This is a kind of essay collection, kind of an essay diary, and similar to autofiction (minus the fiction part) of other writers these days. The book is a response to capitalism, but more so, a trying to reckon with, understand, define, and then process the reality of capitalism in various forms. One of the things that keeps happening in the book is Biss asking someone who should know the answer, to define capitalism, often finding either an almost tautological response, one that has no real sense of meaning, or one that’s built entirely on reference.
As a narrator Biss occupies a funny spot within this book. She’s too literate and conscientious (a tenure-track professor at Northwestern, and married to another) to blithely flit in capitalist spaces, too fully aware of things like privilege and gentrification, but also honest enough to suggest that knowing about these things doesn’t necessarily one the agency to do much about it, apart of significant (and likely performative) self-erasure or self-sacrifice. So like most of us, she exists with the knowledge, the discomfort, and not with a sense of overarching responsibility.
The writing is someone focused, sometimes wandering, sometimes really funny, and usually pretty insightful. It doesn’t really come up with much, but if it did, I think that would feel false. Mostly, it gives voice to the thoughts a lot of us have. Like Biss, I work in a field where I don’t actively profit from someone else’s labor, but a field that still affords me a fairly comfortable life. I don’t make as much as her, but my city is cheaper than her Chicago, so there’s some balance. I realize a lot about the world, don’t feel super empowered to do much beyond give some time and money back, and like everyone else, am still trying to live within the system I didn’t choose, wouldn’t choose, but still can’t really do much to change.