May 22, 2015 | by The Paris Review
I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite moment in Ana Lily Amirpour’s Iranian New Wave vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which was released late last year. It could be the opening scene, when the high-cheekboned Arash, dressed like a rebel without a cause, steals a big tabby cat. It could be the gorgeous silent scene of the transgender rockabilly character dancing with a balloon. But it’s probably the scene in which our heroine, the chador-clad vampiress known only as the Girl, is pressed against a wall, floating a few inches off the ground. Or appearing to float—turns out she’s actually standing on a skateboard. The shot is brief, but it epitomizes what’s so remarkable about the Girl: she’s never quite who you expect her to be, a monster, an angel, a victim, a hero. She’s all those and more—she’s a girl. —Nicole Rudick
If you pull Elfriede Jelinek’s Wonderful, Wonderful Times off the shelf for its seemingly sunny title, you should know up front that it’s ironic—but that’s no reason to put the novel back. Set in 1950s Vienna, it follows a gang of four teens, all of whom nourish an obsessive anger against their parents and society. From their outbreaks of brutality and cruelty, which fall somewhere between juvenile delinquency and amateur terrorism, Jelinek draws the features of a society in agony, one that refuses to come to terms with its fascist past. Rainer, the gang leader, deforms existentialist philosophy to legitimate his desire for revenge. As Jelinek puts it, once intellectual concepts have been perverted, ideas become devious and deadly weapons. And this is where she’s most convincing: in demonstrating a kind of private fascism inherent in language itself, between friends, husbands and wives, parents and children. —Charlotte Groult Read More »
May 15, 2015 | by The Paris Review
Andrés Barba’s August, October starts off full of charm: a teenage boy from Madrid ditches his family and the beach club to hang out with the local kids in a seaside town. Slowly the atmosphere darkens as he tries to adopt their code of violence. Although Barba has translated Melville, Conrad, and Defoe into Spanish, the writer whose ghost haunts August, October unmistakably is Harold Brodkey, with his deep interest in adolescent sexuality and his ability to conjure the last frontiers of childhood. Like Brodkey, Barba inhabits his young hero with a clarity that is both sympathetic and unflinching. —Lorin Stein
On Game of Thrones last Sunday, Stannis Baratheon won the hearts of grammar dorks everywhere when he corrected a soldier of the Night’s Watch who had made a fewer/less mistake. (Stannis is a stickler: he made the same correction in season two.) Though he is sometimes boring and occasionally creepy, Stannis pays attention to detail in a way that is not niggling but noteworthy, indicative of someone comfortable with power. Honestly, at that moment in the episode, I thought for a moment of Mary Norris, a “page OK’er” at The New Yorker and a self-proclaimed “comma queen,” who tells a story in her memoir, Between You and Me, about the surprising power she wields: “when [a young editorial assistant] heard I was a copy editor she jumped back, as if I might poke her with a red-hot hyphen or force-feed her a pound of commas.” But Norris isn’t Stannis—she’s far too entertaining and modest and candid; she devotes whole chapters (paeans, really) to pencils, commas, and hyphens. (Maybe she’s Sam? He did kill a White Walker, but he’s far more interested in scouring the library to figure out how he managed to do it.) —Nicole Rudick Read More »
May 8, 2015 | by The Paris Review
In my mind, I’ve created a dream exhibition of portraiture by Alice Neel, Mickalene Thomas, and Hope Gangloff: crosscurrents of eroticism, identity, bodies, and embellishment. For now, I’ll settle for a show of new portraits by Gangloff, whose paintings are gratifyingly overstuffed with garish details rendered in contrasting patterns and in nips of fluorescent orange and extravagant swathes of hot pink. There’s a funny play between color and patterning in her work—the elements are at once discordant and of a piece, excessive and sensible. There’s something of that, too, in Charles Burchfield’s watercolors, on view a couple blocks south. Burchfield saw a second plane of reality, a spiritual palimpsest shimmering over the world you and I see. The scenes he painted are heightened versions of the real thing, electrified and otherworldly but always recognizable. In a study of what looks like a denuded landscape, his ghostly outlines of trees become visible, lightly filling in and giving life to the empty hills. Color also seems to exist in the spiritual realm. A note on an ink sketch reads, “Leaves a hot red (tinged with umber?), as glowing embers of a dying fire.” —Nicole Rudick
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May 5, 2015 | by The Paris Review
“There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life,” David Foster Wallace said, “that nobody talks about in commencement speeches”—but too many graduation gifts hint at these parts. Real Simple, for instance, recommends a leather mousepad (succumb to carpal tunnel syndrome in style!); Esquire recommends booze.
The best gifts are practical and inspirational. That’s why we’ve put together The Paris Review Commencement Gift Box, including a one-year subscription, a limited-edition Paris Review tote, and a trusty no. 2 Paris Review pencil. It also features two of the most inspiring issues from our archive—156 and 158—in which Hunter S. Thompson, Lorrie Moore, Rick Moody, George Saunders, and Dave Eggers discuss graduation, writing, and life beyond the classroom.
