PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMaggie Nelson has her laments about violent representations, but in The Art of Cruelty she refreshingly aims them largely up the cultural ladder, at the fine arts, literature, theater — even poetry ... This is an important and frequently surprising book. By reframing the history of the avant-garde in terms of cruelty, and contesting the smugness and didacticism of artist-clinicians like the notorious Viennese Actionist Hermann Nitsch and other heirs of Sade and Artaud, Nelson is taking on modernism’s (and postmodernism’s) most cherished tenets ... Nelson’s opinions can be quirky and hard to square with one another, but they never fail to be interesting, quite some accomplishment in what could have been a free-form ramble through the mires of someone else’s aesthetic preoccupations ... Hopping like a jackrabbit between genres and media, including forays into the swamps of pop culture, Nelson is strongest when at her most rageful, writing with controlled fury at the anti-intellectualism and crassness of the present ... Occasionally I felt an urge to protest these rather balletic leaps, but Nelson, who is also a poet, is such a graceful writer that I finally just sat back and enjoyed the show.
MixedThe AtlanticTraister’s point is provocative. Yet I can’t help feeling that her own urge to finally let loose leaves her resorting to analogous versions of outsourcing in her political analysis, deploying women of color as spigots of angry wisdom ... I wanted Traister to step in to say that identities are more complicated than this. For one thing, class distinctions exist (a subject she barely mentions), and blurring whiteness with the 1 percent substitutes venting for thinking. Reducing the world to oppressors versus oppressed—whether that means men versus women, or white women versus minority women—may play well on social-justice Twitter, but in book form, isn’t it an offline version of those useless angry GIFS? ... Letting a selection of angry voices be heard, as Traister does, makes for lively reading and in theory should galvanize a broader mission, yet the exclusion of other necessary voices leaves her with a disappointingly tepid feminist agenda ... Traister has wrestled still-unfolding history into an admirably rousing narrative, but the time might be ripe for a more explosive vision.
RaveThe New York Review of Books\"Reading Tillman reminds me of once visiting the home of an acquaintance ... Spending time chez Tillman feels like that to me: disjunctive, fascinating, a little appalling. It calls things into question. The random digressions make me crazy, yet I want to imitate them.\
PositiveNew York Review of BooksIs The Friend a tribute or a nail in a coffin? Nunez certainly nails a type. Though N is nothing if not generous regarding \'you\'’s shortcomings, among her themes is status in the literary world, about which she’s delightfully scathing ... My Dog Tulip was a thoroughly queer book, in all the best senses. So is The Friend. It reimagines coupledom and the intimacies possible between sentient creatures ... If it’s not clear from these questions, Nunez has done something subtle and rather odd here, creating a narrator about whom the reader often feels she knows more than the narrator does about herself ... The Friend is a delicious read, but also a wrenching one.
PositiveBookforumO’Hagan is in the habit of getting too close to his subjects, then striking deals with them to withhold unflattering details, deals he in turn reveals to us. He turns down lucrative writing fees to maintain his independence, yet is saddled with the split loyalties of the immersion journalist...O’Hagan is obviously good at being a pal—so good that his subjects forget they have a fox in their henhouses. Assange assumes that O’Hagan is 'his creature'; Wright thinks that he can declare remarks 'off the record' months later. He can’t. When O’Hagan drops the pal pose, he’s a sharp instrument. On Assange: 'thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful, narcissistic,' and interested in free speech only to the extent that it adheres to his message. Of the shambolic Wright: more like 'Satoshi’s comic opposite' than anyone imagines the mythical Satoshi to be. O’Hagan is a shrewd student of other men’s vanities, and shrewdly unrevealing when it comes to his own...Given O’Hagan’s psychological insightfulness, it both is and isn’t surprising that the least captivating section of the book is the one most about himself ... As to whether we’re the internet’s creatures, metastasizing in ways we can’t yet track, this is undoubtedly true. The question is whether something enduringly—or at least traditionally—human persists. O’Hagan clearly wants the answer to be yes; 'our computers are not yet ourselves,' he says confidently. But that’s what they’d want us to think, right?
RaveThe AtlanticSentence for sentence, a more pleasure-yielding midlife memoir is hard to think of ... This is all quite a treat: a 50ish lady memoirist with no epiphanies in sight. Nothing’s figured out and nothing’s getting better, except Dederer’s prose, which has acquired a wonderful sordidness ... The memoir’s constantly shifting vantage points allow Dederer to keep returning to the same themes without wearing them out. What knits things together is, of course, sex—the stranger-fucking of adolescence, the been-there-done-that of married sex, the illicit flirtations, all the men who were and are a delivery system for sex, sex as a delivery system for an elusive sense of self. And the power of sex to unravel everything you thought you knew about yourself ... Indeed, female masochism is a gift that keeps giving in Dederer’s hands. She gets as much mileage from it as Philip Roth did from Newark.
PanSlateSo if sexual harassment and pay equity aren’t the problem, what is? It turns out that the forms of workplace sexism Bennett has in mind are the subtler, harder-to-contest varieties, in part because the guys enacting them are often nice enough fellows, not jerks. They’re your friends, progressives even ... All this whimsy is heavy going, and weirdly at odds with the larger message of the book, which is that your femininity isn’t going to get you very far at work—in fact it may be your big problem ... a lot of this book is taken up with small bore issues. Bennett understands that with 42 million women in America living on the brink of poverty (the number is hers), some of her concerns sound trivial, but there she is complaining about the AC nonetheless.
MixedBookforum... [Dombek is] graceful on the page, and often more empathic, especially toward the suffering multitudes who’ve sustained lasting injury (they proclaim) at the hands of narcissistic bosses, bad boyfriends, selfish parents ... Because Dombek is a lot smarter and more interesting than much of the material in her archive, [certain] forays are sometimes awkward. No doubt it makes me sound like some decrepit Arnoldian—value is an outmoded category, to be sure—but there’s a lot of space handed over to cultural sludge.
PanSlate...making a virtue out of romantic success—and what else is a prince who arrives in the last act but the insignia of virtue rewarded?—stigmatizes everyone for whom the right lover or spouse has thus far failed to materialize. It also makes the book seem disingenuous: all this celebration of the spinster, only to be rescued in the end? I’m not saying Bolick shouldn’t have a great boyfriend. It’s the book that didn’t need him ... Where I disagree is that making one’s own life choices requires so much self-justification, or that anyone needs to have—as Bolick previously felt—'a very good explanation' for not marrying. It’s an explanation the book seems unnecessarily intent on providing, despite being billed as a progress report.
A. O. Scott
PositiveBookforumEven if you find yourself suspecting that Scott may be the most well-adjusted critic in Gotham and the neuroticism more performed than felt, it’s an entertaining performance. Flagellating himself for his shallowness while writing with sensitivity and depth is a perfectly calibrated balancing act.