RaveThe New YorkerMuch of the mesmerizing power of Recitatif lies in that first definition of \'peculiar to\': that which characterizes. As readers, we urgently want to characterize the various characteristics on display ... [it contains] one of the most stunning paragraphs in all of Morrison’s work. The psychological subtlety of it. The mix of projection, vicarious action, self-justification, sadistic pleasure, and personal trauma that she identifies as a motivating force within Twyla, and that, by extrapolation, she prompts us to recognize in ourselves ... Morrison wants us ashamed of how we treat the powerless, even if we, too, feel powerless. And one of the ethical complexities of Recitatif is the uncomfortable fact that even as Twyla and Roberta fight to assert their own identities—the fact that they are both \'somebody\'—they simultaneously cast others into the role of nobodies ... Morrison...could parse the difference between the deadness of a determining category and the richness of a lived experience. And there are some clues in this story, I think. Some hints at alternative ways of conceptualizing difference without either erasing or codifying it ... Morrison is the great master of American complexity, and Recitatif, in my view, sits alongside \'Bartleby, the Scrivener\' and \'The Lottery\' as a perfect—and perfectly American—tale, one every American child should read.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"Celia Paul’s memoir,Self-Portrait, is a different animal altogether. Lucian Freud, whose muse and lover she was, is rendered here—and acutely—but as Paul puts it, with typical simplicity and clarity, \'Lucian…is made part of my story rather than, as is usually the case, me being portrayed as part of his.\' Her story is striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse, by a man who did that a lot ... she neither rejects her past with Freud nor rewrites it, placing present ideas and feelings alongside diary entries and letters she wrote as a young woman, a generous, vulnerable strategy that avoids the usual triumphalism of memoir ... In the head of the muse were the eyes of a painter ... Paul, young or old, does not scorn the idea that gratitude can exist between muse and artist, and move in two directions: love lessons becoming art lessons, and vice versa. But she does not romanticize the price of entry ... One of the subtle methods of this crafty book is insinuation, creating new feminist genealogies and hierarchies by implication ... [a] powerful little book ... Self-Portrait will go some way to clearing [the] mist from the world of portraiture, and might also act as gentle intervention, intended for the kind of young girl tempted to swap self-realization for external validation.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksWhen we write about lyrical Realism our great tool is the quote, so richly patterned. But Remainder is not filled with pretty quotes; it works by accumulation and repetition, closing in on its subject in ever-decreasing revolutions, like a trauma victim circling the blank horror of the traumatic event. It plays a long, meticulous game … Remainder’s way turns out to be an extreme form of dialectical materialism—it’s a book about a man who builds in order to feel … Remainder recognizes, with Szymborska’s poem, that we know, in the end, ‘less than little/And finally as little as nothing,’ and so tries always to acknowledge the void that is not ours, the messy remainder we can’t understand or control—the ultimate marker of which is Death itself.