AGAINST EVERYTHING

ESSAYS

Sontagian exercises in perceiving, noting, and grumbling. “The reason to eat food is no longer mainly hunger.” So intones n+1 founder Greif (The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973, 2015) in one of many moments of obviousness. Also, the police “announce eventfulness, and in some way their mere presence stands against danger”; “One thing that can be said for a gym is that an implied contract links everyone who works out in its mirrored and pungent hangar.” As John Berger or Walter Pater might say, such high-minded but soufflé-light observations are too clever by half; does anyone really need to be told that the economic system that governs us puts us in the awful position of hating what we do in order to make the money that we love? Sometimes Greif scores, and nicely, as when he notes that the rights agenda that activists are likely to press today concerns not speech but “rights to the use of your body, rights to babies, rights to sex, rights to health; or battles over the correct boundaries of these things, as in the right to life, the status of fetuses, the line where therapy becomes enhancement.” Yet many of the pieces are of the passing-caravan occasion: will anyone remember the Octomom a decade from now? Does Snooki of Jersey Shore really deserve a moment more of anyone’s time, and, for that matter, does she really have anything in common with Hitler? Does punk rock really begin in fear? The band, maybe, but not the emotion, just as rock music transcended being the property of children half a century ago. It’s enough to make Lester Bangs, or maybe Walter Benjamin, roll in his urn. Popular culture is hard to pin down because it’s evanescent. Cultural criticism therefore runs the risk of being as ephemeral as a fruit fly. Too much of this collection is a case in point.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87115-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2016

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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