... a defining novel of our age of left-behind families ... By the time of its publication this July, four months into unemployment numbers so obscene that they’ll be meaningless, Want doesn’t feel so far off from the lives many Americans have been living every day ... an ideal sample of how to produce fiction that is timely and timeless ... It’s appeal right now may have something to do with the ways it thoughtfully plays with autofiction, darting in with details from Strong’s real life, then knowingly inflating and reshaping plot points, a wise reimagining of what we can do with our own stories ... But it’s also due to the prose — liquid, tender, fluttering — which keeps this story easy, perhaps too easy, to read. It’s an odd pleasure — a difficult story that is winningly told. You’ll feel guilty for enjoying it as much as you do.
I empathized with Elizabeth, the confessional narrator of Want, Lynn Steger Strong’s moving second novel ... As a narrator, Elizabeth is smart and funny and literary to the marrow. The books she inhales for sustenance have turned out to be a great addition to my own pandemic pile. (Thank you, Ms. Strong.) But her tale of woe is in many ways painfully familiar, and Want often reads like the plotless treadmill diary of a 30-something artist-class white Brooklynite who was born into what she unrealistically thought was a safer, more forgiving world. As I read on, engaged, sympathetic and often frustrated, I found myself in that strange space of feeling deeply for her predicament, yet wanting to shake sense into her: Keep your two lousy jobs and send your husband back to work! But what looks at first glance like a couple too entitled and spoiled to face the music ultimately lays bare what happens to people so vulnerable and idealistic that they are seemingly unable to climb out of the hole they’ve dug together. Viewed from that angle, the book proved more interesting, and it turns out some of the heroine’s fecklessness is related to long-ago psychological torment that brought both Elizabeth and Sasha to their knees ... While it doesn’t fix the world or even pay the rent, in companionship there is grace.
... immersive ... Want is so sharp about economic fragility and just how close to the edge people are—even with the seeming safeguard of middle-class jobs and good educations. The narrator's voice is the great draw here: It's tough, smart, semi-reliable, low-level angry. We're mostly cooped up in her head throughout much of the novel, which is a fine and rich place to be, since the outside world isn't all that compelling ... Strong is not writing about the working poor; nor are her characters homeless or starving. Her narrator isn't asking for pity—the novel wouldn't work if she were. Instead, this is a story about mundane middle-class precariousness, about people who work a lot and owe even more. And it's a story about wanting, always wanting, something else.
Strong, meanwhile, is great on the small details of the literature classroom ... plot—the literary structure that signals progress—gives way to an atmosphere of anxious uncertainty, one familiar to many of us who came of age during a moment of financial and ecological crisis ... in Want, financial precarity is the central subject, shaping the characters, the events, the prose. The novel describes downward mobility: a rare plotline in American literature, though not in American lives ... The narrator’s uneasy and shifting social position allows Strong to sketch a broader portrait of life than we find in many New York novels about youngish literary types ... Strong interweaves wonderful depictions of parenting: two children learning to share a stuffed octopus, a child’s joy at seeing her mother wearing a purple dress ... Her prose is spare, as if performing the deprivation the book’s title suggests. Her tone is lyrical, even elegiac at times; there’s less irony than we might expect from a narrator with a PhD ... paradoxical feeling characterizes much of the novel. The narrator is both desperate and grateful, cursed and lucky, envious and content ... Want...beautifully sketch[es] those feelings, which more and more of us are coming to know. There’s the anxiety of wanting or having children without a future on offer, for you or for them. There’s the envy of those who have lucked out or gamed the system or inherited wealth.
... spare, cool-toned ... Strong's unadorned prose aptly captures a certain kind of queasy millennial unease, though its very plainness can also place a pane of glass between her voice and the reader; a diary of desire, once removed.
The aspects of Want that make it so relatable stem from just how tired Elizabeth, a thirty-four-year-old white woman, is ... Where in a different kind of novel Elizabeth would stay numb—would want, more than anything, to feel nothing—Strong’s narrator desires more than her lot and acts on it ... Want, then, presents a recognizable vision of a certain kind of life under contemporary capitalism—one of downwardly mobile female exhaustion and thwarted dreams, yes—that still acknowledges the power of desire, and the danger of even the smallest desire for something better than the system has relegated to you ... Want draws liberally on Strong’s life...heightens its stakes and its appearance of reality. It is this quality that makes the impossibility of Elizabeth’s fulfillment, and the fact that her quest for it comes at a high cost for others, even more of a bummer ... It is heartening to see...characters want for more than what the world has to offer them, instead of reacting to their circumstances with yet more ennui and anomie. But in Want... it is the women—and not the systems they operate in—that are ultimately painted to be the cause of their own problems ... Want...enact[s] what it feels like to be worn down, not just by the world and its economics but by the way we choose to move through it. That is a worthy function...to invite us into feeling each woman’s precariousness, to understand both its systemic and personal roots.
