A middle-aged woman is writing a novel about a middle-aged woman whose laptop gets stolen, sending her on a trip from Manhattan to Albany, NY, to find the machine. Meanwhile the author of her story stays in Manhattan, navigating a problematic relationship with her lover, who also happens to be a prominent artist and critic of her novel.
The first thing that must be said about Eleanor...is that it is great fun. There is nothing so distinct as a screwball protagonist, a comic plot, or innumerable one-liners that we can attribute this enjoyment to—rather, it is simply found evenly distributed everywhere throughout the tone and shape and feel of Moschovakis’s work: the words she chooses to place together, the movement of her sentences, the ironic pleasures that come from her interpolation of two narratives set in different, but related planes of reality ... oftentimes self-reflexive, self-commentating, and self-conscious, but never precious or purposeless ... A book about the inner lives of our contemporaries must be conversant with how it feels to live right now, and at this Eleanor excels. Not in the weak sense of name-dropping popular websites, fashionable trends, and political slogans, rather in the much stronger sense of understanding how we use those things to construct our identities and live our lives ... Moschovakis has created a novel of great strength and flex. Much as it bends and twists and gyres, it does not break, in fact only accumulates more tensile strength from the motion, just as, one hopes, we all can do.
I was hooked on Moschovakis—after finishing Eleanor, or, the Rejection of the Progress of Love, I immediately ordered a previously published collection of her poetry, They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, and then began re-reading the book I had just completed, feeling that surreal sensation that a book had been written just for me. Given Moschovakis’s poetic background, her prose is marvelously rich with meaning, conceptually dense and precise in phrasing ... Although its prose is palatable, Eleanor is a fairly cerebral text, often in the vein of the anti-social autofiction of late, which primarily concerns the human relationship to self and thought rather than people. Moschovakis does not shy away from contemplating the age-old question of the extent to which fiction is colored by imagination, and to what extent it is autobiographical. It is, at the end of the day, a book which is concerned with process as it pertains to reading and writing, art and understanding ... It is...less important to the text that Moschovakis alludes to particular pieces [of art] than that she explores the act of self-discovery through art, that Eleanor embarks on a trip toward meaning, has her own personal relationship to art, and arrives at conclusions of meaning that are not necessarily dictated by the external, but curates her own collection of symbols that guide her, as if constellations guiding a ship’s nighttime path toward unknown lands.
Moschovakis is a poet, and Eleanor is unmistakably a poet’s novel, alert to the textures of experience but relaxed in the pursuit of plot. It is elliptical in the manner of David Markson or Renata Adler, yet eager to point out its experiments and omissions ... All this could come off as precious; instead, it lands as a kind of generosity. The other risk with such meta-commentary is that it might bog down the narrative. But in fact it’s the narrator’s story that starts to produce the stronger pull. Her unstable bond with the critic launches a compelling exploration of the kinds of witness we seek in others and the insidious ways gender and power complicate friendship ... It’s a pleasure to journey alongside all three of them [the novel's main characters] as they drift and drift, and finally take flight.