Fenton Johnson is a highly regarded author of four novels and several nonfiction works. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He writes regularly for Harper's Magazine and is a professor in the creative writing programs at the University of Arizona and Spaulding University.

In the prologue, Johnson admits that in both his fiction and his nonfiction "my lifelong subject has been the reintegration of desire and the sacred — a lifelong becoming of the flame." Raised as a Southerner and a Catholic, he ponders the ways in which both communities proclaim that people should be wholly invested in their experiences, if invested at all.

A number of the 26 essays here cover bearing witness to the death-haunted years of the AIDS crisis and its huge impact on the private and public lives of gay people. Among the best pieces are: "City of Innocence and Plague" on San Francisco; "From the Depths: Oscar Wilde's De Profundis in Its Second Century"; "God, Gays, and the Geography of Desire;" "Beyond Belief" on monasticism; "Shrines and Wonders"; and "Reverence and Irony: On Beauty and the Sublime."