• 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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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Commit to the Bit

    HUMOR CAN BE A RISKY BUSINESS. For the comic, professional or not, comedy evinces parts of the self that may not otherwise see outward expression. For the reader, the line between mirth and madness can be thin. In The Republic, Plato, perhaps history’s foremost derider of laughter, reasons that elites must refrain from laughing because it signals a loss of control, a condition that can be exploited by the masses. Comedy must be left to the marginalized—“slaves and hired aliens,” as he puts it in The Laws—because someone needs to participate in the ridiculous in order for the serious to make

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    A Restroom with a View

    IN “WHAT IT IS I THINK I’M DOING ANYHOW,” written in 1979, Toni Cade Bambara lays bare the bones of her writing life. Short fiction had her heart, she said, having released by then two separate collections, Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Seabirds Are Still Alive (1977). “The short story makes a modest appeal for attention, slips up on your blind side and wrassles you to the mat before you know what’s grabbed you.” This she found suitable to both her temperament and schedule, completing her work between time as a mother, partner, worker, and community member. “I could narrate the basic outline

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    How Soon Is Then?

    THE MOST STRIKING FEATURE OF THE NEW WORK BY ANDREW O’HAGAN is the hole in the middle of it. Mayflies’ first half is set in 1986, its second in 2017 and 2018, and in between there is a blank you would need a bigger novel than Mayflies to fill in. The narrator, Jimmy Collins, goes to sleep at age eighteen, having spent the night dancing his author into run-on sentences at a warehouse party in Manchester. In the next chapter, he’s near fifty. It’s one version of a hangover. Now a writer rather like Andrew O’Hagan, Jimmy sees the traces of his teenagehood all around him, musing to himself upon

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Sympathy for the Devil

    SINCE THE 2014 RELEASE of Outline, the first novel in her acclaimed trilogy, Rachel Cusk has acquired an aura of unimpeachability. This is not to say all reviews of her work have been positive; many invoke the question of “likability,” that awful barometer women are metered against, but the general tone conveys her moral fiber, her strength of character. Not only is her work brilliant, but she herself stands as a kind of moral benchmark. Her position on her themes—womanhood, fate, will, art—has been taken as correct. This is likely in part because she has not come by her reputation easily (

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Alt That’s Fit to Print

    I SUPPOSE THE FANTASY SUBGENRE OF “ALTERNATE REALITY” doesn’t altogether count as fakery since such storytelling is usually up-front about its artifice. Nevertheless, I am an easy mark for “what-if-the-Nazis-or-the-Confederacy-had-won” stories and their ilk wherever I can find them. My latest guilty pleasure is For All Mankind, an Apple TV streaming series that imagines what the latter half of the twentieth century would have looked like if the Russians had beaten us to the moon.

    Besides all the hyped-up soap-opera among technicians, pilots, bureaucrats, and the people who love them, there

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  • excerpt • April 26, 2021

    An excerpt from a posthumous collection of Henry Dumas’s short fiction

    He climbed to the top of the tree. The freight still passed, its many-colored, many-shaped cars looking like the curious shapes of a puzzle.

    Down the road Layton saw his grandmother coming. Beside her walked Mrs. Fields, who lived in the cabin with her ailing husband and his mother, Granny Lincoln. Nobody knew how old Granny Lincoln was except Granpa Fields. He claimed that his mother was born a slave and when she was a girl had seen Abraham Lincoln campaigning for the presidency. The two old women wore wide straw hats, which cast long boatlike shadows in front of them. Their aprons bulged

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  • excerpt • April 19, 2021

    An excerpt from Terminal Boredom, the first English publication of Izumi Suzuki’s speculative fiction

    This morning a boy passed by my house.

    When I told my sister Asako about it, she just said, ‘Dummy, you know there aren’t any boys around here.’

    And she was right.

    Long ago, the Earth was peopled only by women. They lived in peace until one day a certain woman gave birth to a child unlike any that had come before: its body was misshapen, it was rough and careless in everything it did, and it made a great deal of trouble for everyone before it produced a few offspring and then died. Such was the advent of man. From there, the number of men increased steadily. It was they who invented war and

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  • review • March 30, 2021

    An innovative novel registers the cacophony of London and the odd machinations of office life

    “PRET,” “SECOND PRET,” and then, a little later, “another PRET.” The protagonist of Rebecca Watson’s Little Scratch makes these half-conscious mental notes of the homogenous sandwich shop as she hustles through London to get to work on time on a Friday morning. Moments later, she looks up, absorbing the beauty of the “widescreen sky,” before almost immediately being “struck by / how irritating it is / that it is here, / here, with all these men in suits, all these watch shops, that I am / seeing beauty.” The oppressive banality of London’s glassy, late-capitalist grind is ever-present in the

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Use Your Elusion

    THE UNNAMED NARRATOR of Lauren Oyler’s debut novel is an ex-blogger. She delivers hard truths about what she reads online: popular tweets and think-pieces alike are “aimed not at clawing for some difficult specificity but at reaffirming a widespread but superficial understanding.” Fake Accounts details her pivot to clawing, and to fiction; she is writing a semiautobiographical novel of hyperspecific circumstances, having recently discovered that her boyfriend, Felix, peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via Instagram. Soon after, he dies. She gets the news at the Women’s March in Washington,

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