The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Deadened Hues, Deer Boys, Dullard Fiancés

March 11, 2016 | by

From The Electric Pencil.

I spent this week madly reading Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, not wanting to put it down until I’d finished. The novel concerns the search for Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian novelist who was last seen climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase, but of course it’s really about the characters who take up the pursuit: Yagoda’s two adult children, her bygone publisher, and her ardent American translator. The translator, Emma, runs to the aid of her missing author (“as if there weren’t anyone as reliable in a kidnapping as a devoted translator”), while also running away from her stale life and dullard fiancé in Pittsburgh. Yet even in Brazil, amid the excitement and chaos, she finds herself existing on the margins of a story in which she is also a central actor, returning again and again to the solace and structure of her author’s invented worlds: “And wasn’t the splendor of translation this very thing … To arrive, at least once, at a moment this intimate and singular, which would not be possible without these words arranged in this order on this page?” —Nicole Rudick

“Your book hurts me,” writes Julio Cortázar to Alejandra Pizarnick in the letter that opens her final collection of poems, A Musical Hell. The slender compilation, published before Pizarnik’s suicide in 1972 and translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert as part of the New Directions Poetry Pamphlet series, had escaped me until last weekend, when I found it nestled on the shelf of my local bookshop. Saddle stitched and no more than sixty-four pages long, it’s an intimate coup d’oeil of a mind tormented by depression, paranoia, and genius. In it, Pizarnik breathes a sort of hushed devastation into every verse, believing, as she once said, that “to write is to give meaning to suffering.” Her poems are at once gentle and macabre, with tremors of madness and nightmarish whimsy: Pizarnik writes of the nuns that nip like crows between her legs, she makes a list of all that dead lovers leave behind, she talks of suicide as beautiful. Hers is an indelible art, one I’ll revel in for a while. From “Mortal Ties”: “That savage room was made up in the deadened hues of repressed desire; its light was the color of a mausoleum for infants.” (NB: a new collection of Pizarnik’s poetry will appear this month.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Staff Picks: Chauffeured Cadillacs, Constant Motion, Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrips

March 4, 2016 | by

Ever since Mike Nichols died in 2014, I’ve wished and wished we had interviewed him in the Review. The HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols—an eighty-minute interview conducted by his friend Jack O’Brien—only sharpened my regret. Nichols wasn’t just one of the most important and wide-ranging directors of the last century (and half of the pioneering comedy duo Nichols & May), he was a brilliant explainer of what he did. He and O’Brien discuss his earliest stage productions (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) and the filming of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, giving glimpses of his childhood and education and his comedy routines. I could have watched them talk for hours. —Lorin Stein Read More »

Staff Picks: China, Children, Church

February 26, 2016 | by

Gary Panter.

Printed Matter, one of the best art bookstores on earth, recently moved into spacious new digs, which means their legion of artists’ books, posters, zines, and whatnot has room to breathe. So, too, do their exhibitions—great news for the current show, “The Rozz Tox Effect,” an astonishing survey of publications produced by Gary Panter over the past forty-four years. On view (and for sale) are issues of Slash and Raw and Wet, copies of Jimbo books, Pee-Dog zines, a Screamers print, the stunning comic Alamo Courts from 1977, and much more. What makes this exhibition deeply weird is the ridiculous amount of Pee-Wee Herman ephemera Panter has culled from his own collection: lunch boxes, children’s clothes, coloring books, Colorforms, suspenders, dolls, and placemats—all manner of commercial objects he helped create as an extension of his role as set designer for the show. Panter’s output is voluminous and kaleidoscopic, and yet I’m constantly reminded how it’s all of a piece, sprung from the mind of one man. —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: Chicago, Dublin, The House of Fiction

February 19, 2016 | by

Murnane-MillionWindows-frontcover#1_HOUSE#1-web_400 (1)

