• review • December 05, 2019

    The Space Between

    Limbo might be a dim office space found inside a building with a mud-colored marble facade in downtown Brooklyn, past a lobby cafeteria fitted with heat lamps and the smell of oil fryers, through a hallway bearing a color portrait of Governor Andrew Cuomo wearing a tight, distant smile and better known as the unemployment office. Unlike purgatory, which per Catholic doctrine is more like a layover for crimes committed in the course of a past life, limbo is a speculative region: of the mind, of time, of thought, of personal agency. It’s a murky suspension of progress. One cannot smell it or

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Cutting Up

    In 1988, Valerie Solanas, the author of the 1967 female-supremacist pamphlet SCUM Manifesto, died from pneumonia at the age of fifty-two, in a single-occupancy hotel room in San Francisco. The decomposing body of the visionary writer, who famously set forth her plans “to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex,” was discovered kneeling, as though in prayer, slumped over the side of the bed. The image lends itself to hagiographic depictions of Solanas—as a fallen soldier, a suffering genius, a latter-day entrant into the

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Gone Girls

    In her 2017 memoir After the Eclipse, Sarah Perry describes preparing for the trial of the man who raped and murdered her mother, Crystal, while twelve-year-old Sarah was asleep—and then not asleep—in the next room. It was twelve years before a DNA match prompted a suspect’s arrest and prosecution. Faced with the prospect of justice but also of reliving her unfathomable trauma, Perry started to run. She wanted her body sleek and strong; she wanted to show the killer her mother’s face, alive, unbroken. She logged regular hours at a gym where a row of treadmills faced a bank of televisions tuned

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Dancing to the Music of Time

    Foolproof rules for journalists who cover the arts are elusive, but a few third rails do stand out. For instance, you don’t wonder “But what was he driving at?” about Picasso’s Guernica. You don’t complain about the auditorium’s poor acoustics at a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”. And as we learn from choreographer Mark Morris’s brash, candid, often caustic, and totally delightful memoir Out Loud, you don’t ask this country’s most vital modern-dance dynamo since Martha Graham—sorry, Twyla Tharp fans—to describe his philosophy of dance.

    The last journalist reckless enough to try got a notoriously

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Love in a Cold Climate

    In the title essay of her new collection, Rachel Cusk describes something she calls being sent to “Coventry.” This, as it is for many English families, is her family’s term for putting someone beyond the pale, for thrusting an offender out into silence. Her parents “send her to Coventry” when she does something they dislike, when she has slighted them or failed them in some way. “Sometimes,” Cusk writes,

    It takes me a while to notice that my parents have sent me to Coventry. It’s not unlike when a central-heating boiler breaks down: there’s no explosion, no dramatic sight or sound,

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Bleak House

    There are a handful of novels in the English literary canon that directly concern domestic abuse. Most of them are light on direct testimony from victims, instead sublimating the violence of the marriage plot into the heroine’s surroundings. In classics like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, or Rebecca, the reader will notice something wrong with the house long before they see the flaws in the lover.

    It makes perfect sense to dramatize the marital home in a novel about intimate torture, because that is where the wife is trapped. Then as now, a spouse who wants to control

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Margaret Kilgallen: That’s Where the Beauty Is

    MARGARET KILGALLEN WAS BORN IN 1967, landed in San Francisco in 1989, and passed away of cancer in 2001. In that brief window, she occupied the center of an exploding galaxy of young artists including—but by no means limited to—Alicia McCarthy, Ruby Neri, Rigo 23, Bill Daniel, Johanna Jackson, Chris Johanson, and Kilgallen’s husband and frequent collaborator, Barry McGee. The creator of loping installations featuring rebus-like combinations of carnival fonts, graphical trees, and drawings of surfers and strong women, Kilgallen expanded the stylistic and attitudinal vocabulary of her time and

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    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

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    New as Foam, Old as Rock

    Pop critics are a sensitive lot. We fret about not being taken seriously and our heroes not getting a spot in the marble. Somehow the economic downturn hit us hardest, click-horny editors happened only to us, and the corrosives of social media burned us worst. And yet! We dropped into this foamy chaos of our own accord, this liminal gig with the lightest of accreditations and a very short stack of traditions to deform, or defend.

    At least some of this sense of insult is a response to real tendencies. Over the past fifty years, the music critic has gently shifted in position, from antagonistic

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Very Fine House

    Few artists have proved as agile in mining American visual culture as Jess. Born Burgess Franklin Collins in Long Beach, California, in 1923, the former chemist reconfigured media clippings, mail-order catalogues, and comic strips into complex, beguiling little universes, omnivorous and imaginative, displaying a formidable literacy of both written word and image. His paste-ups (as he preferred to term them) suggested amalgams of almanacs, the backs of cereal boxes, and pages from Life magazine, by way of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, James Joyce, the chronicles of Oz, and the stoop-front

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    You Can’t Go Home Again

    The Mississippi River and its tributaries flood perennially. To protect the settlements along its banks, the Army Corps of Engineers created a system of levees and canals that forced the waters to an unnatural course. The Great Flood of 1927 uprooted nearly a million people from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. It disrupted the Mississippi Delta’s sharecropping economy and, in one of the Great Migration’s largest waves, drove a generation of black strivers from rural life into cities. A wealth of literature immortalized the flood and its aftermath, and elders tallied their losses in oral accounts.

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images

    IN THE PAST FEW DECADES, the accomplishments of medieval polymath and visionary Hildegard von Bingen have gained widespread recognition. The Benedictine abbess was born in 1098 and, over the course of her long life, excelled as an artist, composer, and author. She extended the melodic range of sacred music, wrote sizable tomes that combined her deep studies of botany and medicine, and even found time to invent an alphabet. She also wrote and illustrated three works devoted to the apparitions she regularly beheld beginning at the age of five. The manuscript of Scivias (a contraction of the phrase

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