Book Review: Back Talk

Book Review: Back Talk

Happy Wednesday!

Back Talk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin was released earlier this year. I decided to read it. For my thoughts on this highly anticipated collection about women, read on…

“The best collection I’ve read in years, from a phenomenal new talent.” –Celeste Ng

I found Back Talk by a quick Google search of “best new released books in 2018”. After going through a couple of articles, this one peaked my interest. She was a new author, it was a collection of short stories, and they were all about women. Not to mention, she had more than a handful of great reviews, from some really incredible writers. I quickly added Back Talk to my Amazon shopping cart and went on my way.

Back Talk is Lazarin’s first published book. She is a graduate of Oberlin College’s creative writing program, she received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where her stories and essays won Hopwood Awards. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and The Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. Lazarin’s fiction can be found in The Southern Review, Buzzfeed, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, Glimmer Train, Five Chapters, Boston Review, among others. In addition, her essays have been published by The Cut and Lenny Letter.

Back Talk features 16 short stories. Some are quite short, while others are more what you would think of a traditional short story. While unique, all of them are centered around women and their experiences through a transition of sorts. Whether it be a first sexual encounter to going through a divorce, each story describes growth and an experience.

I am passionate about women, so anything that gives a dedicated focus to them is something I am drawn too.

“From the first page to the last, this collection is stunning for its insight into the lives of young women, revelatory for its finely tuned prose, and unforgettable for its humor and tenderness…” –Julie Buntin

Her stories feel real. They give a sort of honest beauty in them. Seen in the subtle ways she describes each of her characters, you get a sense that that person is a true being, maybe even someone you knew or something you’ve seen in yourself.

I do not read many short stories, but from others I have read, I haven’t experienced the same level of intricacies than I did with Lazarin’s, Back Talk. As noted before, her writing felt rawer, more real, and less about what she wanted you to know, more about what she wanted you to experience.

Some common elements were featured in her stories, such as photography, Paris, and smoking. I am curious to know more of her background; did she study in Paris? Does she take pictures as a hobby? I will say, I did start to grow a bit tiresome, since so often I kept reading these little bits.

While I enjoyed her collection, at times I did find myself a bit distracted and wondering what was the point she was trying to make. Some of the stories just fell short or were down right boring. Luckily, I knew they would only last a few more pages so I read on. However, if some of her stories had been a novel, I might have just put the book down.

I feel like a handful of women reading this collection will be able to relate to more than one of these stories, in some way or another. However, this book does have some shortcomings.

“The stories in Back Talk are not only fierce and unflinching in their clear-eyed portrayal of women and girls, they are also tender and compassionate, imbued with a deep longing…” –Edan Lepucki

While I was reading story after story a theme kept emerging in my head: privilege. Nearly all of her stories are centered around white women living in a middle-class world. Because of this, I feel that me being a white, middle-class woman puts me in a position to better relate to her stories, than someone else. Lazarin, who did write a very realistic and relatable story of women’s experiences, was also very limited in those stories.

With all that being said, I don’t want to take away from her collection, entirely. Most writers draw on their own experiences when writing. This is common and makes for good writing, because there is such truth there. I just wish she had given a little more effort in exploring women from a variety of cultures, income brackets, backgrounds, etc. just to allow more woman a chance to really relate to these stories.

To sum up: Back Talk is a beautifully written collection that at times makes you think, makes you feel, and reminds you of experiences you’ve had. However, it does fall short in a variety of ways. All-in-all, I still think it is a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

Have you read Back Talk? If so, what were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers & stay chic!
-Taylor

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