Review of reviews: Books
Book of the week
Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning
by Claire Dederer
So much for achieving inner peace, said Claudia Rowe in The Seattle Times. In the opening pages of Claire Dederer’s “ferociously honest” new book, the author is 44 and just coming off the success of Poser, her wry, best-selling memoir about embracing yoga despite its derisible cultural trappings. But Dederer, a married mother of two, is far from content. She feels restless, depressed, and surprisingly hungry for the kinds of sexual adventures she pursued in her youth. The teenage self she remembers was, as she puts it, “a disastrous pirate slut of a girl,” and that girl’s not dead. What follows is a “daring high-wire act,” as Dederer tries to make sense of the source and meaning of such recurring desires—as well as her current despair. Though she’s a “delightfully mordant” self-portraitist, “you couldn’t ask for a better guide to the center of yourself.”
“Sentence for sentence, a more pleasureyielding midlife memoir is hard to think of,” said Laura Kipnis in The Atlantic. Dederer has a talent for spiky metaphors, and she “embeds them in her sentences like shrapnel.” An old couch her kids play on is, she writes, “as stained with s--- and vomit and blood as the backseat of Travis Bickle’s taxi.” She’s also not afraid of coming off badly. She admits to meeting with friends to indulge in pointless crying sessions. She engages in an email flirtation with a man who kissed her in a car. She fantasizes about other men—though she doesn’t act on that lust. In two chapters addressed to “Dear Roman Polanski,” she suggests that her sexual personality possibly was shaped by an unwelcome encounter at age 13 with an adult acquaintance. But she refuses simple cause and effect. And she decides she’s not so different from a lot of the women she knows.
At a crucial point, Dederer’s scattershot style frustrates, said Heather Havrilesky in The New York Times. Addressing Polanski and his 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl lets Dederer work through certain emotions. But when she adds a flippant mention of the time her mother’s friend “got in the ol’ sleeping baggerino,” the joke “seems like an attempt to evade her discomfort with the subject.” Dederer doesn’t think of herself as a victim, though, said Christopher Frizzelle in the Seattle Stranger. The woman who emerges in this “vivid, hilarious, daring” book is “a person who has achieved clarity about her own contradictions—or at least has figured out how to use those contradictions as an excuse to bring lively writing into the world.”