• review • May 16, 2019

    Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World by Lucy Ives

    In Lucy Ives’s second novel, Loudermilk, a charismatic dumbass scams his way into a prestigious MFA poetry program by submitting the work of his antisocial companion. The real writer, who hates the sound of his own voice, follows the oversexed, symmetrically featured dumbass to school and continues to write for him. It’s a fun setup, but the book aims for more than just comedy. Ives, who once described herself as “the author of some kind of thinking about writing,” examines the conditions that produce authors and their work while never losing a sense of wonder at the sheer mystery of the written

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  • review • April 30, 2019

    Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib

    Crackhead, pothead, pillhead, oldhead. The suffix “-head” tends to mark a genre of name-calling. It smacks of a compulsiveness that renders your activities illicit or, at the very least, will have you deemed a space-cadet. But when you claim yourselfas a head—a sneakerhead, a Beatlehead, a hip-hophead—the suffix carries a somewhat uppity declaration of expertise, at once a boast and an assertion of membership in a particular culture or scene. Originally “hip-hophead” implied specific cultural and political commitments to the everyday survival of black people. But due to the ways the US music

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  • review • March 28, 2019

    The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

    What is color to literature? For one thing, a problem. Language deals in delineation. This makes it an odd match to account for color—an abstract, pure vividness—which, on its own, has no differentiating power at all. At the same time, without color, visual differentiation becomes difficult. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in the introduction to his 1810 Theory of Colours, wrote that “the eye sees no form, inasmuch as light, shade, and colour together constitute that which to our vision distinguishes object from object.”

    It’s no surprise, then, that most attempts to give a literary account of

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Growth and Decay: Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone by David McMillan

    Novels and films tend to portray postapocalyptic cities as either devastated or abandoned. While the former might take inspiration from photos of Hiroshima or Dresden, places long emptied of people can be somewhat harder to imagine. What would Poughkeepsie or Staten Island look like years after a plague swept the planet? Some hint can be found in David McMillan’s photographs of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, and the environs around the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In late April 1986, a reactor there suffered a catastrophic failure that spread radioactive material for thousands of miles

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Cracking the Coder

    At some point while reading Coders (Penguin Press, $28), technology writer Clive Thompson’s enjoyable primer on the world of computer programmers, I started to note the metaphors being deployed by Thompson and his subjects to explain what it is they do, exactly. Coding, my incomplete list tells me, is “being a bricklayer,” “playing a one-armed bandit in Las Vegas,” “deep-sea diving,” “combat on the astral plane,” “oddly reminiscent of poetry,” “oddly like carpentry,” “like knitting and weaving,” “like being a digital plumber,” and “like the relationship of gardeners to their gardens.” It “

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    The Socialism Network

    Sally Rooney. Sally Rooney! Sally Rooney, the twenty-eight-year-old Irish novelist celebrated as the “first great millennial author,” is interested in weird relationships, or relationships that seem weird but are quietly common within the young, educated, and progressive milieu she depicts. Her debut, 2017’s Conversations with Friends, concerns a nonmonogamous not-quite-affair between Frances, a twenty-one-year-old student/budding writer, and Nick, a sexy, depressed actor in his thirties; judging, resenting, and flirting from the edges of this initially secret romance are his wife, Melissa,

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    American Purgatory

    Valeria Luiselli began volunteering as a translator for children in immigration court around five years ago. Drawing on that work, and the activism that followed, she wrote two books: Tell Me How It Ends, an extended essay based on the questionnaire used to interview the children, and her latest, Lost Children Archive (Knopf, $28), a novel about a family traveling by car from New York City to Arizona so that the father, an audio documentarian, can work on a project about the Chiricahua Apache. During the trip, the mother becomes obsessed with news on the radio of migrant children being deported

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face edited by Alexander Eiling and Elena Schroll

    In Self-Portrait with a Cat (1928), Lotte Laserstein’s hair is short, pushed off her face. The cat holds its pose because it’s tranquilized with brandy. Laserstein’s muse, and maybe lover, Traute Rose, also had short hair and liked loose clothing. In Tennis Player (1929), Rose watches a match while sportily grasping her own racket, waiting to play. For In My Studio (1928), however, she is La Grande Odalisque or she is postcoital. Laserstein, wearing a white linen smock, pays attention to what she is painting; the painting pays attention to Rose’s body. Laserstein’s and Rose’s androgyny was not

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    You Better Work

    If I see Joan Didion’s packing list on Instagram one more time, I’m going to scream. And then I am absolutely going to click. We all have our baggage, we just want to know how to organize it. What if a streamlined suitcase is the missing link, the unheralded key to writing sentences like skate blades? Best to memorize the method, just in case. And so Didion’s scribbled checklist lives inside my head: two skirts, two jerseys, cigarettes, bourbon, Basis soap, Tampax, mohair throw, baby oil, aspirin, etc. I’ve seen this list most often on social-media feeds, but it also pops up in publications

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Low Life

    Call it a curse for an American writer to be born in 1909. These authors matured into the Depression; were subject, if male, to the draft during wartime; passed into middle age during the Red Scare; and, if they were lucky enough to see the 1960s, witnessed liberations they were too old to savor. They also witnessed a sea change in American literary fashions, as the naturalism of the 1930s was demoted by a cadre of critics reorganizing the canon around Henry James. Some of them weren’t very lucky at all. A roll call includes James Agee, dead at forty-five of a heart attack in the back of a

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    The Story of the Eye

    John Berger became a writer you might find on television because of Ways of Seeing, the 1972 BBC series that became a short and very famous book. The show presented observations now common to pop-culture reviews—publicity “proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more”—in a place (a box!) that rarely admitted critique beyond yea or nay. The book version of Ways of Seeing, which combined photos and text in a montage format, is now a staple of critical-writing syllabi. Writers like Laura Mulvey and Rosalind Krauss wrote the definitive versions of theories

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Artful Volumes

    “The Golden Age of Hustlers,” a 1989 ballad by trans punk poetess Bambi Lake, is a loving tribute to the sex workers who plied their trade—and sacrificed their bodies—along San Francisco’s infamous Polk Street in the 1970s. The song, a frank portrayal of an outlaw era in Sodom by the Bay, is a glamorous yet melancholy jaunt down memory lane. So is KALIFORNIA KOOL: PHOTOGRAPHS 1976–1982 (Trapart Books, $40), a new collection by photographer Ruby Ray, who chronicled the denizens of San Francisco’s nascent punk and postpunk scenes. (Ray was also a major contributor to the seminal punk zine Search

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