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Pulphead: Essay

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

By John J. Kelly · November 16th, 2011 · Lit
It’s always a treat when a book comes along that lives up to the hype. That is the case with John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, a collection of 14 brilliant experiential essays in which the writer places himself at the center of the story. The 37-year-old Southern-born Sullivan is now being compared with first-person journalists like Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace. Sullivan’s unique gift is his ability to dissect, deconstruct and unravel aspects of American life with a down-to-earth delivery. He’s also funny as hell.  

Pulphead begins with a now-famous article he wrote for GQ, “On This Rock.” It’s about the author’s solo excursion to a mammoth Christian Rock festival, where he meets a small group of born-again good old boys who like to hunt, play music and talk about the end of the world.  Sullivan writes of the days in the woods, forsaking personal hygiene and subsisting on frogs legs and other earthy vittles served up by his new friends.   

Sullivan also recounts the details of his days immediately after Katrina hammered the abandoned poor, mostly African-American population of parts of New Orleans.

Driving into the devastation, Sullivan can’t help but notice the staggering amount of dead animals along the road, including dogs who are “healthy looking other than being dead.” 

Another essay features Sullivan, a fan of MTV’s The Real World, as he tracks down one of the show’s former cast members. In another, he attempts to explain the strange world of rocker Axl Rose. Sullivan ends Pulphead writing about living in the house whose façade was used in the television program One Tree Hill, which Sullivan calls “one of the worst television shows ever made.” That’s honesty. Grade: B+



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