Eleanor, Or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love works on so many levels: Anna Moschovakis’s artful use of precise language seamlessly connects her plots and characters with a bountiful range of references and within a structure that almost defies itself, all while being emotionally layered and intellectually textured ... very classic and relevant questions inhabit Eleanor and her writer: paradox and meaning, connection and disconnection, process and loss, trauma and stress, collective and individual grief, authority, race, gender, capitalism, technology, and of course, progress or the illusion of it as well as love and its confusions. Moschovakis does this in a way that will stay in one’s head for days, then trickle down to trigger thoughts, emotions, and ideas in various parts of one’s body. I like this about this book ... in the unfolding of this story, Moschovakis takes every possible opportunity to locate us in points of high philosophy, common news, or both at the same time. It is metafictional to the nth degree, and these complex references are like treasures that she has laid along the path of the story ... This book is cerebral in tone, yet emotional in effect. Moschovakis’s creation, a Jenga-ian tower of stacked data is precariously perched in a game where everything is meant to collapse. Yet throughout this novel, Moschovakis knows exactly which piece to pull out so that the tower never topples ... This book is rich, complex, and overflowingly human.
The first thing that must be said about Eleanor...is that it is great fun. There is nothing so distinct as a screwball protagonist, a comic plot, or innumerable one-liners that we can attribute this enjoyment to—rather, it is simply found evenly distributed everywhere throughout the tone and shape and feel of Moschovakis’s work: the words she chooses to place together, the movement of her sentences, the ironic pleasures that come from her interpolation of two narratives set in different, but related planes of reality ... oftentimes self-reflexive, self-commentating, and self-conscious, but never precious or purposeless ... A book about the inner lives of our contemporaries must be conversant with how it feels to live right now, and at this Eleanor excels. Not in the weak sense of name-dropping popular websites, fashionable trends, and political slogans, rather in the much stronger sense of understanding how we use those things to construct our identities and live our lives ... Moschovakis has created a novel of great strength and flex. Much as it bends and twists and gyres, it does not break, in fact only accumulates more tensile strength from the motion, just as, one hopes, we all can do.
I was hooked on Moschovakis—after finishing Eleanor, or, the Rejection of the Progress of Love, I immediately ordered a previously published collection of her poetry, They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, and then began re-reading the book I had just completed, feeling that surreal sensation that a book had been written just for me. Given Moschovakis’s poetic background, her prose is marvelously rich with meaning, conceptually dense and precise in phrasing ... Although its prose is palatable, Eleanor is a fairly cerebral text, often in the vein of the anti-social autofiction of late, which primarily concerns the human relationship to self and thought rather than people. Moschovakis does not shy away from contemplating the age-old question of the extent to which fiction is colored by imagination, and to what extent it is autobiographical. It is, at the end of the day, a book which is concerned with process as it pertains to reading and writing, art and understanding ... It is...less important to the text that Moschovakis alludes to particular pieces [of art] than that she explores the act of self-discovery through art, that Eleanor embarks on a trip toward meaning, has her own personal relationship to art, and arrives at conclusions of meaning that are not necessarily dictated by the external, but curates her own collection of symbols that guide her, as if constellations guiding a ship’s nighttime path toward unknown lands.
Moschovakis is a poet, and Eleanor is unmistakably a poet’s novel, alert to the textures of experience but relaxed in the pursuit of plot. It is elliptical in the manner of David Markson or Renata Adler, yet eager to point out its experiments and omissions ... All this could come off as precious; instead, it lands as a kind of generosity. The other risk with such meta-commentary is that it might bog down the narrative. But in fact it’s the narrator’s story that starts to produce the stronger pull. Her unstable bond with the critic launches a compelling exploration of the kinds of witness we seek in others and the insidious ways gender and power complicate friendship ... It’s a pleasure to journey alongside all three of them [the novel's main characters] as they drift and drift, and finally take flight.
...[a] witty anti-novel ... The irony of a female artist becoming subordinate to her male editor is central to Ms. Moschovakis’s subversion. At the root of this book is the idea that the traditional novel that traces a trajectory toward love or marriage or some manner of self-realization is the invention of men ... Ms. Moschovakis’s novel is braided and experimental, yet it looks for illumination in the plainspoken and the authentic.
