Bolick weaves memoir, feminist theory, and biographies of five forgone writers into a riveting, essential text ... Bolick’s voice crackles with wit, sharp criticism, and breathtaking metaphors as she makes an enticing case for spinsterhood.
[Spinster] can be unnerving and downright inspired. Like many engrossing books, Spinster is first and foremost a product of the author’s long-term obsession: to reject the conventional female trajectory for something that feels a little more expansive and full of promise ... the most engrossing passages in the book focus on the joys of solitude. Bolick is at the height of her powers when describing the peculiar — and sometimes hard to capture — satisfactions of being alone.
Spinster begins with overstated claims about the all-importance of marriage, but it quickly turns around and acts as if marital status is irrelevant — an equally inaccurate assumption ... my fundamental resistance to Spinster isn’t just about the bait and switch of its title and content. It comes down to the way Bolick’s small and not especially spinster-based archive radically limits the potential of her book, both culturally and politically ... The author of Spinster champions an individualistic kind of feminism, but she is uninterested in reflecting on the politics of marriage as a system and the way its oppressiveness might prompt privileged people like herself to seek alliances with people she pushes to the margins: poor people, queer people, people of color.
...making a virtue out of romantic success—and what else is a prince who arrives in the last act but the insignia of virtue rewarded?—stigmatizes everyone for whom the right lover or spouse has thus far failed to materialize. It also makes the book seem disingenuous: all this celebration of the spinster, only to be rescued in the end? I’m not saying Bolick shouldn’t have a great boyfriend. It’s the book that didn’t need him ... Where I disagree is that making one’s own life choices requires so much self-justification, or that anyone needs to have—as Bolick previously felt—'a very good explanation' for not marrying. It’s an explanation the book seems unnecessarily intent on providing, despite being billed as a progress report.
Bolick is at her most perceptive when she is talking about anything other than these women: memory, sexuality, herself. When she ventures into autobiography, she embarks upon evocative, poetic flights ... There are many paradoxes to navigate in Spinster. Bolick is interested in the idea of the self as the hero in her own story; as a fledgling editor, she noted that 'even at its very best, when a woman was able to present herself with honesty and intelligence, her experience was inextricably bound to the people around her, as if her story didn’t exist apart from theirs.' But it’s difficult to be the main story when you are sharing territory with five signposts who were themselves real, complex people in their own real, complex relationships.
Bolick's evocation of the untethered state is often beautiful, her metaphors precise and lyrical in the manner of her heroines. More important, she does not flinch from describing just how alone alone can feel ... While she's admirably frank about how fraught it can be to search for meaning without marriage and children providing automatic answers, she doesn't manage to articulate why the search is worth it.
[Bolick] is writing out of nostalgia. She genuinely wishes she had been born in an earlier era, when being single would make her an outlaw. That way she could truly be a victim, not just play one inside her own head. It is a testament to Bolick that despite her flawed argument, Spinster can be an engaging read ... Nearly 20 years ago, the writer Vivian Gornick made the startling observation that romantic love 'can no longer act as an organizing principle.' Gornick was arguing that feminism had made it impossible for romantic love to define a story. Bolick may have achieved romantic bliss, but she never achieves the literary gravitas that Gornick manages in one sentence.
...because she frames [Spinster as a personal story rather than a sociological survey, she isn't forced to grapple with manifestations of singledom that lie outside her direct experience. She's free to erase the proud legacies of lesbians and nuns, to name just two groups of women that make only cursory appearances in the book. For this reason, Spinster will probably resonate most with women who are most like Bolick and leave others struggling to connect with her version of spinsterhood ... 'Single' means something quite different when you're a New York magazine editor than it does when you're a mother on public assistance or a woman with debilitating mental-health issues. I would have appreciated a bit more recognition of this fact.
Bolick's book, laden with cultural and literary aspirations, turns out to be a high-minded bore ... Bolick can offer only the truism that women should hold on 'to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you're single or coupled.'
Bolick never really explains exactly what about the social institution of marriage threatens to stifle her, instead showing us again and again (until the overall effect is near-stultifying) how she bolted each time she got close to being betrothed ... Bolick’s unique journey underscores the need for all of us to take our own journeys, whether they stop off at the altar or not. It’s a worthy feat of inspiration.
Bolick’s memoir turns into a kind of log of lovers and all the male romantic interests are the same bland brand of sweet-sexy-romantic, as well as, Bolick insinuates, marriage material ... Time and progress will not treat Bolick’s thesis kindly. Already Spinster as a feminist text is out of date; and as literary biography, it is lacking. Only as the memoir of a writer’s career does Spinster seem to have lasting value; and it is Bolick’s success, rather than her serial dating, that feels like the point.
Spinster is less about the basic necessity of marriage and more about the search for personal fulfillment and about how that's possible for a single, childless woman. The problem is that Bolick's exploration of the issue is simultaneously too general—because it attempts to address all women—and too specific—because it uses the lens of Bolick's experience and the experiences of five woman writers she admires—to be very satisfying. The whole book reads like a 300-page article in a glossy women's magazine, a jumble of research, helpful statistics, mini biographies of spinsters of the past, filled out with a great deal of—probably too much—detail about Bolick's own dating history and the evolution of her personal philosophy of spinsterdom.