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Posts Tagged ‘The Possessed’

What Our Contributors Are Reading This Summer

June 10, 2016 | by

In place of our usual staff picks this week, we’ve asked five contributors from our new Summer issue to write about what they’re reading. 

It’s coming. The Mister Softee Jingle will clang down on you like a recurring nightmare, then distort itself around the bend like a lost memory of something crucial you’ll die trying to reclaim. This is summer—and I can think of no better way to get yourself in the mood than by reading Ritual and Bit, Robert Ostrom’s latest collection of poems, which is steeped in nostalgia and foreboding. The cinematic, otherworldly play of images—“bit[s] of dream you almost had hold of”— will leave you achey, haunted, indiscriminately homesick. It’s like sleepaway camp all over again. Or, if we’re doing similes, then Ostrom’s poetry is like an exfoliating scrub for souls. Your tender self is stripped of its winterized, anesthetized hull, and everything is suddenly more dicey and exquisite. Or (final simile), in Ostrom’s words, “it will be like watching a church service through a keyhole”—stolen, mystifying glimpses of a choreographed sequence that feels timeless and charged. Here is the religion you (I) wanted, all stained glass and incense smoke, spooky-sublime chanting and devil-may-care suspension of disbelief; no Sunday sermons or starched shirts: “Cattywompus, pray for us.” —Danielle Blau (“I Am the Perennial Head of This One-person Subcutaneous Wrecking Crew”)

I’m reading Elif Batuman’s The Possessed and Liana Finck’s A Bintel Brief. Though both books do many other things, each lovingly renders a past love. For Batuman it is her ex-fiancé, Eric, “with his gentle blinking Chinese eyes, as philosophical and good-humored as Snoopy,” highly alert and strategic but always sounding a bit dreamy, like a navy reserve intelligence officer with a delusive fever, which he sometimes is. For Finck it is Abraham Cahan, editor and advice columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward. Cahan’s disembodied head, in Finck’s drawings, is either a peach or a heart. He is never quite real enough to be mistaken for a father or a boyfriend, always a bit incorporeal or out of human scale or dressed a century out of style. Eric trails Batuman to Samarkand, and Cahan trails Finck around her aimless roomy freelance days. I like feeling the lasting affection for such ghosts. —Rafil Kroll-Zaidi (“Lifeguards”)Read More »

Pathologically Shy; Loving The Possessed

September 3, 2010 | by

Any reading material for a pathologically shy 33-year-old woman? Who misses sex and fucking and making love and all that? Who even misses blowjobs. Who hasn't gone out with a man in ages? How do people even talk to each other anymore? I've forgotten. —November Whisky

Gosh, poor you. Shyness can be so hard. The first book I would read, if I wanted to reconstruct the language of sex and romance, is Mary Gaitskill's novel Veronica. Or really any of her books. You always get the feeling (at least I do) that Gaitskill is asking herself a question very much like yours. Asking and answering. For similar reasons you might also try Elizabeth Bowen, for example The Heat of the Day. Neither book is cheerful, exactly, but I think they might speak to your condition. Take heart!

Read More »


The End of The Date

July 19, 2010 | by

An epilogue.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

10:35 P.M. I spot Amelia and Anne in the crowd walking back to the ferry. Amelia thinks that Stepan Trofimovich must really have been supposed to look like Marx: when he was dying in Varvara Petrovna’s arms, that was nascent Marxism being stifled in the embrace of the serf-based order. Heat lightning flashes above the bay. J. points out the roof of the Merrill Lynch building where he once interned for a twenty-three-year-old investment banker and realized that the corporate world was not for him. We are joined by The New York Post writer, who knows J. from journalism school. She has already submitted her six-inch article via cell phone.

10:45 P.M. Inside the ferry, it’s incredibly hot and stuffy. As in some strange dream, the actors are there too, sitting on benches along the walls. Some of them no longer resemble their characters, while others appear virtually unchanged. Stepan Trofimovich still has a wild black beard and wild white hair. Maybe he was born that way. His presence, I realize, makes me vaguely uneasy—as if part of me fears that he might start coughing and dying again.

