cover image A Plea for Eros: Essays

A Plea for Eros: Essays

Siri Hustvedt, . . Picador, $15 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-312-42553-1

The title essay of Hustvedt's collection gets at the heart of what is best about these writings: it's a plea not just for the mysteries of sexual longing but for sensual engagement with life. Themes of memory, defining the self, attachment to place and family, violence and detachment wind through the essays. Novelist Hustvedt (What I Loved ) is most interesting when she starts with her body rather than her head—but since even her memories have a physicality that gives them substance, this allows her great scope. Her clear, elegant writing is particularly effective in the opening essay, which movingly evokes a variety of formative experiences, including the echoes of Norway in her family. Her reflections on how we attach images to narrative, on the first anniversary of 9/11, on the onset of migraines likewise open up personal experience with thoughtful insight. Less effective are her literary essays: while a discussion of Gatsby provides subtle analysis with a light touch, essays on James and Dickens may be rough going for readers without significant academic training and a deep familiarity with the authors. Despite these few disappointments, readers will find both emotional and intellectual resonance in Hustvedt's deeply personal essays. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Jan. 2)