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Sure to resonate with anyone who has ever degraded themselves in the pursuit of love, Acts of Desperation is narrated by an unnamed young woman caught up in a toxic romance with a beautiful but cold and distant artist named Ciaran. Alternating between direct confession and lucid critique, she speaks as though on a witness stand before a panel of judges (us), her account interrupted at intervals by new evidence from her past, or cross-examinations by her present self, older but perhaps not wiser or more mature.

Taking us past the first violence of obsession to explore what might happen if we got the forbidden thing (or man) that we yearn for, Nolan engages enormous questions that pulse in the background of many lives. What does it mean to be a woman today? How do we make sense of regressive desires-the desire to be overpowered, possessed, hurt, ignored? To get what we want, romantically and sexually, do we have to submit to degradation, to a more traditionally “female” existence? Like Sally Rooney, Nolan makes a study of how our most intimate relationships express the enduring imbalances of power that trouble our age.

Written with chilling, electric precision, Acts of Desperation is not just about obsession and the oppressiveness of an uneven relationship; it is also about the bravery of asking someone to love you, and the ways that love and sex can transform our ordinary lives and bodies into something spectacular, even if only for a moment.

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