Staff Picks: Menace, Music, Melrose Place


This Week’s Reading

What’s Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy doing in an episode of Melrose Place? You can thank the GALA Committee for that…

I know Patrick Hoffman as a real-life detective. So when I picked up his novel Every Man a Menace, I expected to find a bunch of believable lowlifes killing each other, believably, over a large shipment of drugs. I was not expecting—wasn’t demanding—subtle characterization, tricky narrative switchbacks, or vivid, moody prose. I also wasn’t expecting the action to begin with a long acid trip. “In his mind’s eye, Raymond saw emeralds cut into shapes that couldn’t be described in human language … He saw the insides of stars like rooms in a house.” When Hoffman takes off his detecting hat, he’s closer to Denis Johnson than to Elmore Leonard. —Lorin Stein 

I’ve never watched much Melrose Place, but I’m always looking for reasons to start. I found the best one at Red Bull Studios, where Mel Chin and his team of artists, the GALA Committee, are displaying all the art they designed for the show. In an inspired marriage of fine art and pop culture, GALA convinced Aaron Spelling to let them pepper his sets with sly, subliminal artworks that most viewers never even noticed. (And how could they, with such melodrama unfolding around them?) A box of Chinese takeout with ideograms for “Human Rights” made a cameo in a post-Tiananmen Square episode; a dartboard with a silhouette of a woman who represents the show’s “target demographic” hung in the bar; and a blanket embroidered with the chemical structure of the morning-after pill found its way to one character’s bed just as she learned she was pregnant. The irony—such pointed social commentary in such hidden art—never got old; I wandered the premises long after most had left. It helped that a number of Melrose Place’s sets have been lovingly resurrected onsite. Yes, the pool is there. —Dan Piepenbring 


Recently, I found my way into May Sarton’s 1968 memoir Plant Dreaming Deep, which explores the five years she spent living an isolated life in the New Hampshire woods. Having decamped to Nelson, NH, to escape the academic life, she finds delight in her eclectic new neighbors; in the renovated house of her own; and in the bright, quiet glories of the natural world. The book is full of touchstones for writers and artists, with mediations on routine, freedom, and solitude. Not to be a downer, but one of the most beautiful and inspiring lines offers a way to overcome depression, which, for Sarton, was brought on by the anxieties of a New England winter. “There are no quick rewards for the depressed person,” she writes. “It is a matter of making a channel and then guiding one’s boat through it, day by day. For me the channel has always been the work, the writing of poems and novels, and each of these has been a way of coming to understand what was really happening to me.” Plant Dreaming Deep reads as if Sarton wrote it to understand those lonely years, to discover what they gave her. —Caitlin Love

Ricardo Piglia was a cub reporter in 1965, when a gang with government ties stole several million dollars from the Provincial Bank of Buenos Aires. Almost forty years later, Piglia turned the events into a nonfiction novel, Money to Burn, using court documents, his own notes, and, crucially, tape recordings—the police had the hideout bugged. The result is sexy, violent, absurd, as if the kids from Larry Clark’s Tulsa had organized a heist. —L.S.


12:14 A.M. The Range, Slab City, a photo from Elle Pérez and Michael Schmelling’s “Saturday Night Out,” California Sunday

The chill in the air has struck dread into my heart this week, so it was a treat to plunge back into summer through “Saturday Night Out,” a photo essay in California Sunday Magazine. The images—black and whites by Elle Pérez and color by Michael Schmelling—begin to imagine the great heterogeneity of California Saturday nights: rancheros dance under hot white lights, an opera singer clutches an imaginary partner, loafers hover near guitar pedals, and a raver with beads strung up and down her arms closes her eyes against the noise of the club. The photos’ subjects span ages, races, and sexual orientations, but the sense we get is one of similarity; all these people, at the same time, on the same night, are out doing the same thing: listening to music. The images make us listen, too—we can’t help but hear the shriek of feedback through the speakers, a thudding bass, and the crickets in the dark bushes around an Airstream trailer. The connections—thematic and formal alike—made across images invite us to contemplate that each private moment of joy is one that is echoed somewhere else. —Sylvia McNamara