PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewLike the movie Sunset Boulevard, this Hollywood tragedy starts poolside; and like any reality show franchise, it’s populated with characters who feel blank enough to superimpose our own hopes onto. Why do we keep tuning in if every episode is just more of the same? Because if there’s any possibility this time is different, like Rowbottom’s Anna, we need to see it with our own eyes ... In a book about looks, the language is tasked with turning words into images. Rowbottom’s buzzy and exacting vocabulary evokes a picture already resting in our minds and on our newsfeeds ... asks whether someone devoted to beauty can decide to know who they are, rather than simply change it. Anna is stuck between ways of seeing: viewing one path as necessary and another as indulgence, past and future, eternal and ephemeral. No matter which we choose, we somehow always end up right back where we started, still believing we can somehow make ourselves over.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe whole book has an eerie warmth that echoes the comedic timing in the goofy earlier episodes of The X-Files: parables hidden under parody, missed connections no less tortured for their bizarre circumstances ... Out There is for readers who consider body horror to be a love language. True romantics will swoon either despite or because of the gore that accompanies these sharp, affable stories, all of which eventually reveal themselves to be about the distance between aloneness and loneliness ... Folk’s stories have been compared to Shirley Jackson’s, and this is most apparent in the way Folk balances her horror with humor. To paraphrase the last line of Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Folk knows what it means to walk alone.
MixedThe Nation... the impression one gets is that of reading a magazine made up of all ledes and kickers ... Her essays show a writer who attempts a close reading of the powerful people and strange circumstances she encounters but then, when understanding proves difficult, draws back to look at them from a great, flat distance ... her sense of control over the material and her certainty of its meaning, as though nothing happens without her permission ... Didion’s sentences have a way of taking a person at face value and seeing the way subtle truths lie under glossy surfaces ... But as the reader continues through the essays in this collection, her writing can also take on the feeling of being alone in someone else’s living room: She is going through their homes in search of a secret ... The questions such a collection of essays demands—for example, why these pieces, and why now?—invite a cynical answer that is then attached, inextricably so, to the thought itself: Because these are the pieces that haven’t been recently collected; because these are the pieces that can be sold either to the completist or to the casual reader. If this book does have a theme, it is one indistinguishable from what many readers already know about Didion: that all of this writing is less about the topic than about how Didion feels about it ... Reading Didion’s latest collection is enough to convince anyone that her writing is often more evocative than empathetic, more interested in style than in meaning.
MixedThe New YorkerIf So Sad Today attempts to preserve the essence of the Twitter account, it also adheres to the more straightforward conventions of memoir. Where @SoSadToday was the device of a universal sad girl, the book conveys the experiences of a single struggling woman ... Like her Twitter feed, Broder’s essays often left me with a sharp sense of feminine recognition. I would read her accounts of heartbreak, sexual dissatisfaction, and alienation and think, Same—the solitary reader’s equivalent of a fave or a retweet. But recognition is not the same as deep connection, and Broder’s preëmptively dismissive sense of humor just as often acted as a barrier keeping me out.