A comedy about love, grief, sex, guilt, and one woman's harebrained scheme to tranquilize her voraciously amorous girlfriend for a few days so that she might pay off her drug dealer, make soup, and finally get some peace and quiet.
... knockout ... The prose, like Frances, is sprightly and dry. Crisp. Delivered with a shrug ... There are depths here; it is not all froth ... In the final third, Winter flinches from pure black comedy by redeeming Frances and revealing a traumatic past. She needn’t have bothered. Frances is funny and winning enough, precisely drawn enough, to carry the premise even without a complicated back story. You find yourself rooting for the drugging to go off without a hitch.
Winter accomplishes a remarkable feat: She makes an infuriatingly foolish protagonist with specific problems — and specific ideas about how to solve them — into a character who inspires compassion and gives voice to poignant truths ... While avoiding spoilers, it’s worth noting that the author manages — with just a few carefully crafted sentences — to create a moving transformation (in readers’ perception of the character as much as in the actual character) in a prominent figure in her story. Savoring how she does it and savoring the succinct makeover itself are just two of the myriad reasons to read Sedating Elaine.
... at turns humorous, emotive, perplexing, and on balance, effective ... rances is far from the most scrupulous, kind, or likable of characters. But it is her somewhat distasteful mission and overall ethos that makes her amusing, and which provides ample room for Winter to display her skill with humor, which she does often and with good reason. As the book progresses, she is able to layer in more depth, both to her novel and protagonist ... is at its best when Winter changes speeds in her scene-heavy, primarily fictive present narration, mixing in Frances’ strikingly visceral memories of Adrienne ... By the time we reach the midpoint chapter relating how Frances met Adrienne, one wonders why this storyline wasn’t the central focus of the plot. The engaging and quite successful section, one that explains the jacket design even if it further confuses the title, feels the most alive, as does the entire Adrienne plotline. As a result, Winters resorts to reanimating the book’s initial tensions halfway through, granting a few days’ reprieve for Francis to get the money and for her book to continue to enjoy forward momentum within the ostensibly central storyline ... For the fast pace and natural humor Winter is able to bring to her work, Sedating Elaine at times is inelegant on the sentence level. The point of view, as a limited third-person focused on Frances, never gets close enough to be able to map her inner world without an authorial guiding hand. While this exposition can be somewhat foreseeable, the real issues are mechanical ones ... the book maintains its readable humor and contact with emotion. While the redemptive arc is certainly present, Winter manages to avoid too much predictability and, crucially, keeps from totally whitewashing Frances. The unlikeable character is indeed alive and well, and for that alone, Sedating Elaine is a notable accomplishment.