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Monday, April 16, 2018

What I Loved (2003) by Siri Hustvedt


Book Review
What I Loved (2003)
by Siri Hustvedt

  Another educated guess from the original editors of the 1001 Books edition from 2006.  This is Siri Hustvedt's only appearance on the 1001 Books list.  The boxes she ticks for inclusionary purposes are not strong: white, educated, American, artistic, cosmopolitan.  In fact, her list of credentials seem more appropriate to a 19th century writer than one writing at the beginning of the 21st.   The privilege meter does not go down when you add the not strictly relevant but still interesting fact that she is married to list super favorite Paul Auster, making them number one power couple of the 1001 Books list, unless J.M. Coetzee is partnered to someone on the list.

  What I Loved reflects this background: The perspective of comfortable artists and academics living in pre-911 New York City.  The friendship at the center of What I Loved is between an art history professor at Columbia University, and a hard-to-describe but succesful studio artist.  Hustvedt doesn't neglect the early years entirely, but narrator Leo Hertzberg is a comfortable academic from start to finish, with nary a hint of privation that isn't self-inflicted.

  The problems which consume Hertzberg and artist Bill Wechsler are stereotypical, cold women, messed up children, absence or presence of significant others. Much of the heart of the book involves Wechsler's son, Mark, who becomes an interesting case in the manifestation of mental illness as things grind to their (close to 500 pages later) conclusion.  As an exercise in white privilege, it is an extraordinary book, perhaps a last gasp, or a companion piece to Auster's own considerable contribution.  The decision of a woman writing a book from the perspective of a man shouldn't itself be particularly novel, but it is, particularly a book that looks so closely at issues of male personality and is basically centered around the troubles of being a father.

  Judge from the principles of inclusion and diversity, Hustvedt is either an also ran or waiting for a chance to displace an Author like Joyce Carol Oates with a mid to late career masterpiece. 

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