... an unconventional rock memoir that doesn't hew to the genre's norms. And like her entire musical catalog, it's honest, original and absolutely remarkable ... honesty that's almost shocking ... Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows her songs, Phair writes about love and sex with a refreshing frankness ... There are so many things to admire about Horror Stories, it's hard to list them all. It's a memoir with an original and fascinating structure — Phair recognizes that a chronological account of her life could only go so far in explaining how she became the person she is. She mostly avoids writing about her own songs, and while this may seem to be an odd choice, it's actually quite refreshing — her music, she seems to indicate, can speak for itself ... But the real star of Horror Stories is Phair's elegant but unpretentious writing, which proves she's as adept at writing prose as she is at writing songs. And anyone familiar with her music knows how great a thing that is. It's a truly wonderful memoir, and a rare look into, as she writes, 'the haunting melodies I hear over and over again in my head.'
More often than not in this uniquely thoughtful, self-aware memoir, the horrors she describes are mistakes she made, ethical challenges she failed, and moments of anxiety, bewilderment and being lost, often literally and sometimes because of her own flawed decisions ... Being in the textual presence of a grown-up who, in midlife, is going over the gaps, the failures and the cruelties for which she is accountable is as bracing and refreshing as it was to hear that much younger Phair express her ambition to, how shall we say, take her lover 'like a dog' and continue 'everything I’ll do to you' until a crucial part of him 'is blue.' From then until now, Phair insists on her right to be seen as, and takes the considerable risk to be seen as, a messy, complete, appetitive, responsible human being. Would that many could do the same ... Phair writes with great detail about what it is to be rudderless, frightened, confused, and yet willing to keep going without being able to see very far ahead ... If the clichéd rock star story is a fever chart of rise, fall, rehab and redemption à la Rocketman or Her Smell,Horror Stories is more an archipelago of intense episodes of unknowing with the implicit understanding that life is a wayward, unresolvable business ... Phair’s musical imagination, process, influences, stylistic changes and the sounds she hears in her head are conspicuously absent...there is barely a line in the entire book about songwriting or playing the guitar, the talents for which she became famous and which, in fact, have been her life’s work and support ... Her relationship to music seems to have been the longest and maybe the most demanding love of her life, the one for which she has been willing to get lost, to fail, and to try again over and over for decades. Call me a selfish fan, but I have to say that’s one story in all its horror and passion I would love to hear.
... powerful ... turns the full-frontal rock ’n’ roll life inside out. In beautifully crafted episodes, [Phair] trains her brutal honesty on herself and on American culture to look at what lurks beneath a life. It’s a book that side-steps the triumph of her music career in order to squarely confront shadow, and to own the darkness that is hers ... This is a tremendously risky literary strategy, but she’s doing something important with this book: exploring the ordinary struggle of working as an artist and a woman and a mother and a boss, and trying constantly to navigate love ... The one overtly #MeToo episode in this book demonstrates that she could have delivered the satisfying catharsis of using her whip-smarts to best the lumpen men who tried to drag her career into bed with them, but she does more than that. She keeps the power for herself. She turns away from blame to go somewhere more personal, working like a novelist, using story to reveal the shape of her own psyche. Because even though success is the lumber with which we build a life, horror is the lathe that shapes it with its knife ... could have been a litany of such nightmares, the things men do to or for women, but her stories are more self-reflective than that, focused on her own role in success and failure.