Minna Zallman Proctor

  • fiction June 17, 2019

    Like Sleeping Next to a Boiling Kettle

    A man named Osvaldo Ventura entered a boarding house in Piazza Annibaliano. He was square, stocky, and wore a mackintosh. His hair was grey-blond, his skin flushed pink, his eyes yellow. He tended to smile when he felt uncertain.

    He’d gotten a telephone call from a girl he knew who was staying there. Someone had loaned her an apartment on Via dei Prefetti and she’d asked him for a ride.

    She was waiting in the lobby, wearing a cotton turquoise shirt, eggplant-colored pants, and a black kimono with silver dragons embroidered on it. At her feet there were suitcases, shopping bags, and a baby in

  • Are You My Father?

    IN 1983 THE CABBAGE PATCH KIDS craze set a record in the toy industry. Three million unique and individually named dolls were produced that year and still didn’t meet customer demand; the markup on secondary sales was 100 percent; and they made the cover of Newsweek. By way of comparison, as of January of this year, over 26 million people have contributed their genetic information to online databases controlled primarily by the commercial genetic-testing companies 23andMe and Ancestry.com. Analysts at the MIT Technology Review predict that, at the current rate of growth, the number of participants

  • The Big Shorts

    In his visionary 1985 essay “Exactitude,” the Italian writer Italo Calvino says, “The literary work is one of these tiny portions in which the existent crystallizes into a shape, acquires a meaning—not fixed, not definitive, not hardened into mineral immobility, but alive, like an organism.” This declaration is just one of the many and various ways that he tries to articulate the relationship between form (finite, distinct, structural, shapely like a crystal) and the infinite (everything in the natural universe that exists and can be imagined), a tension so essential that it could be said to

  • The Big Sleep

    Entirely pristine in its styling, Ottessa Moshfegh’s fourth book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, opens with the phrase “Whenever I woke up . . .” It is understated, implicit wording—the mild “whenever” simultaneously pointing to no precise time and to various specific times. The words “I woke up” crackle with multiple meanings. Woke from a slumber; woke from a stupor; woke from ignorance; woke from delusion; emerged from grief; emerged revived. It all applies. For a book about a woman so broken and exhausted by life at twenty-four that she sets out to sleep for a year, there couldn’t be a more

  • No Trauma

    I teach memoir writing, and occasionally my students want to learn how to be funny, which fills me with despair. There are many great memoirs—The Liars’ Club, Wild, Autobiography of a Face, Shot in the Heart, The Kiss—and hardly any of them are funny. Real-life tales of suffering, endurance, recovery, emotional survivalism—these are the generally established plotlines for contemporary memoir, what allow writers to indulge literary egocentrism for 280 pages, and what allow readers to be pain voyeurs in a safe, temporary environment. Happily, there are exceptions.Poet Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy

  • Black Swan’s Way

    My first experience of Angela Carter was The Sadeian Woman, her 1979 belletristic defense of the Marquis de Sade as a moral pornographer and protofeminist. Titillating, brilliant, and clearly deviant, it was a perverse introduction to an alchemy of postmodern theory and frankness I didn’t know possible. At twenty, I heavily underlined assertions like this one:

    The victim is always morally superior to the master; that is the victim’s ambivalent triumph. That is why there have been so few notoriously wicked women in comparison to the number of notoriously wicked

  • Anatomy of Melancholy

    In a fascinating moment toward the end of Daphne Merkin's new memoir, This Close to Happy, she observes from her seat in the cafeteria of a psychiatric hospital that she feels jealous of the anorexics. "They were clearly and poignantly victims of a culture that said you were too fat if you weren't too thin . . . . No one could blame them for their condition or view it as a moral failure, which was what I suspected even the nurses of doing about us depressed patients." The depressives "were suffering from being intractably and disconsolately—and some might say self-indulgently—ourselves." The

  • The Law of Uncertainty

    THE DEEP APPEAL of nonfiction is the massive and thorny dialectical tension between “true” and “truth.” How much overlap is there? Which one gets privileged? Which one drives the operation? It is a dynamic that feeds all the nonfiction genres—memoir, journalism, narrative history, biography, criticism, self-help, and true crime. In true crime, specifically, all along the spectrum from the most tawdry (Helter Skelter) to the most elegant (The Journalist and the Murderer), facts are in a pitched battle with storytelling. Crime leaves behind facts aplenty: scenes, corpses, forensics. Yet most of