• 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

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  • 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.

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  • excerpt • April 19, 2021
    Izumi Suzuki. Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki

    This morning a boy passed by my house.

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  • review • March 30, 2021

    “PRET,” “SECOND PRET,” and then, a little later, “another PRET.” The protagonist of Rebecca Watson’s Little Scratch makes these half-conscious mental notes of the homogenous sandwich shop as she hustles through London to get to work on time on a Friday morning. Moments later, she looks up, absorbing the beauty of the “widescreen sky,” before almost immediately being “struck by / how irritating it is / that it is here, / here, with all these men in suits, all these watch shops, that I am / seeing beauty.” The oppressive banality of London’s glassy, late-capitalist grind is ever-present in the

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    Yxta Maya Murray. Photo: Loyola Marymount University

    RARE IS THE ART CRITIC who writes novels, though I’ve never really understood why. In 2012, I asked eminent art essayist Lucy R. Lippard about her only published work of creative writing, I See / You Mean (1979). She sighed and said, “I thought I was going to be a great novelist. . . . I was not a great novelist.” Not so rare are fiction writers and poets who pen art criticism. Lippard’s contemporary Susan Sontag famously thought of herself as a great novelist first. In the 1980s, Lynne Tillman began to mix genres in her “Madame Realism” fiction-essays.

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Wayne Koestenbaum, _The Central Figure Is Dancing_, 2018–19*, oil and acrylic on cradled wood panel, 48 x 48".

    IN THE ANTIC TALE that opens The Cheerful Scapegoat, Wayne Koestenbaum’s book of self-described “fables,” a woman named Crocus, like the flower, arrives at a house party wearing a checkered frock designed by the Abstract Expressionist Adolph Gottlieb. She cowers in the entrance, vacillating over whether to enter or not. She phones her doctor, a man whom she refers to as the “miscreant-confessor,” who entreats her to be social. Inside, Crocus accompanies a “fashionable mortician” to a bedroom where she happens upon a fully clothed woman lying atop a fully clothed man. Observing something “unformed and infantile” about the man’s

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Francesco Piranesi, Prison Scene, date unknown,* etching, 16 1/4 × 22 5/8". After Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

    A DECADE AND A HALF AGO, a book so enchanted me that it was hard to pull away. If I were to get any of my own work done, I needed to hide it. (The book was very long, over eight hundred pages; I didn’t have the time.) But the tome kept jumping back into my hands. I could have given it away, of course, or simply tossed the thing, but surely at some point—when this oppressive spell of work was over—I’d want to dive back in. I had only finished a third, perhaps less. One day, I came across

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Marit Geraldine Bostad, _Birth_, 2019*, acrylic on canvas, 33 1/2 x 22 1/2".

    THE LIFE OF THE MIND, Christine Smallwood’s debut novel, begins with an ending. We meet Dorothy, a contingent faculty member in the English department where she used to be a doctoral student, as she negotiates the miscarriage of an accidental pregnancy. The pregnancy, at once unexpected and welcome, is a blighted ovum, “just tissue” according to her ob-gyn. The metaphor is clear: Dorothy’s academic career and the pregnancy are both projects of development and growth that never had a chance to thrive.

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Wanda Koop, _Riding Mountain Robot #_1, 2019*, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36".

    KLARA, THE TITLE CHARACTER OF KAZUO ISHIGURO’S new novel, would seem to have some serious shortcomings as a narrator. Introduced in a retail outlet in an unnamed city where she alternates between the window and less desirable display positions, Klara is a solar-powered AF, or Artificial Friend, who exists solely to assist and accompany the human child who purchases her. Despite her impressive capacity for mimesis and spongelike powers of absorption, we never forget Klara’s obvious limitations. Her view of the world is circumscribed, her vocabulary stilted, her agency virtually nonexistent. All of which make her an oddly perfect fit

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Octavia E. Butler's ca. 1989 manuscript notes for her novel _Parable of the Sower_, 1993.*

    ONE DAY IN 1960, when she was thirteen, Octavia E. Butler told her aunt that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She was sitting at her aunt’s kitchen table, watching her cook. “Do you?” her aunt responded. “Well, that’s nice, but you’ll have to get a job, too.” Butler insisted she would write full time. “Honey,” her aunt sighed, “Negroes can’t be writers.”

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Emma Kohlmann, _Elliptical Forms Different Times of the Day_, 2020*, acrylic on canvas, 20 1/8 x 29 7/8"

    TORREY PETERS HAS BEEN self-publishing and giving away her stories online for pay-what-you-like prices since the mid-2010s. In the short works The Masker, Glamour Boutique, and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones—a sci-fi contagion story about hormones—Peters zeroes in on moments when her trans protagonist behaves or thinks in ways that communal consensus has agreed is “wrong.” Peters simplifies nothing, explains nothing to the outsider, which is why she is treasured by readers who are also protective of her and her work. For as long as such stories have stayed in the underground, where people make an effort to understand

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    *Theodora Allen, _Flash, No.2_,* 2015, oil on linen, 20 x 16".

