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Staff Picks: Ballet, Bob Dylan, and Black Smudges

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This Week’s Reading

Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Photo: Erik Tanner.

The legendary profiler Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, lives up to the hype. In it, the hardworking hepatologist Toby Fleishman explores the world of dating apps after his estranged wife, Rachel, disappears, leaving their two children in his care. But Brodesser-Akner’s story is more complex than it at first seems. Told through the voice of Toby’s longtime friend Libby, a former men’s-magazine writer who’s become a full-time mother, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a book that unspools. Within the contours of Toby’s story live those of the women he knows and misunderstands, whose emotional, physical, and mental labor shape and trim the New York that Brodesser-Akner evokes. In a nearly Dickensian style, Brodesser-Akner creates a city epic that delves into the gender divisions of housework, marriage, divorce, and the anxiety of middle age with wit and brutal honesty. At one point, Libby laments her inability to end with anger in her writing, to access fire without internalized shame. But in telling Toby’s tale, Libby, and therefore Taffy, tells “all the sides of the story, even the ones that hurt to look at directly.” —Nikki Shaner-Bradford

Landmarks,” Bahnhof Gallery’s inaugural show, is open through this Sunday in a pop-up space at 55-59 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The raw, hangar-like room is as much a part of the exhibition as the works by the three highlighted artists. In fact, one of the artists, Alexander Muret, actually appropriated a free-standing piece of scaffolding in the gallery, titling it And Other Tensioned Structures (2019), as a statement on the omnipresence of temporary building materials in the city. The show’s curator, Ekaterina Soriano, says Muret sees the scaffold as a predecessor to any future “landmark.” Another of Muret’s works makes use of wide strips of monochromatic vinyl, the sort conventionally reserved for commercial signage. Here he’s wrapped this slick, high-gloss material around a series of seven tall free-standing panels. The artist Ba-Ami Rivlin, a recent graduate of Columbia University’s M.F.A. program, prefers much rougher surfaces. She’s created her own “landmarks” from discarded materials, the most poetic being an untitled 2019 piece that was once presumably an artist’s folding desk, now recast as a work of art unto itself. Splatters of paint and black smudges erupt over its flat surface, and chunks knocked out of it reveal unexpected pockmarks applied in foam and cement. The seven wall sculptures by Greg Allen-Müller, the most seasoned of the three artists, refract, reflect, and reexamine the cement space around them. In particular, the three perfectly glossy works hanging at the center of the gallery, from his Hyper-Realistic Straight Lines series (2017–2018), dazzle with their luminescent candy-wrapped surfaces of metallics and neons. These pieces are all inhuman in their flawlessness. In fact, it seems hard to believe Allen-Müller’s works were actually constructed by hand. Individually, they call out to us, and like flies to a burning bulb, we cannot help but be seduced, delighting in seeing ourselves reflected. —Charlotte Strick

 

 

Whenever I travel, I check out the local independent bookstores and small presses. This has produced fruitful results in the past—I still leaf through the magazines I bought at the Kinokuniya in Tokyo, the zines from do you read me?! in Berlin—and so when I was in Montreal last month, I hightailed it to Drawn and Quarterly in Mile End. They have a fantastic selection from Canadian small presses, and, among other titles, I picked up the Halifax poet Sue Goyette’s book Penelope, published by Gaspereau Press. It’s a series of unrhymed couplets told from the perspective of Penelope as she waits for Odysseus and deals with endless suitors and her son. I’ve long been fascinated by the archetypal woman who waits for her lover to return, and with lines like “I wake to a longing more private / than husband. Is this the original vow?” Goyette effectively explores the woman who might be literature’s most famous example of this. —Rhian Sasseen

In her new ballet Jane Eyre, Cathy Marston manages to bring both an admirable feminist stance and an interior literary consciousness to the stage. I saw the show opening night at American Ballet Theatre, with Devon Teuscher as the older Jane and James Whiteside as Edward. The story is told in a deftly rendered flashback, ending with the romantic meeting of Rochester and Jane. But Marston’s choreography feels so contemporary and unconventional for a love story set in the past. She builds her scenes through gestural movements and a simple vocabulary that makes the show feel anything but balletic. Teuscher and Whiteside are mesmerizing together; their startling intimacy and fluidity make the show worth seeing. Marston builds their evolving relationship using choreography at turns grand (a series of counterbalances, acrobatic lifts, and extensive floor work) and understated (mimed gestures and facial expressions). With this modern tone and Brontë’s innovative narrative, Marston shifts classical ballet’s suggested gender roles, allowing a full range of movement and emotion to her female characters. The ballet is refreshing in its strength and unpredictability. —Camille Jacobson

What did I do last weekend? Oh, thanks for asking. Well, I cleaned the hamster cage, took my daughter to the pool, and listened many times to many hours of Bob Dylan concerts from 1975. I feel like I should apologize, especially to my wife, for glutting the family speakers with wall-to-wall selections from the new Dylan boxed set, The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings—she likes Dylan fine, admires his genius, has her favorite songs (such as “Positively 4th Street”), but prefers Dylan in smaller-than-fourteen-hour chunks. Me, when I get on a jag, I want nothing but Dylan, want to give over my whole imagination to the products of his, and to the amazing musicians—including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and a drummer whose name I can’t recall who has just the right little punchy attack on his snare—he took on the road for the Rolling Thunder Revue. There’s enough music here to preoccupy an entire waking day of life, hours you could spend doing all sorts of other things, though I suggest you don’t. —Craig Morgan Teicher