Fairest: A Memoir. By Meredith Talusan (Viking 2020)
Reviewed by P.A Huff
Autobiography is the most personal genre and the most generous. By definition it favors the up-close gaze. It is the fruit of self-absorption but also the turning of self-centeredness to purposes far beyond narcissism. Ancient writers, who rarely saw their reflection, spoke of the first-person narrative as a kind of mirror for the reader. For centuries, we have been entranced by the near magical link between someone else’s self-disclosure and our own self-empowerment. The Latin for looking glass, speculum, is related to a broad family of intriguing spin-offs such as speculation and introspection but also respect and, charmingly, even spice. Meredith Talusan’s memoir, well seasoned with sharp intelligence and rare powers of awareness, is a courageous gift of self that delivers keen insight into the mystery of visualizing who we are and who we long to be.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press 2019)
Reviewed by Claudine Mininni
Esmé Weijun Wang’s illuminating essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, details her tumultuous relationship with schizoaffective disorder. In her opening essay, “Diagnosis,” Wang writes:
Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense; we divide the interminable days into years, months and weeks.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint 2019)
Reviewed by Yollotl Lopez
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot is like balloons filled with paint exploding against a white canvas — c. Heart Berries is Mailhot’s debut memoir told in a cyclical narrative touching upon her experience as a writer, mother, mental health patient, and partner all informed by her identity as a First Nations Canadian living in the U.S. It is the story of love, and loss, but most of all it is a story about storytelling. Mailhot writes:
“Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers” (105).
“Just Dandy: ” A Review of I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s by Peter McGough (Pantheon 2019)
Review by Michael Quinn
Peter McGough and his partner (in business and romance) David McDermott rose to prominence in the 1980s New York art scene. Their paintings have a vintage feel with a contemporary twist (a still life of flowers has the blossoms arranged into the shape of a dollar sign). Their later photography has a much more mysterious feeling, truer to whatever periods they were aping. Mentored by Julian Schnabel, their work appeared in three Whitney Biennials and graced a 1986 cover of Artforum.
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (Tin House Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Asian-American literature is finally having its moment in the United States. In the past four years, books such as Min Jin Lee’s, Pachinko and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We Are Briefly Beautiful have made their way to the New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year lists and have been nominated for a variety of prestigious awards.
As readers, Americans are hungry for new voices in Asian-American literature. While Amy Tan and Haruki Murakami have been the exception rather than the trend, there has been very little representation of voices in contemporary literature. However, authors like E.J. Koh are finally changing things.
Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater (Penguin Books 2000)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Lying, a title for a memoir, why? Don’t we read personal chronicles for true, reveal-all accounts of the authors who pen them? Are we to believe what Lauren Slater writes here? Or discount it? What’s the significance of Slater’s subtitle, A Metaphorical Memoir? Before I turned to the first page, my head swirled. Off-balance, dizzy with uncertainty, I wondered what kind of reading adventure awaited.
THE UNWINDING OF THE MIRACLE BY JULIE YIP-WILLIAMS (Random House 2019)
Reviewed by Efsane Karayilanoglu Toka
“If you’re here, then I’m not.” (ix) This is how Julie Yip-Williams starts her book. She turns your emotions upside-down. Knowing that the person who wrote those lines is not alive anymore gives you a different perspective as you turn the pages. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s true. It’s about starting a life and also ending one.
Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
We are not taught to think of women in prison. The cells which contain women, we are told, are physical, social – women are victims, and men their assailants. Like so much gendered terminology, we have prisons, and then we have women’s prisons. As if an afterthought, as if a near impossibility that a woman might have the ability, the audacity to act against the norm. Have we not, we ponder, created enough of a cage for women out of invisible walls – out of the nuances of our socially constructed expectations, exploitations? And what to do with a girl who is not considerate of the walls we have put up for her? What to do with a girl who wants something else?
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner 2017)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I’d sworn off Holocaust stories permanently. Or so I thought. Twenty-five years ago, Schindler’s List, Stephen Spielberg’s film, nearly did me in. Soon thereafter, I burst into tears in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, before even picking up admission tickets. Thousands of pairs of shoes taken from murdered prisoners at the Majdanek concentration camp, displayed in the museum’s lobby, felt crushing.