What emerges, in the course of this vivid, hilarious, daring self-portrait of a book, is a person who has achieved clarity about her own contradictions, or at least has figured out how to use those contradictions as an excuse to bring lively writing into the world ... This knot of contradictions runs like a rip current through the book, but despite her worries that there is something troubled about her nature, this is not a troubling book. The world is troubling, yes, but this narrator's intelligence, her curiosity about the ambivalence that defines interiority, and the unique light cast by her experiences growing up in Seattle the 1970s and '80s yield insight and laughs on every page.
Sentence for sentence, a more pleasure-yielding midlife memoir is hard to think of ... This is all quite a treat: a 50ish lady memoirist with no epiphanies in sight. Nothing’s figured out and nothing’s getting better, except Dederer’s prose, which has acquired a wonderful sordidness ... The memoir’s constantly shifting vantage points allow Dederer to keep returning to the same themes without wearing them out. What knits things together is, of course, sex—the stranger-fucking of adolescence, the been-there-done-that of married sex, the illicit flirtations, all the men who were and are a delivery system for sex, sex as a delivery system for an elusive sense of self. And the power of sex to unravel everything you thought you knew about yourself ... Indeed, female masochism is a gift that keeps giving in Dederer’s hands. She gets as much mileage from it as Philip Roth did from Newark.
Claire Dederer sidesteps both theatrical prose and broad clichés in favor of frank and colorful admissions of impatience, lust and guilt. Maybe because Dederer never tries to sweeten her suffering with sentimentality, it feels less onerous to ride sidesaddle on her journey through the barren flats of holy matrimony ... Dederer’s comical, erratic storytelling is nuanced and unpredictable, dwelling on the recklessness of youth without ever selling short the courage and daring it took to be so reckless. She brings all of the arrogance and longing of early sexual exploration to vivid life with real empathy and verve ... Dederer is an excellent writer who spins her prose with the casual grace and easy humor of a seasoned professional. Yet by the end of the book, her strange, nonlinear tour ends up feeling a little rushed and incomplete.