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Some Trick: Thirteen Stories

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For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate.”
In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt’s signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.”

224 pages, Hardcover

First published May 30, 2018

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About the author

Helen DeWitt

11 books351 followers
Helen DeWitt (born 1957 in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.) is a novelist.

DeWitt grew up primarily in South America (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador), as her parents worked in the United States diplomatic service. After a year at Northfield Mount Hermon School and two short periods at Smith College, DeWitt studied classics at the University of Oxford, first at Lady Margaret Hall, and then at Brasenose College for her D.Phil.

DeWitt is best known for her acclaimed debut novel, The Last Samurai. She held a variety of jobs while struggling to finish a book, including a dictionary text tagger, a copytaker, and Dunkin' Donuts employee, she also worked in a laundry service. During this time she reportedly attempted to finish many novels, before finally completing The Last Samurai, her 50th manuscript, in 1998.

In 2005 she collaborated with Ingrid Kerma, the London-based painter, writing limit5 for the exhibition Blushing Brides.

In 2004, DeWitt went missing from her home in Staten Island. She was found unharmed a few days later at Niagara Falls.

DeWitt lives in Berlin where she has recently finished a second novel, Your Name Here, in collaboration with the Australian journalist Ilya Gridneff. DeWitt had met Gridneff in an East London pub shortly before her departure for New York; impressed by the linguistic virtuosity of his e-mails, she suggested a book inspired by Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, or Being John Malkovich, with Gridneff as Malkovich.

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5 stars
135 (14%)
4 stars
293 (31%)
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316 (33%)
2 stars
147 (15%)
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49 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 194 reviews
Profile Image for Ian Scuffling.
140 reviews65 followers
June 18, 2018
What happened? Were my expectations too high? Was I wanting this book to be something other than it was ever going to be? Whatever is going on, I felt like Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick: Thirteen Stories was a series of unfinished riffs on topics and themes rather than any kind of coherent collection of stories. The design may have been to have the book (and its stories) stand in as blank integers where the reader has to solve for X. But, even there, I’m not sure DeWitt’s project works because there’s not enough “there” there to adequately do the math, so to speak. This is alluded to in the “Publisher’s Note” in the back of the book, which clarifies a few things that seem like they could have been style inconsistencies, and highlights one story which uses X and x in a way that seems to suggest the same person. The note expands with an excerpt from an unpublished novella by DeWitt from which the story in question was carved and explains these are integers (two different ones) which the reader can fill in on her/his own because anyone could stand in those holes.

A few stories have their moments, and perhaps the best of these is “On the Town” which transplants a starry-eyed Iowan into a riveting Manhattan where he quickly is able to put practical skills to use, much to the bewilderment (and happiness) of New Yorkers who were more than content to let the water leak continue in their apartment. However, the story falls apart as quickly as it gets up on its legs, and just noodles for a little while before ending. Many of these stories do this; they have promising beginnings but seem then to get lost. I can’t help but wonder if most of these weren’t longer pieces originally that were chopped down into stories.

I can’t help wonder, too, if DeWitt’s bad luck in the publishing industry didn’t inform a lot of this content so focused on the matter of misguided and stupid contracts that constrain and ruin and inhibit the production of great art (writing or music or otherwise). Another theme seems to be about the impracticality of the impossibly reasoned mind—logical reasoning is a guiding motif in the lives of the characters in these stories, which often spins out to extreme conclusions, such as in “Entourage” where a man has an entire entourage of translators spanning virtually every language on earth so that the protagonist can experience the great writers in their true original form.

I’m happy that New Directions is dedicated to DeWitt. She deserves to be published. Even where these stories fail, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to read them and I’ll wait eagerly for whatever she puts out next—I just know she’ll re-capture the lightning that formed The Last Samurai again.
Author 8 books5 followers
May 31, 2018
From the outside, Helen DeWitt's stories always sound like the kind of conceptual art piece that have an interesting premise, but depend on flawless execution to actually live up to the promise. Fortunately, on the inside, her stories are flawlessly executed, filled with life, humor, character, and neatly rendered frequency plots. These stories may or may not be interconnected (but are related), featuring a group of people who may or may not know each other (but certainly know of each other), but each and all are wonderfully made.
78 reviews7 followers
June 10, 2018
[Thoughts from a little more than halfway through: ]

It's hard to explain what I love about Helen DeWitt's writing. It's partly her cast of mind: the best way I can put it is that she has the brain of a nerd and the soul of an artist. And while she's always taking the piss out of someone or something, she doesn't come across as smug, and there's an intense (even desperate) seriousness underlying even her relatively flippant passages. Her attitude toward the world (and many of the people in it) ranges from fury to contempt to despair, but not only does she see the funny side, she communicates a powerful sense of the richness of the life of the mind.