10:55 P.M. In the past ten minutes, the ferry hasn’t gotten any less hot, stuffy, or stationary. “Maybe they have to dismantle the set before the boat can start,” J. suggests, producing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

11:00 P.M. “You know what I’m really craving now, is breakfast cereal,” J. remarks.

“Oh, really?” I reply. “I’m craving an enormous glass of Scotch.”

“Well, sure, that would be OK too. But just picture a big bowl of raisin bran, with cold milk. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?”

I give the matter some thought. “It sounds totally irrelevant to my life and problems,” I confess.

11:05 P.M. J. introduces me to the Post reporter. “I saw you in the audience,” she tells me. “You were writing the whole entire time!” I explain that I was taking notes for a minute-by-minute account, designed for the insatiably curious readers of The Paris Review website. “Now I have to go home and write it up,” I say, in tones that came out sounding more despondent than I had intended.

“Next time you shouldn’t take so many notes,” she says. “The more notes you take, the more notes you have to read later. You’re just creating more work for yourself.”

I give this advice some thought. “Thanks for the tip,” I say. Read More »


The Only Ones Left on the Island

July 16, 2010 | by

The final installment of a four-part review.

5:56 P.M. Another break. As sometimes happens with people under duress, our biological systems have warped into synch and pretty much all 400-odd culture lovers seem to have to pee this time. “Five-minute call!” I’m still in line on the trailer steps, where a faint but palpable ripple of panic passes through the crowd.

6:02 P.M. Back in the theater, I ask the LA Times critic how he is doing. “So-so,” he says. “Hanging in there.” He asks me whether anyone has ever tried to stage the dramatic poem written by Stepan Trofimovich in the first part of Demons. I don’t know that they have, but what a marvelous idea! The description of this lyrical drama is one of my favorite passages in Dostoevsky’s novel:

It is some sort of allegory, in lyrical-dramatic form, resembling the second part of Faust. The scene opens with a chorus of women, then a chorus of men, then of some powers, and it all ends with a chorus of souls that have not lived yet but would very much like to live a little… Then suddenly the scene changes and some sort of “Festival of Life” begins, in which even insects sing, a turtle appears with some sort of sacramental Latin words, and, if I remember, a mineral—that is, an altogether inanimate object—also gets to sing about something… Finally, the scene changes again, and a wild place appears, where a civilized young man wanders among the rocks picking and sucking at some wild herbs, and when a fairy asks him why he is sucking these herbs, he responds that he feels an overabundance of life in himself, is seeking oblivion, and finds it in the juice of these herbs, but that his greatest desire is to lose his reason as quickly as possible (a perhaps superfluous desire).

I am filled with a desire to see a turtle uttering sacramental the Latin words, and a mineral that somehow gets to sing about something. It strikes me as criminal that Peter Stein didn’t include these highlights in his performance. What excuse did he possibly have—there hadn’t been enough time?

6:05 P.M. I count seven empty seats behind me, and eleven to my right.

6:18 P.M. Nikolai has gone to confess to a monk that he once seduced a fourteen-year-old girl and drove her to suicide. This chapter was omitted from the first editions of Dostoevsky’s novels.

6:23 P.M. Nikolai confesses to the monk that he really did secretly marry the pretty retarded lame girl. The monk totally has Nikolai’s number. I hadn’t realized before how much this conversation resembles the exchange between Raskolnikov and the detective in Crime and Punishment.

6:40 P.M. Still confessing. “On my conscience is a premeditated poisoning that no one knows about.”

6:47 P.M. The confession shows no sign of ending. If this was a plane we would be in France by now. I glance at the program notes to see what else has to happen before the dinner break. The mayor has to explode in a fit of jealousy. I wonder how long that will take.

6:48 P.M. Nikolai is weeping in the monk’s lap. Read More »