300 ARGUMENTS by Sarah Manguso


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A writer's life, solitary and complex, broken apart—not into shards but puzzle pieces.

In Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (2015), poet and essayist Manguso assessed her life as a writer and mother with the greatest economy of means. In her latest, she goes a step further. "Think of this as a short book,” she advises, rather late in the book, “composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book's quotable passages." At first glance, it seems like a collection of off-kilter “Thoughts for the Day.” There are pithy aphorisms: "Inner beauty can fade, too"; dark, reflective thoughts: “Preferable to accepting one’s insignificance is imagining the others hate you”; purely personal confessions of sexual despair: “There are people I wanted so much before I had them that the entire experience of having them was grief for my old hunger.” These seemingly random and casual assertions subtly form a kind of loose story, that of a writer, academic, and mother at midlife wondering how the win-loss record might add up—and on which side this particular book might fall. “I’ve written whole books to avoid writing other books,” she confesses at one point, suggesting a failure of ambition. Some pages later she seems to feel at a loss: “I wish someone would tell me what I should be doing instead of this, that he’d be right, and that I’d believe him.” Self-doubt becomes part of a larger, more evocative struggle—to keep going, keep writing, and leave evidence of having lived: “On the page, these might look like the stones of a ruin, strewn by time and weather, but I was here.”

A slim, poetic self-portrait that opens up as you read it and stays in the mind.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-55597-764-1
Page count: 104pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2016


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