• print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022
    *Walter Pfeiffer, _Untitled_, 1990*, C-print, 23 5/8 x 15 3/4". © Walter Pfeiffer/Courtesy Galerie Sultana.

    GENERICALLY SPEAKING, THERE’S JUST ONE QUESTION driving the Künstlerroman, and it’s “How does this person become an artist?” That narrative-driving “how” relies, however, on the rather more metaphysical matter of “who.” For any artist-narrator worth their salt, this inquiry is depthless—its richness residing in unanswerability, but also in the complicating and exciting fact of art and selfhood’s imbrication. Via Stephen Dedalus and his successors we duly understood that the growth of the person and the growth of the writer are coterminous, that self-knowledge and artistic integrity might, essentially, be the same thing. What happens, though, when the portrait is not

    Read more
  • excerpt • October 12, 2021
    Max (W. G. Sebald), © Reinbert Tabbert

    So, as he always said himself, W. G. Sebald is not a novelist. Nor a travel writer, since his journeys and landscapes are more inward than outward. He is a historian, biographer and autobiographer. But beneath these, he is at heart a visionary and a mystic. That is why there is no one like him in modern literature.

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Walter Ohlson, _Bridge Over Troubled Waters_, 1959,* poster, 30 × 40". From Jim Shaw's “The Hidden World," 2013–.

    WHEN, LATE IN JONATHAN FRANZEN’S NEW NOVEL CROSSROADS, a woman, reuniting with an ex-flame after thirty-one years, notes “recent Mailer, recent Updike” on his shelves, the shock of the old is both soft and profound. It’s 1972; the dinosaurs still stamp and bellow. They can’t imagine how much they will lose.

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Judy Chicago, _Study for Flaming Fist_, 2006,* watercolor pencil on paper, 12 x 9". © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York, Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, and Turner Carroll Gallery, Sa

    MIRIAM TOEWS IS THE RARE NOVELIST for whom “write what you know” does not amount to conservative advice. Toews was born and raised in an insular Canadian Mennonite community called Steinbach. Her eventual rebellion, which included a stint touring North America in a dilapidated VW van with a fire-eating street performer, was nearly as thorough as the rigidity of her earlier life. Toews has shaved her head and hitched rides with punk bands. She has been a single mother on welfare. She has witnessed the debilitating depression that culminated in the deaths of both her father and older sister. Versions

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Harumi Abe, _Highland 2_, 2021,* acrylic and gouache on canvas, 48 x 54". Courtesy the artist, all rights reserved; Photo: Stephan Göttlicher

    I DROVE ACROSS the Everglades in May. I had originally planned to take Alligator Alley, but someone tipped me off that, in the twenty years since I left South Florida, the historically wild and lonesome stretch of road had been fully incorporated into I-75, turned into a standard highway corridor with tall concrete walls on both sides, designed to keep the traffic noise in and the alligators out. So on the drive west from Boynton Beach, I took the northern route, skirting along the bottom of Lake Okeechobee (which you can’t see from the road) through new subdivisions and past

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Anthony Veasna So, San Francisco, 2019.* Chris Sackes

    THERE IS ONLY ONE literal afterparty in Afterparties, the debut story collection by Anthony Veasna So, who died last year at the age of twenty-eight. It appears about halfway into the book, as the organizing event of “We Would’ve Been Princes!”—though the event itself, as readers quickly learn, isn’t all that organized. The story opens right as a wedding party starts winding down and is broken into seven acts, each escalating in sloppy and somewhat digressive debauchery. As the afterparty grows more unruly, gathering a range of distantly related Cambodian cousins under one roof, so too does So’s narrative—spilling into

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *A. L. Snijders.* Paul van Puffelen/New Directions

    “WE FEEL AN AFFINITY with a certain thinker because we agree with him,” writes Lydia Davis in “Affinity,” one of the shorter stories in her collection Almost No Memory (1997). Yet according to Davis, it wasn’t a sense of kinship that led her to the zeer korte verhalen (zkv’s), or “very short stories,” of the beloved and prolific Dutch author A. L. Snijders (1937–2021). Rather, it was a sense of fairness: if her books were being translated into Dutch, then she should translate a work from Dutch into English. It would be no small challenge, since she would have to

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Koralegedara Pushpa Kumara, _Barbed Wire (IV)_ (detail), 2012,* silk screen on canvas, 48 x 66". Courtesy the artist and Exhibit320

    PERCIVAL EVERETT’S NEW NOVEL begins in Money, Mississippi, the town Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago when he was lynched in 1955. The fourteen-year-old Till was tortured, mutilated, and shot in the head. His killers, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, tied his corpse to a cotton gin with barbed wire, and dropped it in the Tallahatchie River. They were tried and acquitted, and, though they admitted their crime to a journalist for Look magazine the next year, rules against double jeopardy ensured they were never brought to justice. The Trees opens at a family gathering of the descendants of

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Tao Lin, _mandala 4_, 2014,* graphite and ink on watercolor paper, 8 x 8". Courtesy the artist

    THE STORY GOES THAT ONLY FORTY PEOPLE attended the Sex Pistols’ first concert, but each of them went on to form a band. A similar thing might be said of Tao Lin; his first few books had small readerships, but those who read them went on to write their own plotless, autobiographical novels in which emotionally stunted twentysomethings communicate on their laptop computers via Gmail chat. Lin’s early style was deceptively simple, a robotic deadpan marked by an absence of figurative language and a lack of abbreviations (always “laptop computers,” always “Gmail chat”) that captured a particular strain of millennial

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021
    *Colson Whitehead, 2019.* Wayne Lawrence

