• print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Prime of Life

    Heike Geissler, the German novelist and translator, ran out of money in the winter of 2010 and took a temporary job at an Amazon warehouse in Leipzig to support her two children. As she tells us in the opening pages of her book about that experience, she was not intending to write a book about that experience. But intention is one thing and canniness another; a real writer’s canniness never deserts her. “Though the work was physically and mentally exhausting,” her translator explains, Geissler “managed to take notes on Post-its” during her six weeks at the warehouse, and write more detailed

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Dance Dance Evolution

    WHEN WAS the last time you picked up Sweet Charlatan, Frost in May, Is She a Lady?, or The Departure Platform? Do the names John Heygate (author of Decent Fellows), Inez Holden (Born Old, Died Young), or Jocelyn Brooke (Mine of Serpents) ring a bell? One side effect of reading Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time, Hilary Spurling’s biography of the long-lived (1905–2000) British novelist, is realizing how many writers in his various circles have passed entirely out of civilized memory. Doubly sobering, for some of us, is the possibility that his books might be joining this invisible

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor by Leslie Umberger

    The detective work in Between Worlds is so engrossing that one may be forgiven for forgetting that the book is also an exhibition catalogue. It accompanies an extensive retrospective, now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, of Bill Traylor’s paintings and drawings. Traylor, who died in 1949, is considered one of the most important “folk” or “self-taught” American artists. But this project demonstrates in magisterial manner how his work exceeds these limiting categories.

    Born into slavery, probably in 1853, Traylor was a farm laborer in the area between Selma and Montgomery,

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen

    Henry Taylor painted an impressive range of subjects that included close friends and total strangers, the famous and the unknown. It’s a gallery that includes Miles Davis and Eldridge Cleaver; the children of fellow artists; and anonymous figures (a panhandler, a child modeling a new dress) caught in scenes of daily life. He ranges through African American achievements and grievous injustices to depict, for instance, Alice Coachman (above), the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, as well as a lifeless Philando Castile in a 2017 work, The Times Thay Aint A Changing, Fast Enough! Like

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Two Mississippi

    The tragedy of the formative opening episode in Kiese Laymon’s memoir, Heavy, is an American one, never more identifiably so. I’m writing this on the first day of October 2018, and last week millions of us watched the hours of retraumatizing and indignant testimony concerning an episode nearly identical to Heavy’s opening scenario. A fifteen-year-old girl, wearing her one-piece bathing suit under her clothes, is tricked into a bedroom with boys who are seventeen and bigger than her. There is laughter, among other sounds. They close the door. She cannot leave. Across from the closed door is a

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Mess With Texas

    Long before Billy Lee Brammer died at age forty-eight in Austin in 1978, he’d become something his native Texas hadn’t been familiar with until he popped up: an authentic, homegrown literary legend. Katherine Anne Porter had bailed for the East Coast early, and her mandarin reputation was a horse of a paler color in any case. The grand old man of Texan letters at the time, J. Frank Dobie, was a folklorist and Western historian to whom “provincialism” was no insult and never would be.

    Going by the fascinating portrait of him in Leaving the Gay Place, Tracy Daugherty’s superbly gauged and

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Gang of Five

    On March 6, 2015, just before International Women’s Day, authorities in cities around China rounded up feminist activists to preempt a planned public demonstration. The women were sent to a detention center in Beijing, where they were held for over a month on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” While in custody, the activists were isolated from friends and family, subjected to constant interrogation, and deprived of medical care. Their offense? A plan to distribute anti-sexual-harassment stickers on public transportation. “Had they not been jailed, their activities likely would

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  • review • November 23, 2018

    The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas by Monica Muñoz Martinez

    In the wee hours of January 28, 1918, the men of Texas Ranger Company B and a handful of local ranchers descended upon the tiny hamlet of Porvenir, hard against the boundary with Mexico. The police had come in search of alleged bandits who were hiding in the area, which, like much of the Texas border region, was roiled by the ongoing Mexican Revolution. The Rangers corralled fifteen men and boys, all ethnic Mexicans, marched them to a nearby bluff, and opened fire at close range. A US cavalryman who came upon the scene described the aftermath: “we smelled the nauseating sweetish smell of blood,

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  • review • November 19, 2018

    The Piranhas by Roberto Saviano

    In English, “novel” equals “fiction”—the meaning is unambiguous. In Italian, however, it’s a bit more complicated. The word romanzo describes a book-length prose narrative, but it does not distinguish between fact and fiction. In the work of Roberto Saviano—Italy’s most famous living writer save fellow Neapolitan Elena Ferrante—they regularly bleed together. Since 2007, when Saviano’s first book, Gomorrah, was translated into English, US readers have had difficulty navigating this ambiguity. Categorized as a romanzo in Italy, Gomorrah was presented as a work of “investigative writing” by its

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  • review • November 14, 2018

    The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason

    In October 2004, the comedian Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s debate show Crossfire and confronted hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson with the charge that their program was “hurting America” and that Carlson was “a dick.” Two years later, at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner Roast, Stewart’s longtime partner in comedy, Stephen Colbert, delivered a blistering roast of President Bush to his face. (“I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares.”) At the time, each of

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  • review • November 09, 2018

    Football for a Buck by Jeff Pearlman

    In Mike Tollin’s 2009 documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, he answers the question posed by the film’s subtitle in no uncertain terms. It was, he argues, none other than Donald J. Trump. That upstart entity, the United States Football League, which played eighteen games every spring from 1983 through 1985, with varying degrees of popularity and success, might well have found a more permanent footing had it not been for the meddling of a brash young New York real estate developer. Trump, who bought the New York/New Jersey franchise, the Generals, after the league’s first season,

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  • review • November 06, 2018

    Dusty Pink by Jean-Jacques Schuhl

    If Millennial Pink captures something of 2018’s youth zeitgeist, then according to French author Jean-Jacques Schuhl, winner of the 2000 Goncourt Prize for his novel Ingrid Caven, the late 1960s and early 1970s might be characterized as the years of “dusty pink.” His cult classic of the same title, first published in 1972 as Rose poussière, and now available in its very first English translation, is a patchwork of his musings and meditations on the London and Parisian undergrounds of that era, formed through vignettes and prose poems that blend fact, fiction, and fantasy.

    Color and clothing

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