...potent ... Strong writes of their friendship in exacting detail, illustrating the ferocity with which women can care for one another ... Elizabeth’s anxious, raw voice ties these threads together, coalescing into a story about the price women pay for craving what’s just out of reach.
Want is, to the credit of author Lynn Steger Strong, a forerunner in the genre of anti-white-savior novels ... Readers seeking a syrupy redemption tale like Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers should look elsewhere, and also get a clue ... hastily grapples with a litany of contemporary social issues, briefly alighting upon gentrification, infantilizing workplace culture and the anonymity of urban life. Strong evokes digital relationships with keen precision, and there’s a well-conceived #MeToo subplot that nevertheless feels a bit shoehorned. The classroom scenes, while periodically hampered by hackneyed dialogue about dress codes and black women’s hair, derive incisive commentary from a self-conscious white gaze ... Strong’s flat affect is reminiscent of Halle Butler and Catherine Lacey. The prose begs for attention, then shies away in shame and humility ... While the abundance of literary allusions can seem like scaffolding for a skimpy plot, the narrator’s obsession with highfalutin European fiction underscores the drudgery she perceives in her day-to-day life ... Still, an anti-white-savior novel isn’t the same as an anti-racist one, just as acknowledgment of privilege isn’t synonymous with its rejection. Too often, Want feels like a study in allyship fatigue, the systemic inequities suffered by its black and brown characters ceding emotional territory to the domestic drama of their white counterparts. Strong writes convincingly of the desiccated American Dream, the hand-to-mouth existence of young adults in the recession’s shadow, but Want finds a white woman cruising the thoroughfares of black trauma before retreating to gentrified Brooklyn with a loan from her parents ... if nothing else, Want would have been far more resonant had it arrived a year ago. But as with any social novel, urgency is paramount
While I believe her as a mother, and even as a high school teacher, Elizabeth as an academic left me wanting. While her students’ boredom reminds me of classes I have taught, Strong’s description of graduate school life isn’t specific enough: it’s an impression of an image and not the thing itself ... I found Elizabeth’s academia unconvincing, but perhaps she herself is unconvinced. Perhaps there is no space for her to think her thoughts or study her discarded women or write. Perhaps she buried those desires so deep that they no longer are substantial enough to be sensed ... The adjunct novel offers little transcendence because there is so little to transcend.
Ms. Strong’s prose articulates the narrator’s relentless day-to-day routine: quick, direct sentences packed into short, granulated scenes that lack the usual buffers of exposition or transitions ... The story, being rushed, is somewhat unformed, touching on the various compromises the narrator makes to once-cherished ideals for the sake of pragmatism and subsistence. But Want isn’t without hope or insights, and in the extremity of her exhaustion, the narrator has moments of sharp, delirious clarity.
Strong has an uncanny way of pulling the reader into the heart of her narrative and creating an intimate portrayal of relationships that are fractured but necessary. Her skill at depicting the inner workings of a frustrated housewife will appeal to lovers of Mrs Dalloway (2002) and Ducks, Newburyport (2019). Want is a surprisingly moving novel that will have you dabbing away at your eyes and swallowing that lump in your throat.
... impressive ... Strong unpacks the fraught history of Elizabeth and Sasha’s friendship dating back to their teenage years, delivering great insight on how the exhausted women have found themselves wanting—male attention, babies, choices, recognition, respect—as they compromise their dreams in order to survive. This is well worth a look.
Strong taps into the intensity of female friendships and how overwhelming, all-consuming, and painful they can be ... Strong writes womanhood with brutal honesty; exhaustion, love, desire, anxiety, and the devastation of unfulfilled expectations permeate every page ... captures the despair and agony of realizing not only how the world has failed you, but how you’ve failed yourself. Strong’s writing consistently distills bitter truths in understated yet penetrating ways ... A wise, unflinching, and compelling novel about womanhood.