PositiveWashington PostThe title...has a triumphant ring ... Some of her suggestions are more promising than others ... However one goes about it, urging others to change their desires risks accusations of moralizing. Srinivasan’s willingness to take this and other risks is admirable, an enactment of her insistence that feminist politics are necessarily uncomfortable.
Mael Renouard tr. Peter Behrman de Sinety
PositiveThe Baffler... Renouard has hit upon a way to infuse drama into a depiction of the internet as basic infrastructure, a technology underpinning memory, practical knowledge, everyday life ... Renouard is generally sanguine about this give-and-take, and his disinterested approach is a sometimes-refreshing contrast to the dueling strands of boosterism and (needed) criticism that dominate popular writing about technology ... There are broad and deep currents of online life that you wouldn’t know existed from reading Renouard’s fragments...Yes, this is only a disjointed memoir; Renouard wasn’t trying to write a comprehensive treatise. But especially in light of how observant he can be, the scope of what he doesn’t notice or address stands out ... Then again, if the internet is \'coextensive with all our mental acts,\' that is because it’s so coextensive with the whole internet-connected world that any book about it could not fail to leave out almost everything. Writing about the internet is, in this light, no different than writing about life. And who would ask that a person writing about \'life\' come at their subject from so many angles? My instinct to make such a request of Renouard springs from the same source as his desire to consider the internet—in spite of his own observations—as a thing apart. That source, in many corners of the earth, is rapidly drying up. It’s the lingering memory of what life was like before.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The [internet\'s] new mental weather is her great subject, and her descriptions of it in this book are highly evocative ... characteristic layering of registers ... Lockwood pulls us down a strange and wonderful rabbit hole[.]
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Whether it satisfies you will depend on your appetite for characters whose hollowness is, in the style of Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman, both satirical and unsettlingly charismatic. Oyler’s narrator is far less violent than Bateman, but she is almost as likely to instrumentalize others, including her audience ... she mocks herself, her impulse to mock herself, the cultural forces that give rise to that impulse, the idea that she might have real problems, and the idea that she might not. She is always a step, or several, ahead of her imagined readers ... Oyler’s very detailed and specific descriptions of using popular devices, apps and websites are among the best I have read ... Oyler plays us in a fun but disconcerting game of multidimensional chess.
PositiveThe Washington PostGabbert’s descriptions of the human failure to grasp climate change in all its dimensions end up being a far better aid to apprehending it. They are not, however, likely to rouse anyone to action. \'Big and Slow\' is typical of Gabbert’s disaster essays in that its bent is deterministic ... Despite her drone’s-eye perspective, Gabbert remains a human being concerned with human suffering. She often describes her horror at death and destruction, and her rage against what she sees as evil. But these moral instincts do not usually translate into well-defined moral positions. (After quoting her, I keep finding upon reflection that I need to delete \'she argues\' and replace it with something else.) Her essays are not argumentative or even narrative as much as they are accretive, example after example building on a given theme: nuclear disaster, the threat of tsunamis and earthquakes, the nature of pain, the difficulty of seeing oneself as one is. The technique effectively conveys each topic’s \'sheer sheerness,\' to borrow Gabbert’s gloss on skyscrapers’ sublimity. Like massive buildings, her subjects are hard to fit in a single frame; she circles them, finding all the vantages she can ... In the end, the aesthetic tools she otherwise wields so brilliantly — that sky-high view, that inward-looking zoom — are not well-suited for showing us how we should live with one another. But then, literature is often better at showing us how we actually do.
PositiveThe Washington PostPolitical and economic history gives way to analyses of books and movies, which give way to Christman’s personal reflections on life in Michigan, where he lives. You could describe the form as disparate things in similar containers that together create a larger whole, which is pretty close to the way Christman describes his fellow Midwesterners. Thus does the book, like some concrete poetry, take a shape that conveys what it also puts into words ... striking lines...ground abstract concepts in concrete metaphors ... If the trajectory he sketches—land grabs, oppression and environmental destruction occasionally mitigated by idealism —sounds more like the story of the United States than the story of a particular region, that’s not an accident. The Midwest...has long connoted normalcy, averageness, representative Americanness. But if there’s anything Christman’s Midwest teaches us, it’s that these qualities are red herrings.
PositiveThe BafflerYou could read Little Constructions as mimicking the violence of violence-denial. The lighthearted tone in which its narrator speaks belies the horror of the rape, murder, and incest they are constantly recounting. And the characters’ names, which almost all feature the last name Doe and a first name beginning with J, seem designed to sow confusion about who is doing what to whom. But Burns’s humor does not undercut the seriousness of violence as much as it undercuts the pathetic delusions of those who cannot see their own violence for what it is ... moments of mockery do not deny but lighten the novel’s darkness: if you’re able to understand false rumors and delusions as such, then they can’t be totalizing ... Little Constructions is pointedly absurd, and its disjunctions with the world that its readers occupy are precisely what immerse us in the violent confusion the book describes. Like incomprehensible horror, or overt denials of reality, its comic exaggerations and recourse to the fourth dimension make us ask: How could this be happening? Burns sacrifices recognizable details, in other words, to evoke recognizable moods and atmospheres.
Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O'Neal
MixedThe Washington PostWhile many of the essayists testify to having felt isolated, this collection makes clear that...they were part of a community they did not know existed. Each time I read a piece in which the writer had no one to talk to about their dissipating faith, or the abuse they were enduring, I wished they could reach through the pages and into another essay, where they might find relief or solidarity. Of course, that’s exactly what this collection enables them, and their readers, to do. Though most of the essays are decidedly personal, rarely (and only briefly) veering away from individuals’ stories to describe their social or political context, O’Neal and editor Chrissy Stroop have transformed them here into a document of collective pain and loss ... As in any successful collective project, the weaker entries feel less so, since they are contributions to a valuable whole. And the stronger entries do not stand out as much as they might if you read them alone ... But the essays’ shared trajectory of exodus leaves such a strong impression that these distinctions might fade into the background for those who read the book quickly. At times, this trajectory even steamrolls Christianity and, by extension, religious belief into a one-dimensional phenomenon.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)With In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado has realized the potential of an [oulipian] exercise...building the book’s skeleton from it and then breathing life—which is to say a trajectory—into it ... Machado deliberately uses each titular trope, genre or device to bring forth a different scene or layer of exposition ... she expertly demonstrates the ways in which available forms can bring a story into being, both on the page and in the world ... With her tropes and clichés, her genres and styles, Machado piles up these strings like so many necklaces, crystallizing her own experience and spinning new threads around which others might crystallize their own.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... surprisingly tentative, full of maybes and perhapses ... Jamison’s chronic uncertainty is a sort of thematic glue ... Are her discomfort and scepticism ethical necessities or evidence of an empathy deficit? Her obsession with, and continual vacillation on, this question are the section’s most salient through line ... Whether Jamison is writing about her own work or that of other artists, she tends to frame her ethical queries in terms of their implications for her and others like her ... Such struggles can be fruitful, and they are not uninteresting, but after several essays in a row they begin to feel obtrusive. Jamison’s intense focus on her own attempts at empathy and understanding often obscures their intended targets. The final section, full of explicitly personal essays, therefore comes as a relief: her best ones move in a widening direction.
RaveThe BafflerIn The Undying, Boyer’s politics have not slackened at all but her ambivalence about writing is gone ... The passive voice approximates the scary momentum of a medical decision that is supposedly yours to make but doesn’t feel like it; Boyer’s straightforward description, to the extent that it shocks, reveals how accustomed you are to the health care industry’s evasions and euphemisms. Here and everywhere in The Undying, her insistence on the specificity of her bodily experience makes you viscerally aware of your own ... That experience is largely made of sensations, and Boyer is excellent at describing—and in describing, transmitting—them ... You shiver or at least tense up when she writes, about the effects of chemotherapy ... To read The Undying is not to see pictures in your mind but to feel feelings in your body. In this way, the book echoes the work of somatic poets like CAConrad and Bhanu Kapil, whose writing includes exercises that are meant to be done, or that the authors have done, in the world outside of the poem. Like their work, Boyer’s writing explicitly uses language as a bridge from body to body. It is this transmission of sensation that most effectively cuts through the blur of information and images that obscure, often deliberately, the reality of cancer and so much else ... The Undying is enchanted ... Where Boyer’s previous work sometimes presented writing as a useful tool, it becomes here, in its enchanted state, a fundamental necessity divorced from notions of utility[.]
RaveThe Washington Post... detailed but light-on-its-feet ... McCulloch is a great popularizer; she avoids the vagueness and condescension that sometimes mar writing about technical topics aimed at nonspecialists. Unsurprisingly, she has incredible control of her own range of expression. Her writing is upbeat and funny without (for the most part) feeling corny. Her neologisms are efficient...And her sentences are precisely evocative ... But what makes her enthusiasm so catching is her linguist’s conviction that all types of speaking (and texting and tweeting) are inherently valuable.
PositiveThe BafflerThe parallel Odell draws between the two struggles—for private, mental space and public, communal space—is characteristic of her method. She routinely finds formal similarities among seemingly disparate phenomena, thereby bringing them onto the same plane ... Odell’s great strength as a writer is her ability to convey art’s unique power without overestimating or misstating its social impact ... Searching for a word to describe the form Odell’s chapters take, I first typed thicket. Actually, they are more like the Rose Garden. Throughout, she samples frequently and generously from poetry, philosophy, biography, fiction, nature writing, and art. And she has tended this work carefully, shaping it into branching conceptual paths that frequently crisscross one another ... Ultimately, what sets her book apart from self-help is not a less quixotic set of demands but a more life-affirming endgame.