Jane Hu

  • Background Poise

    THERE’S A PHOTOGRAPH of the writer Sigrid Nunez as a young woman, sometime in her mid-twenties. It is 1977 and she has graduated with an MFA from Barnard, having studied under Elizabeth Hardwick. In the picture, Nunez is quite literally radiant—her gleaming teal top echoes the light bouncing off her high cheekbones. 

    On her left sits Susan Sontag, who is in her mid-forties. Wearing a black vest over a white dress shirt, Sontag leans slightly backward, her right hand grasping her left shoulder. Nunez tilts forward, long black hair framing her open, beaming face. Both women are smiling—their

  • True Grift

    WHEN WE FIRST MEET HER, Alex is adrift—literally at sea, floating perilously farther away from shore. “What would they see if they looked at Alex?” she wonders, gazing on the rest of the beachgoers. “In the water, she was just like everyone else.” 

    At first glance, Alex appears like any other young woman enjoying a day at the beach, her “thin brown hair cut at her shoulders.” Alex had learned early on “that she was not beautiful enough to model,” but was “tall enough and skinny enough that people often assumed she was more beautiful than she was. A good trick.” At twenty-two, she is still

  • The Return of the Repressed

    THERE ARE A LOT OF OLD FLAMES in Gwendoline Riley’s 2017 book First Love. The novel begins where so many end—in marriage, with its protagonist Neve moving into her husband Edwyn’s flat in London. What looks like the prelude to the sweet life—two lovers easing into domestic settlement—soon turns sour. There are pet names, and then there are “other names, of course.” On page two, we learn that Edwyn once called Neve “a fishwife shrew with a face like a fucking arsehole that’s had . . . green acid shoved up it,” among other things. It only gets more rancid from there. 

    Neve is thirty-three, around

  • interviews March 15, 2022

    Point Break

    Ari Brostoff’s debut collection of essays, Missing Time, shows one of our very best cultural critics at work. Written between 2016 and 2021, these five essays range from analyses of Bernie Sanders, The X-Files, Sigmund Freud, conspiracy theories, Jewish diaspora, Vivian Gornick, and falling in and out of (and back in) love with communism. What unites them is the curiously roving perspective of Brostoff, whose wisdom lies in understanding how popular culture and ephemera might be as ripe for historizing as social movements and schools of thought. A piercing investigation of the cultural detritus

  • Straight Outta Stockton

    THERE IS ONLY ONE literal afterparty in Afterparties, the debut story collection by Anthony Veasna So, who died last year at the age of twenty-eight. It appears about halfway into the book, as the organizing event of “We Would’ve Been Princes!”—though the event itself, as readers quickly learn, isn’t all that organized. The story opens right as a wedding party starts winding down and is broken into seven acts, each escalating in sloppy and somewhat digressive debauchery. As the afterparty grows more unruly, gathering a range of distantly related Cambodian cousins under one roof, so too does

  • Said by Said

    THE FIGURE OF EDWARD SAID might not appear to need much rescuing. Seventeen years after his untimely death from leukemia, almost all his books remain in print. His groundbreaking Orientalism (1978), considered the founding text of postcolonial studies, has been translated into over thirty languages. More than forty books have been written on Said, not to mention the one memoir, Out of Place (1999), written by Said himself. New reflections on his work are published each year, ranging from tributes to critiques, in academic journals and mainstream outlets alike. Meanwhile, Said’s concepts have

  • The Sense of an Ending

    ONE OF THE LAST THINGS the queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz published before his untimely death in December 2013 was an essay titled “Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate.” In it, Muñoz reflects on a question that had colored much of his career: politics’ relationship to queerness. The essay was, more simply, Muñoz’s reflection on what he described as “the strange and compelling collaboration between Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and her friend Gary Fisher.” Fisher was, like Muñoz, a graduate student of the queer theorist Sedgwick. He was also, unlike Sedgwick, queer and African American. When Fisher

  • One Weird Trick

    IN FEBRUARY 2005, the literary theorist Sianne Ngai published Ugly Feelings, a book she described as a “bestiary of affects” filled with the “rats and possums” of the emotional spectrum. Instead of looking to the classical passions of fear and anger, Ngai, then an English professor at Stanford University, wanted to explore what she called “weaker and nastier” emotions. The book is divided into seven chapters, each focusing on a single “ugly feeling” such as envy, anxiety, irritation, and a hybrid of boredom and shock she termed “stuplimity.” Based on Ngai’s graduate dissertation, Ugly Feelings

  • The Revolution of Everyday Life

    In the eight years since a small group of anti-capitalist activists set up camp in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street has generated its own literary subgenre: Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs, and Ling Ma’s Severance all feature scenes of the 2011 protests. In these novels, the Occupy movement, with its non-programmatic political aims and nonviolent tactics, represents a particularly utopian way of thinking about contemporary revolution—one that is less about direct action than it is about nonaction, about indirection.

    Caleb Crain’s new novel,

  • Suspicious Minds

    With The Moonstone (1868), Wilkie Collins is credited with writing the first detective novel—a genre that runs on secrets and the uncovering of them. Initially serialized in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round and released to enormous success, The Moonstone has it all: stolen jewelry, purloined letters, dirty linen, death by quicksand. Women have fainting fits as the virtues of opium are lauded. Suspicious details and red herrings abound. The stuff of domestic trifles is blown up and meticulously inspected—often literally under the lens of a magnifying glass. Dorothy L. Sayers called