Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

Knopf. Apr. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780525655114. $28. SOC SCI
Building on her Paris Review essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?,” Dederer (Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning) tackles that question and a host of others entangled with it. For example, she asks who decides what counts as a genius. And how does society decide which “problematic” artists people can and cannot still love? While often-debated figures such as Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are mentioned in the book’s inquiries, the other subjects range across history and gender as well. That includes composer Richard Wagner, known for his antisemitism, and novelist Doris Lessing, who was said to have abandoned her first two children and her marriage to write. Emerging from Dederer’s reflections is the plain truth that every personal response to art is inseparable not only from the artist’s past but also the history of each member of its audience.
VERDICT By turns emotional and measured, this is a valuable meditation on some of the era’s most urgent cultural questions.
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