Kaitlin Phillips

  • Flacks and Hacks

    IF CRAFTING THE PERFECT seating arrangements is a delicate art for blue bloods—and vandalism is the opposite of art, as well as a pastime for talented poor people—then it follows that party reporting, at its most refined, is a form of controlled demolition on private property. In their heyday, party reporters were a bit like graffiti artists on the Upper East Side, tagging the marble walls (“Slut!” “Bankrupt!”) as fast as they can be cleaned up. What is a personal publicist but an overpaid janitor with a pressurized hose?

    The allure of party reporting is risk. The entitled class (the rich,

  • Tech, Please!

    The best pieces of long-form journalism are those where you get the sinking feeling the subject has no idea what the point of journalism is. No inkling that a salacious story is better than a puff piece. No fundamental understanding that a writer, at the end of the day, is only going to make her career if she exploits her subjects, even if it’s just to expose their bad personalities or unkempt apartments. It thrills to read a story that no one wants written about themselves. Whether you are party reporting or writing profiles, you can always find something unethical to unearth, if you care to

  • Books About Work

    Unlike television—where every profession is indicated through props, like a cup from Starbucks—novels often let their characters do the work. Work is a fount of material, what with the complaining, cheating, procrastinating, backbiting, tedium. Not working too. Being unemployed is taxing! Every novel about a rich person who doesn’t work could be marketed with the tagline Everybody works. And who can argue with that? Not a writer.


    Before Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York (1986), there was Born Losers, a story collection by Barbara Skelton. The first story,

  • The Last Literary Lion

    The concept of “literary lions” seems antiquated in a world that doesn’t want writers as public intellectuals. We don’t turn on the TV to learn anything, certainly not from a writer on national news. Even less plausible is an ecosystem that allows a magazine editor to “reign” at a publication, entwining her identity with its output to the extent that the brands are interchangeable. Upon the deaths of George Plimpton, Barbara Epstein, and Bob Silvers, the identities of the Paris Review and the New York Review of Books were naturally diluted somewhat, like a glass of whiskey served only after

  • The Worst of Everything

    As someone who lives uptown, I’m used to qualifying that my boyfriend bought our apartment for cheap in the late ’90s. My desire to lightly establish my adjacent moral authority—he’s not a banker, slumlord, or trustfunder, he’s just from New York—is as inevitable as strangers wanting to know my cross streets. Where on the Upper East Side? is a follow-up question I’ve come to expect, and it elicits the information people nod at in knowing recognition, and saves them from asking uncouth questions: How close to the park? How far from East Harlem? Where would gossip be without light taxonomy?


  • Overtime in End Times

    Ling Ma’s debut novel, Severance, toggles between a novel about work, in which its protagonist carries out soul-sucking tasks to make more and more money (coerced by the structural requirements of capitalism), and a novel about a cult, in which its protagonist joins a group of zealots (coerced by the opportunity to live in a protective, if creepy, community). Both require a certain amount of women’s work (her superiors are always men) and water-cooler talk—the transition between the genres is smooth. The cult leader, Bob,is a “power-hungry IT specialist.” His arm is in a sling from “a botched

  • Easy Writer

    LIKE HIS BOOKS, Richard Brautigan was hip and wry, with a distinctly western affect. (Not uptight.) Janis Joplin wanted him to name her band. Rolling Stone said “his passions were basketball, the Civil War, Frank Lloyd Wright, Southern women writers, soap operas, the National Enquirer, chicken-fried steak and talking on the telephone.” A sensitive New Age guy, he was the so-called patron saint of hippies. (“I do what everybody else does,” wrote Brautigan in the story collection Revenge of the Lawn. “I live in San Francisco.”) Where Jonathan Franzen writes coolly of “the woman I live with,”

  • Art Monster

    When Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation came out in 2014, I couldn’t elbow my way to the bar without having a conversation with a woman writer about whether or not we knew any art monsters. Ottessa Moshfegh? Even Kate Zambreno and Joy Williams have children. . . . It seemed fitting we were all suddenly preoccupied with this question, as if we’d found a way to talk about whether or not we wanted to be geniuses, like the men.

    An art monster is what the woman in Dept. of Speculation wanted to be when she was young and single, energetically nursing her nascent career. “Women almost never become

  • Broke Girl

    The index card pinned to an unassuming bulletin board is catnip for lonely women with bad day jobs—the types who spend late nights at AA meetings in church basements and do their own wash-and-fold in sticky, twenty-four-hour laundromats. Listless and desperate for change, bored in depressing, utilitarian cityspaces, they try contacting a stranger.

