A writer and literary critic's diary of the year 2020, beginning with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and spanning the protests for racial justice and the chaos of the U.S. presidential election.-
... the journal you meant to write but were too busy dashing through self-checkout lanes or curled in the fetal position in front of Netflix to get anything down. Thankfully, Finch did. His keen-eyed account is vivid and witty. It will make you laugh despite the horrors ... There's a hysterical disjointedness to his entries that we recognize — and I don't mean hysterical as in funny but as in high-strung, like a plucked violin string, as the months wear on ... I am not enjoying the pandemic, but I did enjoy Finch's articulate take on life in the midst of it ... Finch's account has a unifying effect in the same way that good literature affirms humanity by capturing a moment in time. As Finch chronicles his routines honestly and without benefit of hindsight, we recall our own. Events of the past year and a half were stupefying and horrific — but we suffered them together ... Articulate and engaging, the account offers us the timeline we need because who remembers all that went down? ... Finch conveys it all here with all the humor and pathos the era deserves.
We're fortunate that one as gifted and insightful as Los Angeles-based novelist and critic Charles Finch chose to preserve his recollections in the eloquent, fierce What Just Happened ... Finch is a keen political observer whose takedowns of the Trump administration's almost willfully incompetent leadership are both savage and, at times, savagely funny ... Occasionally Finch departs from his contemporary narrative to share some moving bits of personal history, including an evocative scene of a snowy Central Park when he lived in New York in his 20s ... Years from now, historians will comb through primary sources looking for evidence of how we thought and felt during these plague days. They would do well to turn first to What Just Happened.
... early pages skillfully evoke their moment’s spiky, overstimulated atmosphere—especially the new, frightening friction of such everyday routines as grocery shopping or picking up a prescription. From there, the book unfolds chronologically, its concerns cheerfully quotidian, following Finch’s personal sense of what seemed noteworthy that day ... At the same time, the entries feel scrupulously impersonal ... As a result, the book feels weirdly, if strategically, depopulated. It’s strewn with cozy little episodes...but with the mess of actual domestic life vacuumed away. Some readers will nevertheless take to Finch’s style, because for the most part he comes across as good company. At its worst, his book feels like a series of auditions for a gig as a newspaper columnist ... But his voice is warmly conversational, and he has a knack for piquant, bite-size insights, especially about art ... This is prose like a farmshare box: generously overstuffed, but mostly with things that don’t quite make up a meal. It sent me back to the early 2000s and the debuts of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer—puppyish, well-scrubbed, twee ... Perhaps it was [a] sense of estrangement—either from the fight for justice or the pain of injustice—that motivated the most shocking move in the book: reprinting Floyd’s last words in their entirety. Finch probably intended to pay tribute to Floyd’s irreducible humanity. But it comes off as an insulated White writer’s attempt to inject some rawness into his narrative, one that flattens Floyd’s suffering into an aesthetic gesture ... Finch’s book expresses a...doomed hopefulness; it wants to put a bow not just on the pandemic but on our other political crises. The problem is that 'what just happened' is still happening—and Finch’s present-tense reflections, coming to us at this awkward remove from the events they describe, feel too weightless to help orient us to our future.