• 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

    Overtime in End Times

    Ling Ma’s debut novel, Severance, toggles between a novel about work, in which its protagonist carries out soul-sucking tasks to make more and more money (coerced by the structural requirements of capitalism), and a novel about a cult, in which its protagonist joins a group of zealots (coerced by the opportunity to live in a protective, if creepy, community). Both require a certain amount of women’s work (her superiors are always men) and water-cooler talk—the transition between the genres is smooth. The cult leader, Bob,is a “power-hungry IT specialist.” His arm is in a sling from “a botched

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    The Big Shorts

    In his visionary 1985 essay “Exactitude,” the Italian writer Italo Calvino says, “The literary work is one of these tiny portions in which the existent crystallizes into a shape, acquires a meaning—not fixed, not definitive, not hardened into mineral immobility, but alive, like an organism.” This declaration is just one of the many and various ways that he tries to articulate the relationship between form (finite, distinct, structural, shapely like a crystal) and the infinite (everything in the natural universe that exists and can be imagined), a tension so essential that it could be said to

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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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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Wander Woman

    The usual thing, in book reviewing, is to start with the positive. Polite book reviewers devote most of the allotted space to sympathetic description of the book’s plot, intentions, mise-en-scène, use of language, etc., before pivoting into faint, almost sorrowful criticism, as if the reviewer is pained by her contractual obligation to point out these flaws.

    I’m as guilty of this as the next person. Nevertheless I’d like to reverse the practice here. The first few pages of Lydia Kiesling’s new novel, The Golden State, are not very good, are in fact very nearly bad. They are confusing, alternately

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Prep School Confidential

    Ziggy Klein has no boobs. The only thing her chest knows how to grow is anxiety. Fifteen years old, Jewish, and hesitant, with an interior life like a hoarder’s apartment, Ziggy has just transferred to Kandara, an all-girls preparatory school in the glossy Sydney suburbs, where she promptly begins studying the dense hierarchical ecology. At the top are the Cates, old-money girls with hyphenated surnames and pearlescent Instagrams. At the bottom are the ugly, the suspected lesbians, and, Ziggy assumes, herself.

    Before long, she has fallen in with the feminists. They indoctrinate her immediately.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Self Fare

    MEGAN BOYLE'S NOVEL LIVEBLOG is more than seven hundred pages long and doesn’t attempt to seduce the reader hesitating at its size. “THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE INTERESTING” Boyle writes in paragraph three. “I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO MAKE THIS SOUND INTERESTING OR TRY TO MAKE YOU LIKE ME OR THINK ABOUT IF YOU ARE READING THIS OR ENJOYING READING THIS, IT’S JUST GOING TO BE WHAT IT IS: A FUNCTIONAL THING THAT WILL HOPEFULLY HELP ME FEEL MORE LIKE IMPROVING MYSELF” Our narrator, Megan Boyle, explains that she will be recording “everything i do, think, feel, and say” in order to develop a sense of

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    In My Feelings

    NO WORKING WRITER believes in the shattering power of an encounter—with another person, with a new sensation, with possibility—more than Amélie Nothomb, the prolific Paris-based Belgian who’s published a novel a year since 1992’s Hygiène de l’assassin (rendered in English as Hygiene and the Assassin, though a more accurate title would be The Assassin’s Purity). Her first book offered an impressive blueprint of what would define her subsequent work: arrogant, infuriating personalities; vicious character clashes; childhood love so obsessive that it bleeds out over an adult’s entire history; and

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  • print • Summer 2018

    The Fast and the Serious

    MARK GREIF: I think that Upstate is a beautiful book. Can you say a bit about how you came to write the novel?

    JAMES WOOD: I wanted to write about a family, and I wanted to write about the mystery of happiness. Look at any family—in particular, look at any group of siblings—and invariably you find an apparently random distribution of happiness and unhappiness. Why is she confident and buoyant, while he is depressive and unsuccessful in life?

    I wanted my novel to be about an older father—Alan is sixty-eight—with two grown-up daughters, who are very different from one another. The elder daughter,

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Sea Change

    FAYE HAS JUST BOARDED an airplane when Kudos, the third novel in a trilogy about her middle life, begins. She boarded, after lunch with a billionaire, another airplane at the start of the first novel, Outline. She was reading a spam e-mail from an astrology service predicting “a major transit . . . in [her] sky” when the second, Transit, began. Passenger flight explains these incredible novels. At first, for several pages, it’s hard to relax. Why must we be in this stifled, banal environment, with no room to think? How long do we have to sit here? The air cools, dims. Suddenly we are on a higher

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  • print • Summer 2018

    The Big Sleep

    Entirely pristine in its styling, Ottessa Moshfegh’s fourth book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, opens with the phrase “Whenever I woke up . . .” It is understated, implicit wording—the mild “whenever” simultaneously pointing to no precise time and to various specific times. The words “I woke up” crackle with multiple meanings. Woke from a slumber; woke from a stupor; woke from ignorance; woke from delusion; emerged from grief; emerged revived. It all applies. For a book about a woman so broken and exhausted by life at twenty-four that she sets out to sleep for a year, there couldn’t be a more

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