Mixed4ColumnsA playful exegesis of, homage to, or riff on this incomplete miscellany of love ... To read After Sappho in the context of fifty years or so of feminist and lesbian documentation is to wonder, despite all its pleasures, why it is necessary to keep circling around a few iconic figures ... I question Schwartz’s choice to narrate much of the book in the first-person plural, the \'we\' of a Greek chorus. \'We\' can be an exhilarating invitation to collective action, but it can also be a barrier. Who is doing the work of shaping that \'we\'? Who does \'we\' leave out? On the other hand, the prose in After Sappho is seductively beautiful and wears its erudition with style.
RaveLIBER... engaging and persuasive ... the kind of book you call \'well-researched\' when you’re trying to say \'full of interesting surprises.\' It’s an insightful, personal, and important testament to the power of fandom, and to the ways it has shaped Millennial lives and the new world of the Internet ... Tiffany is smart about the needs that fandom meets and the ways in which it can be a powerful force for both connection and destruction ... Tiffany offers a compelling look at the joys and dissatisfactions of growing up online.
Rave4ColumnsThough the narrative swings back and forth in time—opening in 2010, going forward to the 2030s, sometimes circling back in (uploaded) memory—it’s very much involved with the here and now. It’s also surprisingly optimistic ... Egan has a remarkable facility for coming up with characters and stories. Where the form of her previous book, the historical novel Manhattan Beach (2017), constrained that side of her gifts, much of the fun of The Candy House is in seeing her use them to the full. Some of her stylistic experiments here are original, some moving, others clever but unconvincing, like her pastiche of a spy thriller or the chapter that ties all the loose ends together in a thread of old-fashioned emails. That’s not a complaint: with a book this playful and brilliant, readers’ mileage is always going to vary. And ultimately, its shape and its subject matter come together brilliantly.
Rave4ColumnsDarkly funny and wickedly brilliant ... Erdrich’s great gift is for creating fully realized, fully human characters in complex and satisfying relation to one another ... If you’d been wondering who was going to write the first Great American COVID-19 novel, you might not have guessed Erdrich, whose gifts of empathy and imaginative power aren’t the kind usually associated with hot takes on current events ... The Sentence must have been written at high speed, and the haste shows, but what the book loses in tidy plotlines and a satisfying resolution, it gains in urgency and inventiveness. Rising from last summer’s ashes and honoring its ghosts, The Sentence is the perfect book to read right now, an unpolished, intense, politically passionate, sorrowful, comic masterpiece.
Positive4ColumnsIn Fierce Poise, his slim, thoughtful, and admiring book charting Frankenthaler’s first decade as an artist, art historian Alexander Nemerov describes how early she found her creative path.
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
Rave4ColumnsNo one has written about childhood quite as memorably as the Danish poet Tove Ditlevsen, or described the compulsion to write with so much hope and foreboding. Her memoirs of growing up in working-class Copenhagen before the Second World War read like Ferrante meets Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick’s psychologically insightful memoir of maternal entanglement. But Ditlevsen’s brooding lyricism is all her own as she recalls the inner life of a sensitive child trying to parse her surroundings, comprehend an overwhelming, illogical mother, and appease her own exigent, unlikely gift.
Mixed4ColumnsIn The Power of Adrienne Rich, the first biography of the poet, Hilary Holladay follows Rich’s script, portraying her as conventional, even antifeminist, until the late 1960s when everything fell into place. I think this is too easy, too neat for such a driven and many-sided writer ... Holladay doesn’t have access to the inner workings of Adrienne’s two long relationships, the first with Conrad, the second with the younger writer Michelle Cliff ... Holladay is a good source for gossip and a fine storyteller, but can’t give her readers the pleasures of Adrienne’s voice: the poet sealed her intimate papers until 2050 and left instructions to friends and family not to work with biographers.
