Made up of essays, short fiction, excerpts from her novels and bits of memoir, this collection is thoughtfully curated around the titular concept of a journal not kept ... Consistently perceptive with a wry humor lurking just beneath the surface, The Journal I Did Not Keep is a joy to read
There are many standouts in the collection, but its single greatest strength is the consistency of Segal’s voice ... This is hallmark Segal: the fascination with memory and its wormy relation to words; the droll admission of error; most of all, the brief, bleak allusion to grief ... She does not write into the feeling of trauma but rather demonstrates through dialogue and action how trauma shapes people. In her fiction, there is rarely interior thought and never commentary; not for her the satisfaction of the self-righteous mot juste. Instead, meaning builds slowly, over many pages: you have to pay attention to understand her subtle irony. This kind of almost anthropological dissection is not in vogue right now; one wonders whether part of why Segal has fallen out of fashion is her refusal of big, splashy emotions, her absolute lack of interest in asserting a fierce, feeling I ... Or perhaps she has fallen out of fashion because she so relentlessly refuses to divide the world into good and evil. In her short stories, which form the bulk of The Journal I Did Not Keep, she focuses not on the monstrously bad but rather on the ordinarily good, the vast majority of us who want to do the right thing but don’t.
The Journal I Did Not Keep is...a fitting bookend to a long career and an excellent introduction to her work. It’s an eclectic, covertly joyful book, and shares with the rest of Segal’s writing an openhearted curiosity toward life, even at its ugliest moments. The highlights of the book are Segal’s stories ... [stories] proceeds through dialogue ... Ideas are bounced around and shaped as they pass through one person and then another, so that the stories have the effect of a dialectic in plain language. It’s like a Greek chorus, except that the tragedy is also funny ... How does one form one’s identity? How do people belong? To what extent do immigrants stay immigrants? These questions ricochet through Segal’s later works, vibrating at different frequencies ... Sweet as they are, the little essays make one want to go back to the novels, with their arguments, parties, and their subtle and serious considerations of the central questions of American life. This new book may be best for what it reminds us about Segal: that in her long career of remembering and reshaping, she has given readers a new form of the immigrant novel, showing her new country what it cannot see.
In The Journal I Did Not Keep, a rattle bag of writing that comprises a kind of retrospective of Segal’s long career, there are several stories starring [a character named] Lotte and...each one is delightful. Blackly funny and threaded with an indignant bewilderment that is pure gold, they are a sharp and necessary reminder of how rarely one tends to encounter seriously good fiction about old age ... But would I recommend that you go out and buy this book for these tales alone? I must admit that I would not ... I’m not convinced that the way to bring [Segal] to new readers is by gathering together these extracts from her novels, some new and old stories, some scraps of memoir and a few essays. Whether by accident or design, the result is oddly repetitive, particularly in the sections of the book devoted to nonfiction ... Segal is a marvellous and singular writer. But she is ill-served by this baggy, stop-start collection. My advice to new readers: begin elsewhere.
In all of these pieces, Segal’s prose is exquisite—crystalline, clear, and utterly unsentimental ... scenes can be wickedly funny, and excruciatingly awkward ... Segal is critical of liberal white hypocrisy but never cruel to her characters—whatever their race or religion. Segal is a monumental writer, one of the finest of her generation; this lovely collection is a fine introduction to her work.