Staff Picks: Strip Clubs, Lightning Rods, and Extramarital Affairs


This Week’s Reading


On WednesdayAnne Boyer received a 2018 Whiting Award for poetry and nonfiction. On the same day, shut in by the storm, with only my apartment’s clanging radiators for company, I dove into A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Boyer’s forthcoming book of essays from Ugly Duckling Presse. From the first paragraph of the first essay, simply titled “No,” I was thoroughly captivated by Boyer’s language. Her prose is lyric and smooth. There is nothing labored about her discourse, which is conversational but incisive and often accompanied by a satisfying dose of arch humor. Two examples of Boyer’s particular genius are “Click-Bait Thanatos” and “The Harm.” The former is speculative and considers the eerie technological landscape left behind in a world no longer populated by humans; the latter is a meditation on trauma and how it occupies a person’s consciousness and daily life. Boyer’s essays are best experienced alongside one another; I suggest doing so in the thick of a snowstorm, but I suspect their impact would be equally forceful in any weather. —Lauren Kane



This past Tuesday, I sat in my lottery-won onstage seats at the Public Theater and tried not to trip the actors. I was watching the first preview of a new musical called Miss You Like Hell. It’s up until May 6, and if you like musicals (as everyone should), you’ll want to catch it in this intimate setting before it inevitably moves on to a huge Broadway stage. With book and lyrics by the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes—whose previous works include In the Heights and Water by the Spoonful—Miss You Like Hell is at once heart-wrenching and joyous in the way only musicals can be. Beatriz, a woman on the verge of deportation, ropes her severely depressed sixteen-year-old daughter, Olivia, into a coast-to-coast road trip. The ensuing events address the subjects of policing, mental health, gay rights, the conservation movement, et cetera. But the play never becomes didactic and never loses its nuance—its beauty and power come from its graceful exploration of human relationships. It feels special to see a show like this at the beginning of its run, when the cast and crew are still finding their places. Miss You Like Hell brightened my snowy Tuesday, made me laugh, made me cry, made me call both my mom and my grandmom, and made me smile in my sleep. —Eleanor Pritchett 



When Leilah Weinraub was twenty-three, she got a job shooting videos at Shakedown, a black lesbian strip club in South Central Los Angeles. On Thursdays and Fridays between 2002 and 2004, Weinraub filmed the club’s performers—Mahogany, Egypt, and Jazmyne, among others—as they danced for cash but also for pleasure. From the resulting four hundred hours of footage, Weinraub created her feature-film debut. I saw Shakedown during its New York premiere at MoMA PS1 last Sunday. Watching the film felt like a dream, in part because its namesake no longer exists: after persistent police raids, the club shut down. But Shakedown is not a eulogy. Weinraub’s subjects live on in her film but also in real life. I’m not sure when or where Shakedown is playing next, but it will surely have a long life, and I suggest you try to witness it. —Maya Binyam



I remember seeing my first Barnaby Furnas exhibition sixteen years ago: big Civil War paintings in which soldiers’ bodies move in staccato across the canvases and sharply intersecting lines of musket fire whiz through spatters of blood—like Giacomo Balla’s futurist paintings of sound and motion. Furnas’s gorgeous new show tackles another epic: the early American frontier. Or is it? Triangles recur throughout the paintings, not only as formal building blocks but as pyramids on the horizon and as the sun. Is this the West or ancient Egypt? Mount Rushmore is a prismatic agglomeration of angles, as though seen through a funhouse mirror. The myth building of the frontier extends into the present, with a painting of a politician waving before a red, white, and blue podium. Behind him, fighter jets streak the sky; in the foreground, a garden of hands sprouts heavenward. What are they signing up for? What are they celebrating? I can’t help but think of Cathy Park Hong’s magisterial Engine Empire: “Yuccas gnarl out with red spider buds. / Once men unspared, praying to be unstitched / from earth, crying: let us free to roam, / wade into the shadow so the flayed // red threads of our soul can cool to will / and we can spread our spores, / and if we fail, He will smite us.” —Nicole Rudick



When my father worked on Capitol Hill, it was his responsibility to take complaints from constituents. Oftentimes people would call and write to report that contrails (the exhaust from airplanes) had become thicker over the course of their lifetimes. The callers understood this to be a sign that aliens were trying to communicate with humans. As I grew older, I realized what the constituents were really communicating was the terror of growing older in a changing world. Alan Hollinghurst’s newest novel, The Sparsholt Affair, is about growing older in a changing world, and the main characters are, for the most part, queer men. Starting with lust at Oxford and meandering through aging Modernist country homes in rural Wales, the book seems almost improbably full of beauty. But the indignities of old age assail assiduously suited aesthete heirs with handsome young boyfriends just as they do the rest of us. The titular affair is the diaphanous specter of homosexual scandal involving an air-force hero. The book’s cover, it might be said, features contrails feathering as they fade, catching the color of the setting sun. The Sparsholt Affair presents a lustrous argument for dwelling in the dying of the day. —Julia Berick



