A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read online this week.
I’m just going to come out and say it, straight-up literary MFA blasphemy: I liked Eat Pray Love. I did not, I will declare, even find it self-indulgent and narcissistic. I find Paul Theroux’s travel writing infinitely more narcissistic and elitist and insufferable, but he is affectionately labeled a curmudgeon and that’s that. In any case, regardless of how you feel about Eat Pray Love, this interview illustrates the unsettling whimsy of “success” and the way it defines us. It also proves, to me at least, the remarkable humility of a person at once so celebrated and so vilified.
The writing here is elemental, bony. It starts with a mandate for writing historical fiction and circles back to the same. In the meantime, it is full of revelatory, uncompromising details from Mantel’s life, some infuriating – “the psychiatrist told her that her problem was stress brought on by an excess of ambition, unnatural in a woman. He gave her tranquillizers, but their only effect was to stoke her rage: she had fantasies of arson and killing people with knives. She kept these secret from him. The psychiatrist told her he didn’t want her writing anymore; it was bad for her” – some meaty scraps fellow writers will cling to – “When she wakes in the morning, she likes to start writing right away, before she speaks, because whatever remnants sleep has left are the gift her brain has given her for the day. Her dream life is important to the balance of her mind: it’s the place where she experiences disorder. Her dreams are archetypal, mythological, enormous, full of pageantry—there are knights and monsters. She has been to the crusades in her dreams more than once” and some chillingly enigmatic – “She couldn’t see it, but she knew that it was evil. She understood, too, that it had contaminated her.” The whole of the piece seems to show, in spite of the instructions that open and close it, the paltry substitutes writerly maxims make for the uncanny nature of individual perception and dreams.
In this essay, Slater recounts her teenage experience in a foster home. In spellbinding and nearly surreal prose, Slater tells how she befriended a raccoon that emerged from a hole in the wall of the house. It’s a reflection on home, love, and domestication.
Politics doesn’t get any more poetic than this. Now that the world has seen Obama in tears, this piece is all the more moving–after living with the pervasive feeling that the last four years have snuffed out many people’s hope, this piece almost makes you feel like we’re at the dawning of a new era.
I confess I haven’t read much Barbara Kingsolver, but Julia Ingalls’ review is a wonderful nostalgia-driven discussion of the American identity that we’ve lost, one that “used to be defined not by your tax bracket but by your hunger for the unknown.” She worries that “the Great American Novel is in danger of becoming a quaint fantasy.” I worry, in a culture where the arrival of a new novel by a literary great is no longer a national event, that it already is.