• print • Spring 2024
    *Alex Israel, _Self-Portrait (PCH)_, 2019,* acrylic and Bondo on fiberglass, 96" × 84" × 4". Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photo by Jason Mandella.

    MEET THE CAST: David Crader, a washed-up child actor, author of the celebrity memoir that constitutes the bulk of Justin Taylor’s second novel, Reboot; Amber, David’s long-suffering second ex-wife, mother of his child, in whose life David appears, in his own words, as “an occasional cameo”; Grace Travis, David’s first ex-wife and former costar, diversifier-of-portfolio par excellence (“We can’t all be Gwyneth or Busy,” Grace says, “but we do what we can”); Shayne Glade, David’s best frenemy and former costar, a buffer and more talented foil; Molly Webster, culture writer, bartender, holder of an MFA in “speculative nonfiction”; Corey Burch, once

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    Photo: Flickr/Rob Oo.

    HELEN OYEYEMI’S NEW NOVEL Parasol Against the Axe, set amid a bachelorette party weekend in Prague, abounds in side quests breezily undertaken and abandoned. You don’t need to think about the bachelorette party all that much. Actually, you can’t. The rate at which Oyeyemi invents thickets of problems without answers, obstacles to bounce over, mysteries to shrug at, is frantic, like in those dreams where you have to run very fast in order to move slowly. 

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    *Lambing season, Oosterenderweg, Texel, The Netherlands, 2011.* Photo: Wikicommons/Txllxt TxllxT.

    LO. LEE. TA. This is the trip the tip of the tongue expects to take when reading a novel from the point of view of a man currently incarcerated following the rape of a teenage girl he’s groomed. And at the tender age of thirteen pages into Lucas Rijneveld’s My Heavenly Favorite, an attentive reader may indeed murmur “Lolita!” when the unnamed narrator, a former farm veterinarian from the Dutch countryside, refers to the titular “favorite,” also unnamed, as “the fire of my loins.” So far, so Lo.

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    *Marisa Adesman, _Snake Eyes_, 2019,* gouache and colored pencil on paper, 11” × 14”. Courtesy of the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles / New York.

    THE DILIGENT Prussian bureaucrat E. T. A. Hoffmann had a mischievous double. By day, he worked as a jurist in the courts of present-day Poland and Germany; by night, he wrote impassioned music criticism in the voice of his alter ego Johannes Kreisler, a tempestuous composer who also appears in several of Hoffmann’s stories and novellas. The wild cry that rings out in his first novel, The Devil’s Elixirs (1815), could just as well describe his own adventure in bifurcation: “I am what I seem to be, yet do not seem to be what I am; even to myself I am

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    *Vladimir Sorokin, 2020.* Photo: Maria Sorokina.

    VLADIMIR SOROKIN is genius, pure and simple. Or Daedalian.

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    *Barack and Michelle Obama in one of their final campaign stops before the Iowa Caucuses, January 7th, 2008.* Photo: Wikicommons/Luke Vargas.

    THE NOSTALGIA AMONG LIBERALS for the Obama presidency has lately crested such that it’s a surprise that proposals to overturn the 22nd Amendment haven’t gained traction, even in the fantasy realm of non-feasibility where a lot of American political thinking occurs. Given the centrist fetish for norms and process, a restoration of Barack Obama would be beyond the pale. Let him podcast, produce content for Netflix, and issue biannual lists of his middlebrow fiction faves. Still, there are believers in the restoration of another Obama, both on the paranoid fringe and in the dismayed middle. Lately my primary source of

    Read more
  • print • Spring 2024
    *Constance Debré, 2021.* Adam Peter Johnson © Flammarion.

    CONSTANCE DEBRÉ’S autobiographical novel Playboy is the story of a metamorphosis. We meet the narrator just after she has left her husband, Laurent, and started dating and having sex with women. She had been with Laurent for fifteen years. They were both bored the entire time. The boredom was “a solid foundation,” “a bomb shelter.” 

    Read more
  • print • Winter 2024
    *Pierre-Auguste Renoir, _La Conversation (The Conversation)_, ca. 1876,* pastel and charcoal on paper, 23 5/8 × 19 1/8". Wikicommons.

