RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... brilliant, delightful ... the first time I’ve seen the Jewish American Princess in a work of fiction since Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, and it’s wonderful to have an update on her condition ... The best stories in this collection are thrillingly ambivalent, and illuminate paradoxes of Sarah-ness without solving them. The title story is one of these, rendering the rituals of JAPpy college-girl life with a hilarity that’s at once wicked and tender. The Sarahs’ nights out are always boring and violent, but Cohen also grants them moments of grace ... Cohen is wonderful at this: reveling in femme spaces while examining these spaces’ precariousness, stagnancy, and sadness in a way that’s dexterous, rich, funny, and empathetic without ever going easy on anyone ... The high-femme world of sex work is a box Sarah was forced into, but it also offers her freedom from the contradictory injunctions of middle-class girlhood, and it gives the story a gorgeous, sticky aesthetic, a sparkly, jewel-tone palette that extends, forgivingly, over everyone ... I love the lushness and playfulness of these stories. But they’re also thinner than the earlier pieces; they seem to have the answers, in a way the early stories don’t. They’re less wondrously uncomfortable; their politics are more internet-friendly. I agree with them; I’m not shattered by them ... It’s as if the collection takes the same journey that Sarah does: growing up; coming out; finding herself; shedding blurriness and heaviness...I’m happy for her, but I miss the earlier stories’ sad, runaway JAPs, who had no way out of themselves. They kept things ugly and high-stakes and true. I wonder if there’s a slight cop-out in the movement of the collection, that prevents it from having to ride the wave of certain difficult but crucial aspects of Sarah’s Sarah-ness: that prevents this from being, in part, a book about whiteness, about a particular flavor of whiteness. I don’t know if Cohen would like being compared to Philip Roth, and I feel very square forcing a Jewish patriarchal lineage on her, but the comparison is revealing regarding Sarah’s origins, and perhaps her destiny ... Cohen knows how to hold that complexity, and I longed for it in the later stories...But maybe I’m just being greedy. I loved Sarahland. Like the best fiction, it both articulated and deepened what were for me previously unspeakable, but urgent mysteries, including why feminine and/or feminist utopias are always half-beautiful, half-grotesque; how the world ends; and where American class aspiration and the quest for freedom meet, which is to say, what a Jewish girl from the suburbs who wants out is chasing, what she’s fleeing, and how far she can really get.
Linda Boström Knausgård, Trans. by Martin Aitken
MixedLos Angeles Review of BooksI liked living in the tomb of Ellen’s interiority, where ordinary household movements echo, questions linger and alter, and observations and hallucinations mingle ... Ellen, in Welcome to America, faces, curiously, no threat from the world: no moment that we know to wait for when the safe-yet-dangerous space of her mind will, due to some force from outside of herself, become too difficult to keep inside ... There is a power to this structure—a visceral sense of being submerged, with Ellen, at the bottom of a sea. But at the same time, I think that we readers lose out, by not being able to measure the depth of the sea, or the distance from shore, or to know what the culture is like back on land. It makes it hard to know how to take anything ... [events]...fail to pack the punch that they could. They repeat and crowd one another rather than echo or accumulate ... the reader does not feel the impact of the breakdown they are meant to represent. When novels don’t define the terms on which they want readers to take events, then we apply our own ideas about what any given turn in the story—a breakup, say, or a parent’s distraction—means, as well as how much it matters in our own \'real\' world ... I wish that, rather than letting Ellen’s autonomy weaken the novel’s tension, making it so that no reality interrupts her inner work, Boström Knausgård had instead treated her protagonist’s autonomy as a source of tension and as a particular crucible forming her, as she comes of age.