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A bold, incisive look at race and reparative writing in American fiction, by the author of Your Face in Mine White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs A bold, incisive look at race and reparative writing in American fiction, by the author of Your Face in Mine White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs or newly gentrified downtowns—to white writers setting their stories in isolated or emotionally insulated landscapes, from the mountains of Idaho in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping to the claustrophobic households in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Row uses brilliant close readings of work from well-known writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, and David Foster Wallace to examine the ways these and other writers have sought imaginative space for themselves at the expense of engaging with race. White Flights aims to move fiction to a more inclusive place, and Row looks beyond criticism to consider writing as a reparative act. What would it mean, he asks, if writers used fiction “to approach each other again”? Row turns to the work of James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, and James Alan McPherson to discuss interracial love in fiction, while also examining his own family heritage as a way to interrogate his position. A moving and provocative book that includes music, film, and literature in its arguments, White Flights is an essential work of cultural and literary criticism.


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A bold, incisive look at race and reparative writing in American fiction, by the author of Your Face in Mine White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs A bold, incisive look at race and reparative writing in American fiction, by the author of Your Face in Mine White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs or newly gentrified downtowns—to white writers setting their stories in isolated or emotionally insulated landscapes, from the mountains of Idaho in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping to the claustrophobic households in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Row uses brilliant close readings of work from well-known writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, and David Foster Wallace to examine the ways these and other writers have sought imaginative space for themselves at the expense of engaging with race. White Flights aims to move fiction to a more inclusive place, and Row looks beyond criticism to consider writing as a reparative act. What would it mean, he asks, if writers used fiction “to approach each other again”? Row turns to the work of James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, and James Alan McPherson to discuss interracial love in fiction, while also examining his own family heritage as a way to interrogate his position. A moving and provocative book that includes music, film, and literature in its arguments, White Flights is an essential work of cultural and literary criticism.

30 review for White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination

  1. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    Yet another Graywolf book that resists easy classification. It blurs the lines between craft book and personal essay, family history and political argument, into a collection that’s highly useful, if not quite prescriptive, for white writers, particularly those who don’t see themselves that way. I enjoyed Row’s takedown of the emotionally muted style so common in workshops and propelled forward by powerful editors like Gordon Lish. The standout essay, for me, was on the “white blues,” which weav Yet another Graywolf book that resists easy classification. It blurs the lines between craft book and personal essay, family history and political argument, into a collection that’s highly useful, if not quite prescriptive, for white writers, particularly those who don’t see themselves that way. I enjoyed Row’s takedown of the emotionally muted style so common in workshops and propelled forward by powerful editors like Gordon Lish. The standout essay, for me, was on the “white blues,” which weaves together, among other topics, Harold & Maude, David Foster Wallace, Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams, emo, and Wes Anderson to craft a compelling argument around the emptiness of white sadness. The book ultimately urges white writers to question whether we should write at all, an uncomfortable thought but a necessary challenge when creating in an art form, and seeking to publish in an industry, that has long centered whiteness.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sohum

    one can and should be skeptical of a white writer writing on race. this book also stumbles, digresses, and fails at points. but on the whole, row writes some lovely sentences and thinks carefully, incisively about the role of whiteness in contemporary fiction and theory.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Reading this book felt like going to a lecture with a dynamic professor when you haven't done any of the reading. Thought provoking without having read 90% of the authors he cites (and having no desire to do so!), I will be chewing on this one for a long time to come.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Cohen

    A book I had an incomplete handle on. Often in essay collections there are two or three exceedingly strong pieces bolstered with a bunch of average ones to make up a book. In this case, it felt like Row had some provocative (and effective) arguments to make about the different ways race plays (or fails to play) a role in white American fiction. It's when he gets off course from this, into political theory, sociology, and even personal history that I feel the individual essays lose their grip a l A book I had an incomplete handle on. Often in essay collections there are two or three exceedingly strong pieces bolstered with a bunch of average ones to make up a book. In this case, it felt like Row had some provocative (and effective) arguments to make about the different ways race plays (or fails to play) a role in white American fiction. It's when he gets off course from this, into political theory, sociology, and even personal history that I feel the individual essays lose their grip a little bit -- it's not that this material is wrong, it just feels shallower, less of an original mind, and more the summoning of expected characters (Derrida, Butler, etc.), with a bit less exegesis than I like. Plenty of forceful, thoughtful, challenging paragraphs that never quite cohere into the broader punch of idea I hope for from an essay. But those paragraphs, nuggets of insight were more than enough for me to give this 3*, I was weighing between 3 and 4. I think a condensed, long essay version of this could be remarkable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tessy Consentino

