• print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Moonbeam Nation

    “So Bert and Mary Poppins definitely used to fuck, right?” One Saturday night last winter some friends had gathered in my living room to reconsider one of our favorite childhood movies through the cracked lens of our millennial adulthood. (A very millennial thing to do: In our minds it was subversively ironic, but to the skeptical observer we just looked like a bunch of thirtysomethings so infantilized and brain-fried by pop culture and social media that we were spending the prime time of our weekend watching a Disney movie.)

    Mary Poppins, we decided, held up. There was a maturity to it we

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Scenes from a Marriage

    Elizabeth Hardwick was a worrier. “What I know I have learned from books and worry,” she wrote in Vogue in June 1971. She worried about her daughter Harriet’s grades in school. She worried about rising rents in New York City and about the price of property in Maine. And she worried about her husband, the poet Robert Lowell. Since age seventeen, Lowell, who was diagnosed with manic depression in the 1940s, had occasionally entered states of high mania, impulsive stretches during which he seduced young women, raged at loved ones, and, once, dangled a friend out a window. For years, Hardwick

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Jagged Little Redpill

    Everyone who’s writing essays professionally these days owes a debt to Meghan Daum, whether they know it or not. Her 2001 collection My Misspent Youth paved the way for many people’s careers, including my own. More than any of her contemporaries, Daum staked a claim on the trickier-than-it-looks style that combines journalistic rigor with exactly the right amount of subtle humor. She wrote about getting deep into debt and continuing to buy flowers from the corner bodega. She coined a term for the existential discomfort of aesthetic wrongness: Wall-to-wall carpet, famously, is “mungers.” She

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Deeper into Cocaine

    Howard Koch Jr., assistant director on Chinatown and the son of the former head of production at Paramount Pictures, had always thought of cocaine as “elite,” according to Sam Wasson in The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. But by 1975, coke had trickled down. “The fucking craft service guy had it . . . the prop guy had it. It was everywhere,” Koch Jr. noticed.

    For this son of Hollywood, the prevalence of cocaine was a portent, like the time in the late 1920s when a shoeshine boy offered Joseph P. Kennedy a stock market tip. A crash was coming. Wasson’s book, a production

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Emotional Terrain

    Across several decades of her career, Helen Frankenthaler painted an intimate, interior sense of landscape. She achieved this, in part, with a technique called “soak stain,” which she invented while creating her earliest masterwork, Mountains and Sea, 1952. Frankenthaler would pour paint diluted with turpentine onto unprimed canvas, creating watercolor-like effects. The softened hues and diffuse shapes captured the subjective experience of the natural world. While watercolors are typically small, Frankenthaler preferred large canvases, sometimes as wide as twelve feet. The scale and the method

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Invisible Worlds

    Lily Dale, a small town in upstate New York—ostensibly frozen in time, with its pretty Victorian buildings, bucolic surroundings, and air of sleepy gentility—was established in 1879 as a sanctuary for practitioners of Spiritualism. This religious movement (which had connections to several reformist and progressive causes of the nineteenth century, including women’s suffrage and abolitionism) posits that the veil separating the living from the deceased is porous, and can be breached by those blessed with special gifts. The burg, which is also home to the National Spiritualist Association of

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Tech, Please!

    The best pieces of long-form journalism are those where you get the sinking feeling the subject has no idea what the point of journalism is. No inkling that a salacious story is better than a puff piece. No fundamental understanding that a writer, at the end of the day, is only going to make her career if she exploits her subjects, even if it’s just to expose their bad personalities or unkempt apartments. It thrills to read a story that no one wants written about themselves. Whether you are party reporting or writing profiles, you can always find something unethical to unearth, if you care to

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Henry James and Pigs’ Feet

    ANY OPPORTUNITY TO READ A GREAT WRITER’S MAIL should be embraced in these days when a serial Instagram feed is about as ambitious as correspondence gets. Granted, at roughly a thousand pages, The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison may be asking a lot, at the outset, of even the most committed scholar of twentieth-century American literature, to say nothing of the waves of readers who continue to come away from Invisible Man convinced that it’s the Great American Novel.

    But these letters, as assembled by John F. Callahan and Marc C. Conner, come to us a quarter of a century after Ellison’s death

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    The Joy of Text

    James Wood, haters claim, is a hater. The New Yorker’s most influential and polarizing critic hates gaudy postmodernists like Paul Auster and cute sentimentalists like Nicole Krauss. He can’t stand the Cambridge fixture George Steiner, whom he pillories as “a statue that wishes to be a monument,” and he dismisses Donna Tartt as “children’s literature.” Most famously, he loathes fidgety, frantic novels by the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Zadie Smith, works of so-called “hysterical realism” that can’t shut up and sit still. In 2004, the editors of n+1 denounced him as a “designated hater.”

    In

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Ways of Seeing

    As an occupation perceived to be perpetually on the brink of obsolescence, reading has to have one of the most esteemed reputations of any human activity. We are encouraged to think of it as a virtue in itself: Entire cities are urged to simultaneously read the same book; the demise of a single bookstore inspires heartfelt tributes from those inclined to conflate poorly conceived small-business models with intellectual nobility; it is said to bind communities at the same time as it is said to free the mind. Reading has been pondered by writers from Francis Bacon to Maurice Blanchot; the act

    Read more
  • review • January 23, 2020

    I’m Fed Up!

    The pivotal moment of the book of Job occurs in its final chapter. Job, the paradigm of piety—God-fearing and evil-shunning, as he’s introduced in the book’s first lines—has, despite his moral uprightness, suffered profoundly. He has endured the deaths of his ten children; an excruciating, all-consuming skin disease; and haranguing by four friends who have insisted, relentlessly, that God wouldn’t torture Job without just cause, despite his repeated insistence that he has done nothing to deserve his fate. In response to Job’s pleas for answers, God himself has spoken to him from a whirlwind.

    Read more
  • review • January 17, 2020

    This Side of Paradise

    In Provincetown, a collection of portraits taken in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Joel Meyerowitz captures bodies amber-locked in the beach town’s summer lassitude. The photographer discovered some of his subjects by placing, in the local paper, an ad in search of “REMARKABLE PEOPLE”; others he plucked from crowds with what he calls a “visceral knowing.” Located at the hooked tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Provincetown is buffeted on all sides by the mercurial Atlantic. The town’s reputation as a sanctuary dates back to the seventeenth century, when it was a port for weary Pilgrims on the

    Read more