In this book that expands upon her viral Paris Review essay, 'What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?' Claire Dederer asks: Can we love the work of Hemingway, Polanski, Naipaul, Miles Davis, or Picasso? Should we love it? Does genius deserve special dispensation? Is male monstrosity the same as female monstrosity? Does art have a mandate to depict the darker elements of the psyche? And what happens if the artist stares too long into the abyss? She explores the audience's relationship with artists from Woody Allen to Michael Jackson, asking: How do we balance our undeniable sense of moral outrage with our equally undeniable love of the work? In a more troubling vein, she wonders if an artist needs to be a monster in order to create something great.
Vital, exhilarating ... Dederer has been pondering these questions for years ... Although Dederer has done her homework, her style is breezy and confessional ... Monsters leaves us with Dederer’s passionate commitment to the artists whose work most matters to her, and a framework to address these questions about the artists who matter most to us.
Excellent ... Dederer is frank about how her own experience shaped her encounters with art ... Every critic has their own biases, their own blind spots, and ignoring them does not erase them. In criticism, as in memoir, the only way to work through these biases is to admit them—if not to others, at least to oneself. The value of the kind of criticism that Dederer practices, one that publicly acknowledges her own subjectivity, her own loves and hatreds, is that it makes the difficulty of this process visible.
What made for a compelling essay at that moment makes for an even better book. In Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, Dederer doesn’t arrive at some neat conclusion, because there are no easy answers to the vexing questions she wrangles with ... Dederer...just keeps getting better and smarter. In Monsters, she ties herself in intellectual and emotional knots, poking holes in her own arguments with gusto. In contrast to so many nonfiction books adapted from articles, Monsters doesn’t stretch a singular thesis over several hundred pages. Quite the contrary, it’s absolutely exhilarating to read the work of someone so willing to crumple up her own argument like a piece of paper, throw it away and start anew. She’s constantly challenging her own assumptions, more than willing to find flaws in her own thinking.