The author of the novel Your Face in Mine and the story collections The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost returns with a work of criticism that explores whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the Civil Rights movement to the present, aiming to move fiction to a more inclusive and reparative place.
White Flights is a faultlessly argued collection of essays about how whiteness dominates the American literary imagination ... If you are white and reading this review, and you are already interested in how racial issues intersect with contemporary literature, then buy this book, underline passages in it, assign it to your classes, use it as part of the continuing process of decolonizing your mind. But it’s also an ideal book, if a difficult pill, for those who do not believe decolonization is necessary ... Row is writing from and to whiteness, cajoling white readers and writers to understand whiteness as subjective. Not universal, or invisible, but loaded with meaning and harmful assumptions ... seven dense essays, each...builds to its purpose gradually, with dizzying complexity ... He writes with great specificity and fervor about how writing teachers at the MFA level perpetuate this dishonesty to generation after generation of literary writers.
Utilizing a stunning range—one paragraph moves effortlessly from Nas to Jacques Derrida—Row exposes how many writers use space, time, and style to enact these flights ... Perhaps most interesting is the assertion that shame is a key component of these texts, particularly visible in the works of David Foster Wallace. But Row does not only issue blistering critiques, he also provides hope. Drawing on his personal experiences and the work of James Baldwin and other authors, he develops the idea that interracial art represents the possibility of 'reparative writing.' Full of brilliant readings and beautifully written, this mind-altering work of criticism establishes Row as one of the preeminent cultural critics of our age.
Row...works like a Freudian analyst in these searching, loosely structured essays. Armed with a bevy of sources, from Flannery O’Connor to Eve Sedgwick, he casts his eye upon a diverse swath of American culture in order to suss out what it has to tell us about race—even, or especially, when it doesn’t mean to tell us anything ... Row demonstrates ['literary white flight'] through astute close readings in which he analyzes postwar fiction with a loving sternness that avoids didacticism even as he pingpongs among cultural artifacts, decoding everything from Don DeLillo’s Underworld to emo music ... For all of these inventive and insightful readings, however, it’s unfortunate that Row does not suggest concrete strategies for intervening in the stalled conversation he picks apart. When he recommends specific texts...his glosses fail to identify what, on an aesthetic level, makes these titles worthy of admiration ... It doesn’t help that the book includes some fumbling gestures ... Despite, or perhaps because of, these flaws and the discomfort they inspire, we should accompany Row through this important inquiry.