• print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Little Monsters

    Terrible things happen in Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This, a fact hinted at by the table of contents, which reads like a list of YA vampire novels: “Bad Boy,” “Death Wish,” “Scarred,” “Biter.” “I write horror stories,” the author told the Sunday Times last year. “The pull and push of revulsion and attraction is what the book revolves around.”

    Roupenian is fascinated by the way power—in her stories, often bestowed by sex or magic—seesaws between people, temporarily elevating the lowly only to drop them back in the dirt where they belong. Her victims can sometimes gain enough leverage

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Hocus Focus

    In life, we tend to dislike those who “like the sound of their own voice.” And in literature, we dislike them too. We call what they’re doing “overwriting.” They pun, they hyperbolize, they use words like hyperbolize. Words, in general, carry them away. In a word-user, there is no vice more difficult to forgive. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, Shakespeare. William Faulkner is another one. Cormac McCarthy offers a living specimen, and in his case, the ornateness makes sense. In his books, people get scalped. A little alliteration seems warranted. How the writer Sam Lipsyte pulls

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Immodest Proposals

    Back when I was entering my forties and thus more youthful and idealistic than I am now (the forties having been the new twenties since the ’80s), I read Darius James’s Negrophobia in its original 1992 edition, and upon sustaining its full impact, I said to myself: “You know what, self? If something this graphically over the top, in your face, and on the mark doesn’t mortify white supremacy into oblivion, then nothing will.”

    At this precise moment in our history, I’ve decided that nothing will. Which has a lot more to do with white supremacy’s exasperating resilience than with James’s scatological

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Grace in the Hole

    The last lines of the last story in David Means’s new collection, “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother,” provide clues to his method and to the goals of his fiction. A man is driving away from the addiction-treatment center where he’s visited his homeless brother. He’s imagined a scenario of suicide: the discovery of his brother’s boots “near the edge of the palisade, the sheer drop-off to the shore of the river,” implying a spectacular jump that would indicate a sort of fatal liberation. He’s aware that his brother’s life will never yield such an episode of tragic catharsis. Nonetheless he

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Female Troubles

    Some of the most vivid set pieces in Anna Burns’s darkly comic novel Milkman take place in the ladies’ room, those sites of respite and esprit de corps. In one of these scenes, the narrator finds herself in the bathroom of a popular club. Six women have surrounded her. The women are “paramilitary groupies,” sexual attachments to the nameless Northern Irish city’s “terrorist-renouncers,” and the eddy of local gossip has led them to mistake the narrator for one of their own; for being, like them, aroused by “the sound of breaking glass.” The encircling is an overture of friendship. They offer

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Net Loss

    In his recent book New Dark Age, James Bridle describes the current internet era as one of draconian, top-down control. Blind belief in computation has led to a disastrous imbalance of power, networked technology is being weaponized for mass surveillance, and algorithmic governance is sapping political agency from citizens. Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail takes up Bridle’s thesis by imagining its antithesis: What if the internet kill switch were flipped? Assuming networked technology is the primary enabler of our ongoing political nightmare, what would happen if it just—shut off? As it

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Furious Seasons

    How good was Lucia Berlin? She published her first story in 1960 at age twenty-four, but her debut volume, Angels Laundromat (1981), wouldn’t appear for another two decades; Phantom Pain followed in 1984, and Safe & Sound in 1988; all three came out with small presses. Her readership grew slightly when Black Sparrow Press took her up, publishing Homesick (1990), So Long (1993), and Where I Live Now (1999), but even their support wasn’t enough; nor was the esteem in which Berlin’s terse and minimal style was held by Lydia Davis, Saul Bellow, and Raymond Carver. By the time A Manual for Cleaning

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Aria Grande

    I first heard the name Haruki Murakami as an undergraduate in Madison, Wisconsin, when a bandmate handed me a frayed paperback, saying it was “pretty rad Japanese cyberpunk.” The warring cells of Calcutecs and Semiotecs in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World did seem like they might have come out of early William Gibson, but the book wasn’t really science fiction at all. Sci-fi marvels are usually explained by some ingenious techno-MacGuffin; H. G. Wells’s Time Traveler, to take a canonical example, waves his hands at some glimmering quartz cylinders at the center of his machine to

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Imitation of Life

    What’s in a name? I ask, though with admittedly far less ardor than Shakespeare’s blushing young lover once asked her Romeo. Nowadays a woman knows that not every rose smells equally sweet—or is uniformly thorny, for that matter—and that the tragic answer to Juliet’s question in our relentlessly desperate times would most likely be: Depends on what you’re worth.

    Which is all to point out that there are two couplings in Crudo, British author Olivia Laing’s first novella, a work of autofiction: one romantic, the other nominal and essentially a literary gimmick. Written over seven weeks last

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Germanic Episodes

    “The titles of certain books are like names of cities in which we used to live for a time,” Ortega y Gasset once wrote. “They at once bring back a climate, a peculiar smell of streets, a general type of people and a specific rhythm of life.” Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries is a book to live in: two volumes and more than 1,700 pages of roomy universe, robustly imagined and richly populated. Its streets are long, and its landmarks are varied. Sometimes the weather’s sultry, and sometimes the pipes clang in the cold. But Johnson’s rhythm is always patient, always mesmerizingly meticulous.

    Originally

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2019

    Double Dare Ya

    ON THE NIGHT the French author Virgine Despentes was gang-raped, at age seventeen, she had a switchblade in her pocket but was too terrified to use it. “I am furious with a society that has educated me without ever teaching me to injure a man if he pulls my thighs apart against my will, when that same society has taught me that this is a crime from which I will never recover,” she writes in her sweeping 2006 manifesto/memoir, King Kong Theory. Published in the United States in 2010, King Kong Theory was the work that made Despentes a revered cult figure among feminists in this country, though

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    A Man in Full

    IT IS ONE THING to write down the shameful truth of what you really think about someone else; another to publish that shameful truth inside a novel. It is, perhaps, a third thing to use, within your novel’s pages, that person’s actual name, and a fourth to render it all in prose whose rawness will flatter no one. It is something else, however, if that person is your wife.

    “Oh, I was so completely in the shit,” thinks Karl Ove Knausgaard in My Struggle: Book Six. This thought, which occurs on page 43, captures much of the spirit of the pages that follow, of which there are eleven hundred.

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