CAN YOU TOLERATE THIS? by Ashleigh Young


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A debut collection of essays from Young (Creative Writing/Victoria Univ. of Wellington; Magnificent Moon, 2013), a poet and editor with Victoria University Press in New Zealand.

The author has a clean, generally engaging writing style, though she has a tendency to meander. Important passages sometimes lack context, and several pieces would benefit from more background and fleshing out. Young’s defining strengths are honesty, sharp observational skills, and sensitivity shorn of sentimentality. Most of these essays originally appeared in various New Zealand literary magazines and journals, and there are cultural references and colloquialisms that may puzzle some readers. Nor are all the entries essays in the strictest sense. Many read like short stories or rather eccentric reminiscences, especially “Big Red,” a long account of a not-terribly-interesting family. The collection’s better pieces—“Katherine Would Approve,” “Sea of Trees,” and “Wolf Man”—reflect on such concerns as memory, impermanence, self-consciousness, the nature of solitude, and the author’s acute body awareness. Young is undeniably thoughtful, and she displays flair. She can arrest you with a glorious passage, a searching perception, or exquisitely apt metaphors and similes. But even some of her finer essays risk undercutting their potency with random endings, not so much open-ended as abrupt or flat. At the same time, the author reveals wisdom beyond her years and is a highly sympathetic figure. Young's verse has been praised for its “restrained exuberance,” though such buoyancy is seldom on display here. The writing is measured and marked more by wistfulness and melancholy, though her curiosity and imagination are always engaged. Given the author's talent and depth of vision, readers can expect continued improvement in her nonfiction work.

Young has said that her essays emerge from feelings of awkwardness about herself and her place in the world, but with this collection and those to follow, the world of this promising New Zealander is about to become wider.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-525-53403-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2018


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