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In Praise of Messy Lives: Essaysby Katie Roiphe
Synopses & Reviews
This powerful collection of essays ranges from pop culture to politics, from Hillary Clinton to Susan Sontag, from Facebook to Mad Men, from Joan Didion to David Foster Wallace to—most strikingly—the author’s own life. For fans of the essays of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Jonathan Lethem.
Katie Roiphe’s writing—whether in the form of personal essays, literary criticism, or cultural reporting—is bracing, wickedly entertaining, and deeply engaged with our mores and manners. In these pages, she turns her exacting gaze on the surprisingly narrow-minded conventions governing the way we live now. Is there a preoccupation with “healthiness” above all else? If so, does it lead insidiously to judging anyone who tries to live differently? Examining such subjects as the current fascination with Mad Men, the oppressiveness of Facebook (“the novel we are all writing”), and the quiet malice our society displays toward single mothers, Roiphe makes her case throughout these electric pages. She profiles a New York prep school grad turned dominatrix; isolates the exact, endlessly repeated ingredients of a magazine “celebrity profile”; and draws unexpected, timeless lessons from news-cycle hits such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “love child” revelations. On ample display in this book are Roiphe’s insightful, occasionally obsessive takes on an array of literary figures, including Jane Austen, John Updike, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, and Margaret Wise Brown, the troubled author of Goodnight, Moon. And reprinted for the first time and expanded here is her much-debated New York Times Book Review cover piece, “The Naked and the Conflicted”—an unabashed argument on sex and the contemporary American male writer that is in itself an exciting and refreshing reminder that criticism matters. As steely-eyed in examining her own life as she is in skewering our cultural pitfalls, Roiphe gives us autobiographical pieces—on divorce, motherhood, an emotionally fraught trip to Vietnam, the breakup of a female friendship—that are by turns deeply moving, self-critical, razor-sharp, and unapologetic in their defense of “the messy life.”
In Praise of Messy Lives is powerfully unified, vital work from one of our most astute and provocative voices.
"As feminist cultural critic Roiphe (Uncommon Arrangements) reminds readers in the introduction to her first essay collection: 'There are an unusual number of people who Ã¢Â€Â˜hate' my writing.' This may be because she is an 'uncomfortablist' — 'drawn to subjects or ways of looking at things that make people, and sometimes even me, uncomfortable.' In 'Part I: Life and Times,' she takes on the moral disapproval surrounding her divorce and single motherhood. In 'Part II: Books,' her idiosyncratic tone is sometimes infuriating even when one agrees with her. In 'Part III: The Way We Live Now,' she analyzes the success of Mad Men, the appeal of sadomasochistic fantasy to the contemporary American working woman, and is exasperated by Maureen Dowd's failure to 'use her threatening intelligence to unearth the deeper complexities of her subject.' She takes on Hillary Clinton haters, readers of celebrity profiles, overinvolved parents, and private schools — easy and somewhat dated targets. 'Part IV: The Internet, Etc.' is timely, but her thinking about today's communication addictions proves thin. However, when she unravels her own youthful betrayal of a friend in the deeply felt essay 'Beautiful Boy, Warm Night,' she is as demanding of herself as she is of her reader. Roiphe's writing is prickly and provocative, frequently annoying, sometimes courageous, and most welcome when it cuts deep. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Katie Roiphe is a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. She writes a column on life, literature, and politics for Slate and writes for The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her two children.
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