A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.
Zadie Smith’s “Joy” in The New York Review of Books
This was complex, sharp, and poignant. Zadie Smith’s essays wander in a unique, mesmerizing territory between intellectual conversation, fiction, and philosophical querying. They are thoughtful without being overbearing, challenging without that pompous we’re-all-intellectuals-here air of severity. Her essays ring in my head long after I’ve read them.
Venessa Veselka’s “The Truck Stop Killer” in GQ
I first read Venessa Veselka in Tin House a couple months ago. Her story made me feel rebellious, guilty, and stupid. I mean this in a good way. It was a story about runaways and addicts, harsh and unrelenting, and it made me feel that for all of my liberal fuzzy empathetic feelings towards these people I knew nothing, and my ignorance was embarrassing. And also, maybe, forgivable and reparable. It was one of those rare stories that made me uncomfortable and also sympathized with me, forced me into a reality that I’ve never experienced but in which, by the end, I had stakes.
“The Truck Stop Killer” did the same thing, albeit not as intensely or explicitly. In it, Veselka attempts to track down a trucker who nearly killed her in the summer of 1985, when she was a 15-year-old runaway hitchhiking around the country. She believes the trucker to be Robert Ben Rhoades, a serial killer who went on to torture, rape and kill an unknown number of women, many of them runaways like her. Rhoades’ story and her search for him are gripping and terrifying enough, but what makes this piece so memorable and so haunting is Veselka’s intimate and empathetic understanding of the “invisible people” Rhoades murders, and why their deaths are ignored or written off. Not necessarily a cheery Christmas read, but an essential, memorable and worthwhile story. — Sarah
Alexandra Fuller’s memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
My holiday reading has finally brought me around to Alexandra Fuller’s 2001 memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight about growing up as a white girl in Rhodesia and, after their respective overthrow of colonial rule, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia. It is a story about family (raucous, jubilant, turbulent, and tried), a story about belonging and not-belonging, and, perhaps most poignantly, for a story in which a thirteen-year-old is getting soused with her father, a story about loss. In this memoir, Fuller keens for her lost siblings, for her mother’s return to sanity or sobriety, and in the writing of that story, she keens for Africa. The child’s narrative perspective and harrowing humor invoke Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, an influence Fuller acknowledges in some detail in the book’s afterword, but Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is its own beast, and a beauty at that. — Molly
Kristen Forbes’s “Dream Girl” in The Rumpus
On her blog, Forbes confesses that she spent six months revising this insanely honest essay about online dating and the false narratives the Internet allows us to create about ourselves. She must have spent those months paring down the piece until she got to the essentials, the barest truths, the stuff most of us are too scared or ashamed to acknowledge about ourselves, even to ourselves. Because reading this essay gave me the feeling of listening to someone’s truest inner monologue. The vulnerability here is arresting: “I’d like to meet someone who likes beer and coffee and rain and camping and brunch and smiling, but more than that, I want to know someone. I want someone to know me.” But the writing is never sentimental, because it is tempered by a kind of stoicism, a willingness to look out at the bleakness of one’s life, nod, and keep going. There’s been a lot of writing about the personas we create online, but I’ve never read something that looks just as honestly at the person we’re left with when we’re offline, alone, unable to connect in a real way. “The worst thing about a blank slate is everything we write onto it. We carry our best selves into public and our worst selves into solitude.” — Simone