• 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
  • review • December 05, 2019

    The Space Between

    Limbo might be a dim office space found inside a building with a mud-colored marble facade in downtown Brooklyn, past a lobby cafeteria fitted with heat lamps and the smell of oil fryers, through a hallway bearing a color portrait of Governor Andrew Cuomo wearing a tight, distant smile and better known as the unemployment office. Unlike purgatory, which per Catholic doctrine is more like a layover for crimes committed in the course of a past life, limbo is a speculative region: of the mind, of time, of thought, of personal agency. It’s a murky suspension of progress. One cannot smell it or

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    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

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    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

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Dancing to the Music of Time

    Foolproof rules for journalists who cover the arts are elusive, but a few third rails do stand out. For instance, you don’t wonder “But what was he driving at?” about Picasso’s Guernica. You don’t complain about the auditorium’s poor acoustics at a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”. And as we learn from choreographer Mark Morris’s brash, candid, often caustic, and totally delightful memoir Out Loud, you don’t ask this country’s most vital modern-dance dynamo since Martha Graham—sorry, Twyla Tharp fans—to describe his philosophy of dance.

    The last journalist reckless enough to try got a notoriously

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Love in a Cold Climate

    In the title essay of her new collection, Rachel Cusk describes something she calls being sent to “Coventry.” This, as it is for many English families, is her family’s term for putting someone beyond the pale, for thrusting an offender out into silence. Her parents “send her to Coventry” when she does something they dislike, when she has slighted them or failed them in some way. “Sometimes,” Cusk writes,

    It takes me a while to notice that my parents have sent me to Coventry. It’s not unlike when a central-heating boiler breaks down: there’s no explosion, no dramatic sight or sound,

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    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

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Margaret Kilgallen: That’s Where the Beauty Is

    MARGARET KILGALLEN WAS BORN IN 1967, landed in San Francisco in 1989, and passed away of cancer in 2001. In that brief window, she occupied the center of an exploding galaxy of young artists including—but by no means limited to—Alicia McCarthy, Ruby Neri, Rigo 23, Bill Daniel, Johanna Jackson, Chris Johanson, and Kilgallen’s husband and frequent collaborator, Barry McGee. The creator of loping installations featuring rebus-like combinations of carnival fonts, graphical trees, and drawings of surfers and strong women, Kilgallen expanded the stylistic and attitudinal vocabulary of her time and

    Read more