March 16, 2011

Book review: "And the Heart Says Whatever" by Emily Gould

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And the Heart Says Whatever, by Emily Gould

And the Heart Says Whatever
By Emily Gould
Free Press
Reviewed by Oriana Leckert

Emily Gould was, at least for me, the most fascinating and brilliant Gawker writer at exactly the time that I was unhealthily obsessed with that blog, which was the same time that I was a corporate publishing drone, which was the same time that I was in my early twenties, in the tightest grips of trying to figure out who the fuck I was and what the fuck I was doing with my post-collegiate, grownup life. Obviously I'm not the only gal for whom that's true, and Emily had some very intense expectations riding on this book -- and plenty of equally intense hopes for failure. As many people want to foist the "voice of a generation" mantle upon her as want to see her bitterly, miserably fail. Here, for example, is part of the last paragraph of a fairly scathing review of this book from hipster culture blog Flavorpill:

More than anything, And the Heart Says Whatever feels like the kind of book you write when you're not sure what to do next in life and then someone solves your problem by offering you a book deal. There is nothing urgent or passionate or necessary about it, and that's especially disappointing coming from a writer we're convinced has something to say. The book seems to have no motivation, no emotional core, and that's part of the reason we don't want to see Gould crowned the voice of our generation (at least, not in connection with And the Heart Says Whatever). Next time, here's hoping Emily Gould waits to start writing until she has something to say.

Yikes. Poor Emily.

And look, I understand the criticism. These essays are awfully self-absorbed, she has trouble with endings and transitions, and often things feel a bit unfocused, like she was just one more revision away from really nailing it. And although there's plenty of passion here, there really isn't anything "urgent" about this book.

But actually? I'm not sure that's so wrong. Why does a book of essays have to be urgent? What was Flavorpill or anyone else expecting from an introspective memoirish collection by someone who is (at least semi-) famous for eviscerating celebrities and practically exuding and defining of-the-moment cool? If these essays had come from a "highbrow" author like Sloane Crosley, or someone who'd worked at a less-famous blog than Gawker, or someone unfamous altogether, I don't think people's reactions would have been nearly so strong, or so negative.

I think these essays are good. Some of them I think are great. Emily has, unsurprisingly, a terrific voice, an easy, comfortable style, a natural ability to quickly and efficiently and sometimes surprisingly construct a place and time and setting. Sure, she's arch and slightly cruel at times, but she is just as often honest and impressively raw. Her language is generally lovely and wise. Reading this made me feel writerly, which was a complete surprise; that usually happens when I'm reading someone like Margaret Atwood or Alessandro Barrico. But Emily, too, made me think storyishly, rephrasing and rewriting my thoughts into soft pretty things, as she clearly did, readying herself to be split wide open and bare, but in a somewhat rarefied manner.

Look, to compare again to Sloane (whom I like a lot; please don't misunderstand), I'm sure that the main reason I like these essays so much is that Emily is, on the surface at least, a lot like me. I don't mean that in a self-aggrandizing way, but that we're roughly the same age, we both grew up in about the same suburban hell, ran away to college and had a shitty experience there, ran away to New York at roughly the same time and did roughly the same things, paying our dues working in restaurants and bars, working our way up from the very bottom of the publishing hierarchy, smoking and drinking and fucking around, always nursing and nurturing sharp writing desires and the unshakable conviction that we were a perfect unique snowflake, silently sparkling and secretly brilliant, just waiting for someone to come along and discover us and be amazed.

So of course I like reading about her time as a drama freak in high school. Of course I relate to all the bad pot and sloppy sex and palpable desperation of college. Of course I'm instantly familiar with her time spent as a shot waitress, her sweet plangent details of early-aughts East Village, her kooky and clever friends who are so much like my own, her struggle and panic and aspiration as a publishing assistant that was so like my own struggle, her endless stoned nights going from Brooklyn bar to Manhattan party to Brooklyn loft to someone's dirty bed, watching the sunrise in pre-hangover agony. I love that stuff. I've lived that stuff. And Emily renders it beautifully, comfortably, familiarly, sweet and sharp and miserable too, just like it is and was.

So is Emily Gould the voice of my generation? Who fucking cares. Her next book will probably be better, but for me, this one was well worth the read.

Out of 10: 7.5, or 9 for youngish, hipsterish, writerly ladies

Read even more about And the Heart Says Whatever: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Oriana Leckert at 9:38 AM, March 16, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Oriana Leckert | Reviews |