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DRIFTS by Kate Zambreno Kirkus Star


by Kate Zambreno

Pub Date: May 19th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-593-08721-3
Publisher: Riverhead

A free-spirited, essayistic novel exploring the complex links among art, parenthood, and making a living.

If this foray into autofiction by Zambreno (Screen Tests, 2019, etc.) initially feels aimless, that’s by design. Trying to make ends meet as a writer and teacher in New York, the unnamed narrator is struggling to complete a book tentatively titled Drifts. Her goal is to tell a story that’s intimate yet free of story arcs and the baggage of character: It is “my fantasy of a memoir about nothing.” So the forward movement in the early going has less to do with plot than its “series of moods or textures,” the steady accrual of quotidian events: reading about artists and poets (Rilke and Dürer are particular favorites); arguing with her husband about moving; walking the dog; masturbating; binge-watching TV. Zambreno holds the reader thanks to the punchy, brief paragraphs and her quirky, gemlike sentences (“I began smoking again after we saw the stray kitten hit by one of the speeding cars on the corner”). The narrative gets a sense of order (or a different kind of disarray) once the narrator becomes pregnant; there’s less of a feeling of “the vastness and ephemerality of the day,” but Zambreno harbors no easy platitudes about how motherhood gives women a sense of purpose. (The section covering it is titled “Vertigo.”) Rather, it applies a different kind of economic, emotional, and artistic pressure, prompting the narrator to think further about how her physical transformation impacts her senses of time and self. The charm of this novel is how it makes this deep uncertainty feel palpable and affecting; its fragmentary nature is a feature, not a bug. Adrift, the narrator engagingly tangles with everything from the Kardashians to Joseph Cornell for a sense of fellow-feeling.

A lyrical, fragmentary, and heartfelt story about the beauty and difficulty of artistic isolation.