• print • Summer 2023

    Bleak House

    THE DUBLIN-BORN NOVELIST PAUL MURRAY, who entered adulthood during Ireland’s rapid modernization in the 1990s, writes fiction about the problems that modernity everywhere has failed to solve. His characters come up against cruelty and abuse, inequality, grief, terrible loneliness, death—but generally their problems boil down to one of two sources, their families or their money. Murray’s 2010 boarding school–set bestseller, Skippy Dies—with its fucked-up children of sick or divorcing parents, its neatly bidirectional line between the traumas of childhood and the disappointments of adulthood—tilts

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  • review • December 29, 2022

    Real Scary

    The Ishiguro blurb (“The most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time”) might be designed to entice skittish readers of literary fiction into committing to six hundred pages of horror. Who better than the SF-dabbling Nobel laureate to assure us that we can indulge our genre pleasures and remain serious people? Mariana Enriquez’s Our Share of Night, her first novel to be translated into English, comes well weighted with prestige-ballast: the novel won the 2019 Herralde Prize awarded by the Spanish publishing house Anagrama, and her second story collection, The Dangers of Smoking

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Brood Meridian

    “IT MAY BE THAT THE subconscious is really a committee,” Cormac McCarthy tells Oprah in their 2007 interview, a full eight years before he could have gotten the idea from Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out. “They may have meetings and say, ‘What do you think we should tell him? Should we tell him that? Nah, he’s not ready for that.’ . . . Sometimes the sense of the subconscious and its role in your life is just something you can’t ignore. It may have to do with the subconscious being older than language, and maybe it’s more comfortable creating little dramas than telling you things, but it has to

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    DIY PI

    ONE OF SAM LIPSYTE’S SIGNATURE ACCOMPLISHMENTS has been to find the baroque musicality in the emergent vocabularies—commercial, bureaucratic, wellness-industrial, pornographic—opened up by twenty-first-century English. “Hark would shepherd the sermon weirdward,” he writes in his 2019 novel about an entrepreneurial inspirational speaker, “the measured language fracturing, his docile flock of reasonable tips for better corporate living driven off the best practices cliff, the crowd in horrified witness.” Across his first six books, Lipsyte’s sentences have been excessive, pun-laden, and lyrically

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Cold Snap

    BORN DAVID CORNWELL in 1931, John le Carré was too young to go to war and thus too young to experience Britain’s patriotic struggle with Nazi Germany from inside the intelligence service, too young to have worked in alliance with the Soviet Union, and much too young to have been a university student in the 1930s, when many idealistic young Britons joined with the Communists because they were the staunchest opponents of fascism. He was sent to boarding school at the age of five, and it left him with a bitter feeling toward his country’s ruling institutions, even as he would remain thoroughly a

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Just Deserts

    NOMINALLY, LYDIA MILLET’S TWELFTH NOVEL, Dinosaurs, takes its title from the birds that inhabit the Arizona desert in which the book is set. But it also refers to Millet’s protagonist Gil, a kind, aimless man in his mid-forties. Orphaned in early childhood, he inherited a fortune at age eighteen and, when we meet him, is both ashamed of being “disgustingly rich” and fixated on finding the single “best way to contribute.” He’s so terrified of doing wrong that he’s spent his adulthood doing little but clinging to an unhappy relationship, volunteering at a series of nonprofits, and yearning to be

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    The Groups

    “WE WONDER at our shifting capacities, keep / adding and striking skills / from the bottoms of our résumés / under constant revision / like the inscriptions on tombs,” Anna Moschovakis writes in her 2011 poetry collection You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake. E, the sometimes-narrator of Moschovakis’s new novel Participation, would likely feel at home in this “we”: she has three jobs, or, as she later corrects herself, “tall piles of tasks—paid, unpaid, underpaid—at every moment.” In one of capitalism’s many depraved ironies, these multiple tasks don’t multiply her income. Instead, the

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    City on Fire

    HOW SPECIAL is New York City? Is it the greatest, most exciting, most alive-seeming city on the North American continent? If you think so, would you say as much to people who live in Los Angeles, or Montreal? Would you build a large-scale, world-shaping fantasy series around the idea? 

    N. K. Jemisin did. Her ambitious, historically conscious, almost perfectly executed Broken Earth trilogy (2015–17) won a stack of awards, including three fan-voted Hugos in a row (the first author to accomplish that hat trick). Its thousand-plus pages incorporated mutant superpowers, geological upheavals, devices

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    On Boroughed Time

    WHEN BARBARA SMITH describes Toni Morrison’s Sula as an “exceedingly lesbian novel” in her pathbreaking essay “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” she stops just short of calling either of the book’s main characters the L word. Sula, which sumptuously tells the story of a pair of Black girls learning how to become Black women in a world that aims to constrain their desires, reveals the depths of intimacy available to women when they focus on cultivating relationships with each other rather than seeking communion with men. For Smith, a woman deriving pleasure for herself “functions much like

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Ruminations in an Emergency

    NO ONE KNOWS how long Petronius’s Satyricon was or even if its author really is Petronius, a Roman courtier and arbiter elegantiae, official tastemaker, to Nero. Many parts of the Satyricon are lost. By some estimates, the complete opus may have been as long as Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. And like In Search of Lost Time, the Satyricon is a work in which life and death may hang on the course of a dinner party. The host of the hedonistic gathering at the heart of Petronius’s prosimetrum (a Latin genre that mingles poetry and prose) is Trimalchio, an ostentatious lout with money to

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Supreme Courtesan

    “BEAUTY, WOMEN’S BUSINESS IN THIS SOCIETY, is the theater of their enslavement,” laments Susan Sontag in her 1972 meditation on aging and femininity. “Only one standard of female beauty is sanctioned: the girl.” It is no accident that women must look like girls to qualify as beauties, for they must also act like girls to qualify as women. “The ideal state proposed for women is docility, which means not being fully grown up,” Sontag continues. Only two ages are available to women: infantile—and too old. 

    No one understood the injustice of the girlish imperative better than the French writer

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  • review • November 16, 2022

    No Man’s Land

    There must be a room, sealed against the present, before we can make any attempt to deal with the past.

    — Thomas Pynchon, V.

     So many characters in twentieth-century literature are absorbed into narrative scenery or lost to the torrents of history. The uncertain ending seemed evidently suitable to novelists whose notions of fate were darkened in the years before, between, or after the World Wars. The helpless Karl Rossmann of Kafka’s unfinished Amerika, written between 1911 and 1914, apprehends the “vastness” of the Oklahoman wilderness in which, we may presume, he would have been

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