Michael Herbert Miller

  • culture August 24, 2012

    Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser

    To most of the country, Detroit is characterized more by the people who left than by those who stayed. Detroiters like to joke that everyone returns eventually, but over the past fifty years, the city's population has lost more than a million people, leaving it at a third of what it was at its peak at the end of the 1950s. Detroit is in a constant state of physical flux: At any point, that house on the corner might become a victim of the arson that is as ubiquitous in the city as Ford sedans and GM trucks. A local who returns after spending even a few months away is left feeling like a foreigner,

  • culture June 24, 2011

    Gimme Some Truth: The Paradox of Novelist Jesse Ball

    Jesse Ball’s impenetrable, dystopic The Curfew—about an ex-concert violinist living in a repressive city that might or might not be Chicago—has little in common with the realist novel. And yet what Ball strives for is authenticity. “VERACITY IS UNAVOIDABLE,” goes a warning sign posted by this novel’s villainous secret police. Ball, in other words, is at odds with realism even as he strives for it. He is his own worst enemy.

    The Curfew, Jesse Ball’s third and slimmest novel for Vintage, contains within its pages the best sentence the young novelist and poet has yet written: “Is it not on the ground over that very grave that my life proceeds?” It’s a rhetorical question, and the contrast it presents (life and grave) is no accident. Ball is a strange paradox of a writer—his prose is as simple as stage directions but at the same time impenetrable, often because he whittles his sentences to nonsense. At his best, Ball is a virtuoso minimalist, situating only a handful of words poignantly on a page, letting the silence