Few contemporary writers are as satisfying and stimulating to read as Siri Hustvedt. Her sentences dance with the elation of a brilliant intellect romping through a playground of ideas, and her prose is just as lively when engaged in the development of characters and story. Her wonderful new novel, Memories of the Future, is, among other things, a meditation on memory, selfhood and aging ... Hustvedt’s lovely novel closes by reclaiming one of those people and imagining her soaring over Manhattan, an image of freedom and agency that is always endangered, always to be fought for.
... if you want to explore a work of fiction that reminds you how compelling the act of reading can be and you are willing to recognize yourself as an integral part of the storytelling, perhaps even be a character yourself, then pick up this book ... if you are starting to think this novel is a mere coming of age story, another English major figuring out what the heck to do with that B.A., don’t worry. Just when you think the plot is taking its time, the fonts start to change and you realize you are not reading one story, but three (possibly four) ... With echoes of literary and philosophical giants filling its pages, Memories of the Future truly aims to capture the reader’s imagination even while the narrator confronts the existence of patriarchy in a political landscape mirroring our current realities ... Memories of the Future is one of those books that reminds us why we love literature in the first place ... a rather remarkable story.
After a while, I was finding it helpful to think of Memories of the Future as an essay rather than a novel. The best essays record the tacks and turns of an interesting mind, and Hustvedt — also an accomplished art critic and essayist — is never not interesting. Her acts of mind are more bracing than the story of SH, which feels thin and sepia-toned, like a photograph put through one of those antiquing apps ... the ending manages to be quite moving and unconvincing at the same time, a recapitulation of the tonal contradiction that pervades this sometimes incisive, sometimes sentimental novel, or memoir, or whatever we decide to call it.
... vivid ... Memories of the Future is narrated with a crisp, professorial tone, which risks coming across more like cultural critique than fiction ... If [the book's obsessions sound] like thesis fodder, Hustvedt has the imaginative mastery to encase complex ideas in the flesh and blood needed to render them visceral.
This [is] a work of autofiction that uses the capacity of the autofictional both to reveal the layers of construction within the apparent realities of selfhood and to reground fiction in the real ... the affectionate portrait of young people forging lives and personalities in solidarity with each other is movingly done ... philosophical musings combine with the amusing, often rather picaresque action of the 1970s narrative ... The diary sections are written with compelling energy, and bring the young woman easily to life ... a playful, thoughtful book about the workings of memory and the relationship between our older and younger selves...a paean to the pleasures of reading, celebrating the ways that a lifetime with books enhances and complicates selfhood...a work of autofiction that offers truthful fiction to counter an era of fake news. But it is most formidable as a novelistic take on the past fifty years of feminism, told through its parallel snapshots of 1978 and 2016.
In the present, Hustvedt’s sixtysomething narrator muses over her past, reaching back to wounding childhood moments, and ponders, with stirring lucidity, time, memory, self, and the role stories play in this quicksilver triad ... Various forms of detection, anchored to Hustvedt’s deep knowledge of neuroscience and art, propel this lusciously layered and suspenseful 'portrait of the artist as a young woman' and rapier attack on sexism electric with wit, curiosity, and storytelling magic.
Hustvedt is too smart to have turned this into a straightforward account of a year in the life of a budding artist. Like S.H.'s protagonist, Hustvedt knows a good mystery when she sees one, and what's a more compelling mystery, at least to an artist, than the way time Mobius-strips one's existence into a smooth, if mystifying, continuum? ... The novel wanders in its more philosophical passages, and excerpts from S.H.'s novel don't feel fully formed. But Memories of the Future shines in its observations on the fluidity of time and the ways in which one's older and younger selves can coexist. Early in the book, S.H. notes that Einstein worried about 'the problem of Now' and how it links past and future. That's a mystery Sherlock Holmes would have loved.
... Ms. Hustvedt’s novel is both a tender elegy and an extended boast about all the cool places she used to frequent before the city became rich and boring ... Ms. Hustvedt’s earnest novel depends a bit too much on shared nostalgia—if you’re not already in love with late-70s New York, the book is unlikely to convert you—but it does get the narrator’s strange relationship with Lucy just right: In a city so crowded, a person can change your life before you’ve even met her.
