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What We’re Loving: Racetrack Murals, Lovers, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

December 20, 2013 | by

A-Childs-Christmas-in-Walelarge

One of my favorite novels of the past few years is Andrés Neuman’s Traveler of the Century, an ambitious “total novel” that is many things: a love story, a murder mystery, and, most of all, a novel of ideas. While his latest, Talking to Ourselves, is much more brief and intimate, it is no less moving and intelligent. And while Traveller was set in an imaginary place, Talking to Ourselves is grounded in our reality, alternating between the voices of a father, mother, and son as they all deal with the father’s illness. None of them dares to express the complete the truth to the other two; instead, it’s up to us to put the pieces together. As the mother, Elena, expresses near the end, “Let’s be honest. All honesty is a little posthumous.” —Justin Alvarez

When I last left America, an airport official confiscated Dos Passos’s USA trilogy to reduce my hand-luggage; I learnt my lesson and flew back in bearing only one light paperback, Open City by Teju Cole. As I read it over three months, its narrator, Julius, walked through the same streets of New York (then Brussels and back to New York) in a headspace James Wood astutely calls “productive alienation,” nourishing common encounters on the street with memories (of his father’s funeral, Nigeria, schoolmates illnesses, the first illicit consumption of a pornographic magazine or a Coca Cola). His narrative is besieged by loss, and calibrated, in the end, to omit rather than include. Cole’s novel is paradoxical, “turned in on itself” as Manhattan itself is: “water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on, fussed over, overused.” —Lucie Elven

“Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.” If one story conjures the youthful enchantment of tossing snowballs at neighborhood cats and building snowmen, of chimneys emitting plumes of smoke, surely it must be Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Published in a slim blue volume by New Directions, this comic tale of family and friends of Christmas past is sure to delight; I joyfully revisit Thomas’s word-drunk reverie each year. —Adam Winters

This week I’ve been reading the Barbara Bray translation of Marguerite Duras’s L’amant (The Lover). On more than one occasion I found myself reading it aloud, not just to hear the pleasant tensions of translation, but to also listen to the heartache of Duras’s language. Against the backdrop of prewar Indochina, Duras paints the most tempestuous of love affairs. Yet amidst the novel’s unabated despair—the affaire de coeur, the family torn asunder by poverty, the mother’s madness, the young girl’s insatiable desire for another young girl’s body—shines a beacon of hope: the narrator’s inexorable determination to become a writer. “I’m still part of the family, it’s there I live to the exclusion of everywhere else. It’s in its aridity, it’s terrible harshness, its malignancy, that I’m most deeply sure of myself, at the heart of my essential certainty, the certainty that later on I’ll be a writer.” To second Maxine Hong Kingston’s remarks in her Introduction to the novel, “The Lover is a story about a girl and a woman becoming an artist.” —Caitlin Youngquist

Sportswriter Joe Palmer once warned that those of us who’ve spent time at the races may develop an “unreasonable fondness for certain places,” and if you’ve ever been to Aqueduct—the neon lights, the cinderblock walls, the geriatric thugs crowding the parimutuel windows—no doubt you’re familiar with the sentiment. A certain charm, one might say, if one were drunk on Wild Turkey—and yet the kids have not caught on, or at least not yet. The New York Racing Association recently commissioned thirteen street artists to liven up those cinderblock walls, resulting in several murals diverse in style, size and subject matter (including portraiture based on archival photos supplied by the NYRA). On a recent afternoon the grizzled throngs were still in evidence, though I also spied a few fresh-faced twenty-somethings looking only slightly ill at ease. Aqueduct’s current meet runs through December 31. —Abby Gibbon

 

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