Eleanor or the Rejection of the Progress of Love
by Anna Moschovakis
Coffee House Press, 2018; 208 pp
Reviewed by Abby Burns
"At this point, Eleanor’s thinking became unfamiliar. Had she not been aware of just how familiar her thinking was to her in general, how expected it had become, even in its extremes, in its total enthusiasm and its total skepticism, its most rational gestures and its most impulsive ones? All of it now seemed dull and pathetic, as if thought were a giant mountain and she had spent her life so far considering one side of it only, attempting to scale it, duly scraping her hands and knees, her sights set on the mountain’s unattainable peak, without it ever once occurring to her—how stupid she’d been!—to relinquish her frontal perspective, to let the mountain become unrecognizable. As if it had never occurred to her to walk to the other side."
As I read Anna Moschovakis’s Eleanor or the Rejection of the Progress of Love, I found myself returning to Scklovsky’s idea of estrangement, or the process by which writers defamiliarize their material, making it strange and perhaps unsettling to the reader. Similar to Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles, one of the many texts it collects over its two hundred pages, Eleanor seems primarily interested in queering particular states of affect or thought. Moschovakis interrupts long passages of intense quotidian detailing with sharp outbursts of emotion. The language she uses shifts from the routine and merely descriptive: “She was alone in the hallway and in the elevator: mirrored walls coated with gray construction dust,” to something almost baroque in how exquisitely excessive it is: “She felt a shift in her guts—subcutaneous creature—at the transition from disbelief to outrage” (emphasis mine).
This toggling between styles augments the novel’s introspective moments, making Eleanor and her unnamed writer’s interiorities the driving force of the narrative. Our attention is drawn to the narrators’ discomfort, anxiety, and heightened emotion while their day-to-day routine slowly disintegrates, made insignificant by Moschovakis’s increasingly fragmented, unfinished sentences: “Abraham put on his goggles and [power saw, exhaust, plywood]”. In this way, Moschovakis slowly unsettles her narrators’ relationship to the familiarity of their surroundings and their actions, which once may have comforting, now invokes dread and disdain: “All of it now seemed dull and pathetic.”