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Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea Girls’

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 »


January 14, 2014 | by

tomato pie

Photo: woodenmask, via Flickr

“Please don’t confront me with my failures,” sang Nico. “I have not forgotten them.” I can sympathize. Said failures are particularly difficult to forget when they sit glowering at you from your refrigerator. I have often pitied noncooks who will never know the gratification of perfecting a recipe or the sense of achievement that comes from transforming disparate ingredients into something nourishing and pleasurable. But by the same token, these people will never know the heartbreak of a recipe gone wrong.

In her classic essay collection More Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin writes of attempting to make a custard in an inadequately equipped rental-house kitchen. When the mixture curdled, “I remember flinging the pot into the sink and flouncing out of the house in tears, which I wept bitterly in a pine wood surrounded by clavaria and Indian pipes.”

My mother recalls a similar incident from her childhood in Palo Alto. Her own mother, never the most confident of cooks, somehow screwed up a lemon-meringue pie (there are many components to screw up) and, most uncharacteristically, hurled the misshapen pie out the window in a fit of tearful frustration. To this day, says my mother, the memory of rushing out into the yard and gobbling down the offending pastry off the grass with her father and brother remains one of the most thrilling of her early life.

To the noncook, these reactions probably seem excessive. But anyone who has gone through the process of inspiration, planning, shopping, and cooking understands the sense of total emptiness that accompanies such disappointments. After all, if cooking and feeding are the ultimate in social bonding and expressions of love—and we’re constantly being told such things—then these failures strike at something deep. Read More »