PanLondon Review of Books (UK)On Freedom makes only passing reference to her own life and the knowing first-person narrator of the earlier books has tipped into a state of dizzy uncertainty, crowd-sourcing every observation, including the subject of the book ... She avoids lyrical writing, adopting instead a stentorian official voice whose broad conclusions about life being a bundle of contradictions are dangerously close to parody. She quotes other writers extensively and rarely makes a declarative statement herself ... In as far as this amorphous work can be defined, On Freedom is an example of a recent genre that takes as its subject the phenomenon of mass scolding on the left—you could call it ‘cancel culture’, though she doesn’t—and makes a plea for a less punitive reaction to repugnant ideas and psychologically difficult experiences ... I have several theories as to why this book is written in such a fatally boring register: one is that Nelson thinks her own identity (white, cis female, pansexual, Gen X, academic and writer, MacArthur genius) is a discredited subject position, and so she makes her opinions part of a larger chorus and blankets herself in disclaimer ... Another is that such a book, by its nature, has as its primary source material half-baked internet think pieces. This traps Nelson into relying on the straw man of public opinion ... ‘One’ is very busy in On Freedom, because she seems to want to avoid the commitment of the first-person pronoun ... This book is a laboured consideration of ideas that have been run through the wash and weren’t in any case the most urgent or compelling of the day.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
PositiveLondon Review of BooksThis is a pedagogical novel in more than one sense, a work of fiction that also wants to be a work of reference: here is how an abusive relationship develops between an insecure teenager and a sexual predator; here is why it sometimes takes years for a victim to tell her story; here is how institutions have failed to protect victims of sexual abuse; here is how buried trauma can affect a life. The book is comprehensive and thoroughly researched. Vanessa’s prolonged insistence that Strane isn’t a paedophile paedophile, or that if she agreed to spend the night at his house then it wasn’t rape rape, speaks to a wider culture of equivocation. Her eventual acceptance of what really took place banishes ambiguity and affirms the #MeToo movement’s simple politics of right and wrong. I read it with the sense of duty I reserve for learning about terrible things in the world ... the characters aren’t fictional so much as composites, even archetypes. I suspect many readers will find ‘eerie story similarities’ between My Dark Vanessa and other works of fiction and non-fiction, or anecdotes of people they know, or their own experiences .. But, like Vanessa, I also wanted some recognition that the sort of abuse she suffered doesn’t have to define a life completely.
PanThe New YorkerDaum insists that she was not red-pilled, making few ideological commitments in the book beyond valuing disagreement. Her own \'nuance\' seems to preclude commitment to any particular position ... When Daum writes that \'there must be something about being born in the late sixties through seventies that triggered an allergy to earnestness,\' I think there is ample evidence—Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers, John Singleton—that she’s wrong ... It is telling that Daum ignores the positive benefits of these movements, or the real risks to safety and reputation taken by the people who initiated them ... As a reviewer, I start to wonder if I should take the bait. Does light disparagement without reference to fact deserve to be countered? ... Daum complains about the overuse of \'gaslighting\' but fails to recognize her own carelessness with language, including her reliance on Internet shorthand. Her book is littered with found phrases, from \'purity policing\' to \'virtue signalling\' to \'cancel culture.\' She has fallen into the right-wing trap of thinking of intersectional theory as a \'doctrine\' rather than a frame of reference. She has proclaimed independence by joining another herd.
MixedThe Guardian...a minute journalistic account of the defining sexual relationships in three people’s lives. Taddeo chose her subjects for their honesty and openness, and perhaps for what she perceives as their ordinariness ... The most compelling of the narratives is that of Maggie ... She haphazardly switches between tenses – Maggie’s story is told mostly in the present tense; Sloane’s mostly in the past – and the third and second person. There are long lists of evocative details, and full stops where there would traditionally be question marks or commas. In Maggie’s case, at least, the unfairness at the heart of the story is potent despite these attempts at lyricism ... Taddeo spent many hours with her subjects to better recount their family histories, sexual histories, motivations and insecurities. The result is three detailed stories, without a clear sense of why she chose these women, and why right now ... Three Women simply confirms, once again, the hypocrisies of the heterosexual marriage.
