In her mid-thirties, Molly Wizenberg was raising a toddler with her husband when a chance encounter at jury duty sparked her attraction to a female attorney and the realization that she was not straight. Over the ensuing months and years, Wizenberg ends her marriage and explores her newly fluid sexuality with the attorney and, later, a nonbinary partner.
... blindsidingly beautiful ... Wizenberg is also bracingly candid about the ways that her marriage had been unfulfilling, although sex seems to have had nothing to do with it. For all the wonderful particularity of Wizenberg's story—from the Seattle-restaurant-scene backdrop to her calibrated foray into open marriage—The Fixed Stars is essentially a timeless tale: someone finds herself drifting from her spouse and decides to stray ... The Fixed Stars is a guide (of sorts) for a more improvised life, in which recipes are jettisoned and which, Wizenberg is finding, better suits her tastes.
Wizenberg’s voracious reading is on striking display throughout. She cites a dazzling array of sources and references spanning a range of cultures and time periods. The notes and bibliography present an added flourish that the bibliophiles among us will appreciate. Wizenberg’s writerly sensibility animates every page ... Throughout the narrative the writer employs the instruments of fiction to felicitous effect. The periodic description of literal photographs affords an outsider’s glimpse of a moment in time. The short, episodic fragments within each chapter disrupt chronological sequence, quicken pace, and enhance narrative immediacy. But perhaps the most striking literary feature of this memoir is the thematic and symbolic use of astronomy that the title anticipates ... However informed and talented its author, there are some weaknesses in the memoir. Her argument against the born-this-way paradigm is often insightful and provocative, yet it occasionally slips into generalization. At times, it suggests a tendency toward what psychologist Peter Wason calls 'confirmation bias.' In addition, Wizenberg’s female and nonbinary partners function as secondary characters in a drama whose main focus is the separation and reassembly of participants in a heterosexual marriage ... Fleshing out these female and nonbinary characters would certainly have enriched The Fixed Stars. These caveats notwithstanding, the high quality of the prose, the breadth of intellectual engagement, and the probing honesty of the inquiry render Molly Wizenberg a writer to follow with interest.
Drawing on the work of queer writers, including Alison Bechdel and Maggie Nelson, Wizenberg's beautifully written memoir explores what it's like to come out even while continuing to question one's identity and sexual orientation. The book tackles these complicated themes and the meaning of family with compassion and tenderness ... An essential addition that will resonate with fans of Wizenberg's earlier memoirs and anyone probing the complicated ways that sexuality and traditional family life overlap or diverge.