    Loved this book! Literary criticism done correctly.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maria Mestichelli

    I did not like the book at all. I was very intrigued by the topic, but the book is too slow and argumentations so little. I expected a lot, but am not satisfied at all.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Riegs

    TL;DR: "White people: floundering, denying, and fleeing from difficult situations... even fictional ones!" This one has its flaws, but I appreciate its existence. It is a good thing for a critical book about whiteness, and white cultural patterns in literature, to exist. There is plenty of scholarly work about how/where race shows up in the works of authors of color, but I haven't seen that level of discussion about modern white writers. Some things I wondered as I read: - Who else is examining D TL;DR: "White people: floundering, denying, and fleeing from difficult situations... even fictional ones!" This one has its flaws, but I appreciate its existence. It is a good thing for a critical book about whiteness, and white cultural patterns in literature, to exist. There is plenty of scholarly work about how/where race shows up in the works of authors of color, but I haven't seen that level of discussion about modern white writers. Some things I wondered as I read: - Who else is examining Don DeLillo's white experience in the way they're examining Toni Morrison's Black experience? - Why does his experience get to disappear from the text, while hers is forced to the forefront whether she intends it or not? - Are readers are conditioned to demand experience credentials from writers before we read/listen to them? (Short answer: Yes, especially if they're white. But that's for another day.) - I found myself struggling to even approach the authors Row wanted to criticize. In fact, I was like, "ugh I hate DeLillo, etc." Why? What is my experience with them? What other experiences are readers like me bringing to the texts? Speaking of disappearing from the narrative: it's interesting how Row resists this with the deliberate inclusion of his heritage. He intentionally inserts his life experiences alongside the criticism. It felt like he kept wanting to stress, "I am a white man and these are my white cishet experiences so please take it with a grain of salt." It's refreshing to see someone put that in the open, but also sometimes distracting. It bogged down the text with unnecessary information. Literary criticism is dry enough, dude. More real estate could've been devoted to the subject matter instead of your memoir. Overall, Jess Row opened an important line of questioning that we should be pursuing. This one was hard for me to engage with, because I already had negative preconceptions about the authors he was criticizing. Anyone else care to jump in?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A book I'll be thinking about for a long time and a book I think all white writers must read to understand the tradition they are choosing to participate in. You can disagree but you cannot deny the history of whiteness and white supremacy in literature. You can try to play it cool like Bret Easton Ellis or David Foster Wallace but you end up not telling the truth. You can be like Gordon Lish and hide the sappy whiteness of Raymond Carver so that your literature has a different spark but an abse A book I'll be thinking about for a long time and a book I think all white writers must read to understand the tradition they are choosing to participate in. You can disagree but you cannot deny the history of whiteness and white supremacy in literature. You can try to play it cool like Bret Easton Ellis or David Foster Wallace but you end up not telling the truth. You can be like Gordon Lish and hide the sappy whiteness of Raymond Carver so that your literature has a different spark but an absence of race. I could go on. But what Row really searches for is the question of what white writers are for and whether it is necessary for them to exist. Because I don't know myself. A lot of the time it seems like white writers are basically up their own asses or reacting to cultural forces that stops them from having all the power. I always say this and am a broken record about it but white writers need to listen. Actively listen to writers who aren't white, who aren't straight, who aren't able-bodied--they need to engage completely with diversity if they ever want to understand the root of oppression and the way they have perpetuated it countless times without even knowing. No more white innocence. "required reading for white writers" "we need this book, now and yesterday" "White Flights will change my work, and my life, and for that I'm grateful" "much-needed analysis of white writers" "Row examines strenuous naivete, white flights of fancy, and unreconciled and avoidant imagination, and suggests an intriguing concept of reparative writing."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Emotionally and intellectually draining, but also exhilarating, germinal. Most of the book is not easily paraphrased or condensed, but here is a passage that I think sums at least one of the bigger points Row makes: "White people–even those committed, in theory, to the struggle against white supremacy–do not know how to share power. White people do not know how to let white supremacy die without feeling they themselves are dying." (272) One of the phrases that echoed through my head while reading Emotionally and intellectually draining, but also exhilarating, germinal. Most of the book is not easily paraphrased or condensed, but here is a passage that I think sums at least one of the bigger points Row makes: "White people–even those committed, in theory, to the struggle against white supremacy–do not know how to share power. White people do not know how to let white supremacy die without feeling they themselves are dying." (272) One of the phrases that echoed through my head while reading this is Ta-Nehisi Coates's "the people who think they are white." Like Coates, like Baldwin, Row thinks of whiteness as a kind of self-imposed spiritual malady--not as something to have pity for, but as something that we can recognize as a severe limitation or stunting. The point is definitely not to feel sorry for "the people who think they are white," and there is no individual way to give up one's whiteness, one's white privilege--that is not a way out. The point is rather, I think, to reflect on the comprehensiveness of the global ruination that the idea of whiteness has caused, a desolation so complete that it cannot escape itself.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