I don't know how much of this is actually apparent in these stories; I'm definitely reading them against the backdrop of The Last Samurai.

Some Trick is not a patch on The Last Samurai, and so far there's no single story in it that I'd enthusiastically recommend. The endings are mostly underwhelming (or, in the case of Improvisation Is the Heart of Music, baffling) -- it's not that I need a payoff or a twist, but I think there's an art to writing a quiet ending without leaving the reader feeling like they're missing something. Still, the stories are enjoyable and clever and sometimes funny, and there's enough of DeWitt's distinctive sensibility in this book that I'm very glad to be reading it.

[update on finishing: ]

A mixed bag in both senses -- with the exception of a few groups of two or three that overlap quite heavily, the subject matter and tone vary considerably; but so does the quality, or at least I feel that way after reading the final story, Entourage, which did not work for me at all. There's still no single story I wholeheartedly recommend, but I'm very glad I read this and I hope DeWitt keeps writing and publishing.

To anyone who wants to begin by sampling a story or two, I'd probably suggest Brutto (a satire on the art world with something a little darker running just beneath the surface), Famous Last Words (a quiet meditation on intellectual/physical relationships), and perhaps On the Town (a fun riff on the absurdity of the entrepreneurial, jack-of-all-trades, self-made modern American success story).
Profile Image for Elise.
218 reviews44 followers
June 6, 2018
Frenetic and incoherent. I'm glad to support the author of The Last Samurai and New Directions, but all except two of these stories were a huge waste of time.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
785 reviews830 followers
October 9, 2018
One loud LOL at this line: "the rationalist is socialised to mug for the camera, trotting out recondite facts, objecting to logical fallacies, using polysyllabic words in sentences with a high number of dependent clauses, with the quizzical air of one who knows he is amusing the interlocutor by conforming to a fondly held stereotype."

Loved the first half of "On the Town" with Gil from Iowa in NYC excited to see famous European art movies, living with the bitter, alcoholic son of a famous YA novelist -- the juxtaposition held such promise, could've been a hilarious satirical New York novel, but it seemed like it lost its way, the way pretty much all of these stories seemed to lose their way for me, or not even engage enough at first to establish a way to lose.

Sometimes felt like she'd condensed some of her famously unpublished novels into stories.

I love her two published novels . . . would like to see a memoir or a collection of essays from her.
Profile Image for Andrii Zakharov.
18 reviews7 followers
June 22, 2018
A spontaneous purchase, this book kept surprising. The second story has R code in it and mentions Andrew Gelman (turns out the author has a blog where she writes quite a lot about statistics). Later in the book the marshmallow test comes up, Gerd Gigerenzer "of the Max-Planck-Institute" gets mentioned. As do Texas Hold'em, drums, Berlin... What an overlap. Some trick!

The stories themselves are quite diverse, loosely connected by a theme of extraordinary - art, perception, capacity. Some passages are VERY funny. All are invariably Very Highly Intellectual. Somehow the book managed to not get on my nerves though, sensitive as I am to such displays. I enjoyed most stories, except the ones that went completely over my head with language and references. A bit too much French, Latin, and name-dropping in those. But the style is captivating throughout.
Profile Image for David.
771 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2018
Helen Dewitt is incredibly good. So, just read the dang book. I will admit that 2 or 3 of the middle stories did considerably less for me than the rest, but even those fit conceptually in this whole. (It's not *just* a short story collection. There's definitely some overarching themes and motifs here.)

Clever, funny, and carrying out, here, some of the task she set for herself in a great blog post. Speaking as a mathematician, she does a good job of capturing certain aspects of the mathematically-inclined (or obsessed) person.

