cover image A Left-Handed Woman: Essays

A Left-Handed Woman: Essays

Judith Thurman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-60716-6

In this rewarding collection, Thurman (Cleopatra’s Nose) brings together a remarkably varied collection of her New Yorker essays. She tackles the politics of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, in “O Pioneers!”; Rachel Cusk’s “power to dazzle and to condemn” in “World of Interiors”; and reading Dante during the pandemic in “Asylum Seeker.” There’s a wealth of her fashion coverage—“Darkness Wearable” covers the life and career of Alexander McQueen, known for his breakthrough, 1995 “Highland Rape” collection, while “Radical Chic” is a look at Miuccia Prada’s designs, which feature her “heroines” “fastidious from the waist up but wanton from the waist down.” Thurman’s longer essays are often her strongest, as her knack for incisive summary allows her to sweep authoritatively across broad subjects, as in “Maltese for Beginners,” a look at the world’s hyperpolyglots, a handful of language savants who speak at least 11 tongues fluently and are often left-handed. But small gems jump out, too, such as Thurman’s piece on Betty Halbreich, a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman: “Mothers send Halbreich their teenage daughters, often for the same reason that my mother enrolled me in driving school.” Masterfully avoiding solipsism and repetition, the author approaches each topic with a fresh eye. This solidifies Thurman as a master of the form. (Dec.)