Maggie Nelson,
Wave Books, $14 (paper)

Maggie Nelson never claims that Bluets is a reply to William Gass’s On Being Blue: a Philosophical Inquiry, but she does take Gass on in her brilliant book on suffering, loss, love, and language. In the 61st of 240 short, often interrelated prose sections, Nelson writes, Gass “argues that what we readers really want is ‘the penetration of privacy’: ‘We want to see under the skirt.’ But this penetration is eventually tiresome, even to himself: ‘What good is my peek at her pubic hair if I must also see the red lines made by her panties, the pimples on her rump, . . . the stepped-on look of a day’s-end muff?’” Nelson goes one further in the subsequent section, declaring, “This is Puritanism, not eros. . . . I have no interest in catching a glimpse of or offering you an unblemished ass or an airbrushed cunt. I am interested in having three orifices stuffed full of thick, veiny cock in the most unforgiving poses and light. I will not choose between the blue things of the world and the words that say them.” Building the book as a collection of facts and quotations, Nelson interweaves her own insights, textual interpretations, and anecdotes ranging from the tragic to the outrageous. Nelson may, admittedly, have fallen short of the “compendium of blue observations, thoughts, and facts” she says she at first envisioned, but this slim volume is nonetheless an elegant, indispensable addition to the genre of the lyric essay.