The Wet Collection
A stunning, intricate collection of forty lyric essays juxtaposing natural history, ancient texts, folk heroes, and found objects.
Using such models as Joseph Cornell’s box constructions, crazy quilts, and specimen displays, Joni Tevis places fragments in relationship to each other in order to puzzle out lost histories, particularly those of women. Navigating the peril and excitement of an outward journey complicated by an inward longing for home, The Wet Collection follows Tevis through several adventures—one comical and stirring essay details her summer spent working as a cemetery salesman; another tells of her unmistakable horror at having to dress up like a beaver when working as a park ranger. Still others read like meditations in the style of Anne Carson, or a young Annie Dillard, and all of them are cast in the light of Tevis’s Southern upbringing.
Written with a poet’s lyricism, a scientist’s precision, and a theologian’s understanding of the world as it shifts around us, The Wet Collection is an exciting and distinctive collection.
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Praise and Prizes
“These linked prose pieces, arranged like specimens in a cabinet of curiosities, are concerned with acts of making and their relationship to the natural world. Joni Tevis turns the concept of ‘nature writing’ on its ear, bringing to her studies of the objects and scenes in her wunderkammer a fresh and surprising eye and a wide range of reference. Women’s history, outsider art, geology, the Bible, posing in a beaver suit in a state park; everything fits in this delightful and deeply satisfying book.”
“A treasure chest of smaller containers, each one filled with the author’s muscular, graceful prose, preserving something that may have edged toward loss if not for the author’s keen observation, her religious attention to detail. . . . The wonder of following a mind that works as beautifully as Joni Tevis’s is sheer entertainment in the richest sense of the word. . . . The Wet Collection is fresher than any comparison can conjure; it is the inimitable sound of one writer listening to her own voice.”
“In a revealing footnote, Joni Tevis describes a flame as ‘a stay against darkness’; she could be describing one of her own essays. Shored together, they provide illumination. . . . Best of all [her essays] is ‘Building a Funeral,’ not least because of its moody descriptions of Houston, our fair (and sweaty) city. Funny, candid, and sad, the essay is a signal that we will be reading many more portraits and observations by Tevis in the future.”
“Joni Tevis closely observes the natural world, from sand crabs in Costa Rica to juniper sage in Central Oregon. . . . It’s the image of the nature-loving collector of fossils quixotically burning fossil fuels to try to exorcise her demons that makes me see Tevis as a prophet-in-training; struggling with mortality, full of contradictions; and in these, human as the rest of us.”
“Joni Tevis establishes a mood of intense longing that is the hallmark of our best writers, and the collection as a whole is strong enough to establish Tevis as a major player in American nature writing. . . Tevis’s prose is vivid, muscular, and musical.”
“Joni Tevis’s writing, a showcase for her interests in religion, memoir, natural study and women’s history, is precise and unique, and in this collection of musings, she builds big ideas out of small fragments. . . . Tevis’s range is impressive: her sardonic recollection of her work as a funeral home salesperson makes for a fun essay, while in another piece she imparts a singular voice in imagining the thoughts of a farmer’s wife.”