    BY NOW IT’S CLEAR that the academic humanities—that supposedly disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, preserved from the whims of the market—are under threat. But that threat is perhaps best personified not by a powerful politician loudly looking to defund “ripoff” programs, but by an ordinary guy pursuing a PhD in Business Studies. This is a guy who’s getting an advanced degree not to save his soul or to preserve and expand the edifice of human knowledge but to destroy both. He is at once the ideal consumer and the ideal product of the modern university increasingly run like

    Read more
  • print • Winter 2024

    WHILE READING KATYA APEKINA’S spellbinding sophomore novel, Mother Doll, I kept wondering who its protagonist, Irina Petrova, the feisty, over-the-top spirit of a deceased Russian revolutionary, reminded me of. I searched for a literary precursor before it occurred to me that she had evoked the disruptive ghost Fruma-Sarah from the film Fiddler on the Roof. The movie’s jealous spirit doesn’t manifest through a visitation but rather a dream the protagonist conjures up in order to withdraw his daughter from an arranged marriage. In the book, the threat of the unsettled dead works toward positive ends. But not always: Irina Petrova,

    Read more
  • print • Winter 2024
    *Graffiti in the Queen’s Quarter, Belfast, Ireland, 2013.* William Murphy/Flickr.

    LAZY CITY, RACHEL CONNOLLY’S EXACTING and wise debut novel, is a chronicle of echoes. Connolly tells the tale of two absences: Kate’s, a graduate student who dies before the book begins; and Erin’s, the novel’s protagonist. Erin had been Kate’s best friend, and Kate’s death so rattles her that it also makes her absent from herself. Lazy City takes place in the limbo that follows loss. It doesn’t treat the sharp pain of rupture—sharpness is among the reliefs Connolly withholds—but the lassitude that engulfs a mind after tragedy is over and before normal life resumes. Erin met Kate in graduate school in

    Read more
  • print • Winter 2024
    *Anna Biller, _The Love Witch_, 2016,* 35 mm, color, sound, 120 minutes. Elaine (Samantha Robinson). Oscilloscope Laboratories.

    FILMMAKER ANNA BILLER begins her debut novel, Bluebeard’s Castle, with a warning: “Some husbands,” she writes, “are pussycats, some are dullards or harmless rogues, and some are Bluebeards.” Folklore and literary history are full of Bluebeards: Charles Perrault’s original fairy tale, two Brothers Grimm versions, Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, modern retellings by writers, composers, and directors ranging from Georges Méliès and Béla Bartók to Helen Oyeyemi and Catherine Breillat. The elements of the story remain essentially the same: a young woman marries a mysterious, wealthy widower. Despite warnings (sometimes from her husband, sometimes from outsiders), she explores the recesses of his

    Read more
  • print • Winter 2024
    *Carl Van Vechten's portrait of John A. Williams, 1962.* © Van Vechten Trust, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

    THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL was for most of the previous century a golden icon, an aspirational myth of grand and glittering proportions. Though he never attained that grail, Seymour Krim, an ardent worshipper at its altar, perhaps best articulated the dream in a 1968 essay in which he described the hopes of fellow aspirants to “use the total freedom of our imaginations to rearrange the shipwrecked facts of our American experience into their ultimate spiritual payoff.” 

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *Hilma af Klint, _The Swan, No. 12, Group IX/SUW_, 1915*, oil on canvas, 59 1/2" × 59 1/2".

    HOW ROMANTIC IS J. M. COETZEE? At first the question, prompted by his eighteenth novel, The Pole, sounds like a joke. The journalist Rian Malan, who visited Coetzee’s office at the University of Cape Town in the early 1990s, reported that the novelist didn’t smoke, drink, eat meat, or, except on very rare occasions, laugh. “It helps to have a piercing gaze,” Coetzee wrote in one of eight essays on Beckett, and his own author photographs show a man who, with his ironed shirts, unvainly swept-back hair, and eyes that would win any no-blinking competition, resembles a semi-retired notary public, or