When it came to Anna Moschovakis’s Eleanor, or the Rejection of the Progress of Love, I found a book I nearly imbibed. Most of us do when reading something we can relate to. The book is, in essence, about existential angst of our zeitgeist. However, for me there was delight in reading about sex, sexuality, and the first steps of mid-life during that zeitgeist. So few art forms capture this period of life well from a woman’s POV ... It’s not a perfect book. The last quarter frays into a series of parcels about as long and substantial as a Tweet. Moschovakis might use these staticky fits and starts to parallel social media or our minds on social media, but it was utterly skimmable. Nor did I appreciate the inundation of artistic references; the ubiquity of these came to feel like a crutch for the author, akin to David Foster Wallace’s footnotes ... Despite these minor flaws, Moschovakis’s Eleanor, or the Rejection of the Progress of Love offers literary and plot interests on most every page. It’s a book meant for those of us whose sparkle is wearing off and whose lives are beginning to resemble something in a Camus novel.
Anna Moschovakis’ Eleanor, or The Rejection of the Progress of Love is one of those novels, in turn fascinating and irritating, that is as interested in its own inner workings as in telling a story. The building blocks of modern realistic fiction are all here: protagonist, secondary characters, relationships, place, thought, emotion, action and reaction. But they don’t go anywhere; whenever a narrative seems poised to move, its flow is thwarted, questioned ... The smooth continuity readers expect in storytelling is often interrupted by the crudest, most basic stylistic devices: synopses (of books and movies), stage directions, questionnaires, lists, repetitions of words and phrases ... Eleanor and Author are fierce interrogators of the situations they find themselves in. There’s an implicit feminist critique of male thought (and fiction?). Where men have all the answers, women interrupt with buts and whys. Eleanor and Author are also magnanimous in their acceptance of mundanity. This is a novel about noticing and ruminating rather than assessing and concluding ... The book offers each moment, each sentence equably and leaves us to decide what is important and how.
Moschovakis interrupts long passages of intense quotidian detailing with sharp outbursts of emotion ... This toggling between styles augments the novel’s introspective moments, making Eleanor and her unnamed writer’s interiorities the driving force of the narrative. Our attention is drawn to the narrators’ discomfort, anxiety, and heightened emotion while their day-to-day routine slowly disintegrates, made insignificant by Moschovakis’s increasingly fragmented, unfinished sentences ... In this way, Moschovakis slowly unsettles her narrators’ relationship to the familiarity of their surroundings and their actions, which once may have comforting, now invokes dread and disdain: 'All of it now seemed dull and pathetic.'
Moschovakis is in search of a way of presenting a woman’s life that is not expressed solely through family and bonds with others—that rebuffs inherited conventions while acknowledging that women are still laboring their way through the mare’s nest chaotically erected by patriarchy. For a clue as to what she might do instead, Moschovakis borrows from Rimbaud, a figure Eleanor studies closely in the novel’s third section. ‘I am present at the explosion of my own thought,’ he wrote in a letter in 1871. ‘I watch and listen to it.’ It is life that creates Eleanor, life that creates the unnamed author, rather than the other way around. This is in part why the Aidan’s observations cause the author [one of Eleanor's protagonists] to doubt her choices in the novel but ultimately don’t prove to be all that helpful—Aidan, so convinced of his own ideas, so buoyed by male authority, fails to recognize the nature, let alone the significance, of the rejection she is making.
As the novel progresses, the author's and Eleanor’s stories intertwine like strands of a double helix—touching only through the laddered bonds of their shared time and place but inextricably connected by the common access of their thought. Philosophically exhaustive yet profoundly human, this book sets itself the task of asking the big questions—What am I? What was I? What will I be?—in a style that evokes [Clarice] Lispector and [Albert] Camus but with the self-referential and weary globalism of the current milieu. A consummately accomplished novel. A worthy treatise on the now.
Rich in cultural references but short on plot, Moschovakis’s concentric narratives capture moments of inspiration, distraction, analysis, and mundane activity in prose encompassing quotes, lists, emails, texts, news reports, and two pages of nothing but the words 'time passed.' Less a novel than it is performance art in print, Moschovakis’s fiction exercise illuminates a writer’s disconnected choices and personal connections, but, like her characters, bogs down in the creative process.