In an era whose ascendant short-story practitioners lean into high-concept experiments of genre and form, Emma Cline represents something of a throwback. The 10 stories that constitute her first collection, Daddy, are almost classical in structure—you won’t find a fragmentary collage, list or screenplay among them. Though she’s not one for a sudden, curious departure of voice or dissolution of the fourth wall, Cline has an unnerving narrative proprioception, and her stories have the clean, bright lines of modernist architecture ... As for her style, she seems to eschew the telegraphic mode made popular by writers like Sally Rooney or Rachel Cusk for something at once direct and musical. Cline’s idiom is earnestness punctuated by millennial cool—but nothing too fussy, everything in just the right place ... The aesthetic pleasure of Cline’s writing is anesthetizing. So much so that one could conceivably read these stories with the same drugged passivity with which one shuffles through a lifestyle catalog. But that would be a mistake ... Cline is an astonishingly gifted stylist, but it is her piercing understanding of modern humiliation that makes these stories vibrate with life ... the characters shift uncomfortably through the beautifully appointed shoe box dioramas of their lives, aware at once of their own insignificance and also of their desire for prominence. They ask if anything matters as though nothing does, and yet hope to be contradicted. But perhaps we all do. Perhaps, in these brilliant stories, that is the most daring and human thing of all.
... if Emma Cline’s readers were holding out hope that she’d top her explosive breakout The Girls with a more seductive charge, well, a suggestive title like Daddy could hardly dash it. Yet this pitch-black collection of 10 stories emerges as its own kind of success by quietly rushing in another direction ... None of the plots will elicit much intrigue on topic alone ... It’s the stuff of niche literary darlings, not blockbuster best-sellers. The pieces soar independently — dark slices of life confidently weaving between styles — and in unison, portraits of young women seeking liberation, of older men doing wrong. True, the standout — 'Marion,' a dizzyingly complex tale unfurling from an 11-year-old girl’s mind—feels closer to what made Cline a household name, but Daddy’s biggest reward lies in her showing us something new.
The Girls was ripe with descriptive writing. It could be brilliant; it could also be overcooked...She’s largely curtailed those excesses in her new short story collection, Daddy, aside from Marion, first published in the Paris Review in 2013, which occupies the same universe as The Girls ... Elsewhere, however, a coolness of observation replaces such fervid, fetid atmospheres ... Perhaps surprisingly, Cline often chooses to inhabit these ageing men rather than their screwed-up offspring. But throughout, she is exploring something her own millennial generation is often accused of: entitlement. And the grown-up children we see through the judgmental eyes of their fathers are often wildly entitled – it’s just that Cline makes clear they learned this from the boomers and Gen Xers who raised them ... I’ll be interested in how convinced middle-aged male reviewers are, but I found Cline’s insights persuasive, even if the territory does become repetitive ... The relentless privilege on display ultimately flattens out the reading experience, interest waning as a story introduces another rich old man or media player, another private school or house in the hills ... But Cline tracks shifts in power and influence – the desire to hold on to and wield them and the pathetic 'whiff of insecurity' in those that have lost them – very well ... Cline is acute at exposing how women internalise the expectations of men .... There’s an uneasy ambiguity and a jittery, hollow anxiety running through Daddy that reflects a certain modern malaise, a vacuum in understanding how to live in the world, created by its vacuity ... Cline is also adept at swirling little eddies of unease into motion ... Occasionally, Cline is too coy, refusing us gory details of what, exactly, a son did to get expelled from school in Northeast Regional. But mostly, the undercurrents of the unspoken, the unspeakable, carry you along.
Emma Cline can WRITE ... She has a compelling, captivating voice and a real knack for crafting engaging narratives ... There’s a palpable hurt at the core of these stories, a recognition of the pain that is seemingly always a heartbeat away ... There’s a real disconnect between what we believe we want and what we’re willing to do to get it; Cline’s understanding of the fundamental contrarianism that comes with these warring impulses is one of her most significant gifts as a storyteller ... These stories are unsettling and engrossing, packed with character complexity and dark, cutting wit. Each piece bears up under its own weight even as it serves as part of the larger whole of the collection, though the steady drumbeat of Cline’s tone and thematic choices throughout can border on overwhelming ... A worthy and worthwhile collection from a writer for whom the sky really is the limit.
... investigates the shadier corners of the human experience, exploring the fault lines of power between men and women, parents and children, and the past and present. Cline deftly interrogates masculinity and the fates of broken relationships, examining violence on both a societal and personal level ... Cline’s prose is subtle and sophisticated and, as always, her language does heavy work establishing a sense of atmosphere ... Cline speaks to the purpose, and power, of fiction—that its pleasure comes in shaping and experiencing a life not our own, that often, it’s someone else’s life we find most compelling ... the stories in Daddy are powerful and compelling, but Cline manages to provoke us with just the title of this collection alone.