Positive4ColumnsSolnit’s new book is a work of feminist solidarity, in which she chooses to write not from herself alone, but \'for and about and often with the voices of other women talking about survival.\' Sliding frequently from the personal into the general, in a sense she’s found a new way to leave herself out. This frustrates some of the ordinary pleasures of memoir: the personal drama and psychological insight of The Faraway Nearby aren’t here. Yet as Solnit pushes the boundaries of the genre, she shows that it’s wide enough to contain at one end the willful oversharing of Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, and at another this cool meditation on creativity, home, and an elusive self ... Solnit’s refusal to be separated from others can be limiting: the polemicist sometimes gets in the storyteller’s way. But that she’s like other women is also what she needs to tell us—because it’s a new source of strength for her, and because it’s true.
Suzette Haden Elgin
Positive4ColumnsElgin’s dystopia is both unsubtle and limited: lacking the concept intersectionality, she eliminates racism from her future with a stroke of the pen and omits homosexuality and gender fluidity entirely. On the other hand, Elgin deftly shows how inequality enters the vocabulary that people use to talk and think about each other, skewing it in favor of the powerful while the oppressed lack the verbal wherewithal to make their feelings and experiences clear ... If the vocabulary of Láadan is essentialist and a bit mushy, the grammar feels like a queering of the established order ... in an era when the public discourse feels particularly phallogocentric and the dicks seem to be in charge, Native Tongue still feels like a necessary and exhilarating book. It doesn’t look like flash cards and grammar lessons are going to bring the revolution. But Elgin is Atwood-level good at showing how patriarchy is perpetuated through talk. And in re-creating the verbal manipulations of alpha-male spew, she makes her readers aware of how it’s done, which is to say, how to resist it.
Positive4ColumnsReading this ambitious and thought-provoking novel feels not so much like entering the \'archive\' of the title as it does opening an overstuffed suitcase, out of which quotes, dates, literary references, historical events, personal reflections, and political passions burst with pent-up energy ... Autofiction doesn’t seem like the most logical tool for this job, though, and the narrator, aware of the mismatch, hesitates and holds back. For roughly its first half, Lost Children Archive is a formally accomplished, intertextual road novel of ideas. But the arrival at the border keeps getting postponed. There’s always another motel, truck stop, or song on the car stereo to describe, as if Luiselli isn’t yet ready to enter that charged emotional zone ... But [Luiselli] offering her readers everything she’s got, and that in itself makes it moving and persuasive when, here at the heart of the novel, she finally makes room for the border itself, that desert land full of threat, promise, and transformation.
Mixed4 ColumnsThe first major biography of Edward Gorey ... I wish Dery had included more on Gorey’s friends and more quotes from his correspondence, but he’s excellent on Gorey’s cultural influences and obsessions ... The problem for Dery as a biographer is that nothing much changes in Gorey’s adult life ... And because part of Gorey’s protest against the conditions of his life is to refuse introspection, he is not entirely knowable, despite Dery’s best efforts.
Positive4Columns\"This original, insightful, sometimes irritating work of autofiction is less about motherhood than about how mothering (or not) defines the female self ... But Heti’s thinking about motherhood, which starts out open and generative, turns recalcitrant and repetitive as she sinks into indecision. Though Motherhood can be terrifically funny and engaging, the narrator’s vacillation threatens to make the novel a static exercise in self-pity, like Henry James without the verbal camouflage ... It’s true that mothering is a social construct and an existential dilemma, but it’s also an intensely personal set of acts and experiences ... In the end it’s this personal inheritance of sorrow that stands between the narrator and a child. With this realization, the book regains its footing and the narrator finds her story at last.\
Positive4ColumnsWomen & Power is not a radical manifesto, though it’s a forceful and satisfying one ... What Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists does for young women, making a strong basic case for feminism in domestic life, Women & Power does for older women who are ready for agency in the public sphere, whether it’s political influence or just being chosen for the one good gig.
Mixed4ColumnsEgan fondly, unironically re-creates midcentury New York, populating the West Side docks with tough-talking Irishmen, a Brooklyn tenement with struggling immigrants, a nightclub with dandies and gangsters, and Sutton Place with patricians … What Manhattan Beach doesn’t have is the original style and lively humor that animated Egan’s previous novels...It lacks the spark and the quiddity of her previous work. It’s as if she couldn’t bear to subject the historical past to the same scrutiny as the present. The warm heart is here, but it’s less engaging without the cold, honest eye.