The Daily

Correspondence

Saving Chester Himes’s Cat

July 29, 2016 | by

Chester Himes with his cat, Griot

Chester Himes and John Alfred Williams met in 1961 and soon began a long and occasionally tempestuous correspondence about their personal lives and the difficulty of finding a fair reception as African American writers in the publishing world. By the late sixties, Himes had moved to Spain, where he wrote Williams frequently about the privations of life abroad. In the letters below, they discuss Himes’s beloved cat, Griot. These excerpts come from Dear Chester, Dear John, a 2008 collection of the pair’s correspondence. Himes died in 1984; Williams passed away last summer at eighty-nine. 
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This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Road-tripping, Heart-eating, Earth-fucking

July 29, 2016 | by

Danny DeVito in a still from Wiener-Dog.

I could tell you the ending of every story in Scott McClanahan’s collection Hill William, and it wouldn’t spoil a thing. His stories are all about the telling, like oral tradition captured on the page. To be honest, I don’t know the extent to which this is a book of fiction—it’s based on McClanahan’s childhood in Appalachian West Virginia, in the town of Rainelle, where he grew up, and the narrator is named Scott—but it doesn’t matter; a story is a story, whether true or invented whole cloth. McClanahan’s youthful tales swing between an outlandish realism (a guy named Bobbie B. describes how his cousin was once so lonely “he went out and fucked the earth”) and a vague religious fervor that makes sense coming from a kid who’s trying to figure out the world. In the same way, amid the characters’ grotesque behavior are transcendent moments—not least Scott’s mother, who appears indistinctly in the book, as though always off-screen, but who is a wondrous light in his life; he also finds unlikely reprieve in a church chorus: “And there was something about those voices, so ugly by themselves, but beautiful together, that seemed like the meaning of the world to me.” —Nicole Rudick

At least it’s been a good summer for road movies. First there was the dachshund picaresque Wiener-Dog, which has everything I could want from a Todd Solondz film—including a deep, dark performance from Danny DeVito as an adjunct professor at the end of his rope. Then there was the continuous, two-hour surprise of Captain Fantastic, directed by Matt Ross, with Viggo Mortensen as a Washington State survivalist who takes his kids on a bus trip to suburban Santa Fe. Don’t let the premise fool you: with each turn of the plot, this amiable family drama gains in complexity, ambiguity, and pathos. It’s hard to imagine two big indie releases that have less in common, but I loved them both. —Lorin Stein Read More »

On the Shelf

The Backside of the Painting, and Other News

July 29, 2016 | by

Vik Muniz, Verso (Illha de Itamaraca), 2016.

  • The hatchet job isn’t what it used to be. To read Tobias Smollett’s book reviews from the eighteenth century is to discover, as J. H. Pearl writes, ever-higher concentrations of venom: “Smollett, who helmed The Critical Review from 1756 to 1763, never minced words in his judgment of whether a particular text was worth the paper it was printed on … All Smollett needed, it seems, was a target for his wrath. And as the pages of the Review attest, targets abounded … Specific reviewers remained anonymous, the better to create the impression of a unified voice, but writers of badly reviewed books tended to blame Smollett, returning their fire on him. It’s easy to understand that anger. Would you want your book called ‘a very trivial, insipid, injudicious and defective performance, without plan, method, learning, accuracy, or elegance; an unmeaning composition of shreds, rags, and remnants … a patched, a pie-bald, linsey-woolsey nothing’? (That was the assessment of a book called A New and Accurate History of South-America.)”
  • Because people excel at finding new ways to waste other people’s time, a small but vocal faction of conservative educators and politicians have called on our schools to start teaching cursive again. Tamara Thornton, the author of the 1996 book Handwriting in America, sees the reactionary anxiety at the center of their argument: “Learning cursive has never been just about learning how to express yourself in writing … In the early twentieth century, it’s about following models and suppressing your individuality … We get very interested in cursive when we feel that our morals are in a state of decline, all hell is breaking loose, people are doing whatever they want … And I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch that the sort of people who believe in the standard model of the family get very nervous when we depart from the standard models of the cursive script. So there have been periodic bouts of hysteria about the decline of cursive. And it’s always when we feel that as a society, we’re going down the tubes.”
  • At the White Plains Annual Reptile Expo, Madeline Cash dissects the strange bond between lizard and lizard keeper: “That unspoken connection no one else could understand, which maybe didn’t even exist, echoed all over the Convention Center. A lizard’s inhuman qualities are its appeal. They are whatever you need them to be—loving, smiling, a good listener — because the relationship is all a projection … When I saw the bearded dragons, my heart swelled. The gold-breasted beasts had the same long mouths carved across their faces that, as a child, I’d understood to be a smile. The vendor handed one over in an attempt to make a sale off my nostalgia. It cocked its head up at me with that permanent grin and it all flooded back.”

Really Difficult Puzzles

The Game of the Name: The Answers

July 28, 2016 | by

silhouettes

This week’s puzzle is officially over—in record time, may we add, after only one day. Thanks to all who entered. Our winner is Chris Hurst, who answered every one of the riddles. He gets a free subscription to the Review. Congratulations, Chris! Below, the solutions. Read More »

From the Archive

The Moving-Picture Principle

July 28, 2016 | by

muybridgehorseinmotion

Lauren Wilcox’s poem “The Motion-Picture Principle” first appeared in our Summer 2004 issue. She has also been published in the Antioch Review and the Oxford AmericanRead More »

Our Correspondents

Summer with a Thousand Julys

July 28, 2016 | by

I have it on the highest authority that summer will never end. It might get cooler, intermittently, but it will never stop being summer. Which is of course wonderful, because summer is a bubble during which life’s ordinary rules are suspended. Summer is when we don’t have to get up in the morning, or even the afternoon. Summer is when we insist on ice-cold beer to chill our body cavity, especially the spleen. Summer is when we go see particularly stupid movies because it would be unseasonal to have to think. Summer is when we get into fights with the neighbors over noise or property lines or because we should live next door as well as at our house. Summer is when nobody ever has to make eye contact. Summer is when nothing ever happened before this moment right now. Summer is when we trash the joint because whatever. Summer is when we fire guns into the air and the bullet never comes down. Read More »