About the Book
In Skull Cathedral, Melissa Wiley pulls stories from the vestigial remnants of the creatures we were or could have become. The appendix, pinky toes, tonsils, male nipples, wisdom teeth, and coccyx are starting points through which Wiley explores exaltation, eroticism, grief, and desire. Using the slow evolution and odd disintegration of vestigial organs to enter the braided stories of the lives we establish for ourselves, the people we grieve, and the mysteries of youth, memory, and longing, Wiley’s lens is deeply feminist and compassionate.
Praise for Skull Cathedral
Longlisted for 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
Hungry, ascetic, erotic, and haunted, Skull Cathedral moves from essay to essay as if from one dream to the next, testing what it means to be attached to a body, to beauty, to love. There isn’t a sentence here that isn’t in awe of consciousness and the cold, clear ache of being alive. Melissa Wiley is a writer who takes no moment for granted, and maybe that’s why perception here is so intensified, from a strand of hair in an infant’s hand to a stranger’s lipstick left behind on a coffee cup. This is life on the brink, confronting the inescapable fact that all of us die and everything goes. It’s also a joy to read, rigorous and brilliant, so fresh.
—Paul Lisicky, Author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World
Melissa Wiley’s Skull Cathedral is a lovely summoning to another world, one in which the body is lifted into pure essayistic fury, a stormy, haunted thought-scape that strives to reach and clutch and keep close the inevitable losses of a life. These memoiristic essays zoom in and out, showcasing what we have lost, what we have yet to lose. Wiley offers us the moon and its brilliance and its depressions, but more importantly, she telegraphs its distance, longing, and unknowing.
—Jenny Boully, Author of The Body
Melissa Wiley writes, “I usually enjoy things more when no one draws my attention to them.” If, like Wiley, you prefer to notice things on your own, start reading Skull Cathedral right now. It is brilliant. If, however, you want to know where to draw your attention, start with the way her prose moves. Never predictable, her observations and insights are as lyrical as her sentences themselves. Simultaneously loose and precise, her connections between seemingly unrelated subjects (a woman teaching English to a dolphin connects to astronauts landing on the moon, which soon connects to Wiley walking into a restaurant’s glass wall) astound me. She shows that suspense can exist primarily in reflection, not simply in event. Melissa Wiley is one of my favorite writers.
— Jeannie Vanasco, Author of Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl