A Pocket Versailles, and Other News


On the Shelf

The penthouse at Trump Tower. Photo: Sam Horine.

  • Thom Jones, a high school janitor whose short stories vaunted him into the literary spotlight in the early nineties, has died at seventy-one: “ Jones worked on the Betty Crocker Noodles Almondine line at a General Mills plant. He was fired as an advertising copywriter because, he was told, a client would not countenance his proposed slogan for the Jolly Green Giant—which was more or less, with an expletive inserted, ‘These are the best peas I ever ate’ … His ferocious, semiautobiographical short stories about boxers, custodians, soldiers, crime victims, cancer patients and asylum inmates coupled a fateful machismo—the eternal pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer was his hero—with grim humor.”
  • Our indefatigable efforts to drill into Trump’s psyche have led us to this: a close consideration of his interior decorating. Back in his eighties heyday, the Donald—still with Ivana then—turned to the designer Angelo Donghia to help him tame the Trump Tower penthouse. But in the intervening decades, something, some remaining tendril of good taste, was irrevocably broken, and now, as Thomas de Monchaux writes, the Trump penthouse is overstuffed with decorative diversions: “From the reflective ceilings to the gilded Corinthian capitals, a would-be Sun King eventually built himself a hall of mirrors, a pocket Versailles. Closer to the truth may be that a restless eye sought for itself a home that, detail upon detail, eye-catcher upon eye-catcher, provides constant diversion. The current Trump penthouse is a place for a short span of attention, a place without threat of stillness, a place where you don’t spend a lot of time wondering whether something is right or wrong. Ironically, the task of making such a place is not a matter of quick judgment and definite attitude, but is methodical, belabored, and slow.” 

  • One great thing about these new Henry Green reissues is that they’ve occasioned a raft of new critical writing about Green. Here’s Deborah Eisenberg on the dialogue in Living: “From the outset Green was a wizard of talk—putting onto a page what talk really sounds and feels like. His second novel, Living, published in 1929 when he was twenty-four, is set largely in industrial Birmingham, a milieu he knew well from his father’s factory. The speech of the men he worked with was an idiom and sound utterly alien to him, and he was enchanted by its vitality and expressiveness. The ringing language of these large, eloquent personalities, the metal and fire of the foundry, and the precariousness of the workers’ physical and financial security provide a sort of bass line to the book.”
  • Amanda Petrusich visits Peter Gizzi, whose poems you’ve read in The Paris Review, and whose collection Archeophonics is nominated for the National Book Award: “Archeophonics is a made-up word but is easy enough to decipher via its constituent bits: ancient voices. The book is about sound and time, and was inspired, in part, by twenty seconds of strange, wraithlike singing—a disembodied voice caught warbling a portion of ‘Au Clair de la Lune,’ a French folk song, on April 9, 1860 … Archeophonics is perhaps Gizzi’s most personal book; it is tender, lyric, strange, and chatty. He writes from a place of deep intimacy with loss, as if he has locked eyes with ‘the fragility of the world and of being,’ as he described it to me recently. (His father was killed in a plane crash when he was young; his brother, the poet Michael Gizzi, died in 2010.) He addresses those feelings of loss and rebirth by conjuring odd and unexpected visions.”
  • This is a public-service announcement. Our language is, by dint of a certain bloated orange vulgarian mentioned above, at serious risk of adopting the adverb bigly. We’ve got bigger problems on our hands, yes, but if bigly catches on it could have massive, earth-shattering lexical ramifications for the English language, from which several dozen linguists may never recover. Geoffrey Pullum explains, “If the formation of adverbs like carefully from adjective stems like careful is a matter of lexical word formation … then we should expect to find arbitrary lexical exceptions, and the absence of lexemes such as *bigly, *littlely, *bluely, *oldly, *youngly, et cetera, is to be expected … But if adjective and adverb are the same category and -ly is just an inflectional affix that the words in that category have to take in some syntactic contexts (for example, when they modify verbs), then we should expect much broader application of the suffix … In short, every new case of an adjective taking the -ly suffix to form an adverb is a data point that might undercut the idea that -ly is a derivational affix that forms adverbs (not an inflectional affix sometimes required on adjectives).” (Got that?)