I watched Spike Lee’s new film, Chi-Raq, last weekend, and although I agree with some reviewers that it’s an occasionally messy affair—one that pushes beyond the bounds of its source material, Aristophanes’s rowdy comedy Lysistrata—the film aims both to be capacious in subject and to speak to a wide audience, so how could it be anything but fulsome and exuberant? Lee and his cowriter Kevin Willmott set the stage in gangland Chicago and address gun and police violence, institutional racism, poverty, masculinity, and sexuality. If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Lee wants to show how these elements are inextricably linked, and he spares no one in indicting America’s self-perpetuating culture of violence. There is a lot to like about this film, not least its hopeful ending (fantastic but not naive) and its fully realized depiction of women as intellectual and sexual beings. (Really, the female characters are incredible. Pay attention, Hollywood.)  —Nicole Rudick 

I’ve spent the last weeks under the spell of the Australian novelist Gerald Murnane. Readers of the Review will get to sample Murnane’s newest work in our Summer issue; in the meantime, I recommend his 2014 novel/treatise/manifesto A Million Windows, which comes to the U.S. this spring. Inspired by Henry James’s remark that “the house of fiction has not one window, but a million,” Murnane leads us through a rambling country estate where various narrators struggle to uncover the “true fiction” that underpins their existence. They also debate the legacy of previous tenantsJames, Hardy, Proust, Woolf, Carver, et al—and spin fragmentary stories within stories, all the while elaborating a subtle and passionate argument about what fiction is and ought to be. It sounds like a lot. It is a lot. Murnane is a writer of such precision and irony that one hesitates to describe A Million Windows except to say that it will fascinate (and amuse and provoke) anyone who has driven past that house “of two, or perhaps three, storeys,” and wondered what exactly was going on inside. —Lorin Stein
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Staff Picks: Critical Features and Substitute Teachers

February 12, 2016 | by

From the cover of Albert Angelo.

One pleasure of living where I do is the giveaway table, where tenants leave unwanted CDs, cassettes, salt-and-pepper shakers, et cetera, and especially books. These tend to be romance novels or thrillers, but the other week someone left the second edition of August Kleinzahler’s Cutty, One Rock—a book I’d given away many times and had eventually forgotten to replace. My wife let me read the title essay aloud, even though I kept slipping into my version of a New Jersey accent (bad, bad). Then, maybe three days later, on the same table, I found a copy of B. S. Johnson’s 1964 novel Albert Angelo. It was crazy—I’d been meaning to read B. S. Johnson for years. If I had come across any of his novels in a bookstore, I’d have bought them. This one’s about a beleaguered substitute teacher in a London slum, a subgenre (the bitter teacher novel) I especially enjoy. Obviously these books—the old favorite and the object of curiosity—have been two clicks away, but serendipity beats intention every time. —Lorin Stein  Read More »

Staff Picks: Lunar Landscapes, Washerwomen, File Formats

February 5, 2016 | by

Peter Hujar, William Burroughs, reclining, 1975.

Of all the things I’ve read about Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, the most poignant has to be Elif Batuman’s essay in this week’s New Yorker—about Houellebecq’s novel, but also (and mainly) about her experience as a woman and journalist in Turkey, unexpectedly drawn to the idea of leading an observant Muslim life: “Houellebecq’s vision of an Islamic state, for all its cartoonishness, has a certain imaginative generosity. He portrays Islam not as a depersonalized creeping menace, or as an ideological last resort to which those disenfranchised by the West may be ‘vulnerable,’ but as a system of beliefs that is enormously appealing to many people, many of whom have other options.” —Lorin Stein

Dan has already covered the Peter Hujar show that’s up at Paul Kasmin, but I can’t resist talking about it again. Hujar’s portraits, particularly the close-ups that are on view here, are compelling: looking at faces that are, often, looking back at us; rarely do we have such an opportunity to study the details of another’s visage, and the longer I look, the more foreign they appear, like lunar landscapes instead of human faces. Maybe that’s why the subjects I recognize easily—Warhol, Sontag, John Waters, Quentin Crisp, Burroughs—are less captivating than those I don’t: Paul Thek, whose head is cocked curiously as he stares agape into the camera; John Heys in Lana Turner drag in 1979 and then again, in 1985, as himself; Rene Ricard, naked, his legs pulled to his chest, head in hand. Of the two portraits of David Wojnarowicz in the show, I spent the most time in front of the one in which his hand obscures most of his face, so that, instead, I examine the tidy curve of his fingernails and the length of his collarbone (and think of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ram’s Head with Hollyhock). —Nicole Rudick Read More »