In his debut collection, Damion Searls gives us five extraordinary tales of the life of the mind in America today. “56 Water Street” and “Goldenchain” follow writers whose projects only lead them deeper into the labyrinth of modern relationships and friendships. The nasty office satire “The Cubicles” and the atmospheric “A Guide to San Francisco” take place in the sun and fog of West Coast dreams. In the final story, “Dialogue Between the Two Chief World Systems,” a Hungarian beauty creates a scholarly conundrum with surprising parallels to the book as a whole.
Set amidst Ethiopian healing scrolls and sponges of the Adriatic and the guy who invented flashing the temperature on bank clocks, What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going plays in the intersection of knowledge and life in contemporary America. Searls’s flights of fancy and painterly eye for detail introduce a range of intelligent characters feeling their way toward complex moral and personal truths.