Here is an American mind contemplating contemporary society and culture with wit, imagination, and a brave intelligence. Tillman upends expectations, shifts tone, introduces characters, breaches limits of genre and category, reconfiguring the world with the turn of a sentence. Like other unique thinkers, Tillman sees the world differently—she is not a malcontent, but she is discontented. Her responses to art and literature, to social and political questions change the reader's mind, startling it with new angles. Which is why so many of us who know her work often wonder: what would Lynne Tillman do? A long-time resident of New York, Tillman's sharp humor is like her city's, tough and hilarious. There are distinct streams of concern coursing through the seeming eclecticism of topics—Hillary Clinton, Jane Bowles, O.J. Simpson, art and artists, Harry Mathews, the state of fiction, film, the state of her mind, the State of the Nation. There is a great variety, but what remains consistent is how differently she writes about them, how well she understands, how passionate and bold her writing is.
What does Lynne Tillman do? Everything. Anything. You name it. She has a conversation with you, and you're a better, smarter person for it.
"The art of underexplanation" characterizes this eclectic assortment of essays, anecdotes, interviews, reviews, and vignettes from novelist and critic Tillman (Someday This Will Be Funny). In a flexible, wise, and wryly funny voice, she studies subjects as varied as President Obama, art, language, literature, film, and music (from Chet Baker to the Rolling Stones). Consciousness, time, and desire, as well as problems of authenticity, ideology, and taste emerge as leitmotifs, though Tillman's real subject is the making of art, particularly the ways in which the meaning of an object "is re-made by passing generations of readers and viewers." Though some selections lend the book an elegiac note, the prevailing chord is Tillman's relentlessly ironic self-awareness, as the title suggests. She is too experienced to indulge in nostalgia, too informed to take sides nothing is sacred, nothing is taboo, and she aims to "trample complacency of all types" but she proves an excellent reader: perceptive, generous, insightful, and knowing, especially when writing about Edith Wharton, Charles Henri Ford, and Gertrude Stein. This compulsively readable collection is like eavesdropping on the polished chatter of an exceptionally clever and well-read party guest, one who understands that elaboration is the antithesis of wit.