Cain utilizes an engaging blend of interviews, research, firsthand accounts, and biographical anecdotes to explore the many beneficial aspects of appreciating this mindset ... Timely in its focus, this latest work by Cain delivers an eloquent and compelling case supporting the transformative possibilities of embracing sorrow. Highly recommended.
On one of the first pages Cain writes, 'I didn’t fact-check the stories people told me about themselves, but included only those I believed to be true.' After that, it’s difficult to know how seriously to take this book as a document of scholarship or reportage ... But as a package to be sold, Bittersweet has it all: a catchy word, a culture that doesn’t appreciate the power of that word and a call to action for individuals and businesses who can better meet their goals by embracing the word ... Perhaps this is why I found the premise of Bittersweet, and most of the anecdotes and evidence in the book, obvious. If you’ve attended religious worship or even a yoga class or have spent any time in the last two years reflecting on the lessons the pandemic has forced upon us, you might feel the same ... you’d have to be pretty disengaged from modern discourse to have no exposure to the idea that unexpressed and unexamined sadness can poison mental health ... But a big feature of this book is that it seems disconnected from the contemporary realities of our culture ... Cain completely misses the opportunity to connect the lessons of her research to this global catastrophe...Even as she makes these revelations, she bypasses the opportunity to connect the dots of her own experiences, her research and the losses her family suffered with the wreckage wrought by Covid. Cain is entitled to process her own grief privately, but she has chosen to write a book filled with personal anecdotes and family stories. It suffers as a result of her selective restraint ... There are other examples that make Cain seem out of touch...As a general matter, Cain’s heavy reliance on anecdotes and studies drawn from Ivy League (plus Stanford!) sources on the Ted Talk circuit (I never realized how much those Venn diagram circles overlapped until I read this book) renders a very narrow perspective, since the life experience and opinions of the viral elite is largely limited to those of extreme privilege ... Cain writes most poignantly (though, ironically, quite stoically) of her own pivotal moments — including, at the end of the book, the process of letting the demise of her legal career give way to her dream of becoming a writer, and of listening to sad music as a balm for the pain of a Covid goodbye said over the phone to a dying parent. Some sweetness to help transcend the bitter.
Is Bittersweet musicology, a biography of emotions, a heartfelt memoir or an airport self-help work? The answer seems unclear even after my second reading, but it certainly draws on all those genres in a style that mirrors the language of TED talks, graduation speeches and therapeutic podcasts. Cain is a poetic writer, and she is self-consciously publishing Bittersweet in a much more emotionally raw and revelatory moment than when [her previous book] Quiet was released ... but I find the free-form methodology of psychological cartography here unconvincing and suspect. It is not original to suggest that melancholic music, sad films or heavy art opens emotional pathways to catharsis ... Bittersweet reads like a series of thought bubbles shoehorned into book form. With its blend of memoir, pop psychology, music criticism and self-help, there is an undisciplined interdisciplinarity to Bittersweet that fails to form a coherent and memorable whole. The book buckles under the weight of its ambitions, abruptly shifting among real-world examples of melancholic personalities, lived experiences and academic studies ... the book suffers from hopscotch evidentiary support, a meandering structure and a sustained mood of inquiry. For a subject as relevant, that is indeed bittersweet.