Book Review – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

From the way he writes in Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl, there is no doubt that N. D. Wilson longs to create a seminal work of postmodern prose – a work that hazes the lines among serious philosophical thought, cosmological apologetics and stream of consciousness poetry. He writes in a frenzied assault on the literary senses that hopes to emulate equal parts Jack Kerouac, C. S. Lewis and perhaps George Carlin.

Unfortunately, Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl falls short of what Wilson was striving to create. Somewhere in his seemingly endless allusions to philosophers and theologians and his constant self-interruption, he loses his awareness of the reader. He tries so hard to be deep and insightful that his prose becomes bloated, stilted and contrived. And when he attempts to be humorous, he comes off as pretentious.

As I read this book, I could not help but feel as if I was reading pages from someone’s journal or an author’s raw thoughts on index cards. There was no apparent organization or intent. Even the resolutions to the dissonance felt contrived and forced. In short, the book felt awkward. The style leaves the reader’s head spinning, not from plumbing echoing depths or soaring to dizzying heights but rather from having to discern the obscured and sparse content of value from among the muddled, excessive prose.

Christianity has certainly given us some excellent stream of consciousness writers like Rob Bell and Don Miller. What these writers possess that Wilson does not is a keen focus on their end result. They pour hours into making their prose feel spontaneous while in reality it is very much intentional.

Wilson’s work is to Miller’s Blue Like Jazz or Bell’s Velvet Elvis what The Sword of Shannara was to Lord of the Rings. It is a poor, derivative imitation of far greater works, with far less substance and far more overextended, disjointed pop realism. There is no worse criticism of a book than that it leaves the reader unchanged and unchallenged, and this is unfortunately how Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl left me.

5 thoughts on “Book Review – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl”

  1. Appreciated your review! I didn’t connect the lines with Miller’s book. Have you received your next book to review from Nelson?

  2. Interesting, the differences between readers. I’m about half-way through and have found the book to be rather engaging and provocative. I think the curious, lost-in-wonder Wilson communicates the craziness and excitement of this strangely satisfying explosion-bang-pow-color-lights-motion-kids-armadillos-venusflytraps creation very well. In this way, some of my thoughts have found resonance. But I did not find it a nice reflection of my thoughts; it was also quite provocative.

    Critically, my head is somewhat spinning regarding his talk about evil being the dark spots on a painting, adding contrast and color to creation’s novel. (…Sorry for the mixed metaphor; it is appropriate given the book :). In combination with the idea that spring will follow winter, death will die, life will be victorious…. Doesn’t that mean that the painting will become all white, a view Wilson clearly rejects (see p. 85)?

    I’m also a bit put-off by Wilson’s cavalier attitude toward evil. However, I am still reading. Why? Because that provocation is drawing me into a better engagement with the text and its author. Too frequently, when we read books, we ignore the parts that would challenge us, and embrace the parts that seem to reflect us. But that embrace is a smothering embrace, one that kills. This book has been effective in not granting me especial liberty to make Wilson into my image.

    Thus far in my reading of Tilt-a-whirl, I have experienced what I consider a good indicator of good “non-fiction” – namely, a personal encounter: the near-simultaneous desire to eagerly accept and steadfastly resist Wilson’s words.

    …These are provisional thoughts. …I have not finished Wilson’s book. …I have not decided to whom (or even if) I would recommend this book.

    But, so far, I do think that the suggestion that Tilt-a-whirl is a bad rendition of Blue Like Jazz is unfair – Wilson and Miller are very different writers. The former is observation-oh-look-a-pretty-butterfly; the latter, is narrative-story-after-story. Not to mention that Miller and Wilson seem to have found rather different audiences eager to embrace their work.

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