Sunday, January 27, 2008


I've just started Katha Pollitt's book of essays, LEARNING TO DRIVE. (I fell in love with her writing years ago, reading "The Nation" magazine. Here is her weird blog, where she refers to herself in the third person and links to recent "Nation" columns, which seem to be just as good as ever.) Here's a passage that captures her style, from the first essay in the book (the title essay):

Observation is my weakness. I did not realize that my mother is a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer, that the drab colleague he insinuated into our social life was his long-standing secret girlfriend, or that the young art critic he mocked as silly and second-rate was being groomed as my replacement. I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace, with books and papers collecting dust on every surface and kitty litter crunching underfoot. I observed ... that I was spending many hours in my study, engaged in arcane e-mail debates with strangers, that I had gained twenty-five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink and black-striped bikini panties in the clean clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simply laundry mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway.

The reference to her philandering ex-boyfriend is one of the major themes of the book -- do we really know the people we think we know? -- but it's typical of Pollitt that she makes the point so vividly, with the tell-tale bikini panties. I also love the sly way she slips the knife into her rivals -- the "drab" ex-colleague, the younger woman who was mocked behind her back.

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