Adrienne Miller recounts coming of age in the male-dominated literary world of the nineties, becoming the first female literary editor of Esquire, and her personal and working relationship with David Foster Wallace.
The book showcases Miller’s editing prowess as evidenced by what she chooses to omit. She has the ability to draw the reader in with an impressive cannon of literary content, yet trusts her writing enough to inject humor when necessary. In the Land of Men is both tender and painful. It’s power and mercy. If you love literature, novels, or anything that has to do with the written word, you will enjoy In the Land of Men.
'When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,' Maya Angelou once told Oprah Winfrey. Unfortunately, two decades on, Miller still seems only half-willing to believe, and even less willing than that to pass judgment on, a man who, his prodigious talents and premature death by suicide notwithstanding, did not apparently see or treat women as fully human. It is this reluctance that ultimately renders In the Land of Men a painful and frustrating read ... sometimes seems at odds with itself, it’s because Miller — who can be witty and knowledgeable about the clichés of fiction written by men — apparently regards Wallace as too special and too fragile to have been held to the rules that she applies to others. 'Troubled male genius' is an old trope, but Miller elevates it to new heights ... By the time she tells us that Wallace 'changed the world' and compares him to Alexander the Great, I began to wonder if her praise, fulsome to the point of hagiographic, especially for a writer who elicits as many eye rolls as encomiums, was best understood as her effort to explain to herself why she never told the guy to get lost ... Wallace and Miller’s unequal relationship reads as an allegory for the quiet humiliation that Miller suffered professionally as a young woman. Yet Miller herself, maybe because she is still too close to the subject, or maybe because the tragic nature of Wallace’s death inclines her to dissemble, seems unable or unwilling to fully embrace the connection. Even the conclusions she draws while dealing with Wallace seem misguided.
Miller, 47, writes with daunting authority and suffers no lack of self-confidence ... Her publisher is positioning her memoir as a feminist wail from the male trenches. But, while Miller blasts some unnamed men for sexual assaults, her book is actually a knee-bending homage to one particular man who dominates every page: David Foster Wallace ... A bit too Barbara Cartland-y, but it’s a rare lapse in an otherwise literary-soaked tribute to one man’s memory ... proves that Miller has read widely and deeply ... She commands an astonishing vocabulary, too ... Throughout the book, she employs an eccentric style that would give Strunk and White the bends, adding 'y' to words for no fathomable purpose ... For the most part, though, she makes magic on the page ... If you’re a devotee of David Foster Wallace, you’ll devour this memoir with pleasure. If not, you may enjoy the cultural scavenger hunt and appreciate how much Adrienne Miller makes you stretch.