HARD TO LOVE by Briallen Hopper
Kirkus Star


Essays and Confessions
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Love and yearning, independence and community recur as salient themes in this debut collection.

In her first book, Hopper (English/Yale Univ.), a contributor to New York magazine and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications, gathers essays notable for their intimacy and warmth. Raised in an evangelical family by “anxious, God-obsessed parents,” the author and her siblings were home-schooled, with little exposure to TV, movies, and radio. “We shared a unique set of cultural references,” she writes, “or perhaps a unique lack of them, which amounted to a secret language.” In high school, she began boning up on popular culture and, gradually, assembling a “found family”: people who “know you and love you for who you are—not for who you once were, or who you never were.” Many essays meditate on varieties of sentimental attachments—to friends, lovers, and, in “Hoarding,” to things. Hopper rejects the idea of a “hoarding disorder,” which “pathologizes an entire deep-rooted orientation toward the material world, an orientation that constitutes my lifelong experiences of creativity, attachment, safety, and joy.” Both hoarding and writing, she suggests, depend on what is “serendipitously discovered and rediscovered and collected and stored.” In the lovely “Lean On,” Hopper regrets that dependence is “despised in our culture, from psychology to politics,” implying weakness and shame. Self-reliance, on the other hand, is extolled by Emerson, Joan Didion, Ayn Rand, noir novels, and most Westerns. Hopper begs to differ, celebrating the gifts of “shared daily life.” Praise for community underscores her admiration for the classic sitcom Cheers, whose theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” seems to her “a kind of love song.” Whether she is writing about her fraught decision to become pregnant with donated sperm, a friend’s bout with cancer, baking (“a code for conveying care safely without the ambiguity of words”), the collective energy of the Women’s March, or a visit to the Foundling Museum, Hopper’s essays seem like love songs, as well: delicate, thoughtful elegies to friendship, compassion, and grace.

A fresh, well-crafted collection.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-63286-880-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2018


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