MixedLondon Review of BooksWhat Luiselli seems determined to avoid is the presumptuousness of a novel of sentimental realism ... Since there cannot be a literal conversation [among Luiselli\'s sources], one is left instead with an unsynthesized polyphony, reminders of other books about lost children, road trips and journeys to the dark heart of imperialism ... not only can Luiselli not tell us how it ends, but she resists telling us what to think ... I loved the stepmother’s voice so much that when the stepson took over [narration] it came as a disappointment. The boy repeats many of the observations she has already made, some of which are hard to imagine being expressed by a ten-year-old ... The narrative switch recalls the mid-book swerve of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky, except that now the place where a subject loses his identity and plunges into horror...is not the jungles and deserts of the colonized other but red-state America.
Kristen R. Ghodsee
PositiveThe GuardianThis book has a simple premise: \'Unregulated capitalism is bad for women,\' Kristen Ghodsee argues, \'and if we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives.\' ... Her argument, however that socialism leads to \'better sex is harder to substantiate ... Ghodsee’s book could not have been published at a better moment. In many wealthy countries, people are getting married later or not at all, they are having fewer children, and a higher percentage of those children are born to unwed parents ... Ghodsee spells out the capitalist incentives behind policies that are so often disguised as \'culture wars\', and ends her book with the exhortation to \'push back at a dominant ideology\' that confuses social bonds with economic exchange: \'we can share our attentions without quantifying their value, giving and receiving rather than selling and buying.\'
PositiveThe New YorkerLin avoids writing in figurative language, and there is little hyperbole in these reports, nor references to nineteen-sixties-era acid metaphysics. Trip is, if not a guide to self-help, a book about a person trying to be happier, in part by changing the kinds of drugs he uses ... another theory of psychedelics emerges, which suggests that the most mystical revelations concern earthly themes: birth, death, and the body; family, friends, and love.
MixedThe London Review of BooksRomy is either an enigma or a character who doesn’t quite cohere. The 29-year-old German-American stripper, trapped in her station in life, who drives a 1963 Chevy Impala and likes talking about rims and spinners, dates an art-school professor, has a Disneyfied kid who makes cute observations about the autumn leaves, and who has also bludgeoned a man to death, is not someone whose motives are always discernible. When Romy speaks of ‘an elevator that smelled of human sweat ionising on stainless steel’, I’m not sure she is staying in character. And Kushner deploys the trick of humanizing Romy for readers by making her too someone who likes to read. There are several unnecessary attempts to persuade us not only that Romy is smart, but also that the terms by which we might judge smarts (a salaried job, degrees) are mistaken ... In scenes of daily prison life, the book starts to read like an updated all-female Shawshank Redemption. There are many poignant attempts to restore humanity to the soulless institution, all of them informed by Kushner’s research ... So many journalistic details! There are times when it feels as if the novel was written more to accommodate each of them than to tell a particular story ... What Kushner has done, in The Mars Room, is novelize certain arguments of the Abolish Prisons movement ... I’m not sure, however, that her novel will emerge in the years to come as a primary artistic document about this national problem. The Mars Room isn’t exactly a work of social realism; neither is it a protest novel ... It is too ambivalent to work as a polemic, and seems instead destined to join the collective prison-based entertainment pile: television shows and movies that, as Davis once wrote, serve as much to normalize the abnormal prison system as reveal the damage it has wrought.
PanThe London Review of BooksNora’s story begins in the aftermath of an emotional trauma. The experience she is about to recount has done for her: no longer is she the woman with tidy trash and a bright smile … This is a novel that seems to want at every point to demonstrate its plausibility. But the pieces of documentary evidence Messud includes...seem heavy-handed, like a compendium of Google searches … So Nora’s still single, and she never got married and never had kids and has only had three dates in four years. But however hard the novel, in its facticity, strives towards plausibility, it’s what makes Nora happy that seems the most impossible.