All of this feels exactly as Taddeo intends it. Books and stories are often premised on the idea that we’re there to watch people in a process of transformation, but often people don’t change at all. Often people (and societies and systems) stay the same. Taddeo conveys the tragedy of this stagnation: messy, increasingly destructive, often very sad. These are women so entrenched in societal expectations, the ghosts of their own tragedies and self-hatred, which they will likely never quite escape ... This sameness and this sense of stuckness has a straightforward and somehow pleasing flatness, as if Taddeo’s goal is to give us not a fully fleshed-out person but instead a single sharp and lacerating slice. You might not know anyone like these women, but chances are that every woman you know holds at least a little bit of these women inside of them ... feels built to provoke — and it’s provocative. It pricks and prods you with its unrelenting focus on the many ways inhabiting a certain type of female body can ruin a life. Yet, as the stagnation spreads, the edges dull. While Animal had the time and space to drive its devastating narrative home, here each new story seems to undermine its predecessors ... That is not to diminish their moments of power; the sentences accrue a confidence and clarity by virtue of never having to cast around for what else these characters or their stories might contain. Yet they are too much of one type to puncture quite as deeply as they might have if they’d been allowed to delve a little deeper into what it is to be alive.
Viral success has emboldened [Taddeo] to abandon everything patient and methodical in her investigation of women’s darker appetites in favour of the literary equivalent of chasing clicks ... Ghost Lover is a nine-course tasting menu that is all spice and no flavour ... The main dish is always the same facile serving of female jealousy. In every effortfully flippant tale, self-conscious women compete to be the most desirable female in the room ... At least the proper nouns denote actual things. When Taddeo attempts metaphor, we run into more serious trouble ... Throughout, Taddeo rams words together in unexpected ways. 'His voice turned throaty, filled with wetness and trees.' Trees? ... Perhaps Taddeo has read Lolita and feels excited about experimenting with the English language. Only it feels more as if she has done the experimenting in another tongue, Finnish or Swahili, perhaps, then run a series of untranslatable local sayings through Google Translate ... In the course of producing this Goop noir, Taddeo has abandoned any interest in women as complex, conflicted humans. Her characters are myopically focused on blow-dries, blow jobs and brow tints ... Inspires depression.
These nine stories of sex and trauma tread a fine line between self-parody and self-awareness ... Taddeo’s anti-heroines may feel a little adolescent at times, but they are as desperate as they are self-obsessed and petulant. I did find myself rolling my eyes at the author’s more experimental sentences ... When not overwriting, Taddeo can deliver turns of phrase so perfect they feel like they’ve been on the tip of your tongue for ever ... Taddeo’s characters are such bundles of daddy issues and self-hatred as to verge on cartoonish. But it is lazy – not to mention reductive – to read characters who are venomous and vapid, and dismiss their author in kind ... While Taddeo’s characters often embody the antithesis of mainstream feminist consensus – terrified of ageing, striving for male approval at the expense of other women – they offer an honest picture of how it feels to move through the world as a woman. And what could be more feminist than that?
It’s difficult to find here the loving, nurturing female friendships that most real women hold dear ... The stories will chime, albeit uneasily, with those who have had bruising encounters with disingenuous, exploitative men and fremenies ... These are devastating stories of women’s pain, loss and compensatory behaviour. Taddeo is the 21st century’s more excoriating Edna O’Brien.
The collection arrives in a world conscious of women’s sexuality, but the experiences of the characters are rooted in timelessness. Taddeo has presented a collection unified by women’s sexual power. She depicts characters confident in themselves and empowered by their sexuality. She deploys wry criticism interspersed throughout the narratives to elevate her critiques. Ghost Lover is a successful extension of Taddeo’s social commentary on the lusty desires of femininity.
Recently the author Monica Ali spoke of the 'pitfalls to writing sex scenes' because she feared resorting to words “like ‘throbbing’, ‘thrusting’, ‘member’”. In Ghost Lover, Taddeo appears to be so scared of these hackneyed terms that she has invented increasingly weirder descriptions ... to judge by the protagonists in Taddeo’s short stories, we have become stuck in the reappraisal phase, where sex is exposed as an ordeal rather than an enjoyable expression of better relations. As a satire on the vapidity of modern life, it is going over territory sharply described over 30 years ago by writers such as Brett Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz. Taddeo’s stories can feel as hollow as the culture they are skewering ... This character hankered after a meaningful connection. And after reading this collection, so did I.
The tangled motives of early sexual encounters – including young women’s apparent complicity in their own manipulation – and the ways in which these shape women’s later responses to men is a recurring theme in Taddeo’s narratives, though she is careful never to draw moralistic straight lines ... Several of the stories are set in LA or New York, their protagonists acutely conscious of both cities’ premium on youth, thinness, beauty and wealth, and how the latter can only partially compensate a woman for her loss of the others. It’s a bleak outlook, though one that lends itself nicely to waspish humour ... Some readers will feel a shock of recognition – Taddeo has a knack for saying what women often feel they can’t say aloud – while others will find the variations on a theme repetitive, if not downright depressing ... The book’s biggest weakness is Taddeo’s fondness for overblown similes that strive so hard for originality they become completely unmoored from meaning...There are so many of these that you start to wonder if her editor was on extended leave ... What she does so well in these stories, though, is to force the reader to acknowledge the grey areas and ambiguities around sexual power play. It’s not so much the contradictions between 'he said/she said' as between 'she said/she thought', and in this regard her characters are spikily, uncomfortably believable.
While some of the stories engage, as a whole the collection is a mixed bag. The primary issue is one of repetition, in style, theme, character and authorial voice. Some stories – the poignant Maid Marian, the powerful A Suburban Weekend – come close to greatness, tautly written tales of loss and unlikely redemption. Others are pale imitations, ghostly approximations of superior bedfellows. This kind of layering worked for Taddeo in Three Women (though she was criticised for the homogeneity of her subjects), but it is harder to pull off in a collection. The short story form is unforgiving. There is nowhere to hide ... At its best, the collection has shades of Mary Gaitskill, that great chronicler of the politics and psychology of desire in American society ... Taddeo knows how to write a killer sentence, full of ambiguity. She is particularly good on outsiders in relationships, the bit players – mistresses, lovers, exes who can’t quite let go ... Frequently, however, she pushes things too far. A good metaphor should defamiliarise and then immediately connect – think of the masterful prose of Anne Enright – but if it doesn’t, the result can be puzzling or odd ... The larger issue over the nine stories is that too many of the female characters think the same way, which is, we come to suspect, reflective of how the author thinks, diegesis as opposed to mimesis.
Readers of Taddeo’s nonfiction debut, Three Women, and first novel, Animal, will feel at home with the cast of women who haunt her first short-story collection: powerful, incisive, deep-feeling people who chase sex and love, often as they run from trauma and other hurts ... In Taddeo’s tantalizing stories, seven of nine of which have been previously published, death seeps in through the cracks, but so does lightness, humor, and a kind of freedom.
Smart if sometimes cryptic ... The stories are parts Didionesque anomie, American Psycho-ish brand invocation (Journelle, Dunhill, Barbuto), and a nonstop barrage of head-scratching non sequiturs masquerading as hip observations ... Though the affectless characters can start to wear a bit and begin to feel familiar, they reflect the author’s well-earned reputation for harnessing a vision of America populated by unfulfilled happiness seekers. This isn’t Taddeo’s best, but her fans will dig it.