“A masterpiece . . . A Chance Meeting takes thirty American writers and artists from Henry James to Robert Lowell, and braids them together in thirty-six encounters. Each person comes round two or three times, and every meeting, friendship and collaboration has a resonance that can be heard down the ages until what you have before you is an immense chain of artistic consequences.”
“Dazzling . . . a book that’s as addictive as popcorn . . . A Chance Meeting heralds an auspicious beginning to an already thrilling career. It elevates name dropping to an art, and transforms literary criticism into a party.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Symphonic . . . elegant and elegiac . . . [A Chance Meeting] answers hungers you did not even know you had. . . . At book’s end, the world to which Cohen returns you is more vivid, peopled with new acquaintances. . . . Outstanding.”
“Enthralling…The 36 essays, as they progress… from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, constitute something of a new genre, rare in our period…What is being divined is nothing less than a century or so of American taste, the nature of modern literary and artistic tangency in the United States…I know of no remotely analogous cultural articulation — not even Alfred Kazin’s richly rehearsed An American Procession — that ventures so explicitly, and so readily, into the American briar patch of racial and sexual encounters….Rachel Cohen’s vision of the life of art in her chosen century, and the effect of that vision upon her reader, is one of an astonishing gladness.”
— Richard Howard, front page review, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Innovative…faultless. . . [Cohen] gives us a more intimate sense of these people in a few pages than one sometimes gleans from entire biographies.”
— The New Yorker
“Captivating…like an elaborate fugue…[Cohen’s] prose is elegant yet plain, and her judgments sound and generous…While carving a set of brilliant miniatures, Cohen is also indirectly telling a story of sex, race, political protest and celebrity culture in America, from the Victorian era to the 1960s."
— The Boston Globe
“Cunningly crafted and meticulously written…[Rachel Cohen] has produced, in her first book, something fresh and unexpected and promising.
What Cohen has written is not so much a group biography as a sort of evocative matrix of writers and artists over time, with exhilarating overlap and cross-reference.” — The New Republic
“Stylish… A Chance Meeting explores the imaginative enlargement that results from an encounter with an inventive (and kindred) mind…Cohen writes like a fiction writer…[and] deftly evokes character through eccentric detail.”
“An innovative hybrid of biography, cultural history, ‘imaginative nonfiction,’ and gossipy anecdote. In Cohen’s great chain of being, one brilliant creator is linked to another and another, so that American culture is seen as the vibrant organic whole it truly is.”
“For her astonishing literary debut, Rachel Cohen spent ten years exploring the . . . encounters of some of the greatest names in American arts and letters….Impeccable.”
“A tour de force of literary historical imagination, A Chance Meeting is grounded by remarkable erudition without being merely tethered to it. These days, when so many studies serve to entomb their subjects, one feels blessedly grateful for a book that brings them to life.”
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"I can’t think of any book that would give more raw pleasure to a book-reading person than A Chance Meeting. Our sense of the continuum of literary community is strengthened and shaded by these stories, which are told with a strange alchemy of grace, restraint, humor and passion."
"As original and impressive a work of cultural history as I have encountered in years."
–Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Carry Me Home
"It can sometimes seem as if all American artists and writers are, and always have been, lone figures who go about their business without any contact with others of their kind. Rachel Cohen has written a lively and fascinating book that turns this idea on its head. Through the captivating device of what the French call ‘the magic of the unlikely encounter’, she traces a tradition of meeting, sharing, and encouragement among individual writers, painters, and photographers that has enriched American arts and letters in ways that could never have been foreseen. Cohen offers the reader the gift of interconnected portraits, tightly drawn and cleverly told, then stands aside and allows the stories of these encounters — good as any fiction — to work their magic. Compelling and delightful."
– Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
"A wonderful, absorbing book in which information, anecdote, literary understanding and gossip take fire and are transformed into insight. Rachel Cohen’s wit and learning, conjoined, are a marvel. The writing of A Chance Meeting, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, is at a rare level of grace. This is a book worth returning to, immensely distinguished and pleasurable."
– Robert Pinsky
"How rare to find a book that acts as both intellectual tonic and spiritual inspiration. Even rarer that it’s written by a first-time author. The writing is elegant, poetic, and true. The monumentally deep reading that went into it is indeed its own kind of religion — a temple of worship for thinking people who believe in the human artistic impulse."
–John Burnham Schwartz
“A Chance Meeting is a brilliant, innovative journey through American culture. It manages simultaneously to be intimate and sweeping, wide-ranging and sharply focused. Best of all, it makes its own quirky path through cultural history seem both serendipitous and inevitable. Like so many of the writers whose early successes she examines, Rachel Cohen is destined for great things.”
“There are thirty-six braided essays in Rachel Cohen’s lyrically evocative celebration of the American cultural provenance. Read one of them and you won’t be able to keep yourself from reading the next. Read them all and you’ll emerged transformed, transfigured: so that’s what this whole adventure has been about — that splendor, that anguish, this bounty. What a lavish gift there is in this book. Where does this new young writer get off being so good? And how do the rest of us get off being so lucky?”
–Lawrence Weschler, director of the New York University Institute for the Humanities and author of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder