• excerpt • February 24, 2021

    An excerpt from This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race

    “I always said when this business got dirty, I’d get out,” Adriel Desautels told me late one summer evening in 2019.

    Desautels was a cyberweapon merchant who looked like a milkman. He had an unruly head of curls, frameless glasses, a gap between his front teeth, and a penchant for quoting the astrophysicist Carl Sagan. His original hacker alias, Cyanide, never sat well. He’d eventually change it to the more sensible “Simon Smith.” But in a faceless business, looks meant little. Everyone who was anyone in the game knew Desautels was one of the country’s preeminent zero-day brokers.

    When I

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  • review • February 18, 2021

    Jonathan Sadowsky’s argument against the idea that depression is a uniquely Western affliction

    And then there were pills. Like many discoveries in the history of psychopharmacology, antidepressants became antidepressants quite by accident. The earliest prototypes were developed as tuberculosis drugs in the United States in the early 1950s. They weren’t particularly effective at treating TB, but, doctors observed, they bestowed on certain recipients a conspicuous boost in mood. Patients who received them at one hospital in Staten Island were described as “dancing in the halls” of their ward. Why not, then, try the pills out on a class of patients who had confounded doctors since time

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  • review • February 11, 2021

    Bette Howland’s memoir of community and its opposite

    It’s tempting to imagine Bette Howland as a figure of midcentury literary mythology. Who can resist the intrigue of her early crisis and success, quiet disappearance, and belated rediscovery? She is, as Honor Moore remarks drily in the afterword to Howland’s posthumous story collection, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, “a member of a cohort who have benefited from the forty-year gap between the end of a woman’s youth and beauty when, at say forty, one’s reputation goes dark, until eighty or so, when one becomes a discovery.” The pitch for a prestige television biopic practically writes itself.

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  • excerpt • January 13, 2021

    Two poems from Terminalia

    Daniel Menaker (1941–2020) was a fiction editor at the New Yorker, the editor in chief of Random House, and the author of seven books, including the celebrated novel The Treatment (1998) and the 2013 memoir My Mistake. Last January, Menaker received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and spent the next months chronicling his illness in verse, writing with mournful honesty and surprising humor about his diagnosis and treatment against the backdrop of the pandemic’s larger “sickness circus.” In his own words, Dan “wrote poetry his whole life, but kept it to himself for a long time, after

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  • review • January 05, 2021

    Candace Jane Opper’s obsessive remembrance of a teen crush who died by suicide

    Grief memoirs typically meditate on the loss of someone so close to the author that they could have listed the deceased as an emergency contact. Candace Jane Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events is not that kind of memoir. The book revolves around the death of a boy Opper wasn’t exactly close with—a crush whose phone number she memorized when she was thirteen. He died by suicide, at age fourteen, in 1994, eight days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found. More than twenty-five years later, Certain and Impossible Events is Opper’s attempt to map her ongoing obsession with the boy’s death.


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  • excerpt • December 29, 2020

    Lorraine Hansberry’s Pan-African sensibility, in her own words

    In 1937, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood in Chicago to deliberately challenge the constitutionality of racial restriction clauses. In response, a white mob gathered and threw a brick through their window, narrowly missing eight-year-old Lorraine. The Hansberry case moved through the court system, with the Supreme Court of Illinois upholding the legality of restrictive covenants and forcing the Hansberrys out of their home. The case then went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), which reversed the lower court’s decision

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  • excerpt • December 18, 2020

    An essay from Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

    I’m after a worldview.

    —Jack Whitten

    When the living conditions that art evinces haven’t changed, one must always make more imaginaries for one to live in.

    —Dionne Brand, “Temporary Spaces of Joy and Freedom”

    Another arrangement of the possible . . .

    —Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

    I have gathered the epigraphs for this essay from the painter Jack Whitten, the poet Dionne Brand, and the theorist Saidiya Hartman because of the ways they speak to the necessary scale of Black responses to these catastrophes

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Daytime Regained

    ON DECEMBER 25, 1991, Gorbachev appeared on snowy televisions in the homes of millions, gray faced against gray wallpaper, to resign as the leader of a state that no longer existed. He handed over the keys and a briefcase full of nuclear codes to Yeltsin, and the red flag was lowered. George Bush Sr. quickly got camera-ready on Christmas, addressing the American people, “During these last few months, you and I have witnessed one of the greatest dramas of the twentieth century.” The Soviet Union was over, but the year was ending on a cliffhanger. Cut to January 2, 1992: as the hangover of a

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Flacks and Hacks

    IF CRAFTING THE PERFECT seating arrangements is a delicate art for blue bloods—and vandalism is the opposite of art, as well as a pastime for talented poor people—then it follows that party reporting, at its most refined, is a form of controlled demolition on private property. In their heyday, party reporters were a bit like graffiti artists on the Upper East Side, tagging the marble walls (“Slut!” “Bankrupt!”) as fast as they can be cleaned up. What is a personal publicist but an overpaid janitor with a pressurized hose?

    The allure of party reporting is risk. The entitled class (the rich,

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    True Story

    THOUGH THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of preposterous tales told in André Gregory’s memoir, the most implausible is that a well-off New Yorker like Gregory, living rent-free in an Upper West Side apartment in the late 1960s, would voluntarily take the subway downtown, every day for months, to watch three men sit at a table in an East Village classroom and slowly go insane. The men, who were actors under Gregory’s direction, spent the days improvising the tea party scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They played it as the mood struck, veering from maniacal to pornographic to scatological. Bathroom

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    No Paint, No Glory

    A FRIEND OF MINE dating a famous artist jokes that she dreads her obituary reading that she, in addition to having been the girlfriend, was “accomplished in her own right.” In her own right! The mind heaves. Anyone who has been romantically involved with a famous artist knows the risk of being overshadowed. For those who nurture artistic ambitions themselves, the challenge is twofold: to avoid being subsumed by their partner’s success and to insist upon the importance of their own work. Self-Portrait, Celia Paul’s memoir and account of her decade-long entanglement with Lucian Freud, is both

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    The Sense of an Ending

    ONE OF THE LAST THINGS the queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz published before his untimely death in December 2013 was an essay titled “Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate.” In it, Muñoz reflects on a question that had colored much of his career: politics’ relationship to queerness. The essay was, more simply, Muñoz’s reflection on what he described as “the strange and compelling collaboration between Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and her friend Gary Fisher.” Fisher was, like Muñoz, a graduate student of the queer theorist Sedgwick. He was also, unlike Sedgwick, queer and African American. When Fisher

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