    THE FIRST HALF of Patricia Lockwood’s novel No One Is Talking About This opens in a place between life and death. The second half unfolds in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The first half is about the internet. The second half is about having a body in a world. These halves are as discrete as a clunky little screen glowing its gloamish light into an open face, two limitless modes that find their limit only where they merge. The novel takes shape in the parenthetical scoop of a Venn diagram between machine and mind, crowd and solitude, joke and beauty.

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021
    Lauren Oyler. Photo: Pete Voelker

    THE UNNAMED NARRATOR of Lauren Oyler’s debut novel is an ex-blogger. She delivers hard truths about what she reads online: popular tweets and think-pieces alike are “aimed not at clawing for some difficult specificity but at reaffirming a widespread but superficial understanding.” Fake Accounts details her pivot to clawing, and to fiction; she is writing a semiautobiographical novel of hyperspecific circumstances, having recently discovered that her boyfriend, Felix, peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via Instagram. Soon after, he dies. She gets the news at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, where she’s been biding her time at the dawn of the

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  • excerpt • January 21, 2021
    Minae Mizumura

    I thought that in the interest of financial stability Nanae ought to increase her hours of part-time work rather than stocking up on lottery tickets.

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  • review • January 12, 2021

    Claude McKay’s “lost” novel Romance in Marseille begins where most novels would end: with a twist of fate that brings life to a grinding halt. Lafala, a West African sailor and a man of “shining blue blackness,” is discovered stowing away on a ship traveling from Marseille to New York and detained in an uninsulated bathroom, where he nearly freezes to death. When he comes to, he’s in a New York hospital, legless. Lafala’s first reaction is fear: he has heard that doctors in hospitals sometimes kill Black patients to use as cadavers. This is not merely superstition, but the

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  • review • December 15, 2020

    For every novel David Mitchell writes, two are published: there is the novel read by Mitchell’s fans, and the novel read by first-timers. Each of his books stands alone, as a thoughtful, researched, realistic portrayal of a specific time or place. There is a coming-of-age novel about a video-game obsessed adolescent in present-day Japan (Number9Dream), a novel about a Dutch visitor to a port near Nagasaki at the very end of the eighteenth century (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), a novel that deals with a widespread environmental collapse and the horror it brings to ill people (The Bone

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021
    *Edward Zwick, _Jack Reacher: Never Go Back_, 2016.* Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).

    YOU KNOW HOW, when you roll into a small town for the first time, in search of a slice of pie and a decent cup of coffee, you inevitably uncover a byzantine and nefarious criminal conspiracy, perhaps concerning Russian spies and Nazis? And your sense of justice and your MMA-style fighting skills demand that you stick around long enough to expose the evildoers, protect the innocent, and kick a whole lot of ass?

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021
    *Breece D'J Pancake, 1979.*

    IN 1975, BREECE D’J PANCAKE was a twenty-three-year-old English teacher at Staunton Military Academy in the Shenandoah Valley. He was half a day’s drive from Milton, West Virginia, where he’d grown up. He hated the brutal, stultifying culture of the school, but the job was enough to support himself as long as he lived cheaply, which was important because his father had multiple sclerosis and could no longer work. His parents, Helen and C. R., said they were getting by, but he worried about their long-term financial security. Pancake was a loner, a dreamer, a contrarian, a depressive—in short, a

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021
    *Monika Baer, _Überlieferung verpflichtet_, 2014*, acrylic and oil on canvas, 98 3/8 × 86 5/8".

    IN HIS THIRTEEN-LINE POEM “Scotland,” the Scottish poet Alastair Reid invokes a perfect day when “the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels” and “sunlight / stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.” When the poet meets “the woman from the fish-shop,” he marvels at the weather, only to be told by her in the poem’s last line: “We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!”

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021
    *Julian Hoeber, _Execution Changes #106 (CS, Q1, LMJ, DC, Q2, LLJ, DC, Q3, LLJ, DC, Q4, LMJ, DC)_, 2019*, acrylic on linen over panel, 54 × 38 × 3".

    IT IS CUSTOMARY TO START an essay about Kafka by emphasizing how impossible it is to write about Kafka, then apologizing for making a doomed attempt. This gimmick has a distinguished lineage. “How, after all, does one dare, how can one presume?” Cynthia Ozick asks in the New Republic before she presumes for several ravishing pages. In the Paris Review, Joshua Cohen insists that “being asked to write about Kafka is like being asked to describe the Great Wall of China by someone who’s standing just next to it. The only honest thing to do is point.” But far from

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