... an unconventional rock memoir that doesn't hew to the genre's norms. And like her entire musical catalog, it's honest, original and absolutely remarkable ... honesty that's almost shocking ... Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows her songs, Phair writes about love and sex with a refreshing frankness ... There are so many things to admire about Horror Stories, it's hard to list them all. It's a memoir with an original and fascinating structure — Phair recognizes that a chronological account of her life could only go so far in explaining how she became the person she is. She mostly avoids writing about her own songs, and while this may seem to be an odd choice, it's actually quite refreshing — her music, she seems to indicate, can speak for itself ... But the real star of Horror Stories is Phair's elegant but unpretentious writing, which proves she's as adept at writing prose as she is at writing songs. And anyone familiar with her music knows how great a thing that is. It's a truly wonderful memoir, and a rare look into, as she writes, 'the haunting melodies I hear over and over again in my head.'
More often than not in this uniquely thoughtful, self-aware memoir, the horrors she describes are mistakes she made, ethical challenges she failed, and moments of anxiety, bewilderment and being lost, often literally and sometimes because of her own flawed decisions ... Being in the textual presence of a grown-up who, in midlife, is going over the gaps, the failures and the cruelties for which she is accountable is as bracing and refreshing as it was to hear that much younger Phair express her ambition to, how shall we say, take her lover 'like a dog' and continue 'everything I’ll do to you' until a crucial part of him 'is blue.' From then until now, Phair insists on her right to be seen as, and takes the considerable risk to be seen as, a messy, complete, appetitive, responsible human being. Would that many could do the same ... Phair writes with great detail about what it is to be rudderless, frightened, confused, and yet willing to keep going without being able to see very far ahead ... If the clichéd rock star story is a fever chart of rise, fall, rehab and redemption à la Rocketman or Her Smell,Horror Stories is more an archipelago of intense episodes of unknowing with the implicit understanding that life is a wayward, unresolvable business ... Phair’s musical imagination, process, influences, stylistic changes and the sounds she hears in her head are conspicuously absent...there is barely a line in the entire book about songwriting or playing the guitar, the talents for which she became famous and which, in fact, have been her life’s work and support ... Her relationship to music seems to have been the longest and maybe the most demanding love of her life, the one for which she has been willing to get lost, to fail, and to try again over and over for decades. Call me a selfish fan, but I have to say that’s one story in all its horror and passion I would love to hear.
... powerful ... turns the full-frontal rock ’n’ roll life inside out. In beautifully crafted episodes, [Phair] trains her brutal honesty on herself and on American culture to look at what lurks beneath a life. It’s a book that side-steps the triumph of her music career in order to squarely confront shadow, and to own the darkness that is hers ... This is a tremendously risky literary strategy, but she’s doing something important with this book: exploring the ordinary struggle of working as an artist and a woman and a mother and a boss, and trying constantly to navigate love ... The one overtly #MeToo episode in this book demonstrates that she could have delivered the satisfying catharsis of using her whip-smarts to best the lumpen men who tried to drag her career into bed with them, but she does more than that. She keeps the power for herself. She turns away from blame to go somewhere more personal, working like a novelist, using story to reveal the shape of her own psyche. Because even though success is the lumber with which we build a life, horror is the lathe that shapes it with its knife ... could have been a litany of such nightmares, the things men do to or for women, but her stories are more self-reflective than that, focused on her own role in success and failure.
... beautifully written ... Leave it to Phair, who doesn’t tend to conform to expectations – of gender, of rock ‘n’ roll, of sexuality, of truthfulness – to build a narrative on her own terms, as a series of seemingly random vignettes from early childhood to adulthood that double as painfully honest emotional revelations ... Phair slips in the objective facts of her life — that she and her brother were adopted, that her marriage broke up after she had an affair — only as they relate to the tale at hand, in service of the greater points she’s making. She also changes the names of her exes. She’s mapping out her psychic grid, not the specific neighborhood of her childhood or the roots of her family or the particulars of her love life ... don’t expect a ton of alternative rock dish and tour partying deets, past or present ... one of the lovely things about Horror Stories is Phair’s inclination to own her own mistakes and naivete ... you might not expect the way Phair delivers sex and the rest of her world to us this time out, with equal parts elegance, humor, and authenticity.
