Leaving behind her husband Theo and their young daughter, Claire, a writer, gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump—and a creeping case of postpartum depression. But what begins as a temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends soon mutates into an extended flight from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the depths of the past.
To call I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness a novel about maternal ambivalence would be to get only halfway there. Watkins’s intentions here are more elusive: she wants us to consider our unexamined reactions, to question why it is still a political act for a woman to seek pleasure ... Watkins’s prose is catlike—sleek, elegantly designed, and unconcerned with convention ... So much love emanates from I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. It is an insider’s story, often told in code, using the hidden language of the body.
Watkins’s foray into the canon of mom-lit reads, appropriately, like a piece of writing that did not enter the world easily ... She attempted a short story 'in the form of a postpartum-depression questionnaire,' but set it aside, convinced that her character’s concerns were 'quaint' ... That questionnaire, or one like it, appears in an early chapter of I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. You can see why Watkins returned to the conceit. The form’s sterile, inadequate prompts...ramp into multiple-choice answers—but Watkins’s narrator free-associates her replies, making room for particularity ... Claire steps into the breach, and her answers feel not so much skimmed from her stream of consciousness as scraped, like debris, from a crater ... Claire is honest and lacerating about the pull of prestige, especially for a woman whose coming of age entailed truant punks knocking each other’s teeth out with baseball bats ... This yearning for life, or for a particular kind of life, serves as the book’s subject and governing mood. It also powers the plot ... where Battleborn juxtaposed a blanched terrain with lush but empty mythologies, I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness takes seriously the redemptive possibilities of narrative. Claire is an author. If anything can save her, it’s her song ... Still, the book distinguishes itself from the valorized male getaway. For one, I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is a bonanza of consequences, many of which do not befall the protagonist but, rather, originate within her ... if the book claims a place in the archive of ambivalent motherhood, alongside works by Sheila Heti, Rachel Cusk, and Jenny Offill, it also breaks the mold. Claire risks more than other sad-mom protagonists, pulling off a jailbreak that they only dream about ... Watkins, though, neither stews nor panders. She just follows her light.
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is an audaciously candid story about the crush of conflicted feelings that a baby inspires ... This late in the history of feminism that theme may sound too familiar, but Watkins’s book sparks the same electric jolt that The Awakening must have sent juicing through Kate Chopin’s readers in 1899. Here is a novel to hate and to love, to make you feel simultaneously disgusted and unloosed ... With such naked honesty, Watkins provides a perfect articulation of her mutinous thoughts, the unresolvable tension between what she feels and what she knows is expected of her ... The unusual method of I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness — its illicit mingling of fact and fiction — serves as a surprisingly effective representation of what it’s like, for some women, to be handed a newborn ... It’s no coincidence that much of this story takes place in the American desert, a territory that burns away ornament and affectation. Here, on the terrain where she began, Claire sloughs off the skin of a life that doesn’t fit her and begins to discover one that might. It’s a painful transformation, but utterly captivating to witness.