• print • Summer 2020

    A Journal of the Plague Year

    MY FRIENDS’ FACES are hovering in a line of small, burnished tiles. Each square looks alive in a miniaturized way, its own gestural universe, flickering and reflective like sequins from the hem of a dress. We are discussing the end of the world, which means, for us, the fortunate, the end of our habits, the necessitation of new ones. We talk about science, swapping scraps of data with the fervent authority we previously reserved for gossip. “Well, I heard . . .” We talk about ventilators, a new finite resource. There were already so many finite resources, it’s odd to discover a new one. As the

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  • print • Summer 2020

    That Elusive Thing

    “AFFECTION IS THE MORTAL ILLNESS OF LONELY PEOPLE.” So says the unnamed narrator of Horse Crazy, a book about many things, but maybe most vividly the wages of loneliness. A longing for profound human exchange, a communion of flesh and mind, courses through Gary Indiana’s novel, his first. The setting is New York City in the 1980s; the narrator, reluctantly shackled to an esteemed downtown publication for which he writes scabrous and lucid art reviews, pines for Gregory, a beautiful if vainglorious former junkie drowning in self-pity and solipsism who gives the critic suggestive shoulder rubs

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Future Shock

    On my first day in Mumbai, I took a photograph of a proverb pasted inside a taxi door. IT IS EASIER TO FALL THAN RISE, it cautioned.

    These days, the press regularly describes India as “upwardly mobile” or “a country of dreamers.” It has become a cliché to say that a street sweeper can become a rickshaw driver and then own a taxi, or maybe even become a Bollywood star. It’s true: The poverty rate is falling, the middle class is growing, and the nation is younger than ever. Or at least this was all the case before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term, when rising nationalism and anti-Muslim

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Don’t Be Cross

    He has answered the boy’s questions about condom use, about human nature, and about poo (“the poo-ness of poo”). He has weighed in on the probability of an afterlife (pretty probable) and the pitfalls of having a penis (“Did his penis make him kill people?”). He has explained to him, incessantly, at times impatiently, that “that is the way the world is.” Now Simón, the guardian of David, the boy who might be Jesus, has some questions of his own. I suppose you could call them philosophical. “He, Simón, speaks. ‘I am confused. Did you or did you not tell Dr. Julio that Inés and I are doing bad

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Art Anticipates Life

    Aside from being in poor taste, exchanging high-fives is no doubt a clumsy business on Zoom, which is presumably how Alfred A. Knopf’s marketing team does its conferring these days. Even so, they must have been agog when The End of October ($28), journalist Lawrence Wright’s alternately sober-minded and gaudy new thriller about a devastating global pandemic, got transformed into the season’s most sensational publishing event by a genuine pandemic’s eruption. Apparently, the publication date did get moved up—Christ, what if they find a vaccine first?—but only by a couple of weeks. Now that the

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Her Struggle

    One Thanksgiving during the four years I was a resident of London, at a dinner of Americans and French people, one of the Yanks at the table remarked that if she were a member of the English working class, she “would be throwing Molotov cocktails on the King’s Road and torching Buckingham Palace.” There had been riots in London the year before, student protests were a constant, and the previous autumn had seen the occupation of St. Paul’s, but none of this energy had been directed at the royal family. The Windsors are subsidized at a rate of £82 million a year, or £1.24 per British citizen, an

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Is This It

    Twelve years ago this May, then-twenty-six-year-old Emily Gould wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine, chronicling her addiction to, and subsequent disillusionment with, what was then still a semi-novel cultural phenomenon: blogging. The eight-thousand-word essay made her the poster girl of the overshare: It was accompanied by a series of moodily lit bedroom photographs that Gould herself described as “vaguely cheesecakey.” “Lately, online, I’ve found myself doing something unexpected: keeping the personal details of my current life to myself,” she wrote in the final paragraph.

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Complex Messiah

    Heinrich von Kleist died by his own hand at the age of thirty-four. For a man whose life was plagued by failure, his suicide was a remarkable success. On November 20, 1811, two months after turning his eighth play over to the Prussian censors, Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel retired to an inn outside Berlin, where for one night and one day they sang and prayed, composed final letters, and downed bottles of rum and wine (as well as, the London Times later reported, sixteen cups of coffee) before making their way to the banks of the Kleiner Wannsee. In these idyllic surroundings, as per

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Sex and the Sacristy

    At one point it was my good fortune to spend four summers working in Tuscany, surrounded by its heritage of religious art, and by the last visit, it occurred to me I was in possession of the kind of touristic cultural education I remembered Lucy Honeychurch pursuing in Florence, in E. M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View. Italian religious art plays a role in the plot, especially a scene in which Lucy faints by the Arno, and once I came to recognize the saints’ names and the biblical characters, and the signs that this or that patron had had himself or herself painted as this or that Roman or

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Two Lives

    The characters in Sara Sligar’s Take Me Apart live in 2017, but it would be better to say that they live in “our contemporary moment,” a generic version of the Trump era, a time that artists and writers feel compelled to respond to, usually with “urgency.” They have baby-boomer relatives who suggest they stop trying to be journalists and go to law school. They’re saddled with student loans and credit card debt. They discuss intersectionality at parties and wear fanny packs “unironically.” They contend with workplace harassment and watch Vanderpump Rules reruns. Sligar, it seems, has added all

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Naked Brunch

    The next time I’m about to dine on a goat-cheese omelet I will pause to reflect on that first forkful. Images of hens in cramped cages stacked on top of each other, the rain of dung that pours down from the highest to lowest, and the thousands of sun-bright bulbs that accelerate their egg-laying cycles will come between that tasty morsel and my prospective enjoyment. A decision to eschew the omelet and order a salad instead would be a testament to the efficacy of Deb Olin Unferth’s unnervingly vivid descriptions of industrial egg production in Barn 8. Animal rights and the dire environmental

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Season of the Witch

    While working as a journalist in Veracruz, Fernanda Melchor came across a report of a body found in a ditch outside a small village. A detail stood out: The victim was a known witch, and the suspect, a former lover, took his revenge when he realized the Witch had cast a spell for him to return. Melchor became fascinated with the story. At first she imagined writing a Capote-esque work of nonfiction about the crime informed by interviews with the suspect and the village’s residents, an In Cold Blood set in Mexico. But in Veracruz, a journalist asking too many questions draws the wrong kind of

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