The Life of the Mind

Christine Smallwood. Hogarth, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-22989-7
Literary critic Smallwood debuts with the brilliant story of a young academic powering through her existential dread. Dorothy languishes in “adjunct hell” at a university in New York City, teaching up to four literature and writing courses per semester (including a course she designed titled “Writing Apocalypse”), while her affable boyfriend helps pay the bills from her two therapists. Each fall, she holds out an ever-dwindling hope to land one of the several jobs that open up in her field. She’s just had a miscarriage, and as the weeks pass, she muses on the menstrual blood and tissue discharge that results from her at-home Cytotec treatment. Dorothy is an intensely cerebral creature. Her narration of interactions with others, whether exchanging text messages with a friend, giving money to a panhandler, or parrying with her peers, is filtered by literary analysis, often to hilarious effect (“This man is an albatross around my neck,” she thinks, after the panhandler she’d dubbed the “Ancient Mariner” follows her to another subway car). As she confronts her emotions about losing the unplanned pregnancy and reconsiders her ideas about endings, both literary and corporeal, she begins to reconnect with herself. Dorothy’s sharp, witty narration makes this book something special (“In the asymmetrical warfare of therapy, secrets were a guerrilla tactic,” she decides, after putting off a session with her primary therapist). The result is like the glorious love child of Otessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/23/2020
Release date: 03/02/2021
Genre: Fiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-0-593-22990-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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