• 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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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Higher Grounds

    “Of all the modern stimulants, coffee had the greatest hold over Balzac,” Kassy Hayden writes in the afterword to her new translation of Honoré de Balzac’s Treatise on Modern Stimulants (Wakefield Press, $13), which situates this small, wild book firmly in the social, political, and medical scenes of nineteenth-century France. “Coffee helped him sustain his rigorous writing schedule, and he maintained that it gave him inspiration and fired up his intellect. . . . At times euphoric about his drink of choice, he was more often tormented by the knowledge that, although it contributed to his ill

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    The Root of All Evil

    Five years ago, I edited an anthology of crime stories by women originally published between the early 1940s and the late 1970s. Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives carried the subtitle Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense for a specific reason: “Domestic suspense,” as I defined it—though I did not originate the term—referred to a category of crime fiction that did not rest easily within the largely male, American, hard-boiled school created by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, or in the largely female, British “Golden Age” of detective fiction best represented by Agatha Christie

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Artful Volumes

    James Turrell’s dynamic experiments with light, space, color, and landscape can only be hinted at on the page. Even so, Extraordinary Ideas—Realized (Hatje Cantz, $85) manages to convey much about the artist’s intentions, if not the experience of the work. The volume’s retrospective account begins in 1967 and includes projection pieces (those created by a single beam of light), skyspaces (chambers whose ceilings are open to the sky), ganzfelds (installations that suppress depth perception), and plans and images devoted to the Roden Crater in Arizona, an Earthwork sculpture in which Turrell

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Courtly Love

    In film, no long shot is more iconic, precise in its intention, disturbing, and startling than Alfred Hitchcock’s of a tennis match in Strangers on a Train. The camera looks at the crowd looking intently at a game in action; the crowd mirrors the audience watching the film (the meta Hitchcock loves). In a full grandstand, multiple heads move left, right, left, right, back again, synchronized, following the ball like cats do a swinging object. But only one head, among so many, remains absolutely still, staring straight ahead at the camera. It is that of the malicious mastermind, played by Robert

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    States of Grace

    It’s probably Elaine Pagels’s fault I’m a Christian, if I am. When I was in college, one of my professors quoted the Gospel of Thomas in class. I don’t remember which passage he recited, but I remember that it sounded nothing like the gospels I had grown up with. If anything, given my limited repertoire at that time, it reminded me of Kafka or Beckett—terse, enigmatic, wry, gnawing at the edges of the mystical. I lit up like a pinball machine. I needed to hear more. One thing puzzled me: I hadn’t been the most diligent or devout catechumen, but I knew the Bible contained no Gospel of Thomas.

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    How Does It Feel?

    Late in his memoir, Casey Gerald watches a video of George W. Bush fumbling his way through a story about meeting an underprivileged black youth from South Dallas. The former president’s tale is a version of a familiar narrative, one that Americans trot out as evidence of our society’s fundamentally meritocratic structure: Despite a dead father and an imprisoned mother, despite growing up in the inner-city neighborhood of South Oak Cliff—“you know, on the other side of the Trinity River,” Bush informs us, assuming, correctly, that we all understand the black urban abjection that stems from

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Shill Your Darling

    After decades of obscurity, Eve Babitz—the marvelous polymath of pleasure and gifted annalist of the delights and despair of Los Angeles, where she was born in 1943 and still resides—was suddenly everywhere. The Babitz revival began in early October 2015, with the reissue of her first book, Eve’s Hollywood (1974), the celebrated eight-page dedication of which is dotted with the names of various SoCal demiurges of the 1960s and early ’70s who made up her milieu. They included, among many others, several artists associated with the Ferus Gallery (including Ed Ruscha; Babitz is featured in his

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