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Staff Picks: Sinister Clowns, Ferocious Beasts, Pigs

October 2, 2015 | by

Walton Ford, Gleipnir, 2012, watercolor, gouache, ink, pencil on paper, 69" x 120".

My favorite chapter in Valeria Luiselli’s wonderful, unusual new novel, The Story of My Teeth, is “The Parabolics,” in which the book’s protagonist, Highway, wakes to discover that all his teeth are missing and that he is in the midst of the supremely creepy Ugo Rondinone video installation Where Do We Go from Here; that is, he finds himself confronted on four sides by a quartet of lethargic, staring, “sinister” clowns, “a hell worse than the one that had installed itself inside my mouth.” A disembodied, rather unkind voice relates a series of parables to Highway throughout the chapter, so it seemed safe to assume that the chapter title referred to these. But Highway doesn’t understand any of the stories, and in fact his thoughts seem to circle around the idea expressed by Rondinone’s title. “Where am I supposed to go?” he queries the voice. “Parabolics” might also refer to “parabolas,” a series of curves—or perhaps (attempted) leaps over “the schism between the perception you have yourself and the perception other people have of you.” Maybe I’m taking a leap myself. But: “I’ve always thought that hell is the people you could one day become,” Highway thinks. “And there I was, toothless, lying on a bench in front of videotaped projections of enormous buffoons, dozing … being mistaking for one of them.” —Nicole Rudick

A recent piece in the Times on Walton Ford made me remember: I really enjoy the work of Walton Ford. His paintings, which I first saw at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006, depict ferocious animals doing ferocious things, ferociously; they’re set in a welter of copulation and violence at the edge of human society, and in a lot of them, nineteenth-century aristocrats are on hunting trips gone seriously awry. I’m envious of anyone in Paris who gets to see his fifteen new works at the Musée de la Chasse, a museum dedicated to hunters and animals that “essentially documents our historical fear of being eaten alive,” as Matthew Rose puts it in the Times, and thus a perfect venue for Ford’s work. In one new painting, Representation Véritable, a massive black creature based on the Beast of Gévaudan has a wolf by the jugular; in the background, two women are at rest (maybe forever?) in an idyllic meadow. Ford’s paintings are musky, unsparing allegories for colonialism, industrialism, and a host of other noxious -isms, and no one should discount their formal ingenuity—but none of it would matter if they weren’t, at their most literal level, so terrifying. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Staff Picks: Tall and Thin, Tortoises, Tennis Sweaters

September 25, 2015 | by

A 2014 photograph by Cedric Nunn, from Unsettled, now at David Krut Projects. Ntabakandoda monument, built by Sebe of the Ciskei Bantustan government as a homage to the Xhosa Chiefs who fought the British. Ndoda was a Khoi Chief who was killed in battle by Rharrabe.

A few pages into Barbara Pym’s 1944 comedy of manners Crampton Hodnet, I turned to Sadie in confusion. What’s with the descriptions? On page sixteen, “He was dark and thin, just a little taller than she was”; on seventeen, “He was a tall, distinguished-looking man with a thin, sensitive face”; and on twenty, “He was a short, jolly-looking man, while Mrs Wardell was tall and thin.” As Sadie explained, Pym never saw fit to publish Crampton Hodnet in her lifetime, so it’s possible that all these height measurements are a sign of inexperience and haste. On the other hand, the novel is such a sharp send-up of romantic conventions (handsome new vicar meets long-suffering lady’s companion) that they may be part of the joke. In any case, the book is addictive, with scenes as funny and impatient as anything in her later work. —Lorin Stein

