Staff Picks: Bars, Balzac, and Buses


This Week’s Reading

Vanessa Springora. Photo courtesy of HarperVia.

“For many years I paced around my cage, my dreams filled with murder and revenge,” writes Vanessa Springora toward the beginning of her book Consent (translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer), which details the abusive relationship she endured at the age of fourteen with the writer Gabriel Matzneff, then fifty. “Until the day when the solution finally presented itself to me, like something that was completely obvious: Why not ensnare the hunter in his own trap, ambush him within the pages of a book?” Consent is that elegantly laid trap, a memoir that asks sharp questions about desire, literature, and a culture that fetishizes female youth and inexperience over female art. Springora is merciless in her portrayal of how easily Matzneff—referred to in the book only as “G.M.”—was able to prey upon her and other young girls and boys in plain sight, how he used her letters and likeness in his work without her consent and wrote celebrated paeans to sex tourism with children in the Philippines and affairs with barely teenage girls in Paris. It’s immensely upsetting to read about how seemingly every adult in Springora’s life turned a blind eye to all of this (at one point, a doctor snips Springora’s hymen to allow Maztneff to penetrate her; the philosopher Emil Cioran tells a crying Springora that it is an “honor” to have been chosen by Matzneff), but there are also moments of real catharsis as she grows older and begins to analyze what happened. In the end, Consent is as much an indictment of how writing and literature—from fairy tales to love letters to classic works like Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet—can betray girls and women as it is a cool-eyed deconstruction of a particular moment in time. —Rhian Sasseen 

“I was not a man,” says the narrator of the first story in Lucy Ives’s Cosmogony. “I was … but a human girl,” says another, who is twenty-nine. And then, a few stories into the collection: “I am one of the animals. I live among the other human animals and am one of them. Nothing animal is outlandish to me.” This last bit is a sensible rule for writing honestly about what humans do to one another—and particularly to women. Stated outright, it has the ring of a catechism one wants to believe and repeats to oneself to avoid losing it when humans behave shockingly or when the grotesqueries of late capitalism and failed “women’s liberation, so called” become particularly visible (say, as a yellow-eyed, horned demon whose immortality transcends any particular age). That’s what the narrators in Cosmogony are dealing with. Their stories acknowledge that yes, things that seem awful are only human, but also, knowing this intellectually doesn’t really make it any easier emotionally. What does make it bearable—for this reader—is a beautifully honed sense of the absurd, which kept me smiling throughout much of this collection. —Jane Breakell


Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson in Detroiters. Photo: Comedy Central.


At the end of even the most deflating of days, I can always count on Detroiters to make me hoot and howl like a resident of the Saint Louis Zoo’s Primate House. The show, which ran for two seasons on Comedy Central, is at once a pitch-perfect send-up of the advertising world and a deeply silly ode to friendship. Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson star as Sam and Tim, two best friends who own a Motor City ad agency together. The commercials they trade in are of the variety one misses in the streaming age: low-budget, poorly acted, stupidly ambitious local spots that are bereft of good taste yet full of a genuine humanity that Ogilvy and all the rest could never hope to achieve. They compose jingles for an ethically dubious wig company; they persuade charmless car dealers to act in their own ads. Holding everything together is some of the sharpest and most unexpected comedy writing I’ve encountered in years. But the central appeal of the show lies in the chemistry between Richardson and Robinson. Richardson plays a total sweetheart, almost a fuller rendition of his role as the lovable Richard on Veep; meanwhile, Robinson applies a sort of Nicolas Cage maximalism to his performance, delivering each line with a peculiar emphasis, turning red in the face, bulging his eyes, and straining his voice into a cartoonish yell. Together, they form one of the great comedic duos of our time, gleefully bolting from one joke to the next and throwing their bodies into every bit. Can you blame me for sounding like such an animal? —Brian Ransom

Over on Twitter, Alex Dimitrov is writing a poem that never ends. “Love” started as a poem in The American Poetry Review and is featured in Dimitrov’s latest collection, Love and Other Poems, which was published by Copper Canyon Press earlier this year. But Dimitrov continues to expand the poem, writing it “in real time, 1 tweet a day.” Each line (each tweet?) names one thing the speaker loves: “I love gas stations & how they give you that feeling you’re just passing through” (January 12); “I love thinking of what I would do with freedom” (February 18); “I love frivolity, excess & not going home” (March 23). Friends, bars, astrology (Dimitrov is, after all, one half of Astro Poets), parties, New York, and the moon all abound. The list is ongoing, expansive, and, if the contemplation in Dimitrov’s personal Twitter bio holds true—“I am thinking that a poem could go on forever,” he writes, directing folks over to his infinite poem—never-ending. This, the idea of a poem that goes on forever, is perhaps what speaks to me the most. The project’s form necessarily points to abundance; if the poem is endless, so, too, are the various possibilities of love. The old adage might go, “The more you give, the more you receive,” but in Dimitrov’s work, the more one loves, the more there is to love, and the more there is to love, the more love there is to be given. And on and on and on, one tweet at a time, maybe, hopefully, forever. —Mira Braneck

If you’ve traveled any distance on any form of public transportation, even once, you may already have some sense of the existential surrealism driving Paul Kirchner’s The Bus. If you have never been bused, then buckle up. A troublingly smart comic strip, The Bus runs its route on a Möbius strip with stops along the avenue of the absurd. A man exits the bus, walks down the block, and enters his home only to realize he has just boarded the bus. A bus appears on a barren expanse where more buses begin to converge and tesselate until their roofs combine to create a barren expanse on which a bus appears. The Bus is not afraid to ask the big questions: “Free will or predestination? Spiritual quest or self-delusion? Individual rights or societal needs? Inevitable conflict or eventual cooperation? Crosstown at 34th St. or uptown to 168th?” In return we might ask: What is it about the bus that moves us? From Frida Kahlo’s The Bus to Sartre’s linguistically confounding seat on the tramway to Ken Kesey’s Further to J. K. Rowling’s Knight Bus, there seems to be something magical about this everyday method of mass transit that continues to inspire. Originally published in Heavy Metal magazine between 1978 and 1985 and revived in 2013, Kirchner’s The Bus is now available in two anthologies from Éditions Tanibis. Is it too much to ask for an omnibus? —Christopher Notarnicola


From Paul Kirchner’s The Bus. Image courtesy of the author.