Odd but beguiling short essays about female celebrities toward whom the author has decidedly mixed feelings.
In her first book, essayist Massey collects pieces about Winona Ryder, Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, Courtney Love, Anna Nicole Smith, Lana Del Rey, and the Olsen twins, among others. These women—often the subjects of great scrutiny by celebrity magazines—prompt the author to ponder, with wit and keen self-reflection, what our feelings about them reveal about us. She muses, for example, about what she felt when she discovered she weighed less than Spears or why, when she was younger, she identified so strongly with Ryder, that “bottomless well of uncool and discomfort,” and now has begun to see that Paltrow may be more than the sum of her “tasteful but safe” self-presentation. Massey also thinks back on her fascination with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, from their childhood appearances on Full House through their presence at New York University when she was attending the college, and she finds herself embracing the fact that “they have become the eccentric millionaires it never occurred to their adoring public they might become.” These tart, original essays are interspersed with others that are less humorous and more academic in nature—e.g., about the cult of Sylvia Plath and the role of sisterhood in The Virgin Suicides. Massey’s tendency to insert herself into the stories of her subjects is more successful when she’s talking about a pop or TV star than a well-regarded novelist: her attempt to compare an unfortunate romantic relationship to the plot of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is misguided.
Though the volume contains a certain amount of filler, Massey’s unlikely insights into how women are shaped by the celebrities we idolize or despise are likely to prompt thought and discussion.