RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewEmbedding herself into various corners of the bureaucratic medical machine, Maloney describes everyone she encounters with the same perspicacity ... Thanks to her experiences, Maloney is able to see the cracks in what a less informed patient might experience, simply, as care ... Maloney’s essays read as if they were begun in low light, with little sense of where they were going or how far. They start with a question and work things out on the page. They don’t seem concerned about arriving at a grand unified theory of anything. They notice everything and have nothing to prove. They don’t prematurely grasp at an ending. These qualities combine to elevate this collection far above the usual first-person essayistic fare. The challenges of Maloney’s background — familial trauma, poor medical care, occasional indigence — form part of the back story, but they are ultimately beside the point of this book. Her broad authority and the quality of the prose — astute, compassionate and lethally funny — are what make these essays remarkable. Maloney is an exceptionally alert writer on whom nothing is lost, who sees everything with excruciating clarity, including the unassailable fact that in this country, there is currently no tidy passage through the interconnected quagmires of illness, money and care.
PositiveThe New YorkerSteinke aptly compares the uncontrollable force of menopausal rage to the transformative anger of the Incredible Hulk ... Unsurprisingly, the available analogies are all male; women are accustomed to translating their subjectivity onto men’s bodies ... Steinke is at her best when she writes searchingly, before the moment of understanding ... Steinke partakes in the current trend of cross-genre memoir—stories that are heavily decorated with quotations, part autobiography and part commonplace book. Sometimes authors get the blend right, but usually the quoted texts are unsurprising, and they stand in for the textured analysis of real life. In Steinke’s case, the standardness is perhaps the point ... Flash Count Diary spends most of its pages documenting the kinship of bodies and metaphysics. One of its most memorable scenes is a dramatic performance of this very kinship—the blurring of bodies and souls ... I hope that Steinke’s book, which I consumed hungrily, will encourage a wave of work by and about women undergoing what is, quite literally, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWinter, the second collection of essays in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s \'four seasons\' quartet, comprises 60 short pieces, punctuated by three letters addressed to his youngest daughter. Framed as a \'lexicon for an unborn child,\' the collection evokes the shape of nondirected, unbounded thought, and an artist’s sensibility, free from conventional judgments of what’s worth noticing ...most of the essays in Winter read like excerpts from, or preambles to, longer essays. They read not just as though their initiating subjects were noticed quickly but as though they were written quickly; they seem uninterested in pursuing the goals of the short essay, which are precision, originality and speed ... Fans of My Struggle will find some finely articulated passages in Winter, written by a gentler, more mildly tempered narrator than that of the longer books ... Or perhaps I should be less judgmental of an artist who tries new things and works against his natural style. Perhaps I should admire Knausgaard for daring to become an amateur again.
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewKavanagh doesn’t appear until the last of the three essays. She casts a shadow over the playful and digressive preliminary chapters, and in this new, lower light they seem a defense against grief’s identity-warping madness — as if Barnes worried that writing about the death of the beloved might kill her all over again, this time in prose. The third essay, bracingly precise, is the emotional center of the book … The first two essays, intellectually and imaginatively rigorous, provide a kind of apology for the third. But despite all expectations, those two are the ones that occasionally wax sentimental; the dialogue between Burnaby and Bernhardt can blush somewhat purple...His articulation of his anguish is well served by his leeriness, as the book’s last section is one of the least indulgent accounts of mourning I have ever read. I almost wish Levels of Life consisted only of its 56 shattering pages.