Staff Picks: Crosscurrents, Kandy Kat, Casino Cohesion


This Week’s Reading

Charles Burchfield, Tile Roof, 1930–43, watercolor, gouache, and charcoal on paper, mounted on board, 24 3/8″ x 35 7/8″. Photo via D.C. Moore

In my mind, I’ve created a dream exhibition of portraiture by Alice Neel, Mickalene Thomas, and Hope Gangloff: crosscurrents of eroticism, identity, bodies, and embellishment. For now, I’ll settle for a show of new portraits by Gangloff, whose paintings are gratifyingly overstuffed with garish details rendered in contrasting patterns and in nips of fluorescent orange and extravagant swathes of hot pink. There’s a funny play between color and patterning in her work—the elements are at once discordant and of a piece, excessive and sensible. There’s something of that, too, in Charles Burchfield’s watercolors, on view a couple blocks south. Burchfield saw a second plane of reality, a spiritual palimpsest shimmering over the world you and I see. The scenes he painted are heightened versions of the real thing, electrified and otherworldly but always recognizable. In a study of what looks like a denuded landscape, his ghostly outlines of trees become visible, lightly filling in and giving life to the empty hills. Color also seems to exist in the spiritual realm. A note on an ink sketch reads, “Leaves a hot red (tinged with umber?), as glowing embers of a dying fire.” —Nicole Rudick

12 Picture Disc [GD30PD]Adrian Rew’s Slot Machine Music is just that—forty minutes of field recordings from casinos in Cleveland, Illinois, and Indiana. Lest you dismiss this as a lark from some stoner anthropologist, remember that casinos are among the most controlled environments on the planet, microdesigned to anesthetize our sense of time. In his liner notes, Rew explains that “oxygen-saturated pleasure air, subtly controlling walkways, mesmerizing lights, and … meticulously engineered sonic environments all play a role in evoking the timeless void of the zone.” To collude in “harmonic cohesion,” game designers generally tune their machines to C major, a key affiliated with simplicity and happiness; some manufacturers spend months perfecting a single ding. Thus the din of slots in unison, which should be a world-class cacophony, is mellifluous, even seductive; it doesn’t take a genius to liken this to church music. But for their ambient beauty, Rew’s soundscapes are inescapably tragic, all the more so when human voices bleed through. “You’ll just have to wait a minute, Mom,” we hear one woman say. “I know that’s hard for you.” —Dan Piepenbring

9780062388698Alexandra Kleeman’s first story, “Fairy Tale,” was published in our Winter 2010 issue; she said in an interview on the Daily, “I was trying to be funny and I’m naturally very serious. I hope it’s kind of funny.” Her debut novel, You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, is, naturally, both hilarious and deadly serious. Its recurring descriptions of a commercial the nameless narrator watches on TV—with the Trix Rabbit–like Kandy Kat, who, like Sisyphus, is forever chasing and being denied his favorite snack—and its wacky cult, “Conjoined Eaters Church,” are delightfully entertaining. But the dark material of desire, consumption, and feeling at home in your own skin drive the novel’s philosophical engine. The jacket copy compares her, not undeservingly, to Pynchon and DeLillo. It’s the smartest, strangest novel I’ve read in a while. —Jeffery Gleaves

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 6.53.14 PMBefore emoji, even before emoticons, there was ASCII art, whose beginnings can be traced to the midsixties, when Bell Labs programmers Kenneth C. Knowlton and Leon Harmon began experimenting with the photomosaic capabilities of fixed-width typographical symbols. The art form remained largely unknown outside programming circles until the early nineties, when online chat rooms adopted textual representations of visual conversation cues. As ASCII art flourished in Internet culture, it found a soul mate in that other nineties novelty, the stereogram—more popularly known as 3D Magic Eye. ASCII stereograms are largely forgotten today, but they still languish in the nether realms of what’s known as the “Old Internet,” a sort of virtual ghost town where outmoded constructs of the Web 1.0 era wait to die. The unassuming has a great gallery of images, a step-by-step tutorial, and links to tools that will, if you’re so inclined, help you make your own. —Andrew Jimenez

In her speech at our Spring Revel this year, Dame Hilary Mantel admired William Trevor’s take on short fiction as “an art of the glimpse.” “A glimpse is not trivial,” she said: “the short story can contain a world … The strength in the short story ‘lies in what it leaves out.’ ” This week’s London Review of Books features new fiction from Mantel herself in “The School of England,” where she showcases Trevor’s meaning. The story is set in a panic room; a butler is showing the new housemaid, Marcella, where to clean. Marcella’s traumatic backstory compels us to trust her, but her credibility wavers: her conviction ebbs, the details of her violation change, and she herself wonders if she isn’t a “fabricator” of the story she tells—if it doesn’t perhaps belong to someone else. Mantel abstains from tidy resolution, accomplishing what she aspires to in her historical fiction: to “allow the reader to live with the ambiguities.” —Caitlin Youngquist

“She never inquired, but she never recoiled, either. This is a quality that I look for in a person, not recoiling.” Miranda July’s collection No One Belongs Here More Than You is full of these voices: people who expect little, yet still cannot seem to obtain it. It’s also full of thoughtful observations about the lives people never planned for, yet find themselves in; and their confrontation, or lack thereof, with reality. July writes on both the delusions of youth (“We felt like orphans and we felt deserving of the pity that orphans get, but embarrassingly enough, we had parents”) and the disillusion of middle age. Her characters fail to connect and retreat into wistful fantasy; “what a terrible mistake,” after all, “to let go of something wonderful for something real.” —Kit Connolly

Just when you thought Brooklyn didn’t need another reading series, here comes Peck’s Book/Plate, hosted by Jeff Waxman, Peck’s Specialty Foods, and Greenlight bookstore. The events are held on Peck’s backyard patio in Clinton Hill, where all meals are served family style, creating a level of intimacy that feels more like a barbecue than a stuffy reading. The readings often turn into impromptu dinner-lecture presentations, while patrons feast and imbibe; each ticket comes with a copy of the book. Next Sunday, May 17, Jim Shepard will read from his latest novel, The Book of Aron, which the chef Theo Peck has “paired” with lamb belly confit pirogies, caramelized apples, and crème fraîche. —J.G.