And of course, if you're frustrated by the state of our currently organized reality and especially sensitive to how dismally the current system supports and encourages artists? Read this. Read this. Read this.
Profile Image for Peter.
972 reviews16 followers
July 10, 2018
Good short stories for academics, writers, and amateur intellectuals. Their wit is a bit too high-falutin’ for me, though. Perhaps if I had much leisure time to spend sipping aromatic tea in an oak paneled manor library in rural England, amid classic paintings and highly manicured lawns, I would find them quietly amusing. But for reading on the Tokyo subway, they just don’t have sufficient satiric lift.
Profile Image for Mack.
180 reviews28 followers
November 3, 2022
“Helen DeWitt knows, in descending order of proficiency, Latin, Ancient Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese: ‘The self is a set of linguistic patterns, reading and speaking in another language is like stepping into an alternate history of yourself where all the bad connotations are gone.”

She’s everything I hope to be and more.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 43 books548 followers
August 29, 2018
DeWitt is a ‘read anything and everything she writes’ author for me and even at her worst she’s better than most. Her worst is pretty darn good actually. But that said this was a mixed read for me. I loved DeWitt’s obsession with statistical modelling in fiction but found some stories hard work and others just baffling. The stories are related without being interconnected and I just wish this packed more punch.
Profile Image for Ylenia.
1,039 reviews390 followers
June 1, 2019
I really liked the first story, Brutto, but I struggled to like the rest.
I always started with the best intentions but I inevitably felt quite lost after a certain point, barely able to find the will & finish the majority of these stories. I guess DeWitt is not for me (or, at least, her stories).
Profile Image for Alison Hardtmann.
1,232 reviews2 followers
September 19, 2018
Some Trick: Thirteen Stories by Helen DeWitt is a collection of short stories all focusing on people who are very intelligent in one way or another. They struggle with money, compulsions or simply with everyday life. The academics value quick, erudite conversations, peppered with untranslated French, German and Latin. Each story, taken alone, comes across as clever and unusual, taken as a whole, the stories become variations on the same thing.

The first story, Brutto, is about a young struggling artist who comes to the attention of a prominent art dealer and then sees her vision over-whelmed by his, and she's faced with the decision of whether to stick to her ideas, and perhaps have to give up art entirely to support herself, or allow her art to be changed into something unrecognizable. And in Famous Last Words, a young woman makes the following observation:

There is a text which I could insert at this point which begins, 'I'm not in the mood,' but the reader who has had occasion to consult it will know that, though open to many variations, there is one form which is, as Voltaire would say, potius optandum quam probandum, and that is the one which runs 'I'm not in the mood,' 'Oh, OK.' My own experience has shown this to be a text particularly susceptible to discursive and recursive operations, one which circles back on itself through several iterations and recapitulations, one which ends pretty invariably in 'Oh, OK,' but only about half the time as the contribution of my co-scripteur. I think for a moment about giving the thing a whirl, but finally settle on the curtailed version which leaves out, 'I'm not in the mood' and goes directly to 'Oh, OK.' X and I go upstairs.
Profile Image for Joey Shapiro.
203 reviews7 followers
July 7, 2021
Helen DeWitt is a genius, and that is so so so apparent in these stories that mix in graphs, foreign languages, and cultural criticism while still being super light and funny. That doesn’t really automatically make this a good read though, and I just felt impressed but bored for most of these stories tbh! The Last Samurai is special because it cares about its characters and feels like a fully formed little world, but all of these stories just feel like vehicles to make the same point (artists are often forced to choose between artistic integrity and financial success) thirteen different ways. Obviously it’s a personal subject bc that battle between her artistic control and her publishers trying to water her writing down to be more “”commercial”” has been a big theme of her career, but it just doesn’t really come together all the way in the stories. Characters are more or less just placeholder names, the stories are barely stories, and none of them have endings so much as they just... stop. Helen is one of my fave novelists but it just really doesn’t translate into shorter forms for me! Would still love to read one of her dozen unpublished novels from the last thirty years (😢).
Profile Image for Regina.
349 reviews
July 8, 2018
Some Trick, indeed. This book left me confused and tired - so much unnecessary language for such little meat. The stories were could hardly be called as such - no plots, no discernible characters, no flow, no understanding. I honestly could not tell you what a single story was actually about, save for one, but even that one was spotty at best. It was grueling trying to get through the stories, and and in end, I gave up.
Profile Image for Kate Mcphail.
319 reviews
February 29, 2020
Hard to know how to rate this. 3.5?
It's refreshing because it's different but it's a little too cerebral and stubbornly obscure to be enjoyable. I appreciate it but I don't really like it that much.
Profile Image for Grant Kalasky.
15 reviews
March 13, 2021
“My Heart Belongs to Bertie” goes HARD. I love when DeWitt blends technical/mathematic subject matter with the rest of the story. Just goes to show that she's the goat.
Profile Image for Philipp.
610 reviews179 followers
July 15, 2018
Unsure what to make of it, I definitely liked it, but it's hard to find out what I liked - many of these stories' themes are extensions already touched on in the extremely brilliant The Last Samurai: a love of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