Memories of the Future is largely told in a linear fashion, and though S.H.’s voice from the present often interrupts the 1970s narrative, it’s in conjunction with the older S.H.’s reading of her journal and first novel. In other words, present-day S.H. lacks a compelling story arc of her own that’s separate from that of her journal ... The straightforwardness of Memories of the Future continues in the characters themselves ... Memories of the Future... suffers from over-explanation. We are reminded over and over again of the fictional qualities of memory ... By the end of the book, Hustvedt has tied all the loose ends of her narrative neatly into a bow. Frustratingly, the entire last chapter serves primarily as an explanation of the book’s themes. It’s almost as if Hustvedt doesn’t trust her readers to make these conclusions on our own.
Reading a Hustvedt novel is like consuming the best of David Lynch on repeat ... Ideas somersault nimbly in the novel as memoir jostles with memories. Primarily, SH writes of a past of navigated possibility from a future of unforeseen jeopardy: in 2017, the established novelist laments the current political scene of progression lurching backwards. It is a point at which both SH and her creator appear, in this intense, high-spirited Bildungsroman, to have come full circle.
... shifts awkwardly between S.H.’s present-day narration and a clutter of found texts ... A relentlessly self-aware writer, Hustvedt must know that she is stacking the deck against S.H. and herself. The novel amasses all the tired tropes of urban intellectual fiction ... As she has done in all her novels, Hustvedt indulges in lengthy metafictional meditations on art, time, and truth ... The novel is not exactly good. Then again, a writer’s juvenilia are not supposed to be good. They are supposed to be tentative, aspirational, incomplete—imitative and unrestrained ... Hustvedt’s novel asks us to forgive its ragged edges, its aggressive mediocrity. It invites us to sift through the disordered sheaf of papers to find sentences, pages, fragments that testify to the author’s future greatness ... ultimately catalyzed by a generically female experience of psychic trauma ... what does it mean that sexual assault operates as the narrative hinge between immature and mature writing, allowing S.H. to speak the truth about misogyny clearly and directly?
Is Memories of the Future a novel or a memoir? It comes billed as a novel but is convincingly presented as a memoir, and indeed the situation and many events mirror the author’s own experience. Part of Siri Hustvedt’s achievement is to persuade us that whether or which doesn’t matter ... Just as memory plays games with us, Hustvedt plays an exuberant game between it and fiction, while telling us it’s what she’s doing ... Memories of the Future may be baggy and rambling but it’s under the control of a consummate intelligence. Hustvedt wears her erudition lightly and her cool intellect has a playful and warming passion. To experience her witty, speculative and incisive mind makes her book an unusual and great pleasure to read.
Memories of the Future is a portrait of the artist, certainly, and of New York in the 1970s, which Hustvedt joyously depicts as hot, dirty and cacophonous. But it’s also far more than that. As layered as a millefeuille, as dense and knotted as tapestry, it feels, by the time you reach the final pages, less like a novel and more like an intellectual reckoning; an act of investigation into how, as a woman, it is possible to live well in the world, and enter effectively into the conversation about it.
Readers can get really caught up in S. H.’s discovery of her young self. The writing here is sophisticated and literate and the author’s line drawings sprinkled throughout the book add to the story’s whimsy ... The push pull between the mature narrator and her younger self is fascinating and works on every level, so it’s disappointing when the fiction of the younger writer interferes. It’s tempting to skip over those pages. Certainly, Hustvedt felt this younger fiction was important but it’s lost on this reviewer.
... ambitious ... The already disjointed narrative gets bogged down, however, by present-day Minnesota’s digressions on everything from the 2016 presidential election to an utterly opaque episode involving Marcel Duchamp. These numerous asides, combined with appeals to the reader and haphazard narrative switches from first- to third-person, make the whole novel feel at times like one long blog post ... The narrator is also repeatedly emphatic about how many books she has read and how intellectual she is, which is odd because this novel is so clearly the work of someone who has read, written and thought at great length about, well, everything. A less erudite friend might have suggested applying a bit of that tried and true bromide: show, don’t tell.
...provocative, experimental ... The many moods and flavors of this brash 'portrait of the artist as a young woman' constantly reframe and complicate the story, making for a fascinating shape-shifter of a novel.