Jessica Winter

  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold

    Madness is often said to feed creativity, but the reverse might also be true—that creativity is the fuel that brings madness to fruition. The emotional intensity of that reciprocal relationship is the subject of Adam Haslett’s latest novel, Imagine Me Gone. The ghostly title is given its context a few dozen pages in, when the book’s patriarch, John, takes the two youngest of his three children, Celia and Alec, out on a boat near their family’s borrowed cabin on the coast of Maine. It is Celia who narrates this episode; we will later meet Celia and her brothers as adults, but for now she speaks

  • Mother of Invention

    In 1999, Jenny Offill published her first novel, Last Things, written in the voice of a girl caught between her passive scientist father and her mother, an increasingly unstable fabulist who takes her daughter on the run to nowhere in particular. Startlingly assured in inhabiting a child’s perspective, it was a cousin to another pair of American debuts, Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which were also road-tripping first-person narratives about perceptive girls trying to navigate the reality-distortion fields created by the half-mad women in charge of

  • All That Glitters

    Of all the clichés that Hollywood movies have foisted upon their viewing public, one of the most robust is that the glamorous dream machine runs on the fuel of starlets’ blood and agents’ bile and writers’ flop sweat and all the filth that Kenneth Anger could scrape from the gutters of Sunset Boulevard and smear on the pages of his Hollywood Babylon. Anger made up his gossip when he wished, but Hollywood-inspired fiction has always had plenty of reporting on its side. James Ellroy based The Black Dahlia on a horrifying real crime. Actual adventures in the screenwriting trade illuminated Nathanael

  • The Lost Girls

    “I am beginning to realize that taking the self out of our essays is a form of repression,” Kate Zambreno writes in Heroines. “Taking the self out feels like obeying a gag order—pretending an objectivity where there is nothing objective about the experience of confronting and engaging with and swooning over literature.”

    To defy that gag order, presumably in place and unchallenged at least since the dawn of the New Criticism, Zambreno has written Heroines, a blend of memoir, literary criticism, and manifesto. The book is an outgrowth of her blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister, named for the actress

  • A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

    Hilary Mantel’s 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, was an extraordinary achievement, a work of historical and artistic integrity that nonetheless managed to be a hit across genders, generations, and sensibilities. I know a twentysomething male worshipper of Thomas Bernhard who loves it, and I know a retired female acolyte of Jodi Picoult who loves it just as much. The book appeared midway through the high-rated run of Showtime’s The Tudors, which grappled lustily albeit ahistorically with the same soapy crisis—Henry VIII’s break with Rome and divorce from Katherine of Aragon in favor of the swiftly disfavored

  • Absence Makes the Art

    If you are so unfortunate as to be the protagonist of a Heidi Julavits novel, chances are you are both lonely and besieged. You are the girl at the party that everyone stares at but no one will talk to. You are likely clever, plain, and passive, a screen on which other women project their resentments and insecurities. You are the taunted sister, the gossiped-about neighbor or colleague, and you are almost certainly the unmothered daughter. Perhaps your mother could not bear her child’s scent, and expressed her parental ambivalence by campaigning against overpopulation (as in Julavits’s

  • culture November 11, 2009

    Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith

    Possessed of both imaginative empathy and an astringent wit, rigorously nonjudgmental yet armed with a state-of-the-art bullshit detector, Zadie Smith’s nonfiction glimmers with the same cultural and emotional acuity that illuminated her novels White Teeth and On Beauty. In Changing My Mind, a collection of criticism, essays, and reviews for outlets such as The New Yorker and the U.K. Guardian, her instincts are expansive, inclusive, democratic, yet fiercely personal.