Rachel Vorona Cote braids cultural criticism, theory, and storytelling together in her exploration of how culture grinds away our bodies, souls, and sexualities, forcing us into smaller lives than we desire. An erstwhile Victorian scholar, she sees many parallels between that era's fixation on women's "hysterical" behavior and our modern policing of the same.
While Too Much is intellectually rigorous, it doesn’t read like an academic text. The book’s complex ideas feel accessible and engaging—like having a great conversation with a super smart friend ... It’s this kind of diction, full of both meaning and warmth, that fills the book’s pages and beckons the reader closer—these are long-shared understandings finally put into words ... You can hear that egalitarian worldview in the writing itself, which manages to be both precise and expansive, inviting the reader’s mind to grow as her work challenges long-held norms and assumptions with complexity without relying on language or terminology that keeps the reader at an arm’s distance ... Every word in the book is chosen for maximum impact and clarity (and not infrequently, a good dose of humor), creating what Vorona Cote hopes are 'only doorways, no barriers' into a long overdue conversation about the ways women’s identities are forced into ever-tightening boxes in the name of morality, duty, decorum, beauty, happiness, or whatever else patriarchy is selling ... Cote sensitively acknowledges the limits of her proof texts and offers examples of how women of color have challenged cultural norms, sometimes at great personal cost ... pleasure is the overwhelming feeling one gets from reading Too Much—a sense of mental and emotional overflow that feels like a good rinsing out of the soul. It’s okay to cry while reading Too Much; I did at least once. I also found myself writing 'thank you' in the margins multiple times, another cathartic reaction to a book that finally speaks aloud so many of the feelings that women have been told to keep tucked away, lest we become unruly, unkempt, or undesirable. Ultimately, Too Much is its own act of defiance, and in reading it, we become co-conspirators in the plot to explode (or at least expand upon) the narratives of women, real and fictional, who have come before and create a more tender, expansive view of womanhood for those who come after.
My copy of Too Much is so dog-eared it takes up twice as much room on my bookshelf as it did prior to being read. In chapters that combine rigorous research with illuminating renderings of Cote’s personal struggles with too muchness, this book is like a best friend who inspires you to read more if only to keep pace with her intellect ... Cote’s chapters about female closeness and craziness in particular startled me with their honesty and probing insight.
To call this book a historical accounting of our modern sensibilities is too narrow. Vorona Cote is more often her own example, and each chapter is built around her experiences. This combination of memoir and critique is tricky to pull off; Too Much sometimes feels as if it’s two books knit together with a fault line that isn’t sealed. Vorona Cote’s academic background successfully comes through in her writing about literature, film and culture. When she reflects on cheating, lost friendships or her relationship with her mother, however, her prose reads like she’s trying to work through the puzzle of herself—intimate and sometimes raw, less eager to find answers than in explaining some truth ... Too Much’s wide-ranging nature—in terms of genre and subject matter—is both to its benefit and disadvantage. On one hand, it’s fascinating (if not particularly surprising) to see how little has changed over the centuries...But the book’s tonal shifts and subject changes overwhelm that throughline ... Vorona Cote casts Too Much as an opening foray into a complex web of study—not a comprehensive review of the interplay between Victorian outlooks and today’s pressures. The book’s ambition belies that at times, and it would have benefited from a narrower focus and approach. But Vorona Cote achieve the goal of illuminating the links between our world and that of the Victorians, highlighting links that aren’t apparent on first glance.