Book Review: “This World is Not Your Home”

Book cover for Matthew Vollmer's This World is Not Your Home

An adventurous thought journey of a former Seventh Day Adventist-turned-Episcopalian’s pivotal musings on faith, family, and survival.

In this collection of essays, stories, and reports, essayist and fiction writer Matthew Vollmer treats his latest assemblage like an astronomical map, charting out the steps from his past to trace the trajectories of things to come.

Vollmer is writing this collection at a time when more Americans are coming out as “nones”—people who are spiritual but not necessarily affiliated with any particular religious doctrine or community. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist in southwestern North Carolina, Vollmer explores coming of age at home and in boarding school, and how distancing himself from his religion as he grew older provided him with equal parts clarity and affection to navigate his faith alongside other aspects of life.

While the more customary form of short personal essay appears in full force throughout, they sit amiably between their larger-than-life counterparts: third-person scenes of a marriage compromised by some unspoken news; an instructional essay on how to write a love story; a set of notes jotted down about music to refer to for a later essay (or perhaps this one); a thought experiment about a world in which his wife, after he dies, remarries to someone else; a space-themed reportage that puts all the themes mentioned above in conversation with each other in a symphony of their own.

Vollmer’s strongest essays involve telescopic folds of focus that allow himself—and the reader—to view these events more closely with distance and care. The title piece explores the relationship between his religious upbringing in rural America and his growing disillusionment with what it means to inhabit a planet as temporary guests. “How to Write a Love Story” takes the seed of his religious upbringing and plants it in conversation with the lifespan of his first romantic relationship—one that hangs by taut, manipulative strings for several years. The piece that stands out above all is “NeVer ForgeT,” a chilling personal essay on the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, which begins with the historical significance of an indigenous massacre on those very grounds 250 years before. In writing through these events across personal and planetary history, Vollmer picks up the pieces of his life and reexamines them through even prisms of faith, familiarity, and wonder—formative and indispensable lenses affixed to his own looking glass honing in on his next subject.

Pensive and innovative, This World Is Not Your Home pushes the boundaries of how writers today can approach writing creative nonfiction with refreshing distance to challenge our ideas of the human condition in relation to what we can and cannot witness.

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery, a book-sharing platform where book reviewers gain early access to new titles in independent publishing. If you want to become a reviewer, apply here.