This is honestly one of the most fascinating works I have read this year, Hustvedt's essays a fluid mix of personal recollections, comments on literature and a view of the writing life: "A call for Eros, a plea that we not forget ambiguity and mystery."
The author's love of language is evident in each essay, imbued with a passion that fills each memoir and cultural/literary criticism: "My private geography, like most people's, excludes huge portions of the world." Mining the past for its symbols and literary gems, Hustvedt looks at history with a compassionate eye, from Henry James to Charles Dickens to F. Scott Fitzgerald, hinting that the true Eros lies in the fertile imagination, in a capacity for difference, ambiguity, tolerance and curiosity.
The author’s life is informed by an immigrant background, experiences that exist somewhere between here and there, somewhere yonder that is never reached, a journey that is savored rather than the destination. The collection begins with an autobiographical essay, "Yonder", which speaks to the "miraculous flexibility of language" and the nature of the places we collect as memory, each infused with a personal magic.
Even in this more intimate territory, the author digresses into the subtle terrain of language, tying elements of the personal with the reading experience: "the world of reading is a kind of yonder world." Hustvedt makes a case for Eros, familiarity and the humdrum of everyday life the enemies of Eros while eroticism thrives on borders and distance, a theme supported in "Gatsby's Glasses," "Eight Days in a Corset," "Being a Man," "Leaving Your Mother" and more.
This spectacular collection includes previously unpublished work, "Charles Dickens and the Morbid Fragment" and two others that not previously published in the United States, "9/11, or One Year Later" and "Extracts from a Story of the Wounded Self," each page filled with thoughtful observations linked to literature, language and the human experience.
Hustvedt is a master of the personal revelation, the obscure connections between reality and the world of the imagination: Creating fiction is making a place for the reader in the text, "the words accelerate the book, they don't bog it down in pointless novelistic gab" and "writing fiction is remembering what never happened" (“Yonder”); American feminism has perforce ignored erotic truth, a willful blindness, revealing that "seduction is inevitably a theater of barriers" (“A Plea for Eros”); and "The true ground of all fiction is a call to empathy, the ultimate act of the imagination" (“Gatsby's Glasses”).
In this personally rewarding experience, Hustvedt's meditations on the written word, personal experience and intellectual digressions are provocative, nothing less than extraordinary. In rich prose that bears a kind of enchantment, the author combines her own narrative with the joy of fiction, nonfiction, wit and passion, an endless chain of associations with an undeniable affection for literature.