... there’s a layer of compassion and humanity that shines through. The singer, 52, has never quite been this exposed; there was no character for her to play ... The alt-rocker’s Patti Smith-like essays, which range from encountering sexual harassment to the unexpected surfacing of survival skills tout a through-line of her signature wit and confront the complexities that exist in the world around us.
... structured around the moments of anxiety, discomfort, indecision, humiliation, and regret that have defined Phair as a person, illuminating specific memories with the vivid flashbulb of her famous wit. Perhaps it’s for this reason that the book only tangentially mentions Phair’s scrappy early years as an unknown singer-songwriter in Chicago’s once hip Wicker Park neighborhood; as she says in the lead-up to a story about visiting her grandmother in a nursing home around that time, things were going well for her. Not a lot of psychic manure to compost into hard-won wisdom there ... less a complete chronicle of Phair’s life than a road map to her vulnerabilities ... Phair approaches the #MeToo movement with clearer eyes and a more compassionate attitude than some of the women in the generation before her ... But while Phair’s Horror Stories are often painfully relatable, the combination of blunt emotional truth and lyrical prose doesn’t always meld. Sometimes her poetic musings are downright profound...Other times, her dry humor doesn’t translate to the page ... Still, Phair’s been everywhere and done everything, including some things she’s not very proud of. If she wants to indulge herself a little, now that she’s looking back on all of it, well, she’s earned it.
At its best, Horror Stories is an excavation of what lies in the subconscious as you float through the world. It shows how buried hurts will crop up randomly, at will. In that sense, Horror Stories reflects reality with a blunt irreverence, like many great Phair songs ... But discussion of Phair’s music is puzzlingly limited. It’s up to the reader to determine where Phair was at in her discography during any particular saga ... offers only a handful of these music-oriented reflections. Phair focuses instead on the greater fabric of her idiosyncratic life that produced the songs ... I wish Phair wrote specifically about how her experiences shaped the lyrics to more of her songs in lieu of some of the many pages, some gripping, some clumsy, she spends airing details of failed relationships, bad vacations and first-class flights. I get the sense this would be another story entirely. Perhaps, for the time being, it’s better voiced by the music.
... lively, insightful ... Phair’s portrait of the artist as an older woman who has accumulated much perspective and wisdom yet remains frustrated that even after one marriage and other ill-fated relationships, she still wants a boyfriend ... the 'Horror' of most of Phair’s 'Stories' isn’t the type to generate headlines ... The book’s subtitle could be Tales of Empathy ... As is typical of Phair, she doesn’t gloss over details or spare herself in the telling; she conveys the adrenaline rush that comes on strong and the shame and regret that follow more forcefully ... gets messy at times. One chapter recounts a terrifying break-in at her Oberlin College house, after which she feels reluctant to describe the perpetrators because they are black...That chapter feels like an overreach, an attempt to make a grand race-relations statement amid a simple tale of revenge vandalism ... reminds us of something gratifying: Liz Phair can write. She does so with engaging candor and a terrific eye for detail, whether evoking an ill-conceived trek through a New York blizzard, a childhood climb up a spider-infested tree or therapeutic adventures on a surfboard ... She still is speaking her truth, with a generosity of spirit and willingness to dig into the thorniest aspects of what it means to be human right now. Twenty-six years after Exile in Guyville, it turns out, Liz Phair is rewarding our expectations after all.
In a debut memoir as candid as her music, Phair eschews themes of typical rock-and-roll tell-all for a more introspective look at events in her life ... Phair admits that she can still make 'colossal errors in judgement,' but her empathy for people’s 'private struggles' shines throughout...This powerful debut will delight Phair’s many fans.