up in western Kansas — not far from my own hometown of Scott City, Kansas. He earned his master’s degree in English from K-State before going on to get another master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
I loved Parsons’ work from the beginning for its descriptions of western Kansas and unique use of diagrams, but what truly won me over was the humanity of the collection.
In the first portion of “Exploded View,” titled “Dispatches from the Fifty-First State” Parsons simultaneously considers a 1990s secessionist movement that took place in western Kansas, the economy of oil in the area and his relationship with his father.
As a writer, I frequently bring up memories of the western Kansas landscape and the people that live there. This first section of Parsons’ book resonated with me — not only because I recognized familiar surroundings, characters and experiences, but learned new things about them.
That’s one of my favorite things to find in a book: a sense of comfort and an expanded mindset at the same time.
However, I think this book is just as relevant to those who don’t have a nostalgic connection to western Kansas. Parsons’ consideration of humanity and relationships through diagrams and images makes the book a compelling experience for any reader.
Parsons plays with the concept of the exploded view, a diagram that shows the components of an object slightly separated from each other to demonstrate detail. “Exploded View” weaves together exploded view diagrams with texts in a poetic manner.
This unconventional format brings intrigue to these essays as explanations of an object are replaced with exploratory, nonfiction text. One of my favorite essays, “How to Make a Cardinal in Five Easy Steps,” features a diagram for how to draw a cardinal alongside an essay that considers Parsons’ and Nezhukumatathil’s sons in a larger conversation about race.
The stories Parsons shares about his sons are both humorous and incredibly touching at the same time. I’m not a parent, and I probably won’t be for a long time, but I can appreciate the care Parsons takes when considering the relationship between himself and his sons.
This is the last book I have the honor of reviewing for the Collegian before graduation. It’s fitting that it’s a book by a K-State alumnus who writes about not only the state I love, but the part of Kansas that I know best.
All of these essays, whether about Kansas, India, travel or fatherhood, are emotionally touching. They prompt a larger consideration of the things you know to be true, starting with diagrams and ending with yourself.
Macy Davis is the culture editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.