A Review of Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive

Phoebe Connelly in In These Times:

Pollitt’s fourth book—preceded by three collections of essays and a volume of poetry—turns the tables, bringing her sharp wit and clear prose to bear on her own life. It is about, among other things, infidelity, breakups, motherhood, alcoholism and pornography. And it may be the best political work you’ll pick up this year.

The book opens with two essays originally published in the New Yorker in which Pollitt explores the aftermath of a long relationship. In the title essay, Pollitt writes about taking driving lessons in New York City after her boyfriend has left her. “I did not realize,” she writes wryly, “that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer.” The lessons become a means of exploring the tangle of the politics she has worn on her sleeve and the helplessness she feels. “I’m not the only older woman who can’t legally drive … but perhaps I am the only 52-year-old feminist writer in this position.”

She comes to realize that the Marxist study group her boyfriend formed was as much a study in his sexual proclivities as it was politics. With a bemusement that few people bring to the heavy-handed subject of political theory, she writes, “That was the dark side—the rivalries and sexual undercurrents, the fetish of the arcane, the political passivity that coexisted strangely with a belief that something terribly important and real, something we called ‘politics,’ was taking place right there.”