• excerpt • June 14, 2022

    Pear, Grape, Apple

    She is biting her nails when I open the door, her purse pressed tightly against her breasts. As usual, I think as she walks in, head down, and sits in her usual place, Mondays and Thursdays, five o’clock: as usual. I shut the door, walk over to the armchair in front of her, sit and cross my legs, making sure I pull up my pants first so they won’t have those awful creases on my knees. I wait. She doesn’t say anything. She seems to be staring at my socks. Slowly, I pull a cigarette out of the pack in my coat pocket, then tap it on the arm of the chair as I search for a lighter in my back pocket.

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Reality Bites

    EARLY IN ELIF BATUMAN’S NEW NOVEL Either/Or, she quotes a blurb on the front of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World, extracted from its 1986 review in the New York Times. “Good writers abound—good novelists are very rare,” the critic theorizes, deeming Ishiguro “not only a good writer, but also a wonderful novelist.” For Either/Or’s narrator, the distinction comes as a shock. Since she was young, Selin has aspired to become a novelist, and she views much of her life to date as training for that vocation. Assessing herself according to the reviewer’s implied rubric, Selin realizes

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Doppelgänger, Poltergeist

    A SPECTER IS HAUNTING AUTOFICTION. The specter of ripping off your life for your novel and not making a whole goddamn thing about it. Elizabeth Hardwick’s unnamed narrator spent her Sleepless Nights in Elizabeth Hardwick’s apartment and it worked out fine for both of them. Roth had Zuckerman and, later, “Roth,” and later still Lisa Halliday had “Ezra Blazer.” There have been abundant Dennises Cooper, Joshuas Cohen, and Dianes Williams. Sebald and Bellow—just saying the names should be enough. Jamaica Kincaid gave Lucy her own birthday. Then you’ve got the New Narrative movement of the ’70s and

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Track Changes

    PUBLISHED IN 1974, Patricia Nell Warren’s best-selling novel The Front Runner, about the same-sex intergenerational romance between Harlan Brown, a college track coach, and Billy Sive, his star athlete, capitalized on dual booms from that decade: the running craze and the growing crossover appeal of LGBTQ+ literature. 

    The book’s genesis was rooted in the author’s personal experience. In the summer of 1968, Warren, then thirty-two and an editor at Reader’s Digest, and her husband made a pact with another couple that they would train to enter the 1969 Boston Marathon. Warren was one of twelve

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Touchdown and Out

    ON APRIL 12, Joyce Carol Oates, who’s had a surprise second act as a social-media provocateur, tweeted, “Much prose by truly great writers (Poe, Melville, James) is actually just awkward, inept, hit-or-miss, something like stream-of-consciousness in an era before revising was relatively easy.” Like much Tweeting by truly great Tweeters, Oates’s hot take struck a nerve because it reflected the zeitgeist; whatever one’s feelings about the nineteenth-century masters, one must concede the current vogue for tightly structured novels, rendered in lucid, well-modulated prose. For a long time now,

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Hunger Games

    IN 2014, the novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick reviewed the collected fiction of Bernard Malamud for the New York Times. Ozick adores her slightly older contemporary for his bruised moral seriousness. The essay contains just one asterisk: “The reviewer has not read and is not likely ever to read ‘The Natural,’ a baseball novel said to incorporate a mythical theme. Myth may be myth, but baseball is still baseball, so never mind.”

    I can sympathize with Ozick’s reservations to a degree. When I take the Bull Durham approach to baseball—theorizing to myself late at night in a gorgeous Southern

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  • review • May 05, 2022

    Back with a Vengeance

    Six-year-old Marina Salles dubs her grandmother’s house on the salt-swept Monterey Peninsula “the Plastic Palace.” Protective runners cover the carpets and kitchen table, encased and safeguarded from spills. The Plastic Palace is a special nickname, something shared between Marina and her mother, Mutya, who are living there with her grandmother, Lola Virgie, in 1982. Love, here, peeks out from corners: from the “sharp tips” of the plastic, from Lola’s routines and regimens. Mutya evades domestic responsibilities, spending weekdays at college and leaving Marina in Lola’s care.

    At the Plastic

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  • review • April 28, 2022

    Guilty Associations

    I spent the last days of 2019 with family in a Panamanian duplex, across the street from a “village” of high-end apartments where men worked the yards. Fernanda Melchor’s new novel, Paradais, takes place at a Mexican luxury development that shares the Panamanian complex’s name: Paradise. The coincidence is banal, if illustrative. “Páradais,” the phonetic rendering of an English word, is a clichéd, empty signifier of colonial “luxury,” sort of like an American apartment complex called “Royal Glen” or “High Manor.” But Melchor’s novel owes less to the unimaginative naming conventions of developers

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  • review • April 14, 2022

    Yoko Tawada’s postapocalyptic look at language without borders

    There is a Shinto myth called kotodama that implies there are divine powers in the Old Japanese language—koto meaning “speech” or “word” and dama meaning “soul” or “ghost.” In this cosmogony, different words were believed to contain different qualities: a positive word could bring positive spirits and a negative word could wake up the demons inside. Practitioners of Shinto would erase loanwords from Chinese during their rituals to make their prayers as linguistically “pure” as possible. Nowadays, however, if you google kotodama, the internet returns links on the New Age potential of Aikido,

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Judgment Days

    IT IS TECHNICALLY POSSIBLE to write about Sheila Heti’s new novel, Pure Colour, by following the rising action. Such a review might track Heti’s main characters—father and daughter—through his death, her long mourning, their reunion in a leaf (it’s a sort of limbo), and her learning to live without him. The idea would be to shepherd readers through the novel by focusing on its most legible story line, in the hopes of making it all make sense. At the end, three or four sentences would remain to pronounce one or two judgments on how Heti perverts or expands the nature of the father-daughter

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    More Than Meets the I

    THE WRITER AND THE NOVELLA were both new to me: two plosive proper nouns and one personal pronoun, adding up to just three potent monosyllables. Kay Dick (1915–2001): an indelible name, especially for a lesbian. They: her ninth book (and sixth work of fiction), published in 1977, and best summed up, per text on this slim volume’s title page, as “a sequence of unease.”

    Who are the “they” of They, a book broken into nine titled chapters, each of which could stand as an autonomous short story? The antecedent is never specified. But the actions of this anonymous, menacing group are concrete. These

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    We Took Out All the Books We Could

    IN AN ORDINARY CLASSROOM, ON AN ORDINARY DAY in an ordinary English childhood, a girl points at a box of books and says, “Look.” Look, she says, and another girl gets up, retrieves one of the school-owned hardbacks, and pushes it into her chest: “It was your idea.” The first girl is the narrator of Checkout 19, never named, and the second is one of her classmates; the high school moment is being remembered by the narrator, embroidered even in the remembering. Look, the grown-up narrator explains, “no child says ‘Look’ without meaning for something to happen. A child’s eyes are instinctively

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