THE MERRY RECLUSE by Caroline Knapp


A Life in Essays
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Brief essays exploring universal themes—friendship, loneliness, and love—and observations on contemporary life, from Barbie dolls and Linda Tripp to computer solitaire.

These columns by the late Knapp, who wrote for Boston Phoenix, and other publications, span her career from the ’80s until her death in 2002, at age 42. Here, they’re grouped by theme into five parts: “Without,” on grief, loss, and sobriety; “With,” on friendship, family, and love; “Out There,” on the state of the world; “In Here,” on her inner world; and “The Merry Recluse,” on solitude, shyness, and loneliness. The title is taken from a piece on being single that Knapp wrote for Slate in 1998, but little merriment appears in the opening pieces. In these she deals with the deaths of her parents and her recovery from anorexia and alcoholism, subjects she explored in greater depth in Appetites (2003) and Drinking (1996). Knapp’s wit emerges in part two when she writes about her dog, Lucille, and engages in a debate with columnist Ron Rosenbaum on the relative value of dogs and cats. It blossoms in parts three and four, where she offers tart and original ideas on how corporate America could improve employee morale (e.g., on-site laundries) and how science could lighten the lot of females (e.g., the five-minute menstrual cycle), invents some new gods for the ’90s (e.g., Testicles—rhymes with Hercules—the god of male chauvinist pigs), and expands the concept of nicotine-patch technology to other human needs (e.g., a healing chicken-soup patch). Most memorable, however, are her forthright, unsentimental examinations of her life as a woman living alone and working alone that beautifully elucidate the pleasures of solitude and the pain of isolation.

An intelligent voice that spoke with grace, honesty, and humor.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-58243-313-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004


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