Book Review - Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma by Claire Dederer

What do we do with the monsters of the art world? From Roman Polanski to Woody Allen to Anne Sexton and Joni Mitchell, from "geniuses" like Picasso and Hemingway to modern punk music and JK Rowling, Dederer throws a wide net of monsters and wrestles with the question we all want an answer to: when does someone's art allow us to overlook their monstrous deeds?

Of course, there are no easy answers here. Claire Dederer narrates every moment, wondering about the ethics of revisiting Annie Hall and Manhattan. Each new art piece expanding our definition of monster and wondering about our consumption. And there's rarely a monster you can think of that isn't mentioned: Michael Jackson, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, and the list goes on and on. Each chapter is assigned a theme from drunkards, to women abusers, to anti-Semites--it's beyond thorough.

But let's also be clear, it's deeply fascinating. Claire Dederer's prose is something I haven't seen since Tressie Cottom's Thick in 2019. Each essay alone is gorgeous, and the forms are varied. Personal narratives and definition arcs along with linguistic explorations give a sense that these ideas were toiled over. And she's never afraid to bring us to these conversations. There's a sense that we're witnessing ideas first hand, even when the writing clearly demonstrates something far more sophisticated.

What I appreciated most was the drawing of monstrousness to the self. Dederer is revealing about herself and the audience. Her switches from "I" to "We" and back again often demonstrate that idea with finesse. We become part of the narrative, and the text in some way causes a large retrospection of this subject. Where are we in this? And how are we complicit? 

From beginning to end, I was astounded by Monsters--I simply didn't want it to end. The conversation feels rich, and it's a conversation that we're not having enough of. From "cancel culture" to the role of women to the comparison of how men's deeds compare to those of women, there's no stone unturned here. We need work like this. It's vital. As of now, Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma is the best book this year.

Release date: April 25, 2023
MSRP: $24.99


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