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023

    IF THE TITLE of Helen Garner’s 1984 novel, The Children’s Bach, could strike a chord, it would be a diminished seventh—an unexpected tone of dissonance, curling toward the uncanny, eager for resolution. The title is borrowed, as chords often are, from a 1933 collection of Bach’s easier pieces, edited by E. Harold Davies and still in print. The instructional text telescopes into the novel: Garner’s character Athena is learning to play piano, pinched by determination in the absence of natural talent, no longer the hypothetical child of Davies’s intent. She is the mother of two sons, home for long afternoons as

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023

    IN JUSTIN TORRES’S NEW NOVEL, Blackouts, disorientation is a pleasure. You might wonder, at first, if you’re being duped by these characters or invited to share in their confusion. We’ll get to the reasons for that confusion, which is to say the plot, but plot is less the point than form and a nebulous atmosphere. Short chapters, shifting perspectives, and doctored photographs give the novel the air of an enigma to solve.

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *Illustration from Edwin Thomas Sachs's _Sleight of Hand_ (L. Upcott Gill, London, 1885).*

    WHEN ELIZABETH BENNET AND HER SISTERS sit in calico dresses awaiting the favor of a man of “10,000 a year,” the link between that income and that calico remains easily ignored. So easily, that fantasies of Regency romances endure to this day unburdened by discomfiting questions about the origins of the cotton in these drawing-room dramas. By comparison, any respectable circle in the US would know better than to insist, in this decade at least, upon the charm and romance of the antebellum South. One could not produce a Bridgerton set in Alabama as easily as Netflix produced one set in

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *Sea Hyun Lee, _Beyond Red_, 2023*, oil on linen, 78 3/4" × 78 3/4". Courtesy: the artist and CHOI&CHOI Gallery

    NOT TO MAKE THIS review about me or anything, but about ten years ago I published a big book with multiple characters and story lines. My dad, then in his seventies, said I should have included a character list and roadmap because he had trouble following it all. I remember thinking, in response, that he’d obviously gotten old and slow and that his tastes were conservative and fuddy duddy. Today, I’m willing to concede I might have turned into this same fuddy-duddy, which I offer up as context for my thoughts on Ed Park’s—what is the right adjective here? discursive? fascinating?

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *Yoichiro Yoda, _Jackson Theatre_, 2018*, oil on canvas, 20" × 24". Courtesy: the artist

    I HAVE FREQUENTLY BEEN SEATED in the dark near those who have variously been called “the pilly-sweater crowd,” “cinemaniacs,” or “Titus-heads” (referring to the two main movie theaters at MoMA). They are pejorative terms for a certain type of New York City cinephile, one whose zeal for the seventh art seems to have been leached of all pleasure and has instead transmogrified into grim compulsion. Demographically, they are often (but not always) white, male, and middle-aged or older.

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *D’Ascenzo Studios, _Cotton Field (broken)_, Philadelphia, 1932*, vitreous enamel on plate glass, 12" × 9 1/4". Courtesy: Yale University

    NOVELISTS ARE LUCKY. Not only is their “I” a fiction—even or especially when the veil is of the gossamer kind—but when they need some space to say what can only be said when “I” is another they can always switch to third person. The critic tends to get stuck in first. So I find myself in a waiting room, just as he does. I am in New York and he—Tunde, a photographer, writer, professor and sometimes narrator in Teju Cole’s novel Tremor—is in Boston. His friend and colleague Emily has cancer. The tests or treatments she is undergoing might give

    Read more
  • print • Fall 2023
    *David Korty, _Figure Construction #1_, 2015*, flashe paint, paper, ink, silkscreen on canvas, 58" × 84". Courtesy: the artist and Night Gallery, Los Angeles

    WHEN A NOVELIST’S sophomore novel is narrated by a novelist bemoaning the New York Times review of her first novel, even the most auto-skeptical critic might be forgiven for pulling up a search window. Turns out that the Times review of Lexi Freiman’s Inappropriation (2018) is nothing like the “cancellation” her character, Anna, undergoes in The Book of Ayn. However, the review does begin by declaring that “Satire is a difficult genre to neatly define,” followed immediately by a definition that is roughly what you’d get by googling “satire definition.” You can hardly blame Freiman if reading these words in

    Read more