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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bowen’

Staff Picks: Cuppy, Cloverleaves, Captain Cunt

December 4, 2015 | by

Illustration by Ed Nofziger, from How to Attract the Wombat, by Will Cuppy.

Lovers of dictionaries and nature can rejoice in John Stilgoe’s new book, What Is Landscape? Stilgoe, who holds the enviable title of Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at Harvard, wanders the etymology of the landscape lexicon, from the ancient Hebrew word kittor (meaning a stream of water, but also a pillar of smoke) to the difference between a cart path and a cow path. He manages here, as in other of his books, to abut the old and the new, the outmoded and the contemporary in such a way that the differences are plain but the connections between them are still vital—in the way, say, a plowed field abuts a brushy fence line and the beach abuts both the sea and the edge of human civilization. These are marginal spaces, constructed spaces, spaces “easily taken for granted, all too easily half seen.” His examination of highway cloverleafs is particularly good. Though not villages in any sense, they nonetheless provide the basic commercial services of one, and he links them fluidly to their counterparts in the past: “Especially in rural and wilderness areas, the ‘sparsely settled regions’ that slightly unnerve urban and suburban travelers, every cloverleaf might be the isolated tavern or inn of European and British folktale.” —Nicole Rudick

On Nicole’s recommendation, I’ve been reading The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, the Griffin Poetry Prize–winning collection by August Kleinzahler. It’s as good as she says. I’m drawn to poems that revel in their own grit—ones that knead sex and death and deadpan humor in with the erudite and the literary; in Strange Hours, such moments come in delectable little bursts. In a poem to the philosopher Aristippus there’s a “Captain Cunt of the Roaring Forties”; in another, a young woman is chewed out for her unflattering exposé of an ex-lover: “ … Mark, who kissed and indulged you, opened his heart, / only to have you pick up your pen to write / about his belligerent penis …” Kleinzahler takes us to the natatorium, the marketplace, the Oxford River; he introduces us to Calliope and Erato and Lewis Bernard Castel; and all the while he muses on the peculiar hours we keep to eat, to fuck, to pass the time. And yet, my favorite lines are far tenderer. They’re from “After Lady Murakami”: “Just as I found myself / in the dentist chair / only yesterday / hands clenched against my thighs / so I find myself here / in this seat / heart in my throat / as you walk into the room.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Into the Weekend

February 6, 2015 | by


Elizabeth Bowen

Here are some words to take into the weekend. I have been reading a lot of Elizabeth Bowen lately, prompted first by the gorgeous paperbacks recently reissued by the University of Chicago Press. She needs no praise from me; at her best, Bowen is as unsparing and quietly devastating a writer as exists in English, and any time spent with her novels is time well spent.

She is not definitely cozy—despite her elegiac descriptions of homes, and her memorable child characters—and the worlds she paints are often disturbing beneath their calm facades. You need to be in the right mood for Bowen, and you need to do both her and yourself the favor of investing enough time to fall deeply into the prose, and the landscape. But if you do, you will be richly rewarded. Read More »

Staff Picks: Catharsis, Consumed, Containers

September 19, 2014 | by


Photoville, in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Image via Photoville’s Instagram

“‘The first thirty days after that performance ... it hurt. I just wasn’t right. Whatever that was … catharsis … People don’t understand.’” In the new issue of Harper’s, Wyatt Mason has a moving, in-depth profile of Bryan Doerries, a director and translator who stages classical tragedies for veterans suffering from PTSD. —Lorin Stein

There’s no better way to savor the last of these summer evenings than to head to Photoville, a pop-up photography exhibition in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The exhibition comprises sixty-some shipping containers—surprisingly well suited for the purpose—and, over the course of its eleven-day run, will showcase the work of more than four hundred artists. Highlights include Josh Haner’s Pulitzer Prize–winning series on Jeff Bauman and a curated selection of James Nachtwey’s work from his thirty-year (and counting) tenure at Time. The Photoville runs through September 28. —Stephen A. Hiltner

As I read David Cronenberg’s debut novel, Consumed, I feared I was elevating its somewhat typical techno-thriller plot simply because of the filmmaker’s name. It’s too difficult to sum up here, but the story involves yellow journalism, Marxism, black-market organ trafficking, North Korea, 3-D printing, and sex—the latter “in an incredible number of varieties,” as the jacket states. But I needn’t have worried. Hints of what makes Cronenberg’s filmmaking so unsettling and enthralling began to seep in: the detailed horror of violence and its repercussions, unexpected humor (the Marxist philosophers are named Celestine and Aristide Arosteguy), and the plot’s transition from the tech world to the inner turmoil of our finite existences. As Cronenberg once said, “Consciousness is the original sin: consciousness of the inevitability of our death.” —Justin Alvarez

