lip lit: and the heart says whatever
And the Heart Says Whatever is a lightening rod of a book. Emily Gould’s life has been the stuff of cult films and teenage daydreams. She has beautiful tattoos snaking all over her upper torso and a don’t-give-a-fuck sensibility that, combined with her personal and professional experiences, make her an easy, lazy target for mockery and hipster-bashing.
And the Heart Says Whatever is a collection of essays focusing in equal parts on her employment and her private life. The schadenfreude-laced reviews directed at Gould’s book tend to criticise her lifestyle rather than her writing. Upon her arrival in New York, Gould worked in dive bars and then in entry-level positions in publishing. As deprecating as she is of this period, it’s still cloaked in a ‘young+literary+NYC’ golden haze. Her career trajectory rocketed with her employment as editor at Gawker.com, and she is as scathing of the gossip industry as she was toward public figures during her time in that role. Meanwhile, her personal relationships oscillate between intense codependent relationships, indiscriminate infidelity, and extended periods of physical and emotional loneliness.
There are undoubtedly flaws in the writing: most obviously, a strain of whiny ‘why me’-ness, mixed with the casual nastiness of her behaviour. She is critical of her aimless ex-boyfriend, detailing the ways he failed to retain her affections and how she consequently cheated on him. It’s the ugliness of human interaction at its rawest, and describing it honestly is both cruel and brave. Personal essays can tend to drift into self-indulgence, which makes it even harder to respect the fact that Gould is sharing universal experiences, unmediated by self-flattery. It’s difficult to sympathise with a narrator who admits, without regret, to adopting a puppy which she failed to bond with, returning it to the breeder after several weeks. But it’s naïve to think that the writer is unaware of her unsympathetic portrayal.
When the writing is good, it is great. There were plenty of passages worth underlining, as often for the honesty of the writing as for its beauty. Describing her confused adolescent sexuality, Gould explains that ‘every single thing happening in my brain and body was about sex and the complicated constellation of gratification feelings clustered around sex that, because I was a girl, I had taught myself to call “love”.’ The implications of society’s expectations of chastity and romance will resonate with young women living and loving in a world which is both overtly sexualised and highly repressed. Gould is open about her periods of promiscuity, beginning with her teenage desire ‘to be and/or to fuck everything attractive in the world, and it was a light-headed, irrational feeling that I would have thought was like being drunk or high if I’d ever been drunk or high before’. It’s a refreshingly honest depiction of the inarticulate desire for physical connection and satisfaction.
The essays are sometimes inconsistent – the romantic interests blur together and the dodgy writing workshops she joined are as boring to read about as they were to attend. In “House of Blues”, it seems Gould decided a thorough examination of one of her shitty waitressing jobs was relevant simply because she was surrounded by the lost souls of late night sleaze. The forced poignancy she assumes can be grating. But when it works, it’s excellent, with insights and pithy bon mots worthy of repetition: ‘the future was still unclear, but just unclear enough to be exciting and not so unclear as to be frightening’. Gould is able to imbue the ordinary moments of a small life in a big city with meaning.
By Veronica Sullivan
And the Heart Says Whatever is published by Free Press.