    This is an excellent collection, and one which I wish I had the opportunity to read as part of a class, to really delve into the topics with deep discussions on philosophy, art, literature, and of course race. While I thought all of the chapters were strong, White Out (the last chapter) was the one I enjoyed the most, in part because it allows for introspection, where most of the rest of the book had me wanting to turn to someone to ask what they thought about a particular paragraph or passage. This is an excellent collection, and one which I wish I had the opportunity to read as part of a class, to really delve into the topics with deep discussions on philosophy, art, literature, and of course race. While I thought all of the chapters were strong, White Out (the last chapter) was the one I enjoyed the most, in part because it allows for introspection, where most of the rest of the book had me wanting to turn to someone to ask what they thought about a particular paragraph or passage. This reads as intellectual without being inaccessible, as deeply thought out and researched as intentionally shying away from a necessarily academic audience, and I appreciated every idea put down here as one which I will continue to consider in my own reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    George

    I wanted to like this book more. I heard a podcast review it positively (Wesley Morris from The NY Times spoke about it on Still Processing). I was particularly interested in the idea that being “woke” might be considered social posturing and this book had some reflections on how to think about race (particularly - Whiteness) differently. To be fair, there are some excellent reflections/insights in this book. That said, I found the book hard to access. There are many references that I just didn’ I wanted to like this book more. I heard a podcast review it positively (Wesley Morris from The NY Times spoke about it on Still Processing). I was particularly interested in the idea that being “woke” might be considered social posturing and this book had some reflections on how to think about race (particularly - Whiteness) differently. To be fair, there are some excellent reflections/insights in this book. That said, I found the book hard to access. There are many references that I just didn’t get and I think some of his points are hard to grasp if you don’t have your own knowledge of and experience with the references he is critiquing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Micah Winters

    This book is quite breathtaking in its intelligence, its breadth of cultural references, and its moral seriousness. Row's essays manage to match the challenge of the project they set for themselves -to reckon with whiteness, American racism, and political aesthetics in an innovative and urgent manner - and they accomplish this with considerable and compelling style and artfulness. Each piece pairs a critical incisiveness with a consummate craftperson's skill, resulting in a collection that pushe This book is quite breathtaking in its intelligence, its breadth of cultural references, and its moral seriousness. Row's essays manage to match the challenge of the project they set for themselves -to reckon with whiteness, American racism, and political aesthetics in an innovative and urgent manner - and they accomplish this with considerable and compelling style and artfulness. Each piece pairs a critical incisiveness with a consummate craftperson's skill, resulting in a collection that pushed and challenged me in many ways, and that insists upon future rereading and long, slow reflection.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Betty F

    Don't mind me just updating my goodreads lol this book was a lot, it's important for folks, specifically white folks, in that it gives space to interrogate whiteness, white supremacy and the whole structure. Jess has too many references in here to things that i've never heard of so it made it feel pretty inaccessible and just esoteric in nature but hey if that's your jam, you do you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I read the Book the Read it again.. another white people beating book. it comes at a time when beating on white people is suddenly fashionable. avoid it if you can, find another book. just read for the joy of it. if you sit thru this be prepared to have you're "Whiteness drawn into question. Personally i'm comfortable with me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    The type of book Jess Row sets out to write here, a critique and examination of whiteness, should be written more often, but is also a tough needle to thread, and often throughout White Flights, Row doesn’t quite get all the threads through.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    The kind of literary study that unspools and ricochets across a variety of theorists and topics, Row's text offers some new kernel or judgment of a canonical author in ways that make me want to revisit earlier works, to question older biases and rethink books I once unreservedly praised.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    810.9355 R876 2019

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chad Brock

    2.5

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marvin Campbell

    Stunning achievement__I couldn't stop underlining relevant parts, names of theorists, and sheer range of references. This book is stupendous. Check it out. I will be thinking about it for a while

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Essential reading, especially if you're a white anti-racist writer/artist attempting to figure out how your work connects with the rest of American fiction.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

    This book was v helpful to me and I haven’t read anything like it

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt W

    An essential recontextualizing of white American fiction from 1960s-present.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Fredin

    Excellent discussion of the racial state of the US.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    4.5

  25. 4 out of 5

    Francis

  26. 4 out of 5

    Xander

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Lugowe

  28. 4 out of 5

    Crankyfacedknitter

  29. 4 out of 5

    Butch

  30. 5 out of 5

    Haley Goette

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