Human Relations & Other Difficulties collects 23 of her pieces for the LRB and starts with a surprisingly personal one ... The next few pieces gently and expertly warm up the reader, ranging from reflections on obituaries in The Times to a wonderful digression on Pears Soap and the Pears’ Cyclopaedia ... It is not Wilmers’ style to be prescriptive, but when she does deliver a rant, it’s good stuff, as when she deplores the epidemic of kindness tainting the once-gladiatorial book review ... Taken collectively, these essays summon up the lives of women, mostly writers, who kicked against the barriers, using whatever means they could ... Human Relations & Other Difficulties has a bite, and it makes you wonder what Wilmers would have produced if she had given her own writing as much time as she gave to the words of others.
Most of the pieces are book reviews, and all but three were written for the LRB; only occasionally does Wilmers venture into strictly personal territory, most notably in a zinging delve into the menopause ... What’s most striking about Human Relations, though, is how much Wilmers has to say about women, and often women of a particular kind: what we’d now call the dysfunctional ... Wilmers is harsh but, one suspects, fair.
...sure-footed ... Wilmers is a summa cum laude graduate of the Joan Didion-Elizabeth Hardwick-Janet Malcolm school of dispassionate restraint and psychological acuity. She can do more damage with a raised eyebrow than most critics can do with a mace. Her wit steals in like a cat through an unlatched window.
... a robust collection ... One joy of reading the book is getting a concrete sense of [Wilmers'] editorial idiosyncrasies and prowess ... The inclusion of a critique of obituaries and book reviews—in a book that includes both—is a clever nod to her agility. These pieces display a preference for dissection rather than heavy didacticism. Her lucidity on the page is notable given her desire to flirt with and even court paradox by showing all sides ... There is a danger—the threat of boredom—to publishing an essay collection of book reviews, since they are by nature directed at an insular audience and framed by topical concerns. This is mitigated somewhat by the decision to include, by and large, stories that are preoccupied with women and their concerns ... Women writing about women’s issues with men is currently in vogue, but Wilmers’s is perhaps not the ideal example. Her retrograde feminism is a rather open secret ... There is a trend in book reviewing to call outmoded or reductive ideas about feminism 'refreshing,' but in this case it’s true ... She is adept at floating scenarios, allowing for the existence of opinions she doesn’t share.
[An] eclectic and acidic selection of pieces by Wilmers ... Wilmers offers fascinating character studies of the authors and their subjects, both of whom tend to be 'difficult' women ... Wilmers has a voice as crisp, clear, and dry as gin, simultaneously amused and wise ... Given her ear for the perfect quote, irony, and glancing judgment on human foibles...fellow critics will appreciate this distillation of Wilmers’s legacy and the record of a distinct sensibility that feels bitterly astute, inimitably of its time, and enduringly relevant.
Most of her essays...demonstrate Wilmers’ occasionally supercilious yet irresistible seduction with the work at hand, plunging readers into long, involved pieces about writers’ lives, motivations, and peccadilloes ... Wilmers is a ferocious reviewer, as shown in her more general essays on the art of writing obituaries ... While the author’s subjects are mostly British and of a certain age, others dear to her heart include Patty Hearst and Freud, which should broaden her reading audience. Insightful essays for literary-minded readers.