The Greek tragedies were written for and performed by soldiers. Sophocles, a retired general, wrote his plays—many of them postwar tragedies, PTSD tragedies—between two major Athenian wars, and because they were performed during citywide festivals, they seem to have been a part of the civic war mechanism: a way for the citizenry to cope, understand, and grieve together. Bryan Doerries’s Theater of War project, which I first read about in Harper’s, stages readings of ancient Greek tragedies for service members and veterans in an effort to remind them that they’re “not alone across time.” Doerries’s new book is about his readings of the plays—and how he gained support from the U.S. military for his project—but it’s also a study of the therapeutic values of art. Many of us lamely suffer from PTSD headline fatigue: it’s always in the news but rarely makes the front page anymore, not for lack of persistence but because there aren’t many new ways of thinking about it. Doerries’s book implicates everyone when it says that the most useful healing is public rather than private. It’s hopeful, in a way, to consider that we can learn through catastrophe: that this is not a new idea, and that it’s best done together. —Jeffery Gleaves

“All the more elegant forms of cruelty, I’m told, begin / with patience.” That’s the first line in Carl Phillips’s newest collection, Reconnaissance. The book is thin, no more than forty-eight pages, and though you could easily read it in an afternoon, I’d recommend sitting with it awhile longer. Raw and unafraid, Phillips’s poems sift through the cruelties of the heart; he writes of the old lovers that “rise as one before you …/ like perennials you’d forgotten to expect again”; of betrayal, “the kind of betrayal … I’ve been waiting for, / all my life”; of mistakes, “the ones that sweetly rot beneath me.” He left me so mesmerized that I reread the collection as soon as I’d finished it. A few favorite (devastating) lines from “The Strong by Their Stillness”: “You can love a man / more than he’ll ever love back or be able to, you can confuse / your understanding of that / with a thing like acceptance or, / worse, all you’ve ever deserved.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

You Read Them Here First

September 21, 2015 | by

Rowan Ricardo Phillips (photo: Sue Kwon) and Angela Flournoy (photo: LaToya T. Duncan)

Hats off to our National Book Award nominees—Angela Flournoy, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Jane Hirshfield—all of whose books include pieces that first appeared in The Paris Review.

You can read Angela’s fiction and Rowan’s poetry in our forthcoming collection of young writers, The Unprofessionals, alongside seminal works by Ben Lerner, Ottessa Moshfegh, Zadie Smith, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and others whose voices have already helped define a generation in American letters. 

Preorder now and get the anthology of the year for just $12.

Staff Picks: Castrating Cattle, Driving on Drugs

September 18, 2015 | by

From the cover of Alien Abduction.

I’ve been reading Lewis Warsh’s collection Alien Abduction this week, and it’s pretty great. Many are prose poems, and even those that aren’t read like they are: conversational, plain-dealing, unpretentious. Among my favorites is “Once,” a paragraph of a poem about taking mescaline and going for a drive and the miraculous feeling that comes from arriving back home in one piece and to a domestic scene that is oblivious to the adventure. There’s a loneliness to these poems, even when the poet isn’t alone, but he doesn’t seem heedful of this, or bothered by it: it may be more of a gentle, yawning solitude than loneliness. “There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone,” Warsh writes, “but I can’t tell you what it is.” —Nicole Rudick

