A review by mguinnip
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson


Almost gave this two stars, but three because I was engaged enough to keep reading to the end. Considering the hype around this book, I was disappointed. I’m glad this was not my first Maggie Nelson read because I think it would’ve discouraged me from reading anything else of hers.

While I definitely have my critiques, this was still at times an interesting perspective of the journey of impending motherhood and exploration of queer identity. It had beautiful anecdotes and reflections that made me appreciate having read them. I was especially fascinated by one of Nelson’s first inquiries into queer relationships that “appear” heteronormative and the boundaries of “what is queer?”
However, the continual oration of her partner’s experiences with gender, sexuality, transitioning, and more, through her eyes as a cis woman under the guise of their love story rubbed me the wrong way. Not knocking her for including details of their relationship and struggles experienced together, but theorizing and narrating on behalf of someone else just felt weird. Some of the language used in describing her emotions and these experiences also made me frustrated - some sprinkled in micro-aggressions. Not gonna knock her for being honest about how she felt and perceived such situations, but to then turn around in the next paragraph speaking with such agency and taking on the role of an advocate made the narration that much more unreliable.

What disappointed me the most was that I had heard people describe this work as “accessible” and I did not find this to be. I think the mixed-genre of “autothoery” opens up great possibilities, but it just felt like the bottom fell out. The combination of theory and autobiography, in my mind, would be a perfect combination to make complex theories relatable and digestible, but I did not feel that was what was accomplished. It got very caught up in the theory and academia of it all, so much so that the sincerity began to slip and a gimmicky feeling rose to the surface. It made me cringe and put it down for days at a time.

An attempt at unpacking queer identity, spaces, and experiences in a genre-bending memoir, but it didn’t pull through for me. I credit this partially to context/time period, partially to overall structure, and partially to over-ambition. This is definitely also tainted by my own biases/experiences informing the way that I read this.

***wanted to add that i commemorate and appreciate Maggie Nelson for approaching such a daunting task, especially during the time period it was published, and admit that a lot of my critiques come from a modern reading of it, with a lot of new vocabulary and different perspectives/literature influencing my interpretation***