With stories that linger and characters brewing with malcontent, Cline’s first collection proves that The Girls was no fluke and she is here to stay ... Each of these stories is interesting enough on its own, but what unites them is an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and inadequacy. All of Cline’s characters stand on their own, but each is at a low point ... Cline deftly digs into her characters’ insecurities, laying them bare on the page, and immersing readers into their lives with swiftness and accuracy. This is a talent that always leaves me in awe, but in short stories it is especially necessary, and she wastes no time setting each of her stories straight and getting her audience acclimated ... Cline finds strength in these moments, pushing her characters right to the edge and letting readers put together the pieces of how they got there. This is an intellectual but thrilling collection that thrives on discomfort and plain awkwardness, be it from the tension of a difficult conversation, the pain of losing a loved one, or the subtleties of the relationships between men and women ... Though I cannot say that I found any of the 10 stories here to be weaker than the rest, there are certainly highlights ... a complex and sharply observed collection of stories from a brilliant young author that will leave readers hungry for her next novel.
... assured ... Cline is particularly good at locking in the witty detail that speaks volumes ... These expertly constructed stories withhold key information, relying instead on a build-up of inflections to reveal unpalatable truths about unlikeable people ... The tone throughout is numbed millennial cool. Privileged people are damaged and dulled by pills or trauma or arrogance or simple hopelessness. An overwhelming sense of emptiness is intensified by the Californian settings — the sunshine and big houses, the swimming pools, shopping malls and acting classes. Everyone is so horrid that it is impossible to really care, yet the pleasures here lie not in caring, but in an appreciation of Cline’s skillful and absorbing craft.
Small details and the power of suggestion reveal her characters’ unique forms of despair with devastating immediacy ... Calamities abound in these relentless bleak stories, most of them set in California, and none of them, to Ms. Cline’s credit, offering easy answers ... Not every story is successful ... For the most part, however, these pieces are admirably subtle. Ms. Cline doesn’t take the sensational route in her depictions ... there are lovely lines throughout ... Ms. Cline’s touch wasn’t as delicate in The Girls as it is here. Her discipline as a storyteller has grown since her 2016 debut. The result is a mature work that shows the humanity in her deeply flawed characters and demonstrates how a person’s reputation can precede them, often with disastrous results.
She won't convince you that her characters' misdeeds are absolvable, but she's equally uninterested in blaming them for their fumblings. There are no sweeping statements about how we should treat those who have caused harm on the micro or macro scale. Redemption is not the end game here ... Cline doesn't push too hard on whether her characters' adherence to their desire is good or bad, immoral or admirable. While the disruptive decisions that change lives are titillating, they are not in fact where most of life is actually lived. Cline's stories show what happens if the eye is scratched — desire is replaced with its consequences, which are both mundane and insurmountable all at once.
Emma Cline’s slim new story collection, Daddy, is like an appealing artisanal cocktail made with Campari: The vibrant presentation makes the bitter taste a surprise ... Cline again shows her skill at evoking Southern California settings and atmosphere ... I could not help feeling discouraged by the author’s coldness toward her male characters. Nonetheless, the book is so well-written — not to mention short — and just elusive enough that I find myself wanting to reread the stories, to think about them, to talk to someone about them.
Cline’s work is intensely cinematic ... yet she possesses a gift for rendering the sleights and pain, both real and perceived, that define adolescence, and the ways they can follow us into adulthood ... at its best the collection scratches at some elusive notions about the way we live today ... Cline is committed to capturing these characters’ interiority, which means we often see things from their perspective, rendering them at times sympathetic, even as we witness how willfully ignorant they are of the damage they have wrought ... Daddy makes for a dark, complicated collection for a dark, complicated time ... One also suspects Daddy is precisely the kind of release to steer the conversation surrounding Cline away from idle gossip and back where it belongs: on a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
Each of the ten installments provoked a response reminiscent of eating a Warhead: giggling, grimacing, contracting different parts of my body. These are stories that focus on small acts of interpersonal sorcery, unkindness, and petty revenge in mostly sun-soaked (or, in some cases, fog-bound) California settings. Cline has a Philip Roth–like ability to write compelling passages about specific lines of work ... I believe this is a technically perfect book.
... a nuanced story collection portraying a variety of characters navigating uneasy transitions in their lives ... Cline explores her characters’ tricky connections, new and old, to those around them ... Cline’s 10 stories constitute a riveting, timely tapestry of realizations, motivations, and desires.
... a probing, low-key collection that speaks to the raw nerves of everyday people as they struggle against pressures both personal and perennial ... Cline’s ability to peer into the darker corners of her characters’ lives and discern desolation is...on display ... The subtlety of these 10 stories may surprise readers expecting the same luridness Cline brought to The Girls, but the payoffs are as gratifying as they are shattering.
Cline’s voice is understated; her pace is slow and steady. The reader arrives at the central conflict of the story obliquely—or, in some cases, not at all ... There’s a sameness to these stories, and a few read as if the moments in time they depict were chosen at random. The selections that have young female protagonists are more engaging ... Well-crafted depictions of people at crisis points in their lives. Some crises depicted are more compelling than others.