cover image Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

Claire Dederer. Knopf, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-65511-4

What’s a fan to do when they love the art, but hate the artist? asks book critic and essayist Dederer (Love and Trouble) in this nuanced and incisive inquiry. She contends that “consuming a piece of art is two biographies meeting,” those of the artist and the audience, and it’s the plight of the latter that these meditations focus on. Dederer reflects on her attempts to reconcile her feminist principles with her admiration for the films of Roman Polanski, pokes holes in the excuses made for composer Richard Wagner’s antisemitism, and suggests that such “geniuses” as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway received a “special dispensation” from the public to act like monsters: “Maybe we have created the idea of genius to serve our own attraction to badness.” Examining the role of the critic, she pushes back on a male writer who told her to judge Woody Allen’s Manhattan solely on its aesthetic merits and posits that instead “criticism involves trusting our feelings” about both the art and the artists’ crimes. There are no easy answers, but Dederer’s candid appraisal of her own relationship with troubling artists and the lucidity with which she explores what it means to love their work open fresh ways of thinking about problematic artists. Contemplative and willing to tackle the hard questions head on, this pulls no punches. (Apr.)