Too Much and Not the Mood

Durga Chew-Bose

The title of this book comes from an entry in Virginia Woolf’s diary, where she wrote about being tired of the “cramming in and cutting out” to please readers. I wanted to really love this book, expected it even, from the context of the title and the blurb that references Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Lydia Davis’s short stories, and Vivian Gornick’s “exploration of interior life.” So I built up its possible impact too much, and then the first essay “Heart Museum,” which takes up almost half of the small volume, was a slog that I struggled to get through, even though I was on vacation and had no distractions to keep me from getting enmeshed. While I generally am all for explorations of the banal, this one just didn’t come together for me in the end.

Overall I enjoy the timbre of Durga Chew-Bose’s writing, though I found sometimes the rhythm was broken up with so many fragmented sentences. The moments in this book that I appreciated most is where she delves into her experiences as a first-generation American; these are the places where the depth of her experience shines.

When my father repeats himself, he is not just reminding me of his parents’ lives; my father is coerced by the rubbing-out that comes with remove. How it can rarify a family’s history. Nobody was going to tell your story unless you told it yourself. And nobody was going to remember it unless you repeated it enough for your story and for your memories to develop their own rhythm.