cover image Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis

Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis

Laura Kipnis. Pantheon, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-31628-3

Cultural critic Kipnis (Unwanted Advances) takes a wry and thought-provoking look at modern trends in sex and relationships. In essays that wander far afield without losing sight of their central topic, the author interweaves autobiography, cultural criticism, psychology, philosophy, feminism, and gender studies. In “Love and Extinction,” she characterizes monogamous relationships, including her own, as “neurotic pacts” whose “unhealthy dynamics” were exacerbated by the “forced sequestration” of Covid-19 lockdowns (“I did become aware,” she writes, “of previously untapped reservoirs of sadism bubbling up in me”). “Vile Bodies” examines how the #MeToo movement has intensified feminism’s “carceral turn” and put heterosexual women in the “conflicted position” of “toiling to bring men down” while “also still desir[ing] them for sex and romantic purposes.” Elsewhere, Kipnis discusses the “puzzlingly amorphous disorder” of codependency with a friend whose marriage to an alcoholic collapsed, and profiles a former student (“queer, Black, and very online”) whose pandemic experiences reveal how skilled young people are at “deploying all available digital means... to stir up emotional drama, or inflict and sustain injury.” Though Kipnis’s take on relationship dynamics feels pessimistic and somewhat cynical, she is an ardent and astute interrogator of accepted wisdom. Readers won’t always agree, but they’ll relish grappling with this bracing study of modern life. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Feb.)