    It’s a lo-fi deus ex machina for novelists who write about wayward New York girls. In Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991), an overweight thirty-four-year-old woman working the graveyard shift as a proofreader answers an index card posted

  • Downtown Disaster

    Cat Marnell—the popular drug-addicted beauty editor and blogger—has written the kind of '90s-era junkie memoir that lends itself to the morbid curiosity we reserve for anyone who dies before we discover their work. Like Anna Kavan, a lifelong imbiber of heroin, Marnell published her first piece of writing as an addict. (When Kavan died, her friends found forty different shades of lipstick in her apartment.) Marnell's story does not veer into the kind of self-mythologizing that occasions armchair fact-checking. In fact, it's a departure from a career spent transmogrifying her troubles for an

  • The Acid Test

    I know three people microdosing LSD or mushrooms: a very young, pearly-cheeked web editor from California; a wealthy, jarringly enthusiastic computer programmer I met at a warehouse party; and a catalogue model with a demure husband. Like everyone, they appear happier and more productive than me. They work in midtown. They live in better neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Their existence does not, however, propel me to alter my consciousness, much as a low-level aversion to scientific nonfiction from independent publishers will forever keep me from reading the book that "popularized" microdosing: The

  • The Gritterati

    Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York (1986)—the occasionally brilliant but ultimately uneven collection of twenty-two stories she wrote between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight—sowed her literary reputation as the lone woman in the “literary Brat Pack.” In fact she shared little with McInerney and Ellis that wasn’t cosmetic: youth, the 1980s, and a tendency to write about conspicuous consumerism in a way that made realism read like satire and vice versa (this wasn’t a trait unique to the Brat Pack—The Bonfire of the Vanities was published in 1987). The book party for Slaves spawned a

  • Secondhand Smoke

    Nicotine is further proof that Nell Zink has one of the finer imaginations in fiction today. Also a tin ear: “He steps out into the angled light of early fall, which is creating colorful geometric patterns on the fawn-colored carpet via prismatic glass in the Glasgow-style transoms of the French doors facing west.” I don’t read Zink for these stilted autodidactic flourishes—for that I prefer John Kennedy Toole, with whom she shares a trademark comical pathos.

    In her previous books, The Wallcreeper (2014) and Mislaid (2015), Zink has grounded her wandering style in philosophical questions about

  • Party Going

    “I had a prescription for a low-milligram antianxiety medication, as well as a mild beta blocker,” a man explains in Amie Barrodale’s icy, masterful first short-story collection, You Are Having a Good Time (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $14), “and I kept going into the bathroom to take more—I wanted to get the mixture right. After I took a pill, I’d check myself in the mirror, and I’d always be surprised at what I found. I kept expecting to find a monster.” It’s almost uncivilized how precisely Barrodale renders life as a banal grotesquerie in which you have the wherewithal to decide nothing: “

  • Write Less

    The protagonist of Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 conjures the material for two hours of plot by getting her cards read in anticipation of a call from her doctor. “I can’t see you yet,” the tarot reader says to the distraught, beautiful woman. “The cards speak better if you appear.” Madame Irma reshuffles the deck after laying out a series of foreboding cards, claiming they are “difficult to read.” Fearful and impatient, having purchased enough portents for one afternoon—“The illness is upon you”; “I see evil forces. A doctor”—Cléo aborts the reading and soon bursts into tears. At a café afterward,

  • Whatever You Desire

    A golden girl in the Golden State, Eve Babitz, the daughter of a well-regarded Hollywood studio musician and goddaughter to Stravinsky, was seen—in all the places you go to be seen in Los Angeles—before she was heard. Her first book, the glossy, memoiristic essay collection Eve’s Hollywood (1972; reissued by NYRB Classics, $18), published when she was twenty-eight, remains Babitz’s most-read work, and the hardcover edition has long been a coveted coffee-table prop. Its jacket boasts an Annie Leibovitz photograph of a busty Babitz lounging in a black bikini and feather boa, proof that the silky

  • Bad Romance

    Women who make “good” choices are generally said to have self-respect. At the very least, our usual definition of the quality assumes that a woman make choices at all—or, progressive opinion might have it, that she be aware she isn’t making any. Miranda July—whose characters are wimpish, lonely, and lacking in self-knowledge—does not seem preoccupied by self-respect of this conventional kind. Instead her characters wait, with various degrees of whimsical passivity, for their lives to change. “I am prepared for amazing things to happen,” says a mall shoe salesman in July’s first movie, Me and

  • Lena in Love

    Lena Dunham’s anxiety about success was initially her avenue to it. In 2009, while living in her childhood home, she created the web series Delusional Downtown Divas with two friends she’d known since preschool. The three parodied their fates as “children of the art world,” lying around their parents’ lofts, smoking pot, and preening their personal brands. A diva on the telephone: “Father, it’s AgNess. I have some bargaining to do with you. I will not sell the Frank Stella painting, and in exchange I want Jeffrey Deitch’s phone number. . . . I would like to have his screen name also.” When they