In this powerful and wide-ranging collection of essays, Solnit turns her attention to the war at home. This is a war, she says, “with so many casualties that we should call it by its true name, this war with so many dead by police, by violent ex-husbands and partners and lovers, by people pursuing power and profit at the point of a gun or just shooting first and figuring out who they hit later.” To get to the root of these American crises, she contends that “to acknowledge this state of war is to admit the need for peace,” countering the despair of our age with a dose of solidarity, creativity, and hope.
Solnit, perhaps best known for Men Explain Things to Me, is back with another essay collection. While her past two books centered on feminism this one is about social justice of all sorts, touching on climate change, police brutality, gentrification, wrongful imprisonment, and more.
The essays were largely written between 2016 and 2018. The most powerful theme is the idea that names and language truly matter. If you cannot name a problem you cannot begin to solve it. A couple of the essays take a phrase – like “preach to the choir” or “break a news story” – and examine it from various angles. If preaching to the choir is useless, does that mean we have to try and convert those utterly opposed to our views? Other essays hew closely to reportage, covering the killing of Alex Nieto in San Francisco and the failings of the legal system in the case of Jarvis Masters.
The writing is good but I had fewer “wow” moments than usual. Solnit is great at stretching your brain and making you look at things from a different perspective but there wasn’t as much of it compared with her earlier essays. Perhaps if this were my first Solnit, or if I were less versed with the issues, I would have felt differently.
In sum it’s a solid collection, as you would expect from such a good writer, but not my favorite nor her best.
Thanks to Haymarket Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.