The author of The Girls returns with 10 short stories exploring characters as they navigate power dynamics in families and in relationships, celebrity, and the distance between their true and false selves.
In an era whose ascendant short-story practitioners lean into high-concept experiments of genre and form, Emma Cline represents something of a throwback. The 10 stories that constitute her first collection, Daddy, are almost classical in structure—you won’t find a fragmentary collage, list or screenplay among them. Though she’s not one for a sudden, curious departure of voice or dissolution of the fourth wall, Cline has an unnerving narrative proprioception, and her stories have the clean, bright lines of modernist architecture ... As for her style, she seems to eschew the telegraphic mode made popular by writers like Sally Rooney or Rachel Cusk for something at once direct and musical. Cline’s idiom is earnestness punctuated by millennial cool—but nothing too fussy, everything in just the right place ... The aesthetic pleasure of Cline’s writing is anesthetizing. So much so that one could conceivably read these stories with the same drugged passivity with which one shuffles through a lifestyle catalog. But that would be a mistake ... Cline is an astonishingly gifted stylist, but it is her piercing understanding of modern humiliation that makes these stories vibrate with life ... the characters shift uncomfortably through the beautifully appointed shoe box dioramas of their lives, aware at once of their own insignificance and also of their desire for prominence. They ask if anything matters as though nothing does, and yet hope to be contradicted. But perhaps we all do. Perhaps, in these brilliant stories, that is the most daring and human thing of all.
... if Emma Cline’s readers were holding out hope that she’d top her explosive breakout The Girls with a more seductive charge, well, a suggestive title like Daddy could hardly dash it. Yet this pitch-black collection of 10 stories emerges as its own kind of success by quietly rushing in another direction ... None of the plots will elicit much intrigue on topic alone ... It’s the stuff of niche literary darlings, not blockbuster best-sellers. The pieces soar independently — dark slices of life confidently weaving between styles — and in unison, portraits of young women seeking liberation, of older men doing wrong. True, the standout — 'Marion,' a dizzyingly complex tale unfurling from an 11-year-old girl’s mind—feels closer to what made Cline a household name, but Daddy’s biggest reward lies in her showing us something new.
The Girls was ripe with descriptive writing. It could be brilliant; it could also be overcooked...She’s largely curtailed those excesses in her new short story collection, Daddy, aside from Marion, first published in the Paris Review in 2013, which occupies the same universe as The Girls ... Elsewhere, however, a coolness of observation replaces such fervid, fetid atmospheres ... Perhaps surprisingly, Cline often chooses to inhabit these ageing men rather than their screwed-up offspring. But throughout, she is exploring something her own millennial generation is often accused of: entitlement. And the grown-up children we see through the judgmental eyes of their fathers are often wildly entitled – it’s just that Cline makes clear they learned this from the boomers and Gen Xers who raised them ... I’ll be interested in how convinced middle-aged male reviewers are, but I found Cline’s insights persuasive, even if the territory does become repetitive ... The relentless privilege on display ultimately flattens out the reading experience, interest waning as a story introduces another rich old man or media player, another private school or house in the hills ... But Cline tracks shifts in power and influence – the desire to hold on to and wield them and the pathetic 'whiff of insecurity' in those that have lost them – very well ... Cline is acute at exposing how women internalise the expectations of men .... There’s an uneasy ambiguity and a jittery, hollow anxiety running through Daddy that reflects a certain modern malaise, a vacuum in understanding how to live in the world, created by its vacuity ... Cline is also adept at swirling little eddies of unease into motion ... Occasionally, Cline is too coy, refusing us gory details of what, exactly, a son did to get expelled from school in Northeast Regional. But mostly, the undercurrents of the unspoken, the unspeakable, carry you along.