• print • November 15, 2019

    “Nobody Likes Being Called a Cesspool”

    My relationship with D. H. Lawrence began in high school, when I bought a copy of Sons and Lovers more or less at random and proceeded to read it all the way through, by which I mean that my eyes literally traversed every page and recognized that the English language was there recorded in some complexity. But the words, instead of building a reality I could enter and move around in, were like a continually dying fluorescence. I had no idea what was going on. What registered was something like “words, words, flower, sentence, words, coal mining” (like I knew what a coal mine was). As far as I

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  • print • November 14, 2019

    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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  • excerpt • November 05, 2019

    The Crying Game

    I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten. We look. I look. Once, in fifth grade, I cried at school for a reason I cannot recall, and afterward a popular boy—rattail, skateboard—told me I looked like a druggie, and I was so pleased to be seen I made him repeat it.


    Ovid would prefer that I and other women restrain ourselves:

    There is no limit to art: in weeping,

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  • print • November 04, 2019

    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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  • excerpt • November 01, 2019

    El Caserío

    This is where I begin. I come from poverty, from El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects, and there are stories here I never want to forget.

    In El Caserío, Anthony and I spent most summer days playing outside. It was a world of men, of violence, a place too often not safe for women or girls. There were shoot-outs in the streets, fourteen-year-old boys carrying guns as they rode their bikes to the candy store just outside the walls. We watched a guy get stabbed right in front of our building, watched the cops, who we called “los camarones,” come in and raid places for drugs

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  • print • October 31, 2019

    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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  • review • September 25, 2019

    Shark Week

    If the most basic aspect of modern human life is species supremacy, to be eaten is perhaps the true inverse of being alive. In the words of Valerie Taylor, one half of the couple who pioneered the underwater filming of sharks, becoming the first to film great white sharks outside of a cage: “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”

    I’d never heard of the Taylors until reading Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated

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  • review • September 18, 2019

    Pleasures of the Text

    In 2015, French Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed travelled to Manshiyat Nasr, a ward of Cairo, and created Perception, a large-scale mural and a book project. He was especially inspired by the Zabbaleen, an informal group of workers who have collected the garbage in the city since the 1940s. The Zabbaleen take nine thousand tons of waste daily from Egypt’s capital to settlements like the one in Manshiyat Nasr, where they sort and sell the trash to factories and recycling companies.

    This limited-edition book documents the mural project with numerous photographs of the artwork, along with

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  • review • September 17, 2019

    Moving On

    The problem has to do, as it always does, with language. In When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt’s reckoning with the untimely death of her son, Carl, she acknowledges this fact early and often. “My language is all dried up,” she writes in the book’s opening pages. “I vomit over art.” This weariness with written expression is born from the age-old struggle to put words to the most important and mysterious aspects of humanity: our feelings on love, our search for higher meaning, our final demise. It is, she admits, a complaint as old as writing itself.

    What makes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    For Interpretation

    What was Susan Sontag’s preferred pronoun: “I” or “one”? First- or third-person singular? Which of those substitute-words revealed—or concealed—more about the woman who reigned as the leading cultural authority during the second half of the twentieth century but who refused to explicitly acknowledge her same-sex relationships? From the second paragraph of “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964): “I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can.” (The declaration all but trumpets her membership in the lavender mafia.) Toward the end of that

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Look Who’s Here!

    In the summer of 2006, at the peak of an unbearable heat wave stifling most of the Northeast, my parents filed into an unair-conditioned black-box theater in the Catskills to see a summer camp production of the musical Company. A cast of fourteen sweaty adolescent monsters (myself included) stood frozen onstage in khaki trench coats for fifteen minutes before the show began. This was an avant-garde choice we ruminated on heavily in rehearsals: How cutting-edge, we thought, to not even allow the theatergoers (parents) to settle into their seats before letting them know we were about to utterly

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    He Found It at the Movies

    “IF IT WAS A FRIDAY NIGHT, the president’s hair would look much softer and shinier than usual, because he had washed it that afternoon,” Mark Weinberg remembers in Movie Nights with the Reagans, his 2018 memoir detailing the many evenings he spent at Camp David seeing films with President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Throughout Reagan’s two terms in the 1980s, Weinberg, then an assistant White House press officer, accompanied the Reagans on their weekend trips to Camp David, the compound located in the hills of Maryland that has been the official retreat of US presidents since 1942.

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