Rumaan Alam

  • fiction June 27, 2022

    All She Wrote

    It’s always been a sport to argue about the canon. I’ve never been one for sports.

    When readers declare a desire to read away from the canon, I admire the instinct. It’s almost a predictable part of the cultural cycle: the resurrection or rediscovery of those whom the times have left behind or unjustly ignored. It’s thrilling to reckon with the work of artists never given their due—in recent years, Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, Lucia Berlin, Kathleen Collins, Alice Adams, Bette Howland. But I confess: it rankles, a little, the cri de coeur “Read Women.” There’s a long list of reasons to

  • Signs and Symbols

    ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH Kate Zambreno’s novel Drifts, the unnamed narrator notices a butternut squash. It makes her think of a detail in a Dürer engraving. Later, in a restaurant, she spots a decorative squash. “There appears to be a vast referentiality everywhere,” she tells us. It’s true that patterns exist—or, anyway, that we’re constantly finding them. It’s less true, I think, that there’s meaning in this fact. It’s only a game we while our lives away playing.

    Drifts has place (New York) and players (the narrator’s friends; her partner, John; a neighbor; her dog, Genet), but not much in the

  • Field of Bad Dreams

    We name things to make them less fearful. It’s an expression of affection or conquest (isn’t that why Adam christened the animals?). I think of how my kids sometimes bark out “Alexa, play Mamma Mia!” even though we don’t own an Amazon device. I’ll never buy one of those things, but my resistance is futile: My children already inhabit a reality in which they’re on a first-name basis with the internet. It’s like no one remembers HAL!

    The Resisters, Gish Jen’s fifth novel, posits a future perhaps less distant than we think. Forget first names; the tech infrastructure that undergirds all of society,

  • Reality Bite

    There’s a scene in André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name in which a teenage boy ejaculates inside a peach. Later, his older lover, a family houseguest, finds the fruit and eats it in front of him, slowly, deliberately. They’re not even in flagrante delicto; it’s only barely a sex act. “He was still chewing. In the heat of passion it would have been one thing. But this was quite another. He was taking me away with him.”

    You already know that Call Me by Your Name involves peach fucking, just as you know that Fatal Attraction involves bunny boiling; such is the power of cinema. In Luca