What's added here is a wonderful celebration of Kauzigkeit (I prefer the rarer/non-existent(?) Kauztum), a good German word. It comes from the old word for owl (Kauz), and is a kind word used to describe someone who has devoted their life to something 99.99% of people see no meaning in. A Kauz is the weird old professor every uni has and no student knows what they're even doing (prime example: John Kidd.)

Some of DeWitt's characters are such Käuze, they love knowledge and not much else. However that makes some of these stories feel unfinished. You can't do much 'traditional' story with such characters, they can't develop much. They appear in love with knowledge, say their bit, and disappear with their love. Sometimes that love can feel snooty, but often, when it gets too snooty a touch of irony breaks it:

��The thing that interests me,’ I say. ‘One of the things that interest me is the way there is this emphasis on inserting the body of the writer into the scene, as if making a connection between this physical presence and the derniers mots will somehow make these specially valid. Look at Noyes.’ I pick up the book.
‘“We must obviously not picture him here with the ‘eternal grin’ of Mr Lytton Strachey, but with the blood-stained rag at his lips, and eyes that had been looking into the face of Death. Those eyes are turned for a moment, with the curious wonder which is a sick man’s only way of reproach, upon a secretary who is trying to defeat a purpose definitely decided upon before this illness occurred.”
‘The blood-stained rag,’ I say, ‘says this is real and true. The document is genuine. Its statements may be attached to Voltaire.’
X is flipping through Pomeau.

This also must be the first book I read that featured R-code. Several 'greats' of the R programming language are mentioned by name (Hadley Wickham etc), there's actual R-code with a few plots, some characters fight about white-space vs. tab (of the many boring fights 'nerds' have, this is one of the most boring), data pervades some, but not all of these stories.

Favourite story: Entourage, about a rich man (Kauz again!) who travels with suitcases full of books, each book carried by someone who spoke the language the books in their suitcase were written in. Just look at those two quotes:

It was now unexpectedly necessary to purchase a small suitcase and fill it with books replete with the letters z, w, y, j and k. It was necessary to hire someone to fly with him to Berlin to accompany the suitcase. Słowosław was the applicant whose name had the best letters.

(He had been entranced to discover that the Russian for Protopope was Протопоп.)

Aaaaah, nice. Still, The Last Samurai struck me deeper. But then again, at least two stories tell you how good Stanislaw Lem's Robotermärchen are, and that alone makes this a recommendation.
22 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2019

Some excellent stories, tho nothing as good as the sexual codes of the europeans

Most of the stories are in the recent HdW manner - content and style. Content: obsessional application of theoretical if not mathematical models to creative or artistic problems, and the absurdity of progressing from a reasonable point via reason to an eccentric point. Style: dry, laconic authorial control, generally indirect free speech, that is to say third person heavily laced with the expressions and thinking and reasoning of her enthusiastic and excitable characters or doubtful pragmatic characters. Managing the filo thin layers of control, voice and irony (rationality, sympathy, humour, contempt, enthusiasm, tragedy) so that both the dexterity and a unity of HdW 'voice' is apparent is one of the main thrills of reading her, aside from the content (tho the unexpected juxtapositions and logic of that content is very much part of that layering. To expand on that, the mathematical, rational 'mode' which drives the direction of many stories, is absolutely a voice, a layer, a structure.

There is a sprinkling of stories from her time at Oxford in 1985. These are different in style. Clearly more juvenile works, less tight in style, more juvenile in their expression of cleverness (of course another excitement of HdW is the cleverness). Their subject is often an intelligent female voice existing in a pragmatic, wry and doubtful space created by forceful or dullard men, or just men who aren't as clever as they think they are. These are less successful, I think, though Famous Last Words is very enjoyable.