In this weekend’s Times Magazine, along with John Jeremiah Sullivan’s excellent profile of Donald Antrim, is Matt Bai’s piece about Gary Hart, a name that will fire cobwebbed synapses if you followed presidential politics in ’87. (I didn’t. I was a one-year-old.) Hart was the Democratic front-runner that year until a reporter from the Miami Herald got a tip that he’d been sleeping around. As Bai writes, the Herald’s sanctimonious coverage of these events—or nonevents—has had ramifications not just in the media but in the very essence of our political character. For fear of being crucified as Hart was, politicians no longer do, say, or believe in anything interesting; they’ve purged themselves of personality, conviction, and contradiction. Buried in Bai’s critique is a canny, surprisingly ardent defense of humanism: “As an industry, [the media] aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a soldier in Vietnam, told me once, ‘We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.’ That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.” —Dan Piepenbring

With all the sunshine we’ve been enjoying in New York this September, it seems hard to believe that the autumnal equinox is almost here. As I’m returning to England tomorrow, where it will probably be winter and almost definitely raining, the realization that summer is over is now sinking in. And my mental countdown was only intensified by revisiting Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, a novel that centers on Ireland’s Anglo-Irish community during the early twenties, when the War of Independence finally broke through their isolated bubble of tennis and tea parties. Okay, so our situations are not quite analogous. But the magnetism of Bowen’s writing pulls you into a smoldering autumnal landscape that only heats up as the novel progresses, and the Irish rebels close in on “the big house” and its inhabitants. Growing up as an Anglo-Irish child herself, Bowen once remarked that she grew “accustomed to … being enclosed in a ring of almost complete silence.” It’s the breaking of this silence that The Last September captures so well, with those seasonal reds and oranges transforming into warning signs for an inevitable fall. —Helena Sutcliffe


#JonathanFranzenHates, Nabokoving, and Other News

March 7, 2012 | by


A cultural news roundup.

  • “Once again, it’s that time of year when otherwise mature adults paint their faces in the palettes of their favorite book jacket designers, and all across Facebook college kids post pictures of themselves Nabokoving. Yes, we’re talking about book awards season.”
  • Happy birthday, John Updike!
  • Happy birthday, Douglas Adams!
  • Geoff Dyer on “bunking off.”
  • With friends like these, Saul Bellow didn’t need enemies.
  • Elizabeth Bowen and Jean Rhys get the “blue plaque treatment” in London.
  • Stephen King: “The idea that a writer can bring his core audience into the tent with a blurb ... you might as well try herding cats.”
  • The fact that Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s here is a selling point. The fact that it has eighteen rooms doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Footnotes upon footnotes in Footnote.
  • “Eggers named his journal after McSweeney before he knew anything about the man, and didn't discover his identity until after McSweeney died in January 2010 at age sixty-seven.”
  • The famously combative Ben Jonson.
  • Jonathan Franzen: “Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose … it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”
  • #JonathanFranzenHates


    Staff Picks: Murdock Pemberton, ‘The Last September’

    January 20, 2012 | by

    Elizabeth Bowen.

    Late at night I’ve been savoring Elizabeth Bowen’s 1929 novel, The Last September, about feckless English gentry in County Cork on the eve of civil war. This is Bowen in her early, super-Georgian mode. It’s like The Wind in the Willows meets Mrs. Dalloway, with IRA incursions. —Lorin Stein

    This week I finally had a chance to crack open the momentous, beautiful Portrait of Murdock Pemberton. It presents sixty years of accumulated paraphernalia collected by Pemberton, the first New Yorker art critic and a founder of the Algonquin Round Table—paraphernalia that turned up only recently, stored in suitcases in his family’s attic. There are love letters; Freudian analyses conducted by mail; vintage art-gallery brochures; epistolary exchanges with Harold Ross, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others; and of course a plethora of New Yorker columns from the early days of the magazine—all spotted with charming satiric quips on the editorial process, like “every third week or so we feel the editorial complex empowering our sense of proportion and we give vent to a little sermon” or “to keep his luck running fair, every critic should be honest with you now and then.” Indeed!—Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

    One day in 1923, a Panamanian civil servant with no interest in poetry returns home from work and composes a long poem that becomes a landmark of the Latin American avant-garde. Such is the premise of César Aira’s Varamo. The rest of the novella reconstructs the events that lead up to (but fail to explain) this mysterious burst of inspiration. It’s a lampoon of our need for narrative, and no one these days does metafiction like Aira. —Robyn Creswell

    Maybe it’s because I’m in the thick of ad sales this week, but I was particularly taken with this slideshow of vintage Village Voice ads. My favorite is for a clothing line that sells, among other things, something called the “Capitalist banker coat”: “Intrepid Gyro,” the ad copy reads, “wearing its scars lightly, stalks the surplus sub-world in quest of epic styles without compromise.” —Sadie Stein

    I am indulging my primordial self with William Golding’s The Inheritors, a novel chronicling the demise of ambling Neanderthals at the hands of cruel Homo sapiens. —Julian Delacruz

    Anyone who has spent any time in this fair city will get a good hoot out of “Shit New Yorkers Say.”—D.F.M.