paper trail

Brandon Taylor reflects on “the trauma plot”; Sasha Frere-Jones on painter Etel Adnan’s poetry and prose

Etel Adnan. Photo: Simone Fattal

For the New York Times, Amanda Hess writes about several recent novels and films—from Claire Vaye Watkins’s I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter—in which mothers leave their children. “Lately the vanishing mother has provoked a fresh response: respect.” In these narratives, “children are not abandoned outright,” and work outside of the home is sometimes implausibly regarded as “the ultimate escape.” Hess concludes: “Even as these stories work to uncover motherhood’s complex emotional truths, they indulge their own little fiction: that a mother only becomes interesting when she stops being one.”

Sasha Frere-Jones considers the writing of Etel Adnan, the Lebanese American artist and author who died in November. Nightboat Books has recently published To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader, a comprehensive volume of poetry and prose. As Frere-Jones observes, “Adnan’s prose is easily understood but doesn’t dry out in the heat of what it faces.”

Biographer, playwright, and essayist Terry Teachout has died at the age of sixty-five. The author of biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, H. L. Mencken, and more, Teachout was a drama critic for the Wall Street Journal. He described himself on Twitter as a “critic, biographer, playwright, director, unabashed Steely Dan fan, ardent philosemite. ‘Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.’ Crazy in love!”

At his Substack, Brandon Taylor weighs in on Parul Sehgal’s recent essay “The Case Against the Trauma Plot,” identity in fiction, and paranoid reading: “I think what it comes down to is that, yes, people do seem to be writing fiction not only about trauma but under the influence of trauma. And this has cohered into a voice, a tone, a way of sounding on the page. And like much of contemporary society, once the algorithm of corporate publishing finds a useful token, it prints more of them. The seeming abundance of the trauma narrative, the seeming ubiquity of it, is kind of annoying, yeah. But also, the tendency to read a trauma narrative into everything is itself kind of a traumatized response.”

The Boston Review has announced the winners of their annual poetry contest, judged this year by Sonia Sanchez. The poems of the two first-place winners, Adebe DeRandgo-Adem and Simone Person, will be published in the Review’s forthcoming winter arts issue.