It does raise the question of why these are collected here in this way. It's not, as far as I can tell, a retrospective or collection as such. The collection has a good, elliptical poem as an epigraph.

Next time someone tells you desire
Is a trick of grammnar
Tell him
If what I have is what I said I wanted
It's not what I wanted
I know what I want
But I don't know its name

and later

Some trick

So using this, and the title, to try and draw things together a bit:

It's a trick of stories in the card-playing sense there are thirteen, and i'm not sure whether there is an interrelation or symbolism relating to that at play – nothing jumped out at my, but I'm afraid to say some of my reading was a little inattentive (tipsy on tube or interrupted by things, and just generally i haven't felt as sharp recently as i'd like to be). I might need to look at that again.

It's the trick of grammar, of letters, of foreign words and foreign mores creating and canalising desire: (Brutto about an Italian art dealer's enthusiasm for an incredibly ugly suit ('ma che brutto!') an artist made in her sempstress training.

It's the trick of managing artistic control for the vision you want in a world that is trying through enthusiasm, fandom or lack of understanding to grasp hold of that indifferent to the things that make important to its creator.

It's very much the calculus of money and creativity – something that affects Helen de Witt directly.
Profile Image for Tony Laplume.
Author 35 books34 followers
October 24, 2022
“Best of” lists can be funny to read. I happened to hear about The Last Samurai from one, however, and am eternally grateful. The best stuff I’ve read tends to be stuff that doesn’t get enough attention. In Some Trick, Helen DeWitt brings up my favorite book, 2666, which was good to see.

I don’t get why DeWitt isn’t considered a treasure. I went to Barnes & Noble the other day, which was where I bought this book a few years back, and they not only no longer stocked Some Trick but still didn’t have Last Samurai (which I had to get online).

Reading DeWitt is, for some of us, the certain knowledge that there really are smart writers out there. She’s keyed into all the things life at college led me to believe might actually exist in the world, but outside of college have never really found. Most of what’s available is pretentious, excellent, or slouching toward hot garbage. Finding the excellent becomes a real scavenger hunt, especially as there’s no reliable guide out there waiting to help.

Her characters are all eccentrics of one kind or another, often associated with the arts in some way, often the high arts. Here in the world I found myself, it’s most often the struggle to find the high arts among the low, which actually do exist, but without sufficient observers to make them visible, so they’re always dismissed merely as low. It’s nice to have someone like DeWitt to invite me back in to the high arts, once in a while.

Apparently there’s only one other book out there from DeWitt. I will probably have to find it online.


So, I reread it. I’ve recently read Lightning Rods and The English Understand Wool, and couldn’t remember when I’d read Some Trick, which turned out to be earlier this year. It’s been a long year.

I’m not as pleased with the above review as I was when I wrote it. Doesn’t really explain the collection, or its author, so much as ring with effusive general praise, and a request for the uninitiated to consider DeWitt in their future literary travels.

Having now read all her books yet published, I can maybe do a little better.

This collection, for instance, probably captures DeWitt’s character, not just her creative voice but the manner in which she lives, in which she sees the world. She tends to interpret it as difficult navigating for those such as herself. Some trick. Her characters are creative types just out of step with others. Some luck their way into fortune (this is what opens the collection, and also the subject of The English Understand Wool), some aren’t so lucky, but most of them are infused with DeWitt’s considered immersion into the arts, in several varieties (although more rock bands and robot stories pop up than you might imagine). The term “idiosyncratic” is apropos, as is the idea that although one might be an excellent focal point of a party in this guise, it’s less clear how to convert sizable members of the population at large to continue funding for such a life.

Well. For those who intersect even glancingly with such a perspective, DeWitt is an indispensable kindred spirit. If you don’t know where to start, a short story collection is always a good place. Because because because because BECAUSE!
Profile Image for Judith.
1,479 reviews71 followers
December 4, 2018
Who's idea was it to tell authors it was okay to write rambling slice of life essays and market them as short stories? Do you remember real short stories like Shirley Jackson's " The Lottery", O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi", Guy De Maupassant's "The Necklace"? Now, can you think of any modern short story that you can actually remember? I'll tell you who can write a modern short story: Elizabeth Strout, author of "Olive Kittridge." End of rant. Remind me not to read any more collections of short stories even when the author has written a novel that I loved.
Profile Image for Owen Townend.
Author 5 books3 followers
June 15, 2020
This collection started out quirky then quickly devolved into frustrating. I have never read the works of Helen DeWitt before but, if this is a strong example, I won't be coming back.

