• print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Are Friends Electric?

    Victor Tausk was one of the more restless of the many bright young men and women surrounding Freud in the 1910s. Born into a Jewish family in 1879, he first studied law, practicing in Sarajevo, then Mostar, where he made his reputation defending a young Muslim woman accused of murdering her illegitimate child. The prosecutors had asked for the death penalty; he got her acquitted. He then moved to Berlin, setting out on a new career as a critic, which no doubt contributed to the nervous breakdown he suffered soon after. At the sanatorium he decided to study psychiatry, completing his medical

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Line Dancing

    Saul Steinberg couldn’t fully enumerate the contents of The Labyrinth in words. For a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978, he composed a list of the subjects explored in the book of drawings, originally published in 1960 and recently reissued by New York Review Comics. It begins with “illusion, talks, women, cats, dogs, birds, the cube” before trailing off, a dozen items later, with “geometry, heroes, harpies, etc.”

    The title, too, gave Steinberg some trouble. He took several trips by car and bus throughout the United States between 1954 and 1960, during which the book’s

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Eye and I

    Imagine Manny Farber’s double career—unparalleled vernacular-modernist movie critic and tenaciously evocative, obliquely iconographic painter—as a board game. Dub it Polyopoly, an incessantly self-revising, once-upon-a-time-in-America contest of chance, mental play, and adventure. Like the kindred gamesmanship of filmmaker-photographer-writer Chris Marker, Farber’s output remains elusive: It’s hard to tell whether he was so far ahead of his time he overshot it or so far behind he caught up with it on the rebound.

    The intricate sprawl of Farber’s pictures wasn’t coded autobiography but homebrewed

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  • review • January 22, 2019

    Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt

    The apartment is a steal, but it has idiosyncrasies: it’s on the top floor of a four-story office building located on a traffic island; the rooms shake and the windows rattle as buses, trains, and trucks trundle past. It is 1970s Tokyo, and the unnamed narrator of Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light, a woman, newly separated from her husband, a single mother—the three in conjunction, she is now routinely reminded, define her particular status—no longer possesses an “ordinary” life. This home may be unusual, but it’s hers, and, on the plus side, there are windows on all sides and a red floor that

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  • review • January 09, 2019

    I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux

    The Nietzsche that emerges in the first pages of Sue Prideaux’s ambitious and stylistically accomplished biography is not the prodigy philologist or the ruthless diagnostician of modernity, but the fanboy. In a letter to a friend, he recounts getting ready to meet Wagner for the first time. Still a university student, Nietzsche is eager to make the most of the opportunity to meet the older celebrity composer and has ordered a new suit. A misunderstanding over the suit payment leaves him brooding on the sofa “in my shirttails and consider[ing] black velvet, whether it is good enough for Richard.”

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  • review • December 27, 2018

    The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

    At the beginning of the millennium, Japanese writer Yukiko Motoya emerged as something of a prodigy. In 2000, at twenty-one-years-old, she founded her own theater company in Tokyo. Six years later, she became the youngest playwright to win the Tsuruya Nanboku Memorial Award. Around this time, she also began publishing fiction. The Lonesome Bodybuilder, a new collection, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda, pulls together a selection of Motoya’s work written between 2012 and 2016. Her work stands out for its ability to emphasize the power of paying attention and, conversely, the problems

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  • review • December 10, 2018

    This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

    Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body follows a single, unemployed young black woman (Tambudzai), as she attempts to escape the entangled forces of neocolonialism, patriarchy, poverty, and history’s ever-present effect on daily life in modern-day Zimbabwe. Tambu, who also appeared in Dangarembga’s previous books, Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not, is determined to create a better life for herself though she is discouraged at every turn. At the start of the book, we find Tambu in a run-down hostel in Harare, having recently left her job as a copywriter at an advertising agency. She

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  • review • December 06, 2018

    We Can Save Us All by Adam Nemett

    Adam Nemett's debut novel We Can Save Us All deserves points for ambition. In just under four hundred pages he's folded in the campus novel, socialist activism, toxic masculinity, psychopharmacology, communalism, American mythology, the anthropocene, and the apocalypse. All from the perspective of Princeton freshman David Fuffman, an innocent with a neckbeard—yes, he's a virgin—and an obsession with the pre-Watchmen age of superheroes.

    It's 2021 and global warming brings ten-day blizzards to New Jersey and lake-sized sinkholes to Missouri. Power outages and mass migration are commonplace. None

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  • review • November 30, 2018

    Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley by Cary McClelland

    In his new book, Silicon City, Cary McClelland observes that San Francisco “has always been something of a funhouse mirror, reflecting a strange yet sublime potential self back to the rest of the nation.” The city was a myth machine, attracting pioneers, refugees, misfits, and artists—all of whom came to find a new way of life. “For the past fifty-plus years, San Francisco was a place where community was created,” McClelland writes.

    But the myth turned into something else, a monster that grew and gobbled up real estate, communities, and, some might argue, the spirit of the city itself. San

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Top Shelf

    My favorite novel of 2018 is Andrew Martin’s Early Work (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which is smart and scuzzy, bleak and funny, sexy and depressing—and none of that “by turns” shit either. It’s everything all at once, which to me is the hallmark of both its artistry and its authenticity. My favorite nonfiction book of 2018 is Lorrie Moore’s See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism, and Commentary (Knopf). It is a pleasure, and moreover an education, to pore over four decades’ worth of Moore’s generous, incisive assessments of Welty, Cheever, Elkin, DeLillo, Beattie, Barthelme, and Roth (among

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Holy Waters

    Like Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It, John Waters arrives with ample mystique preceding him. His inflammatory post-Warhol oeuvre now elicits de rigueur hosannas, and it endures precisely because it boldly went beneath—and beyond—anywhere Pop, camp, conceptual art, or Valley of the Dolls had gone before. Waters synthesized gloriously impure conceptual trash: Sins of the Fleshapoids, dreamy Jean Genet, sassy Paul Lynde, the Chelsea Girls, et al.

    The sleazeballsiness of Pink Flamingos (1972) has assumed canonical stature, and Waters’s comrade-in-harm Divine has achieved the posthumous,

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Lose Your Illusions

    Heather Havrilesky began her writing career in the early days of the internet, first as a columnist at Suck.com and then as a television critic for Salon.com. She has since built an extensive body of work examining American culture’s most insidious messages, perhaps most famously in her popular advice column, “Ask Polly,” in which she helps readers navigate alienation in an era of seemingly endless choice, the false narratives of American success, and the hard work of sustaining meaningful human connection. In her new essay collection, What If This Were Enough? (Doubleday, $26), Havrilesky

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