• 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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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Only Human

    IN STORIES ABOUT INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL, space usually wins out over time. The accounting of minutes and hours is too petty, too human, for the vast distance between one star and another; some genres just won’t accommodate the clockface. This is true of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, in which mad astronauts prove incapable of distinguishing between past and present, as well the Swedish poem and film Aniara, about a spaceship destined for a future of endless drift—which is to say, no future at all. Few places are as interminable as outer space, which urgently raises the question of where one is while rendering

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Daughters and Lovers

    TESSA HADLEY’S NEW NOVEL, Free Love, begins in 1967 London. The book is split between Otterley, a fictional suburb of manicured houses and back gardens, and Ladbroke Grove, the site of hippie excess, progressive dropping out, and émigré professional striving. Hadley focuses on Phyllis Fischer, a forty-year-old housewife, and her fifteen-year-old daughter Colette. The attention to these two characters, as they break slowly and then all at once from the circuits of the lives expected for them, makes up the bulk of the plot. Phyllis is elegant, the well-groomed and beautifully dressed mistress of

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Mass Culture

    THE SCHOOLGIRLS HAVE BEGUN TO BEHAVE STRANGELY. At night, they gather to perform incantations that involve crystals and candle wax, delicately dripped. One of them hides sambuca in a mouthwash bottle and slips out for parties after babysitting jobs. Another attempts suicide by smashing a thermometer to drink the mercury within, but only succeeds in cutting herself. The last stops eating altogether, unless she can cadge food off of someone else’s plate.

    What could be wrong? Perhaps there is some dark, supernatural presence at work. We are, after all, in Massachusetts, home of Salem’s doomed

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  • excerpt • December 09, 2021

    Revisiting Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and its interpreters

    At some point in moving from The Savage Detectives to 2666, Bolaño sketched a map (or diagram, or dream image) of Santa Teresa, the city on whose outskirts Cesárea Tinajero dies in the earlier book and that would become the center of his final novel. The picture (which you can find in the exhibition catalogue Archivo Bolaño 1977-2003) looks like a classic grid in a process of decomposition: names of landmarks or neighborhoods float in a disjointed space connected by gestural lines indicating streets or thoroughfares. But even in this exploded condition, we recognize how Bolaño’s imagination

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    A Girl’s Own Story

    ANDRÉE’S GRAVE IS ALL WRONG, Sylvie thinks. It’s covered in white flowers. This is what killed her; she was “suffocated” by whiteness. Sylvie places three red roses on top of the grave. This scene takes place at the end of Simone de Beauvoir’s roman à clef Inseparable: Sylvie is Simone and Andrée her friend Élisabeth Lacoin, known as Zaza. In real life, there must have been a casket for Zaza, who died at twenty-one, and maybe also roses, but in Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), where Simone and Zaza’s story is recounted, we hear nothing of the casket or the flowers. If you haven’t

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    The Merry Murderer

    WHEN SHE WAS SIXTEEN, THE FRENCH NOVELIST Anne Serre set out to induce her high school philosophy teacher to fall in love with her. Her strategy was unconventional: “I thought that writing a book, which I would then ask him to read, was the only possible way of seducing Monsieur Rebours,” she recounted in the Times Literary Supplement last year. Though Monsieur Rebours did not succumb, Serre, now sixty-one, remains convinced that books are instruments of seduction. “Fiction, realist or not, doesn’t try to convince but to seduce,” she explained in a recent interview. “A writer’s only responsibility

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Primrose Pat

    IN AN AFTERWORD WRITTEN to accompany the 1990 reissue of her second novel, 1952’s sapphic paragon The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith insisted, “I like to avoid labels,” taking umbrage even at being called a suspense writer. The declaration functioned somewhat as a misdirection, deployed to explain why she published the book pseudonymously (as Claire Morgan), though not why she refused until almost forty years later to publicly acknowledge—and thus out herself—that she was the author of this swoony tale of same-sex romance: “If I were to write a novel about a lesbian relationship, would I

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Happiness, as Such

    SHE CALLED HERSELF a minor writer. “I’m no Tolstoy,” said this woman whose parents named her after a character from War and Peace. One wishes Natalia Ginzburg hadn’t apologized for her gifts. Wishes that she had luxuriated in her standing as one of Italy’s finest postwar writers. The fact that her various novels, novellas, and essays are flying back into print—some freshly translated—thirty years after her passing is not unrelated to the extravagant success of the other Italian, the one whose books have become the stuff of prestige television. Ginzburg, alas, has no HBO series attached to her

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Art and Lies

    ALEXANDER CHEE: You have never shied away from writing about the events of the world, but your new novel, A Time Outside This Time (Knopf, $27), takes that on in a different way: a novelist at an artist’s colony considers whether the violence in the world outside the retreat is an interruption or a muse.

    AMITAVA KUMAR: You’re right, I have not shied away from writing about the events facing the world. I wrote a book about terrorism trials called A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. But that writing did not have reflections on writing, like this one. It didn’t ask the

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