    AS THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT took center stage in newspapers and magazines across the United States, the people of Harlem were, among many things, dealing with a rat problem. The vermin were biting children and contaminating pantries, but they were also a striking symptom of a larger issue: Harlem was facing a housing crisis. Though public housing had been erected, it was both scarce and disgusting. The exuberance that characterized the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s seemed to be in decline as economic insecurity, inadequate sanitation, dreadful landlords, and neglected public space tarnished the neighborhood’s grandeur. As James Baldwin would

    Read more
  • excerpt • August 4, 2021

    Perhaps it is the contemporary tension around the concept of selling out that has made so many recent works of fiction deal with the question of their own economic conditions of possibility, their marketing, and their commodification explicitly within their pages. One of the clearest examples of this is Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure. The protagonist of Erasure is an experimental novelist, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, who is dismayed by the outsize success of a novel entitled We’s Lives in da Ghetto. Monk sees this book as cynical attempt to give the white public a story of Black experience that conforms

    Read more
  • review • July 20, 2021

    In one of the stories from Prepare Her, Genevieve Plunkett’s debut collection, a pair of newlyweds who grew up together are staying at a mildewed, hot cabin on their wedding night. It is a makeshift honeymoon at a camp the groom’s grandfather owns. For the special occasion, they begin to drink wine. “We couldn’t think with all the heat and noise and so we began to talk instead,” the narrator recalls. “We said things that could not be taken back. All of this chatter, in this womb-like environment seemed safe at first—daring and intimate.” The atmosphere almost imperceptibly becomes stifling.

    Read more
  • review • June 10, 2021
    Sam Lansky

    Broken People opens, like many stories of discontent and yearning in Los Angeles, at a dinner party. This isn’t the perpetual glamour of an Eve Babitz novel, or even the disaffected rich kids of a Bret Easton Ellis one. Sam Lansky offers a more familiar alternative. His protagonist is an aimless, semi-successful, recovered drug addict committed to self-sabotaging the last of his twenties. Sam feels a deep unbelonging at the party; as we come to learn, Sam feels unbelonging in most places. Finding himself in a conversation about ayahuasca, he dismisses it as “a thing trendy, wellness-minded people were doing

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021
    *Joe Biden, Wilmington, Delaware, July 16, 2020.*

    WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE NARRATIVE MODE to capture the last few years of US history? What mode will fit the times going forward? Political eras lend salience to certain sorts of stories. We have just lived through a gothic phase of history, and a new sentimental age is upon us. These two modes of narrative have been alive, if not always dominant, in America since the eighteenth century, and they have lately defined our politics. The tropes of the Trump administration were those of a gothic nightmare—sexual perversion and predation, the sinister influence of forces emanating from the shadowy east,

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021

    HUMOR CAN BE A RISKY BUSINESS. For the comic, professional or not, comedy evinces parts of the self that may not otherwise see outward expression. For the reader, the line between mirth and madness can be thin. In The Republic, Plato, perhaps history’s foremost derider of laughter, reasons that elites must refrain from laughing because it signals a loss of control, a condition that can be exploited by the masses. Comedy must be left to the marginalized—“slaves and hired aliens,” as he puts it in The Laws—because someone needs to participate in the ridiculous in order for the serious to

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021
    *Kerry Smith, _The Smiths - First Record_, 2020*, gouache and liner notes on board, 12 x 12".

    THE MOST STRIKING FEATURE OF THE NEW WORK BY ANDREW O’HAGAN is the hole in the middle of it. Mayflies’ first half is set in 1986, its second in 2017 and 2018, and in between there is a blank you would need a bigger novel than Mayflies to fill in. The narrator, Jimmy Collins, goes to sleep at age eighteen, having spent the night dancing his author into run-on sentences at a warehouse party in Manchester. In the next chapter, he’s near fifty. It’s one version of a hangover. Now a writer rather like Andrew O’Hagan, Jimmy sees the traces

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021

    SINCE THE 2014 RELEASE of Outline, the first novel in her acclaimed trilogy, Rachel Cusk has acquired an aura of unimpeachability. This is not to say all reviews of her work have been positive; many invoke the question of “likability,” that awful barometer women are metered against, but the general tone conveys her moral fiber, her strength of character. Not only is her work brilliant, but she herself stands as a kind of moral benchmark. Her position on her themes—womanhood, fate, will, art—has been taken as correct. This is likely in part because she has not come by her reputation

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021
    *Barry Jenkins's _The Underground Railroad_, season 1, 2021.*

    I SUPPOSE THE FANTASY SUBGENRE OF “ALTERNATE REALITY” doesn’t altogether count as fakery since such storytelling is usually up-front about its artifice. Nevertheless, I am an easy mark for “what-if-the-Nazis-or-the-Confederacy-had-won” stories and their ilk wherever I can find them. My latest guilty pleasure is For All Mankind, an Apple TV streaming series that imagines what the latter half of the twentieth century would have looked like if the Russians had beaten us to the moon.

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2021
    *Quintessa Matranga, _Caveat_, 2017,* oil on canvas, 12 x 9".

    IN “WHAT IT IS I THINK I’M DOING ANYHOW,” written in 1979, Toni Cade Bambara lays bare the bones of her writing life. Short fiction had her heart, she said, having released by then two separate collections, Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Seabirds Are Still Alive (1977). “The short story makes a modest appeal for attention, slips up on your blind side and wrassles you to the mat before you know what’s grabbed you.” This she found suitable to both her temperament and schedule, completing her work between time as a mother, partner, worker, and community member. “I could

    Read more
  • excerpt • April 26, 2021

    He climbed to the top of the tree. The freight still passed, its many-colored, many-shaped cars looking like the curious shapes of a puzzle.

    Read more