After Sappho reimagines the intertwined lives of feminists at the turn of the twentieth century. Ignited by the same muse, a myriad of women break from their small, predetermined lives for seemingly disparate paths. Writing in cascading vignettes, Selby Wynn Schwartz spins a tale of women whose narratives converge and splinter as they forge queer identities and claim the right to their own lives.
The novel is diaphanous, celestial, disembodied — sometimes to its benefit, sometimes not ... The text swerves from breathy and adulatory to cutting and punky ... Schwartz’s snappiest lines would fit on coffee mugs prized by middle-age moms as tokens of unexplored rebellion. Nevertheless, I nodded along ... There is always an underclass of women, and I wonder about the Berthes who didn’t read Colette and couldn’t leave behind written documentation of their lives. They may be the fragments missing from Schwartz’s homage to Sappho — this elusive, at times joyful and enveloping not-quite-novel.
The novel’s greatest innovation may be the way its disparate subjects fashion a collective we of lesbian world-making and feminist activation. This we transcends time and place; it can maneuver both inside and outside history, in opposition to the forward march of misogyny and patriarchy, war and marginalization. 'Some acts can only be written as fragments,' Schwartz writes. Her story, in kind, forms and re-forms itself through fragments... which float between and beyond boundaries ... The novel is erudite and chatty, grounded in scholarship yet freed from any masculinist impulse for certainty or linear cohesion. She draws from history in order to reimagine it.
Brilliant ... The book is partly a love letter to Woolf and the female poet Sappho, partly a work of literary criticism and partly a work of speculative biography. It's innovatively narrated from a perspective that might be called the first person choral, levitating among multiple consciousnesses of women writers ... After Sappho is billed as a novel, but can't really be said to lodge in any one category ... Puckishly allusive ... A statement of Schwartz's own artistic intent, here splendidly and indelibly fulfilled.