cover image 300 Arguments

300 Arguments

Sarah Manguso. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-55597-764-1

Manguso (Ongoingness) continues her fragmentary approach to autobiography with this inventive book of aphorisms and memories. All of life’s great subjects are here—love, relationships, happiness, desire, and vulnerability on the personal side; effort, luck, envy, and success vs. failure on the professional side—in one- and two-sentence nuggets of compressed insight. Many of the sayings sound like updated versions of traditional proverbs (“Inner beauty can fade, too” and “Choose one: chronic disappointment or lowering your expectations”); their authoritativeness contrasts with the author’s professed uncertainty about how she’s doing as a wife, mother, and writer. Parallel constructions, contradictions, and mathematical propositions (“It takes x hours to write a book”) come closest to the title’s connotation of rhetorical arguments. Arguably, pretentiousness sometimes masquerades as profundity here, and, like a comedy set composed entirely of one-liners, the book contains almost too much to take in at once. The pithy format tricks readers into skimming quickly, but it will require multiple rereadings to absorb the book’s rewarding wisdom. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)