She was a deeply complicated person who carried with her a lot of talent and a lot of trauma, and her life bore the weight of both. And yet, despite every good attempt to sketch her many facets in full three dimension, Benedict’s novel ultimately flattens Lamarr.
Tim Johnston opens his book with a Hemingway quote: “He whispered this last so low that it was inaudible to anyone who did not love you.” It’s short. Poignant. Tinged with melancholy. The book is the same way. Slow and sure.
I expected Kang to treat her topic with the same fire that she brought to the psychosexual tangles of The Vegetarian, but for all its beauty the book feels weirdly contentless, a boundary drawn around air.
“When You Read This” does lead readers to contemplate intriguing and important philosophical questions, such as what makes life worth living and how, if at all, the dead should be honored, but it lacks in plot and character development.
Few volumes of poetry boast such backmatter — flipping back and forth between text and notes is a style of reading I figured highly academic and contained to, say, John Whittier-Ferguson’s Joyce class.