[Lubow] brilliantly demonstrates how the emotionally fragile state of an artist can be channeled into something wondrous. His depiction shows us why her startlingly original photographs still stand on their own merit while simultaneously mirroring the photographer’s fractured psyche ... The image of Arbus that emerges from Lubow’s superbly crafted text, which draws on exclusive interviews with those who knew her intimately, is an extremely disturbing one ... Lubow is a talented and sensitive writer, and he doesn’t shy away from confronting the controversies that shadowed Arbus throughout her career ... Lubow himself seems to be trying to like Arbus more than he really does.
Lubow charts every up and down of Arbus’s sexual and emotional life during what was, after all, a fairly brief creative career, less than 20 years ... chopped up into 85 short chapters, with breathy titles such as 'Freak Show' and 'I Think We Should Tell You, We’re Men,' the book reads more like a novel — salacious, mysterious (another favorite word of hers) and harrowing ... All this is delivered in a formulaic prose that is generally as compelling as a textbook. This reader longed, on the one hand, for more passion and, on the other, for more depth, a diversion of the narrative headway to explore the philosophical connection between eye and body, between seeing and being ... Yet the narrative gives us something more important than anything it lacks: the embodied voice of Arbus herself.
Her story has been told and, no doubt, distorted quite a bit over the decades. But Lubow’s deeply researched and muted narrative — there’s no need to sensationalize with purple prose a life so strange and so shadowed — reads definitively ... Lubow chronicles Arbus’s rise and fall with a novelistic intensity that plumbs the decisive moments of a driven, unsettled soul. Along the way, he explores the complex intersections of her life and art, and delivers a major work that helps us see how Arbus saw, and how she told single-frame stories that keep speaking to us.