The Paris Review was forced to move its offices in 2013; like every other building on our Tribeca block, ours—built in 1869, with a beautiful cast-iron facade, and chock-full of various arts organizations—was sold to a developer who planned to convert its units to high-end condos. For the staffers who were relatively new to the city, it felt like the end of an era—though, of course, the era that established Tribeca as an art haven has been over for a very long time. New York’s abandonment of its identity as a gritty, crime-ridden, artistically productive city is the subject of Edmund White’s essay “Why Can’t We Stop Talking About New York in the Late 1970s?,” published last week in T Magazine and accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful photographs of Peter Hujar. White is too exacting (and too honest; New York of forty years ago, despite its appeal, was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live) to be wistful: he gives the city’s vices more coverage than its virtues. But the piece is undeniably a lament, at least in part, for the New York of the seventies—“the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Some things I learned from Ted Conover’s “Cattle Calls,” a look into the lives of Iowa livestock veterinarians from the new issue of Harper’s: that more than 10 percent of the nation’s pigs died in a year from porcine epidemic diarrhea; that you can castrate a bull simply by tying a rubber band around its scrotum, and that dogs love to eat raw bull testicles; that agribusiness has made it all but impossible to survive as a vet with a private practice in a rural area; that bald eagles have taken to eating a slurry of dead hog parts sometimes used as fertilizer. Conover’s piece opens with a doctor inserting his arm into a cow’s rectum and ends with an assisted cattle birth; and lest you feel misled by the lurid details I’ve cherry-picked, it’s a generous, evocative portrait of an increasingly rare kind of working life. The photography, by Lance Rosenfield, is strong and lived-in—here in New York, where Fashion Week has just ended, it feels like an authentic rebuke to the parade of editorials glamorizing blue-collar work wear. —Dan Piepenbring
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Preorder The Unprofessionals and Get 25% Off

September 15, 2015 | by

Click to enlarge

This November, we’re publishing our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years. The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. Leslie Jamison calls it “electric”: “I got to encounter voices I already loved and fall in love with writers I’d never read, got to realize this would be the day I’d always remember as the day I read them first.”

Now through November 16, you can preorder The Unprofessionals from our online store for just $12—a 25 percent discount from the cover price. Click here to reserve your copy!

If you’ve never browsed through our (recently redesigned) store, you’ll find T-shirts, back issues, our print series, subscriptions, and more. Have a look, and subscribe today.

Staff Picks: Yeltsin and Yelling

September 11, 2015 | by


From They Live, 1988.

We published Padgett Powell’s “Boris Yeltsin Spotted in a Bar” in our Summer issue. It spoke to me, but I don’t know why. It’s basically a list of items you’d find in a well-stocked hardware store, followed by a meditation on a drunk spouse, followed by the appearance, in an American bar, of someone who may or may not be the deceased Russian statesman. But its narrator, with his digressive style, is lonely in a way that makes him obsessed with everyday mysteries, and he felt very alive to me, in his mania. That story is from Powell’s new collection, Cries for Help, Various­, where—be still my beating heart—it sits among a Yeltsin trilogy, rounded out by “Yeltsin Dancing” and “Yeltsin and Canaries.” As with the rest of Cries for Help, these stories are at once absurd and plaintive; they generate the kind of curiosity you feel when you see one boot sitting in the middle of the street, or the same stranger in three different neighborhoods in a day. Critics sometimes dismiss Powell’s fiction—as with Barthelme’s before him—as directionless riffing, but these aren’t non sequiturs: his sentences gather pathos as they accumulate. He’s hidden a lot of sadness in such a funny book. —Dan Piepenbring

Last weekend, I rewatched John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, a subversive and satirical take on capitalism. Midway through the film, with the planet in jeopardy, two protagonists engage in an exhausting six-minute fight; one has insisted that the other don sunglasses that allow him to see Earth’s invading aliens. I see now that the scene is an astute comment on human nature: even when the future of the planet is at stake, people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions. This realization comes only from having read Lee Billing’s essay at Nautilus about digging into Stanislaw Lem’s early sixties philosophical tract, Summa Technologiae. The book—which sounds dense but also brilliant—examines questions about our relationship with technological advances, such as “Where are the absolute limits for our knowledge and our achievement, and will these boundaries be formed by the fundamental laws of nature or by the inherent limitations of our psyche?” In Lem’s appraisal, the potential obsolescence of the human race will be determined by the unpredictability of human behavior—an unpredictability he experienced firsthand as a Polish Jew in World War II: “We were like ants bustling in an anthill over which the heel of a boot is raised … Some saw its shadow, or thought they did, but everyone, the uneasy included, ran about their usual business until the very last minute, ran with enthusiasm, devotion—to secure, to appease, to tame the future.” —Nicole Rudick
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