“There is plenty that stands out as wise, beautiful, and unforgettable.”
Aldrich (Girl Rearing: Memoir of a Girlhood Gone Astray) compiles this collection of 30 essays by women, with highlights from Cheryl Strayed, Leslie Jamison, Roxane Gay, and Eula Biss. The works largely explore an evocative, corporeal landscape (break-ups, eating disorders, sex, racism, self-mutilation, drug addiction, domestic violence, rape, foster care, and childbirth) with occasional forays into academic territory (there are pieces on the work of Joan Didion, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, and Susan Sontag, among others). In her preface, Aldrich praises “the diversity of women’s approaches to the structure of the essay.” Not all of the markedly inventive approaches are successful—overcommitment to theme or experiment causes some of the essays to stumble—but Strayed’s ability to unleash witty compassion is unflagging, as is the quality of Biss’s prose, which is so intelligent and generous it both nettles and soothes. A few contributors struggle with their discussions of identity politics, writing with overeager verbosity. Half of the essays are original to the collection. The writing varies wildly from piece to piece, but there is plenty that stands out as wise, beautiful, and unforgettable.