• print • Summer 2019

    Guided by Voices

    What we talk about when we talk about women talking: Gossip. Secrets. Men. Sex. Babies. Broken hearts. First dates. Messy divorces. The Bechdel Test. Men again. Still. Always?

    In Miriam Toews’s new novel, Women Talking, the women are talking about men. Specifically, they are talking about the men who have repeatedly drugged and raped them in their remote Mennonite colony, knocking them out with an animal tranquilizer in the middle of the night before violating them in their own bedrooms. After years of being told that they were suffering from hysterical delusions, or else being punished by

    Read more
  • print • Summer 2019

    The Anomie Within

    “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” begins L. P. Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between. There is a hazy sense in which Hartley’s iconic opening applies to every life: The passage from childhood to adulthood always involves a kind of expatriation. But for Romanian(ish) writer Gregor von Rezzori, the force of Hartley’s formulation is literal. Rezzori’s past is at least three different countries, and things are done differently in each of them.

    Rezzori was born in 1914 in what was then Czernowitz, a Romanian outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents were

    Read more
  • print • Summer 2019

    The Worst of Everything

    As someone who lives uptown, I’m used to qualifying that my boyfriend bought our apartment for cheap in the late ’90s. My desire to lightly establish my adjacent moral authority—he’s not a banker, slumlord, or trustfunder, he’s just from New York—is as inevitable as strangers wanting to know my cross streets. Where on the Upper East Side? is a follow-up question I’ve come to expect, and it elicits the information people nod at in knowing recognition, and saves them from asking uncouth questions: How close to the park? How far from East Harlem? Where would gossip be without light taxonomy?

    How

    Read more
  • print • Summer 2019

    Moral High

    In a 2015 Guardian article titled “The Death of Writing,” the novelist Tom McCarthy argued that fiction, which had retreated into “comforting nostalgia,” had been replaced by the “funky architecture firms, digital media companies and brand consultancies that have assumed the mantle of the cultural avant garde.” “If there is an individual alive in 2015 with the genius and vision of James Joyce,” he went on, “they’re probably working for Google.”

    Oval, the first novel by the thirty-year-old writer Elvia Wilk, is a box-tickingly perfect dramatization of the landscape McCarthy envisioned. The

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    The Drama of the Gifted Children

    Fifty pages into this novel—Susan Choi’s fifth—I was ready to write about it. I understood its design and I admired its execution. So let’s just start there—with what I knew. Two fifteen-year-olds, Sarah and David, attend a prestigious arts school, the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA). Neither can drive, but both can have sex. They fall in love, though this is probably not the right word for what they experience. Their love is colossal. Monstrous. Steamy and feral. They are kids entrained by desire into appearing older and more savvy than they are.

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Native Son

    The most striking scene in Who Killed My Father is also its most emblematic. The French novelist Édouard Louis revisits the memory six times in his brief new memoir-cum-polemic, sifting it obsessively as if for hidden information that the scene won’t yield. One evening in 2001, a preadolescent Édouard stages a performance for his parents and a large group of dinner guests. It’s standard proto-queer kid stuff: a now-dated pop song, fussy choreography, backup dancers conscripted from among the guests’ children, and the ringleader self-cast as front woman. The adults watch politely—all except É

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Southern Discomfort

    The protagonist of the linked short stories in Bryan Washington’s debut collection, Lot, does not give us his name—at least, not until we have earned this privilege. First, we have to let him usher us through Houston’s working-class neighborhoods and into the lives of queer people of color clinging to their jobs and homes as the city changes around them. The stories unfold in the confines of restaurant kitchens and cramped homes, places where the hard logic of economic precariousness can turn people into enemies just as easily as it can turn them into kin. In Washington’s portrait of the Houston

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Let’s Do Launch

    The Clinton Hill brownstone where Kathleen Alcott’s second novel, Infinite Home (2015), is largely set is about as far away from the Apollo program’s Lunar Module—Lem, in NASA-speak—as fictional territory can be. Edith, the elderly landlord of this neglected five-unit dream factory, hasn’t raised the rent in fourteen years and lives in closer communion with the neighborhood’s past than its multi-racial, gentrifying present; the tenants are eccentrics with maladies and psychic wounds that make it impossible for them to traffic in the world outside. One night, when Edith wanders disoriented into

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Hybrid Maintenance

    In English, concision may generally be the best policy, but in the case of Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas’s new (or newly translated) metanovel, one might opt for the more laborious UK title—Mac and His Problem—over New Directions’ American rendering, Mac’s Problem. The latter really only goes in one direction, and it is clear early on that Mac indeed has a problem. Though we first meet him in the guise of a budding writer—a beginner, he calls himself, diligently apprenticing in his handsome Barcelona study—it quickly becomes apparent that our hero, a voracious reader who was a lawyer (or

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Apocalypse Right Now

    It begins with a nuclear holocaust unleashed by a former reality-TV star aboard an extravagantly self-branded zeppelin; it ends with a tech journalist running blindly into the graveyard once known as Prospect Park. Mark Doten’s Trump Sky Alpha is a bizarre chimera that cobbles together adventure story, torture porn, cautionary manifesto, sociopolitical satire, magazine interview, and metafiction.

    I began reading the novel during a very strange week, although they’re all strange weeks. The president of the United States had invited the Clemson Tigers football team to dine at the White House in

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more