Who gets to shape the narrative of our times? The current moment is a battle royale over that foundational power, one in which women, people of color, non-straight people are telling other versions, and white people and men and particularly white men are trying to hang onto the old versions and their own centrality. Solnit appraises what's emerging and why it matters and what the obstacles are.
A thought-provoking and accessible exploration of the roles social and cultural narratives play in our thinking about gender, race, history and more, the 20 essays in Whose Story Is This? collectively make the case that #MeToo and other current forms of social activism are not isolated incidents, but rather the result of slowly shifting ideas of what is, and isn’t, acceptable behavior, and the increasing willingness to give voice to those who were previously voiceless ... the onslaught of harmful narratives Ms. Solnit identifies can certainly feel overwhelming; from the prioritization of the comfort of alleged sexual abusers over justice for their victims to the demonization of ambitious women whose behaviors would be congratulated if they were men, one can feel as if the work to be done is so vast and complicated that it may not even be possible to change those narratives. The author counteracts that pessimism by reminding readers that the big societal changes we’ve seen in the past decade have been the result of years and years of smaller moments that changed the way we look at the world ... it is this gradual social change that Ms. Solnit seeks to encourage, and it gives Whose Story Is This? a sense of unabashed optimism ... it’s an incredibly necessary reminder that ultimately the story of the United States is the story of every single person in it.
Solnit has been criticised on occasion by younger feminists for the fact that her essays are exercises in consciousness-raising, often stating the obvious without proposing concrete solutions beyond telling our stories. She appears to address this obliquely in the introductory piece, by pointing out that 'we live inside ideas', and emphasising that the reshaping of these ideas over time demands work.
... not, then, a book of revelations or classical argumentation. Solnit’s essays document how deeply and widely things are what they are, and her circling back is a sustained act of protest ... The strength of the collection in an interweaving of optimism and discontent ... The spirit of Solnit’s book lies in sharing, in slinking away from the centre to take your place among the many.