Staff Picks: Salukis, Sincerity, Slithering


This Week’s Reading

An illustration from Vice’s Fiction issue, which featured an excerpt from Rachel Cusk’s Transit—see what we did there?


The 2016 Vice Fiction issue is the best literary magazine I’ve seen this year. Maybe I’m biased. It includes new (and very good) work from a bunch of Paris Review writers, namely Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Cusk, Tim Parks, Christine Smallwood, Deb Olin Unferth, and Benjamin Nugent—plus our former web editor Thessaly La Force. Oh, and the whole issue is edited by Plimpton Prize winner Amie Barrodale. But it’s not just the stories themselves. I also love the interior art direction—with literal photo illustrations of each story, all in what you might call the Vice house style. It screams sincerity, and it pays respect. —Lorin Stein

Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit, which we excerpted last summer, is out next week. Like its predecessor, Outline, it comprises several long, fluid, exactingly rendered conversations. Saying more feels like window dressing, and I worry I’m making it sound like My Dinner with Andre, but here goes. Recently divorced, the narrator’s upheaval has led her to a state of social alertness (not to say vulnerability) that makes others eager to confide in her, to try out hidden versions of themselves. The feeling is of swimming, with blissful immersion, through hours of watery talk. It’s hard to describe a novel like this without making them sound “quiet” or “slight,” but Transit is neither—people speak and people listen, and it is good. In one of the many passages I earmarked, a man explains the elaborate, concerted hunting process of “a shoal of Salukis” as they track birds of prey: “It suggested that the ultimate fulfillment of a conscious being lay not in solitude but in a shared state so intricate and cooperative it might almost be said to represent the entwining of two selves.” You could think of Transit as the pursuit of that shared state. In its fidelity to the long talk—to the sense of permeation that comes with a lively exchange—it argues that conversation is the ideal vehicle for the sublime. —Dan Piepenbring 

Ever since I read Christine Lincoln’s “What’s Necessary to Remember When Telling a Story,” from our Winter issue, I’ve been after more of her. I finally got my hands on her debut collection of short fiction—Sap Rising, from 2002—and it’s unlike anything I’ve read recently. In each story, Lincoln delves into the mind of a different child from the rural South, writing of the moments, however big or small, that change everything they once thought to be true and infallible: the death of a baby or a deer on the roadside; the story a stranger tells after dark. It’s the subtle mysticism I admire most about Lincoln’s work, which often feels enchanted: in “A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You,” a child’s limbs become invisible; in the title story, “wanting” slithers up a young woman’s belly and throat, as if to choke her. “Wishes,” though, is my favorite. A girl wishes her father dead only to worry over the trees that have heard her pray aloud: “She knew somehow that the trees still held all her secrets, was afraid they would whisper them back as the wind shook loose their leaves.” —Caitlin Youngquist

What with the transition of power just days away, I’m interested in stories of achievable resistance. Thus Mark Sundeen’s new book, The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s AmericaWithin are the stories of extremist homesteaders, with their voluntary impoverishment, their Luddite refusal of the military-industrial complex in its many guises. They resist the reach of electoral politics by going totally off the grid. Sundeen visits families in Missouri, Detroit, and Montana who’ve founded intentional communities that hope to make the world a better place by encouraging secession from the American economy. Immersing himself in these collectives, Sundeen traces their historical precedents: Quaker customs, Gandhi’s spindle, even punk rock. He relays the homesteaders’ stories with fierce curiosity and empathy, which makes The Unsettlers an enlightening read: the book resonates because Sundeen lets these eccentrics and their lifestyles speak for themselves. It’s exceptional reporting on a topic that we’d all be wise to familiarize ourselves with, especially in the shadow of an indefatigably evil administration. —Daniel Johnson 

Tonight I’m attending a discussion at the Strand on Simone de Beauvoir, “Woman as Other, Woman as Lover.” Even if The Second Sex remains widely read, many feminists regard Beauvoir as a “theoretical dinosaur,” as the scholar Toril Moi put it. So I was happy to chance upon an old collection of interviews with Beauvoir—Alice Schwarzer’s Simone de Beauvoir Today: Conversations 1972–1982that lets readers observe how her relationship to feminism, existentialism, and socialism shifted over the course of her lifetime, developing alongside her; it contradicts all claims of her evolutionary demise. Sure, Beauvoir’s not perfect: she struggles with the female body and tends to glorify maleness. (Try not to turn to her for advice on childbirth.) But these interviews show that she was attuned to the rhetoric of power—yes, above questions of identity—in a way that we can still learn from, especially in our current political context, as the GOP is poised to defund Planned Parenthood—surely mere prologue to a broader effort to undermine women’s rights. In times like these, there’s great value in returning to the conversation that Beauvoir and Schwarzer so crucially opened. —Madeline Medeiros Pereira