The Argonauts is about small, miraculous domestic dramas, and the ardent acts of readjustment and care that they require, but it is also a reconsideration of what the institutions established around sexuality and reproduction mean if you come at them at a slant, if you disrupt them by the very fact of your being ... In the final pages, Nelson tells the story of Iggy’s birth, mixing it with Dodge’s own account of his mother’s death. Birth is well-travelled ground in literature these days, but I have never read anything as luminous and exacting as these wrung accounts of the passage in and out of life.
At 143 pages, The Argonauts contains much more than its unassuming size would suggest, a discrepancy befitting an exploration of what may and may not be contained by our physical selves ... So much writing about motherhood makes the world seem smaller after the child arrives, more circumscribed, as if in tacit fealty to the larger cultural assumptions about moms and domesticity; Nelson’s book does the opposite. Like the Argo, her ship’s been renewed, and her voyage continues.
...in a way, The Argonauts is a book about how love changes the way we name things. It is the first book I have read that explains to me as a reader and a human being what it is like to fall in love with someone driven to transform their own gender. Turns out, it’s like falling in love with anyone — surprising and sometimes scary ... Nelson’s account of her falling is so natural and heartbreaking that I forgive the occasionally whiff of the seminar room.
The Argonauts shows us the value of lives, and books, that refuse to be 'all one thing.' Although Nelson's discussions are grounded in real life, they're amply fed by — though never roped off inside — abstract thought ... The book is all detached paragraphs, no indentations and no visible chapter breaks. Impressively for a work that was largely composed in sections, The Argonauts is a keenly conceived whole. It's a book about using the writings of smart, even difficult writers to help us find clarity and precision in our intimate lives, and it's a book about the no less intimate pleasures of the life of the mind.
Maggie Nelson’s new memoir, The Argonauts, is diaristic, but its effect is that of a diary reconstructed in retrospect, its timeline jumbled. The book proceeds in fragments that veer from Nelson’s life, in particular her love and family life, into theoretical terrain that’s home turf for many educated in the ’80s and ’90s — the lit-crit equivalent of a well-curated post-punk jukebox ... There’s a stirring climax that alternates Nelson’s account of childbirth with Harry’s messages from her mother’s deathbed. 'All happy families are alike,' a straight man once said, and the Argonauts are a happy family, hyperintellectual, fun-loving, given to dancing. But that isn’t to say The Argonauts isn’t a singular book.
Although her story drifts pleasantly between ideas, implying that concrete boundaries have little value to her, she occasionally slips up, revealing a stubbornness that seems counter to her claims to openness ... Nelson’s writing is fluid — to read her story is to drift dreamily among her thoughts. And, although some of her assertions are problematic, she masterfully analyzes the way we talk about sex and gender.
Nelson's vibrant, probing and, most of all, outstanding book is also a philosophical look at motherhood, transitioning, partnership, parenting and family — an examination of the restrictive way we've approached these terms in the past and the ongoing struggle to arrive at more inclusive and expansive definitions for them.
The Argonauts is a thrilling read for the way in which Nelson crafts an exceptional form uniquely suited to her exceptional content: the story of falling in love with the gender-fluid artist Harry (formerly 'Harriet') Dodge, building a queer family and having a child through IVF. Yet this summary can do neither the book nor Nelson's huge-brained and big-hearted ambitions for it justice. One could call what she has done a motherhood memoir, which it undeniably is, but that label risks reducing its scope, which is practically boundless ... a beautiful, passionate and shatteringly intelligent meditation on what it means not to accept binaries but to improvise an individual life that says, without fear, yes, and.
...a fluid mix of autobiographical writing and critical theory that uses each to think about the other ... Like the Argo, this book keeps building on itself with stories of sexual and intellectual and maternal passion, the conception and birth of Nelson’s son, and the decline and death of Dodge’s mother. There’s gender fluidity, bodily fluids, the fluid nature of language, the ebb and flow of life and death. But at its center is always love, its meaning ever renewed, from its first utterance on a cold cement floor to the last, which, in this ongoing narrative, still has yet to be said.
The Argonauts is a book of bodies in transformation—surfaces are altered by pregnancies and hormone treatments and illnesses, these reshaped exteriors tending to work in tandem with some form of internal change ... Sharply-observed, profound, profane, and often funny as hell, the quality of The Argonauts final third comes not from Nelson’s newfound mom-ness but from her total ownership of the material: while others may be present, no one—no matter how committed—shares the pain of protracted labor.
The Argonauts is Nelson’s brilliant and poetically associative search for a way to create a space within language and the world where she and Dodge can make their life together ... She does not bend genre so much as she refuses to bend her writing to meet genre’s demands, and it is that unbendingness that makes her work so fresh, compelling, dark, and intimate.
The Argonauts is an exemplary, uncomfortable and lovely book, and it’s a book that actually merits the utter cliché: It really makes you think. Ms. Nelson is a funny, needy, prickly, erudite and charming character. She gets angry and makes you angry, but more often you’ll find yourself laughing with both delighted and rueful recognition of the messy lives she takes such evident pleasure in living and living with.
It’s a pleasure to watch Nelson’s mind work on the page. She unspools the words and ideas of other thinkers, and threads them through the questions of her own life. She is often funny. And the nuances of her analysis, whether they reach a conclusion or not, go on and on. Even as she is pondering the nature and meaning of 'queerness,' she is queering the genre of nonfiction; she is depicting the inverted otherness of passing as a hetero family, and the vulnerability of outing herself ... Out of her entire body of work—nine books—it is clear that The Argonauts is by far Nelson’s most personal. The Argonauts is not oblique—it is glorious in its giving. The thoughts, now tethered to a story, have a mesmerizing motion, and their reach stretches even further off the page.