The Life of the Mind: A Novel (Hardcover)
“[A] jewel of a debut . . . abundantly satisfying.”—Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
A witty, intelligent novel of an American woman on the edge, by a brilliant new voice in fiction—“the glorious love child of Ottessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
As an adjunct professor of English in New York City with no hope of finding a permanent position, Dorothy feels “like a janitor in the temple who continued to sweep because she had nowhere else to be but who had lost her belief in the essential sanctity of the enterprise.” No one but her boyfriend knows that she’s just had a miscarriage, not even her therapists—Dorothy has two of them. Nor can she bring herself to tell the other women in her life: her friends, her doctor, her mentor, her mother. The freedom not to be a mother is one of the victories of feminism. So why does she feel like a failure?
Piercingly intelligent and darkly funny, The Life of the Mind is a novel about endings: of youth, of professional aspiration, of possibility, of the illusion that our minds can ever free us from the tyranny of our bodies. And yet Dorothy’s mind is all she has to make sense of a world largely out of her control, one where disaster looms and is already here, where things happen but there is no plot. There is meaning, however, if Dorothy figures out where to look, and as the weeks pass and the bleeding subsides, she finds it in the most unlikely places, from a Las Vegas poolside to a living room karaoke session. In literature—as Dorothy well knows—stories end. But life, as they say, goes on.
About the Author
Christine Smallwood’s fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, n+1, and Vice. Her reviews, essays, and cultural reporting have been published in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Bookforum, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine, where she is a contributing writer. She has also written the “New Books” column for Harper’s Magazine, where she is a contributing editor, and been an editor at The Nation. She has a PhD in English from Columbia University, is a founding faculty member of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, and is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities.
“I loved this novel for illuminating how the stories we tell ourselves are such cozy cousins with the clever lies we tell ourselves. But also I loved this novel because it was very, very, very fun to read. The Life of the Mind is hilarious, recognizable, and helplessly wise—a perfect foil for its namesake.”—Rivka Galchen, author of Little Labors
“The Life of the Mind is brilliant and pleasurable, funny and dark, cerebral and visceral—a must-read for the bleeding human survivors of the modern age.”—Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces and Milk Fed
“Christine Smallwood’s debut novel is that rare thing: an intellectual page-turner that commands one’s attention completely from the first sentence to the final line. In painfully funny prose, Smallwood’s X-ray gaze seeks out the rich seams of anxiety and loneliness running just below the surface of our culture’s exhausting performative enthusiasm, taking in everything from the complex social politics of karaoke to the head-spinning paradoxes of an academic conference in Las Vegas. A worthy heir to contemporary classics like Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters and Gary Indiana’s Horse Crazy, The Life of the Mind is urgent, essential reading for our troubling times.”—Andrew Martin, author of Early Work and Cool for America
“The Life of the Mind is a wonderful novel about a life (and a mind) that refuses to behave novelistically. The book is smart, sharp, often very funny, and, in its commitment to truth over beauty, absolutely fearless.”—Christopher Beha, author of The Index of Self-Destructive Acts
“Brilliant . . . Dorothy’s sharp, witty narration makes this book something special (“In the asymmetrical warfare of therapy, secrets were a guerrilla tactic,” she decides, after putting off a session with her primary therapist). The result is like the glorious love child of Ottessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)