Anyone familiar with Ms. Roiphe’s work will be unsurprised by her desire to wrest a story of strength from an experience that others might describe with words like 'trauma' or 'victim' ... With her new book, Ms. Roiphe takes another tack in telling her own stories, and the effect is quietly revelatory. About her affair with the rabbi, for example, she is more candid about its 'not okayness.' She recognizes that her efforts to 'control and tame' this narrative by making it a tale of empowerment were not exactly lies, per se, but wishes ... This, clearly, is a different sort of book for Ms. Roiphe, who typically writes and picks fights with an unapologetic swagger. Here she shows the tender underbelly of her thoughts about sex, power and womanhood, and reveals her doubts, shifts and contradictions ... There is glamour in these stories, and plenty of wine and champagne (Ms. Roiphe runs with a fairly posh crowd), but there are also quite a few frank admissions of loneliness, neediness and fragility ... The effect is powerful, perhaps because her admitted contradictions feel more authentic, and more persuasive, than her polemics. Although Ms. Roiphe seems to be exposing her vulnerabilities here, she is actually, once again, demonstrating her unique brand of fearlessness.
Despite her reputation for controversy, Roiphe has never been that formidable a polemicist; her perspective is too blinkered, her blind spots too obvious. At the level of the sentence, though, she’s a skillful writer. Even in this book, without the ballast of a sustained argument, there’s a deliberation in her pacing that keeps everything moving ... The best parts of the book are the ones in which Roiphe reconsiders her old positions, admitting how much they left out ... Her newfound openness only goes so far. While Roiphe’s empathetic imagination extends to men and to women like Beauvoir, who were tormented by the men they loved, other women in this book aren’t afforded the same depth of understanding ... I began to wonder if this book is Roiphe’s attempt to be 'relatable' — to jump on the bandwagon of fragmented, diaristic writing by women that confesses to vulnerability and doubt. In 2020, ingratiating oneself to a shrinking cadre of male gatekeepers is no longer the shrewd strategy it once was. The Power Notebooks can be read as a power move ... But Roiphe doesn’t seem quite ready to let the old ways go.
In her searching, pensive new book, The Power Notebooks, Roiphe turns her theorizing on herself ... Roiphe’s aim is to investigate a profound contradiction within herself, between her submissive attitude toward men she desires and her fierce, feminist self-reliance ... Roiphe has a tendency to think mainly about how power affects her and women like her — white, straight, upper-middle-class, with elite educations and successful careers. Perhaps because she rose to prominence during the 1990s, the media world she describes doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. All her friends and lovers seem to be heterosexual and rich. All seem to have houses in the city and houses in the country. I half expected John F. Kennedy Jr. to saunter across the page, a copy of George rolled up under his arm ... For all her commitment to honesty, Roiphe has blind spots, including an inability to reckon with her own professional clout ... Finally, there is something troubling about the way abuse figures in these essays ... Roiphe’s larger goal here is to investigate the lived reality of her romantic dynamics, not to get on a soap box and opine. The result is a beautifully written and thoughtful book. But there is a limit to the responsibility that women can take, the ambiguity in which we can dwell; at a certain point, we have a duty to make men who behave like this acknowledge their culpability.