The boxes are available from now through the end of June. They make a great present for aspiring writers, who should, in the words of William Kennedy, “read the entire canon of literature that precedes them, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review.” You’ll find all the details here—order now.
May 4, 2015 | by The Paris Review
For its front-cabin passengers, United Airlines is turning Rhapsody into the Paris Review of the air, attracting authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Anthony Doerr.
—New York Times, May 3, 2015
Fly first class on United Airlines and you’ll get a complimentary literary magazine called Rhapsody. We’re flattered that the Times has seen fit to compare this lavish bit of swag to the Review. But what to read if you’re stuck in economy with the rest of us? Don’t despair—the “other” Paris Review travels everywhere, and it comes with some perks of its own.
- Stories about the misery that is actual air travel. Rhapsody avoids writing about “plane crashes or woeful tales of lost luggage or rude flight attendants.” But we’ve explored the dark side of the skies since 1978: “The stewardess who smells like a dead dog has already rolled me over so that I won’t aspirate if I vomit” (Dallas Wiebe, “Night Flight to Stockholm,” issue 73).
- Writing about sex. “We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,” proclaims the editor in chief of Rhapsody. We make no such promise. As publishers of grown-up stories about grown-up life, we believe in frank depictions of eros—at cruising altitude or any other.
- One one-hundred-seventy-fifth of the cost. First-class flights from New York to Paris start at about seven thousand dollars. You can get a year of The Paris Review for forty bucks.
Subscribe now. You’re first class to us.
May 1, 2015 | by The Paris Review
The artist Jim Shaw began collecting printed media when he was still a teenager, and his extensive archive, which serves as a primary source of inspiration for his paintings, was recently published as The Hidden World. The small book is made to resemble a bible: the edges of the pages are stained red, and the black cover bears only the gold-embossed title. The roughly five hundred images are presented without captions or commentary and were originally produced for pedagogical religious purposes: Freemason, fundamentalist Christian, Mormon, Rosicrucianism, Jehovah’s Witness, Opus Dei, Branch Davidian, and much more. “The Hidden World” was shown as an exhibition a few years ago, but in book form, the same images don’t have the feel of artworks. If it’s a book, you can read it—whether the pages are filled with words or pictures. The unbridged sequences between various brands of faith create a strange narrative: from, say, Left Behind pop culture to beatific Christendom, homemade cultism to UFO-related arcana. A Bill Mauldin cartoon featuring the grim reaper at work sits across the page from a book cover that reads “Good News to Make You Happy.” It’s a creepy book, especially if you aren’t a member of any of these clubs, but it also testifies to how deeply people want to believe. —Nicole Rudick
I was lucky enough to attend the New York premiere of Albert Maysles’s last documentary, Iris. As one might expect, the film offers no shortage of celebration for the buoyant and idiosyncratic style of Iris Apfel; well into her nineties, she’s still very much a commanding force in the world of fashion. But what interested me more than Iris’s style were the glimpses into the relationship between the “Rare Bird of Fashion” and Maysles himself, whose presence, more often than not, manifests only as a voice from behind his camera. To me, the film was an endearing look at two aging artists brought together by the longevity of their art—and, more largely, a tribute to their indefatigable grace. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
From a distance, I’d always cast a cool eye on James Merrill’s epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover—his famous experiments with Ouija boards struck me as superstitious gimmickry, a rich boy’s attempt to swath himself in the aura of Yeatsian occultism. Well, file that under “moronic snap judgment.” Langdon Hammer’s new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art, has shown me the light. Merrill, who led a truly singular life, came to the Ouija board not for some self-serious dalliance with the afterworld but to buttress his playful, skeptical, fecund approach to poetics; as Hammer writes, he “renewed poetry’s ancient task of soliciting speech from the gods. He activated a source of inspiration existing in language itself.” And I hadn’t known that the poet and his partner, David Jackson, used the board in 1955 to commune with Wallace Stevens, who had just died and who expanded their sexual vocabulary from a higher plane: “‘Do you not know the lovely prologue kissing of nostrils, tongue in nostril and on rims?’ He described scenes of sex at court with Ethiopian slaves, dogs, oils, multiple positions and partners, and a tiger licking sweets from the genitals of the orgiasts.” —Dan Piepenbring
Stefan Zweig is one of those writers who mastered the art of memory—reading his short stories on prewar Vienna feels like walking into a sepia photograph. “Mendel the Bibliophile” definitely has that effect. The misfit book peddler Jakob Mendel, endowed with an encyclopedic memory, is typical of the vanished Vienna Zweig is always mourning in his work: a breeding ground for intellectuals where old books are cherished like secular relics, a comfortable, stimulating cocoon, doomed to splinter during the war. The tenderness of its nostalgia makes “Mendel” a gem. —Charlotte Groult