Although noted feminist Katha Pollitt's new collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive came out in late September, the largely ambivalent reviews are still trickling in. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel accuses her of dealing feminism a "Self-Inflicted Blow," while noted butt sex enthusiast Toni Bentley calls Pollitt a "Vagina dentata intellectualis," in The New York Times, and then goes on to say, "she is still not as likely to be seduced into bed as the bombshell bimbo, one reason she's so irate." On the pro-Pollitt side, the New York Review of Books calls Katha an "exquisite observer" and praises her "powerful, personal narrative." Since we haven't perused Pollitt's entire book yet, here's a cheat-sheet of critical assessments from the lovers and the haters. In addition, a brief rant on the meaning of "feminism" in the real world.
Rant time! So Katha Pollitt is being taken to task by Toni Bentley and the Sun-Sentinel and possibly other feminists for, as the New York Review of Books puts it, Pollitt's "inclusions of her own traditional femininity (read weak-ness) in this 'confessional' material." It makes me so angry that someone who has spilled a lot of ink for the cause of feminism is not allowed to ever show traditionally feminine sides of herself without being labeled a traitor. The Sun-Sentinel excoriates her for writing "After my boyfriend left me, I went a little crazy for a while." They say she's "parading her helplessness." Apparently feminists have to remain stoic and totally empowered at all times, even through a break-up. I thought feminism was about CHOICE, fuckers. Ok, end rant. Now onto the reviews.
New York Review of Books
Pollitt is her own Jane Austen character—or characters, I should say, all wrapped up into one—haughty and modest, moral and irresponsible, sensible and, happily for us, lost in sensibility.
New York Times
It's hard to tell if she's coming into her own, trying to sell more books or has lost it entirely. Or perhaps she's giving up her dignity in a generous motion of solidarity toward the rest of us who have already blown our cover? Whatever the reason, she's entitled.
Even within the weaker pieces, there are moments of hard, clear light, when Pollitt's eternally searching eye settles on some perfect physical detail - "the block of scratched black file cabinets" that line the mostly empty offices of the pornographic publisher - or arrives at some fragment of despair - "Already I miss the strong verbs shone and dove and spat with their weighty, distinctive, biblical-sounding vowels" - that make one simultaneously sigh with recognition and see the world anew.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Katha Pollitt's fourth collection of essays is self-indulgent at best: She writes about losing her boyfriend; Web-stalking her ex-boyfriend (a phrase used so often it causes a kind of vertigo as a reader learns to anticipate the free fall of self-hatred and victim mania); yuppies on Manhattan's Upper West Side (apparently sacred ground for poverty-stricken intellectuals); real-estate developers in Connecticut (No! Yes!); and the popularity of plastic surgery...And why does she insist on parading her helplessness? "After my boyfriend left me, I went a little crazy for a while," she writes.
The Seattle Times
By the end of this collection, it's not hard to admire Pollitt's uncompromising effort and jaunty humor as she negotiates the minefield of late middle age. She even wins for herself, and by extension her readers, a certain grace.