Book Review: Things Are Against Us

Posted 6 months ago in Print

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Things Are Against Us

Lucy Ellmann

Galley Beggar Press

Lucy Ellman’s first nonfiction collection provides the sort of incisive and acerbic look into the world to be expected from the author of Ducks, Newburyport (2019), her 1,030 page, Goldsmiths Prize-winning modernist tome.

The title essay explores the nuances of the word THINGS that anyone familiar with the critical field defined in 2001 by Bill Brown as ‘Thing Theory’ will recognise. Here, the world is full of non-human, non-animate things that nevertheless appear to trip us up on purpose. “It’s possible THINGS really kind of hate us”, Ellman points out.

An object becomes a THING when it inconveniences: “THINGS disappoint us…THINGS don’t stay put…THINGS break, THINGS drip, THINGS make odd noises…” Lucid and playful, the capitalisation of THINGS almost instantly stops being a typographical oddity and begins to seem like a lexical one instead. What a weird word; what a weird world.

This essay isn’t an outlier. Even at her most serious, Ellman has a sense of formal humour and is never daunted by the potentials of the essay. The piece on feminism, ‘Three Strikes’, carries out most of its work in the footnotes, ‘the outsiders within a text’. References come at you so quickly it feels like scrolling Twitter. This is a compliment. Ellman moves fast, confidently, learnedly; she connects things; she’s angry and funny all at the same time. She’s simply very good.

Words: Alice Wickenden


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