Staff Picks: Forehead Blotches, Lasagna Hogs, and Crust Punks


This Week’s Reading

From William Eggleston’s The Democractic Forest.

From William Eggleston’s The Democratic Forest.

In the new issue of Aperture, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, pays a visit to William Eggleston in Memphis. As you might expect, it is a memorable visit. Eggleston plays piano for John and his wife, Mariana. They talk about Bach and Big Star and Mississippi Fred McDowell; and about Eggleston’s fifty-year marriage. They look at his photos, too. “He asked me to pull down the new boxed set of his Democratic Forest (2015). Ten volumes. I stopped at certain pictures. He leaned forward and, with his finger, traced lines of composition. Boxes and Xs. Forcing me to pay attention to the original paying of attention. ‘Either everything works, or nothing works,’ he said about one picture, a shot of an aquamarine bus pulling into a silvery station. ‘In this picture, everything works.’ ” —Lorin Stein

After reading Amie Barrodale’s debut collection You Are Having a Good Time, I was reminded of something Geoff Dyer wrote in his introduction to Prabuddha Dasgupta’s photography portfolio in our two hundredth issue: “Longing can exist entirely for its own sake, with no object in mind, as a kind of intensified nostalgia or eroticized elegy.” It’s this aimless form of desire that drives Barrodale’s stories and gets her characters into trouble, as in “William Wei” (for which Barrodale won our 2011 Plimpton Prize), about a morbidly depressed New Yorker’s attempt to crystallize a relationship with a woman he’s spoken to only on the telephone, mostly when she’s stoned. In “Catholic,” a young woman has a one-night stand with a married man, obsesses over him, and compulsively e-mails him without response: “I told him a tree of plum blossoms fell on me and I saw some young men wearing outfits … I always wish there was a point to all those e-mails. Maybe there was. I don’t know. I do know. There was.” Like so many of the troubled people in these fictions, she struggles to articulate the profundity in her bad decisions. Still, she desperately convinces herself that the beauty is there, somewhere. In You Are Having a Good Time, we know meaning exists, but we’re all too fucked up to understand its various expressions. It’s one of the quintessential sentiments of this collection: the stories are as eloquent as a plum blossom tree collapsing on a lonely woman—if only we could figure out just what that eloquence means. —Daniel Johnson


In Rachel Cusk’s essay for the New York Times Magazine this week, she deconstructs homemaking—not the homemaking of compulsive, suburban housewives, but her experience remodeling her flat in London. Although the new white couch and clean floors have proven more pleasant than the old peeling Formica and shaggy carpet, the construction tore apart her home in more ways than one. First came the knocking down of walls and ripping up of floors, but, when it was over, she noticed a breakdown in her and her daughters’ mode of living. Their former home could be battered on, stomped through, lived in with indifference. She recognizes the creative freedom of living in a home that one allows to look lived in and brilliantly articulates the unique war some women fight between domesticity and creative freedom. I agree with her that there can be a political aspect to exhibiting “insouciance in the face of the domestic,” especially for “modern women,” who are “contemporary heirs of traditional female identity.” Of her interior battle she writes, “The artist in me wanted to disdain the material world, while the woman couldn’t: In my fantasy of the orderly writer’s room I would have to serve myself, be my own devoted housewife. It would require two identities, two consciousnesses, two sets of minutes and hours.” —Caitlin Love

After reading the poems in What Ridiculous Things We Could Ask of Each Other, I suspect Jeffrey Schultz of being prophetic. The megalomaniacal politician in “As If Someone Were Trying to Tell Us Something,” for example, bears a discomfiting resemblance to a certain airily coiffed somebody, his “hair parted / in a perfectly straight line which reveals his scalp.” But Schultz isn’t a seer, he’s an observer guided by history. In “To the Unexploded H-Bomb Lost in Tidal Mud Off the Coast of Savannah, Georgia,” he writes, “Forehead blotch and breadlines on the little black-and-white’s / nightly news, the thing was half-decayed by the time / I knew it was there.” Elsewhere, he wonders what a breeze “might be willing to confess / about where it’s been and where we all must be heading.” Maybe it’s because he’s so attuned to both the past and future that Schultz is able to fully inhabit the present, making urgent the most human moments of quotidian life. “Every day,” he writes, “seems more like this, the verge of extinction with coffee / And a roll on the back stoop.” —Taylor Lannamann

My head’s been filled with palindromes lately (A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!; Go hang a salami! I’m a lasagna hog!), so it was fun to find the Uruguayan animated film Anina, which plays with capicúas (Catalan for “palindromes”) in the loveliest of ways. It begins with a small, redheaded girl, our narrator, peering out of a bus window, admiring the rain: “My name is Anina Yatay Salas,” she tells us, “I’m ten years old and I’m in deep trouble.” What follows is a cinematic bildungsroman, full of whimsy and mischief. The gist of the story is this: after Anina brawls with a bully, Yisel, whom she calls an elephant after being taunted by snickers of “niña capicua” (Anina loathes her palindromic names), the two nemeses are doled a rather outré, nebulous punishment: to carry a sealed envelope around for a week, without peeking inside. Along the way, Anina plots Yisel’s demise and combats feelings of torturous, crush-inspired envy, until seeing the shallowness of it all. My favorite parts of the film are the more surreal ones, like when Anina imagines her peers as pigs or herself as an acrobat preparing to jump over a pool of boiling oil. Oh, what a sweet, imaginative flick it is. —Caitlin Youngquist

Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, I mostly didn’t go to school. I blew through a series of loathsome jobs while hanging out with anarchists and crust punks, hoarding their tips about temporary work and naively believing that someday I would give up my job and apartment to move between trimming weed in California, crewing yachts in Florida, or harvesting sugar beets in North Dakota. For many reasons, this was never going to be my life, but Sierra Murdoch-Crane actually did it. Her essay “Sugar Days,” in the Virginia Quarterly Review, puts into context the phenomenon of punk kids trading short bursts of labor for extended bouts of wandering. “Sugar Days” teases out a taxonomy of the strains of workers who power the North Dakota sugar-beet harvest (retirees, migrants, dropouts, punks), taking seriously the differences in their backgrounds and drawing a distinction between “those who work for a way into society and those who work for a way out.” Without romanticizing the harsh lives of the kinds of punk kids I knew, Murdoch-Crane provides a window into their values and the shifting communities they create. The piece doesn’t make me want to strike out for Fargo, but it allowed me to more fully imagine the circumstances and desires that might have led to a different life. —Sylvie McNamara