In the thirty-five essays Alex Andriess has gathered here, we see Hardwick's passion for people and places, her politics, her thoughts on feminism, and her ability, especially from the 1970s on, to write well about seemingly anything.
... the late author compares writing an essay to catching a fish with your hands. Her own are so strange, surprising, slippery and beautiful that we can see how this might be true ... [a] whimsical, uneven collection ... As always, Hardwick is elegant, sharp-witted, eccentric, exacting, dreamy ... One can’t help feeling that the prickly and controlled Elizabeth Hardwick might not have cared for a collection of her leftover writings, many from places like Mademoiselle and House & Garden, even one as thoughtfully curated as this. This doesn’t mean the reader isn’t grateful to have it. There is a bit more idiosyncrasy and wildness in this book than in her more willfully collected volumes. One gets to know a writer in her casual offhand pieces, churned out for money or on assignment ... One of the pleasures of the collection is lovely evocation of place ... Her prose has an entrancing power of description, a formidable prettiness combined with razor precision ... If one is the sort of person who takes pleasure in intelligent meanness, Hardwick is certainly one of its master practitioners. She is sharp in her satirizing, icy in her judgments, shrewd in her takedowns ... One bracing and refreshing aspect of Hardwick’s work is that she does not spare herself from her own critical rigor and fierceness. She pins herself down just as she skewers other people ... Her highly fraught attitude toward other women writers will not have eluded close readers of her work, but there is something about her grappling openly with this tendency on the page that is disarming. As a critic, she doesn’t shy away from the complications, ambiguities and self-incriminations many other people would leave simmering but unmentioned ... Some of the weaker essays in the collection feel perfunctory, slight, but they are always stylish ... The glimpse this collection gives of Hardwick, the woman, is intriguing. We experience her mind in darts and flashes. Browsing these essays is what I imagine it would be like to be standing next to her in the corner of a crowded party, in a cloud of smoke: at times uncomfortable, thrilling, alarming ... One falls a little in love with her sentences.
... makes a fine companion to her Collected Essays, selected by Darryl Pinckney and published in 2017 ... In their range of subject matter and length, these essays demonstrate Hardwick's ability to illuminate with both high-beam headlights and pocket flashlights, to digress articulately at length and compress immense thoughts into curt phrases. Every piece contains sharp observation and analysis. But Hardwick's writing is also full of keen feeling, lively curiosity and deep concern for the world's many people, places and things. Hardwick may have led the enviable life of a New York City intellectual, but she always carried with her the critical eye of an outsider. Her essays bring to life the perspective of one equally at home in the salon parlor and on the sidewalks of Main Street ... This collection may be read from front to back or in any order. No matter how readers choose to dive in, these essays deliver the enlightenment and pleasure that only a brilliant mind unfurling itself on the page can offer.
I cannot see The Hardwick Sentence as anything but a spiritual leap toward fuller expression, perfection not applicable. Hardwick took a Biblical position on syntax, pointing her clauses at thoughts several lines back, or at some larger idea implied by the second of eight clauses. When she got it right, there was a care and moral weight to her prose that few could even abut ... Her short pieces for Vogue, as far as I can tell, were done hungover with her eyes closed ... Hardwick struck out more than her acolytes will admit but, like Babe Ruth, hit it out of the park so many times that counting feels miserly. I have yet to come across a Hardwick collection that didn’t burn itself into my head.