Drifts is an intimate portrait of reading, writing, and creative obsession. At work on a novel that is overdue to her publisher, spending long days alone with her restless terrier, corresponding ardently with fellow writers, the novel's narrator grows obsessed with the challenge of writing the present tense, of capturing time itself.
... a kind of inverted mindfulness exercise in book form, fixed on pinning moments down like so many butterflies. Zambreno has abstained from the novelist’s traditional task of keeping a story arc aloft ... If this sounds like veiled criticism, it isn’t, though it probably should be taken as a warning to anyone hungry for more conventional fare. But for readers in the mood for an adventure, this is a giddily enjoyable read, emotionally conspiratorial in tone, full of brilliant critical observations and realistic depictions of the dramas in a modern artist’s daily life, the small ones as well as the life-altering ones.
Zambreno draws on autobiography but never leans on it. Her narrators are prone to quoting Barthes or Sontag or deconstructing art-house cinema, but her sentences are always airy and streamlined, full of wit and candor ... I enjoy and admire Zambreno’s work so much that I resisted accepting that there is a flaw in this book: The structure of the narrative suggests that childbirth is the answer to every question she’s been asking, a necessary redemption from her existential woes ... I would have welcomed a portrait of the mother masturbating herself into a Walser-y stupor between diaper changes, but I’m a little baffled that a book suspicious of tidy narratives seems to conclude on the healing powers of childbearing. Still, other readers may be reassured by the suggestion: that an artist will always be dissatisfied with her output, but parents will be enraptured with theirs.
Kate Zambreno’s new novel...was not written with a pandemic in mind, of course. But the pandemic might be the best context in which to read it. An autofictional portrayal of stasis, indecision, and the difficulty of living in a civilization that seems to have passed its expiration date some years previously, the novel already exists in a hazy state of self-isolation. Reading it now, you don’t have to be a published writer or an adjunct professor to identify deeply with the author-narrator as she works from home eternally supine, wanders the confines of her neighborhood, takes photographs of her dog, watches YouTube videos, and tries to figure out if creating anything is possible. This spiky book, with its fragmented prose and Sebaldian black-and-white photos, has become unexpectedly relatable ... maintains a gentle and yet compulsive flow, like the autoplay of the next Netflix episode. As Zambreno writes, 'Drifts is my fantasy of a memoir about nothing.' ... Part diary and part Künstlerroman, Drifts skips around, swapping one subject for the next when a thought trails off, when attention or concentration flags ... There’s an improvisatory quality to the text, like a wet-painted brushstroke ... As intricate and finely tuned as this kind of writing is, it runs up against its limits fairly quickly .. The book’s limited perspective makes Drifts claustrophobic, a claustrophobia that is part of the effect but can be frustrating nonetheless. .