Some Trick has a focus on the mind of those deemed 'genius', showing considerable research into subjects such as statistics and the music industry. However the stories themselves feel half-finished, even necessitating urgent editing. While I realise this is more often than not a deliberate choice of the author, it didn't have the desired effect for me, unless irritation and boredom are desired.

Though I have just mentioned the dreaded 'b' word, I must make it clear that the subject matter is usually far from boring: the problem is the way in which it is delivered. It's obvious that some thought has been put into authenticity but not for general understanding. Rather than helping the average mind comprehend 'genius' thought processes, this has the adverse effect of creating even more confusion and discomfort in those who aren't on the same wavelength.

If I had to recommend Some Trick to anyone, it would be mathematicians who don't mind creatively messy prose.

Notable Stories

• On the Town – Gil is the best character of all: starry-eyed but can turn his hand to anything.

• Climbers – an amusing send-up of the literati and excitement at foreign author 'discoveries'.

• Entourage – an absurd satire of White Americans ‘collecting’ cultures, with extra Willy Wonka.
Profile Image for Emily Weatherburn.
127 reviews26 followers
October 3, 2018
Helen DeWitt's Some Trick is a curious book. Each story offers various comments on the publishing industry, DeWitt using the mode of the short story to convey frustrations derived from her own experiences. These frustrations consider the inconsistency of agents, who always seem to be abandoning their clients; the inability of writers to focus on their own work (because they are always being distracted); and the industry's unwavering fixation with money.

I really enjoyed analysing these stories from a critical perspective; there was a LOT of interesting content embedded in the narratives, but, at the same, I really struggled to read it. The stories themselves were confusing, abstract, and, to be blunt, really quite dull. I can see that they were being written for the sake of the critical content, but these many references and double meanings left the stories quite jumbled. I particularly struggled with the narrators; the stories jumped from one narrator to another quite indiscriminately and I often found myself struggling to keep up.

I cannot deny that this book was extremely interesting. It provides some fascinating insights into both the publishing industry, and to DeWitt, herself. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend this book UNLESS you have these very specific interests. To put it bluntly, it's an academic read, and not one that I overly enjoyed. It's interesting, but not entertaining, and in the attempted balance between critical perspective and story, the story was definitely shunted into the background.
4 reviews
February 5, 2019
Despite feeling like a good portion of the writing went right over my head, I really liked this book. I'm normally not a short stories person—I enjoy deep dives into characters—but I think a full book from this author would intimidate me. I love the use of language of all sorts in this book, and I could relate to the subject of art in all its forms here: writing, painting, garment making, music, etc.
111 reviews40 followers
March 14, 2021
It's definitely wrong to prefer this to The Last Samurai, and yet...typical brilliance from DeWitt, lots of unusual perspectives, parataxis and implication, formal experimentation (though not in a modernist mode). Some interesting revisiting of scenes in TLS (though perhaps written earlier than that novel) and reflections on the compromised nature of art and the artist in the modern world. Pretty essential imo.
Profile Image for Mack Hayden.
440 reviews18 followers
April 6, 2019
I really liked Lightning Rods by her and still plan to read The Last Samurai but good God, this was a slog. There were definitely moments of the wit and insight that drew me to her work initially but they’re obscured in this case by mountains of pretension and willful obscurity. I just couldn’t connect with it.
Profile Image for Zack Clemmons.
183 reviews10 followers
July 2, 2019
Language is interesting. The world is interesting. The world language creates is interesting. People and industries and industry cultures which make their proverbial bread from the world language creates (e.g. publishing, the ‘art world,’ the academy) are not interesting. DeWitt is interesting tho.

My favorites were the “Oxford, 1985” stories.
Profile Image for Webb.
134 reviews2 followers
November 18, 2020
I loved a few of these stories. Especially the emphasis on the organic, humorous intricacies of dialogue, and the sincere, pathetic motivations any individual lives by.

A few of the stories went over my head. I have so much respect and admiration for DeWitt that I am sure I failed these stories and would appreciate them properly with more effort. But I haven't put in the work yet
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