• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Tender Is the Fight

    MIRIAM TOEWS IS THE RARE NOVELIST for whom “write what you know” does not amount to conservative advice. Toews was born and raised in an insular Canadian Mennonite community called Steinbach. Her eventual rebellion, which included a stint touring North America in a dilapidated VW van with a fire-eating street performer, was nearly as thorough as the rigidity of her earlier life. Toews has shaved her head and hitched rides with punk bands. She has been a single mother on welfare. She has witnessed the debilitating depression that culminated in the deaths of both her father and older sister.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Hell Can Wait

    WHEN, LATE IN JONATHAN FRANZEN’S NEW NOVEL CROSSROADS, a woman, reuniting with an ex-flame after thirty-one years, notes “recent Mailer, recent Updike” on his shelves, the shock of the old is both soft and profound. It’s 1972; the dinosaurs still stamp and bellow. They can’t imagine how much they will lose.

    It’s a fate that Franzen, whose prominence is as close a thing as fiction in this time can offer up to equal Updike’s or Mailer’s Cold War stature, seems eager to acknowledge and avoid. His loyal yet aging audience, his millions, and his National Book Award for The Corrections (2001) are

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Already Dead

    I DROVE ACROSS the Everglades in May. I had originally planned to take Alligator Alley, but someone tipped me off that, in the twenty years since I left South Florida, the historically wild and lonesome stretch of road had been fully incorporated into I-75, turned into a standard highway corridor with tall concrete walls on both sides, designed to keep the traffic noise in and the alligators out. So on the drive west from Boynton Beach, I took the northern route, skirting along the bottom of Lake Okeechobee (which you can’t see from the road) through new subdivisions and past a succession of

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Straight Outta Stockton

    THERE IS ONLY ONE literal afterparty in Afterparties, the debut story collection by Anthony Veasna So, who died last year at the age of twenty-eight. It appears about halfway into the book, as the organizing event of “We Would’ve Been Princes!”—though the event itself, as readers quickly learn, isn’t all that organized. The story opens right as a wedding party starts winding down and is broken into seven acts, each escalating in sloppy and somewhat digressive debauchery. As the afterparty grows more unruly, gathering a range of distantly related Cambodian cousins under one roof, so too does

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    The Big Short

    “WE FEEL AN AFFINITY with a certain thinker because we agree with him,” writes Lydia Davis in “Affinity,” one of the shorter stories in her collection Almost No Memory (1997). Yet according to Davis, it wasn’t a sense of kinship that led her to the zeer korte verhalen (zkv’s), or “very short stories,” of the beloved and prolific Dutch author A. L. Snijders (1937–2021). Rather, it was a sense of fairness: if her books were being translated into Dutch, then she should translate a work from Dutch into English. It would be no small challenge, since she would have to learn the language as she went

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Hillbilly Effigy

    PERCIVAL EVERETT’S NEW NOVEL begins in Money, Mississippi, the town Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago when he was lynched in 1955. The fourteen-year-old Till was tortured, mutilated, and shot in the head. His killers, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, tied his corpse to a cotton gin with barbed wire, and dropped it in the Tallahatchie River. They were tried and acquitted, and, though they admitted their crime to a journalist for Look magazine the next year, rules against double jeopardy ensured they were never brought to justice. The Trees opens at a family gathering of the descendants of Bryant

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Alt the Lonely People

    THE STORY GOES THAT ONLY FORTY PEOPLE attended the Sex Pistols’ first concert, but each of them went on to form a band. A similar thing might be said of Tao Lin; his first few books had small readerships, but those who read them went on to write their own plotless, autobiographical novels in which emotionally stunted twentysomethings communicate on their laptop computers via Gmail chat. Lin’s early style was deceptively simple, a robotic deadpan marked by an absence of figurative language and a lack of abbreviations (always “laptop computers,” always “Gmail chat”) that captured a particular

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    New York Is Now

    AS THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT took center stage in newspapers and magazines across the United States, the people of Harlem were, among many things, dealing with a rat problem. The vermin were biting children and contaminating pantries, but they were also a striking symptom of a larger issue: Harlem was facing a housing crisis. Though public housing had been erected, it was both scarce and disgusting. The exuberance that characterized the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s seemed to be in decline as economic insecurity, inadequate sanitation, dreadful landlords, and neglected public space tarnished

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  • excerpt • August 04, 2021

    An excerpt from On Compromise: Art, Politics, and the Fate of an American Ideal

    Perhaps it is the contemporary tension around the concept of selling out that has made so many recent works of fiction deal with the question of their own economic conditions of possibility, their marketing, and their commodification explicitly within their pages. One of the clearest examples of this is Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure. The protagonist of Erasure is an experimental novelist, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, who is dismayed by the outsize success of a novel entitled We’s Lives in da Ghetto. Monk sees this book as cynical attempt to give the white public a story of Black experience

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  • review • July 20, 2021

    Genevieve Plunkett’s stories of careworn objects and suspicious tenderness

    In one of the stories from Prepare Her, Genevieve Plunkett’s debut collection, a pair of newlyweds who grew up together are staying at a mildewed, hot cabin on their wedding night. It is a makeshift honeymoon at a camp the groom’s grandfather owns. For the special occasion, they begin to drink wine. “We couldn’t think with all the heat and noise and so we began to talk instead,” the narrator recalls. “We said things that could not be taken back. All of this chatter, in this womb-like environment seemed safe at first—daring and intimate.” The atmosphere almost imperceptibly becomes stifling.

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  • review • June 10, 2021

    Sam Lansky’s new novel offers a reluctant path to self-realization

    Broken People opens, like many stories of discontent and yearning in Los Angeles, at a dinner party. This isn’t the perpetual glamour of an Eve Babitz novel, or even the disaffected rich kids of a Bret Easton Ellis one. Sam Lansky offers a more familiar alternative. His protagonist is an aimless, semi-successful, recovered drug addict committed to self-sabotaging the last of his twenties. Sam feels a deep unbelonging at the party; as we come to learn, Sam feels unbelonging in most places. Finding himself in a conversation about ayahuasca, he dismisses it as “a thing trendy, wellness-minded

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

    WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE NARRATIVE MODE to capture the last few years of US history? What mode will fit the times going forward? Political eras lend salience to certain sorts of stories. We have just lived through a gothic phase of history, and a new sentimental age is upon us. These two modes of narrative have been alive, if not always dominant, in America since the eighteenth century, and they have lately defined our politics. The tropes of the Trump administration were those of a gothic nightmare—sexual perversion and predation, the sinister influence of forces emanating from the shadowy

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