MixedThe New RepublicIn Gross’s telling, this story is about how people in the mid-nineteenth century tried to make sense of a rapidly changing society. It’s also—though less clear from his account—a story about their refusal to make sense of their past ... The level of detail Gross brings to The Transcendentalists and their World is its most enjoyable and also occasionally its most overwhelming feature ... the narrative washes over its reader with wave after wave of minutiae ... Though Gross offers critiques of Emerson’s and Thoreau’s evasions, The Transcendentalists and Their World does not capture the extent of the mid–nineteenth-century Black or indigenous experience that the Transcendentalists excluded from their thinking. Gross attends carefully to how the white residents of the town came to support abolition, in part due to the activism of the members of Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, and provides probably the most detailed account to date of Emerson’s excruciatingly slow windup ... But a reader of The Transcendentalists and Their World can go through this entire book and come away with little idea that the era, and region under study, was abounding with Black- and indigenous-led resistance to the practices of enslavement, unequal treatment, and settler violence. Without these voices present in the book, it is hard for readers to fully grasp how, in their attempts to transcend the past rather than face it, both Emerson and Thoreau fit into a long tradition of American disavowal of that past.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... a fun, gossipy biography ... But Fitzhugh herself left few personal papers: she didn’t write a lot of letters, and the small number of journals she kept continue to be held closely by the estate. The stories that Brody is able to tell the reader, then, are mostly second- or third-hand, conveyed to her by friends as they reminisced after Fitzhugh’s death or by the handful of enterprising earlier writers who attempted to crack the nut of Fitzhugh’s life ... Brody’s account of the novel relies heavily on generational analysis; she sees Harriet the Spy as a prototypical Baby Boomer text, a \'countercultural\' story that questions authority, and she—like many other critics—presents the novel instrumentally, as a tool that readers can use to do something else with ... Brody—working with interviews given by various friends of Fitzhugh’s—links her death on November 19, 1974, to the middling reviews that Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change received that fall. The evidence feels thin ... After I finished...I felt like I knew Fitzhugh better, could hear her voice more clearly, and was afforded new insight into her fiction. But there’s a part of me that still holds onto something far deeper that is dramatized in Fitzhugh’s fiction—that nobody owes themselves to anyone, least of all Fitzhugh to us.
RaveThe New YorkerThe Golden State anchors Daphne’s journey in the visceral and material realities of motherhood. She’s on her own with Honey, rendered so realistically by Kiesling that her \'puppy smell\' almost wafts off the page ... The novel features multiple hilarious and gruelling scenes of Daphne’s attempts to eat in small-town restaurants with her sixteen-month-old, which result, time and again, in stained shirts, squawking disruption, and complicated diaper changes on dirty bathroom floors ... Kiesling repudiates the classic American literary idea of the West as untrammelled wilderness or open space available for the taking, and Daphne’s relative ease of movement in the present is set against her husband’s restricted mobility across international lines. The novel beautifully depicts the golden light of California, the smell of the fescue grasses, the thinness of the air, and the way that Daphne and Honey often feel overwhelmed by the scale of the spaces they find themselves in ... The novel is not treacly about motherhood, love, or domesticity. Daphne often finds herself at the edge of some very wild territories, as when wrangling the tantruming Honey ... Many novels have decided that it would be easier to just turn away from this kind of wildness, instead of running full tilt toward it.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksRobinson takes us to the paradoxical truth about giving birth: the act that is most socially domesticating is also the most profoundly wilding … If the novel traces Lila’s journey from feral to domesticated, it also highlights the singular and frightening privacy that lies within her, exploring the way this woman tends and stokes a sort of stark social refusal … Love surges through this book. Lila longs for Doll, even as she sinks into Ames. She turns away from Ames as she imagines her future with her beloved child...In Lila, love has no end, it wraps around everything and plunges into the heart.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksRoom is being described as stunning, insightful, feminist: instead, I find that it sustains some of our culture’s worst assumptions about the bonds between mother and child, and about the shame that attends female sexual violation … It isn’t just the narrative’s exhausted ideas about the mother/child bond that get under my skin, it’s also that Room mimics a prurient gaze that it clearly thinks of itself as undoing, and does so at the level of its artistic and formal techniques...The novel uses the limited perspective of a child to enact, basically, a striptease: the novel knows that we are fascinated with women’s sexual abuse, but uses the child’s apparent innocence to allow us plausible cover for our staring.