Successful satire is like sleight of hand. There is always the awareness that the act is not real, but both the artist and the audience are willing to pretend to believe for the purpose of the show. It’s a kind of unspoken contract between performer and audience, an agreement to hover together in an interstitial state of conscious and mutual mock conviction. At its best, this double-mindedness forces us to register commonplace things, normally reduced to perceptual white noise, with the shock of the new. Helen DeWitt is one of America’s most dexterous satirists. Her novel Lightning Rods tells the story of Joe the Salesman as he peddles, to American corporations, what he claims to be the solution for sexual harassment. I won’t spoil his idea, but the genius of DeWitt’s satire is her control of the narrative voice. It’s a sunny mélange of self-improvement maxims and business clichés, the collective idiom and tone of a certain strain of facile, wide-eyed American optimism (also featured in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!). The narration is studded with pep talk and corporate aphorism, and as the plot grows more deranged, these quips begin to glow with dark portent, somehow managing to never crack the cheery facade. Readers are forced to consider the serious implications of these clichés and to attend to what these linguistic tics are actually saying, which is insidious. —Matt Levin

Before his death in 2015, the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine partnered with the saxophonist Benjamin Boone to record live jazz and poetry reading sessions. The Poetry of Jazz, fourteen original jazz compositions paired with fourteen poems by the late poet laureate, has finally been released and is available in nearly every format (CD, Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube). The LP opens with one of my favorite compositions, a scat-style jazz take that plays behind Levine reading his poem “Gin.” The song begins, and the saxophone and scat singer flutter to a syncopated beat, bopping between the bottom and top of the scale, when Levine reads, “The first time I drank gin … ” There, the music breaks, and a soft high-hat carries them through before he continues, “I thought it must be hair tonic”—what timing! Then, as if to give the musicians permission to continue the breakdown, a smooth bass line is introduced before both the poet and musicians comfortably move into a new musical phrase. What strikes me most about The Poetry of Jazz is that the composition seems so natural. It’s surprising and impressive that these studio takes were live: there is no mixing trickery here. Poetry and jazz have long been great partners, but The Poetry of Jazz offers a fresher take, just like Levine’s poems give us new, heroic looks at the ordinary lives of the lower-middle class. As the poet Carol Frost wrote about his work, Levine will “be remembered for his giving voice to the complicated lives of men and women and for making something closer to simple song than ordinary speech.” The Poetry of Jazz is a master poet’s contribution to the musical genre, one not to be missed. —Jeffery Gleaves



I have traveled the world and am better for it. I’ve bumped volleyballs with the snails of Bubblaine, tumbled down race courses with the portly seals of Shiveria, and dined with the sentient cutlery of the Luncheon Kingdom. I’ve fished with Lakitu, scaled the skyscrapers of New Donk City, and dug for treasure in the Tostarenan desert with a fedora-wearing Shiba Inu. If none of this makes sense, you likely haven’t dipped into the joyous potluck that is Super Mario Odyssey. Rectify that immediately. The latest in Nintendo’s long-running series of games starring an Italian plumber, Odyssey is revelatory in the lengths it goes to envelop the player in shiny, squishy, colorful worlds—as well as its willingness to toss the conventions of Mario out the window. The genre to which Odyssey belongs, the platformer, hinges entirely on movement: the feeling of navigating a space, running, jumping, skidding to a stop before perilous drops. What distinguishes Mario games from other platformers, however, is the nebulous “feel” of the movement, a headlong momentum that is thrilling yet completely within the player’s control. Mario’s hat grants him the ability to inhabit the bodies of others, including (but certainly not limited to) Goombas, dinosaurs, frogs, tanks, taxis, rocks, cacti, and traffic posts. All of these bodies come with their own sets of rules about movement and space. And yet the most striking moment in the game, the part that most thoroughly disrupts the principles of the series, happens when Mario is in his own body. After chasing the evil Bowser across kingdom after kingdom, Mario arrives on the moon. Stepping out of his hat-shaped airship, he takes a first jump and finds that something is different. Each jump is a leap, an ascent; Mario bounds across the lonely surface of the moon, tumbling through black space, pillowing down into craters, bouncing in low gravity. The effect is like reading an entire Kafka novel only to find yourself suddenly in the throes of a decadent Henry James sentence on the last page. To see a thirty-plus-year-old series take a risk like this is inspiring—I hope the momentum carries through to whatever Nintendo makes next. —Brian Ransom