Category Archives: Reviews

Andrew O’Hagan’s The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age Zooms In On the Lost Boys of the Internet

By Joe Donovan

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is probably the closest a computer hacker has come — or will ever come — to being a celebrity. He’s pals with PJ Harvey; Pamela Anderson writes love poems about him. Doc Martens, the shoe company, even named a combat boot after him. Continue reading

Inside: What Zadie Smith, Roland Barthes, and Vladimir Nabokov Tell Us About Video Games

By Rennie McDougall

Inside, a video game from 2016 by Arnt Jensen and Playdead studios, is entirely free of speech or text. The player controls a young boy, dressed in a red t-shirt, as he runs one long dash from the left side of the screen to the right. A dreary proposition for a story, you might think. A story suggests telling. The earliest movies, however, told their stories through gesture and sound, light and shadow. So do classical story ballets, and certain symphonies. Sometimes a story is less told, more conveyed. Continue reading

Radiant Regeneration: Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian

By Cassandra Cleghorn

My first encounter with Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s stunning new book from Noemi Press, Beast Meridian, was framed by the natural and geopolitical disasters of late summer 2017. As Hurricane Harvey devastated coastal Texas, Villarreal’s book seared me with its portraits of Houston in storm season, the ocean “slicktongued and thick with oil and ants.” Only days after Trump crowed over the end of DACA and then feebly tweeted, “No Action” (attempting to reassure those who feared deportation during the program’s six-month phase out), nine Dreamers were detained for hours at Falfurrias Checkpoint. That very day I read and reread Villarreal’s wildly inventive prose poem “dedicated to the immigrants buried in mass graves in and near Falfurrias, Texas,” in which the poet walks the sacred ground where “agitation pulls even at hanging planets”: “I swallow a bee for each ill deed done. I am a hive walking. I strain to hear you over the regret.” Continue reading

Magical Monstrosity and Everyday Oppression Collide in Her Body and Other Parties

By Bradley Babendir

Carmen Maria Machado begins her debut by asserting control. The first story in Her Body and Other Parties, “The Husband Stitch,” starts with a parenthetical guide to reading the story aloud. There are five instructions, but two stand out; the first is for the narrator’s father: “kind, booming; like your father; or the man you wish was your father.” The second is for “all other women,” for whom the reader is instructed to use a voice “interchangeable” with the one they use for the narrator. This dynamic largely shapes the book, as Machado and her narrators recognize and battle against the heteropatriarchal structures that have tried to shape their lives. Continue reading

The Favorite Thing I Read This Week

By Judith E. Vida

A NOTICE TO MEMBERS at the end of the LARB newsletter on February 12, 2017, inviting emails about “the favorite thing read this week,” reached me on my iPhone in Seattle, where I had traveled to join my writing group. Just two days earlier, I had written in my notebook:

Somehow, beyond all reckoning, I have found myself reading and absorbing what seems to me the most important voice at this very moment: Sara Paretsky’s. Continue reading

Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome Priest?

By Arthur McCaffrey

Back in the analog ages of 1955, Frank Sinatra produced his first 12-inch LP album, In the Wee Small Hours. It included a popular song, “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” which is the song Garry Wills is singing in his latest book Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. Wills claims that some of his best friends and teachers have been priests, and he does not feel any animosity, but “the fact that I can get along without them very well does not mean that I expect them to disappear, or even that I advocate that.” Wills aims only to assure his fellow worshipers that “as priests shrink in numbers […] congregations do not have to feel they have lost all connection to the sacred just because the role of priests in their lives is contracting. If Peter and Paul had no need of priests to love and serve God, neither do we.” Continue reading

Optimism is an Illness: On Hisham Bustani’s The Perception of Meaning

By Safia Moore

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. –George Orwell

The epigraphs to this bilingual edition of Hisham Bustani’s The Perception of Meaning, from Mansur Al-Hallaj and RabindranathTagore, foreground two key words that define the book’s challenging contents: see and vision. These often brutal, occasionally terrifying prose poems (the publisher classifies them as short stories) do not welcome so much as seize readers, bombarding them with nightmarish, often surreal images of violence and chaos. While Bustani roots the stories in specific places and incidents in the Middle East, his outlook is unflinchingly global. Continue reading

A Family Legacy of Violence in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling

By Joe Donovan

The appearance of a handgun on the second page of Gabriel Tallent’s stunning debut novel, My Absolute Darling, will cause any reader to think: well, this can’t end well. Chekhov’s well-known rule of fiction writing that says a gun that appears in the first act must eventually be fired becomes an obvious focal point for Tallent’s contemplative and heart-wrenching story. But the novel, set in 2017, complicates this theory, or at least suggest that symbols of violence are much more ambiguous, more complicated, than simply the image of a handgun. Continue reading

A Middle Class Childhood in the Middle East: Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Illustrations of old radios fill one sequence of Brigitte Findakly’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. Findakly writes that after the fall of the monarchy, when Iraq was declared a republic, the people of her country often tuned into an Arabic radio show broadcast from Israel, the only source of uncensored news about the Iraqi government. The program ran for over 20 years and was strictly banned: “Those who listened to it ran the risk of stiff prison sentence,” Findakly writes. “The show was a favorite and everybody tuned in.” But Findakly, at 11 years old in 1970, wasn’t everybody; an illustration depicts her sweetly smiling in bed with a radio on the pillow beside her, listening to Voice of America for English pop songs. Continue reading

The Dharma of “The Princess Bride”: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of our Time Can Teach Us About Buddhism and Relationships

By Randy Rosenthal

In 2015, the statistical website FiveThirtyEight conducted a survey of the 25 most rewatchable movies of all time. The Princess Bride was number six — tied with The Godfather. It’s one of my very favorite films, and since it came out in 1987 I’ve watched it many, many times. But perhaps not as many as Ethan Nichtern.  A teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, Nichtern loves the movie so much he not only regularly quotes it in his Dharma talks, he wrote a book about the connections between the film and Buddhism, aptly titled The Dharma of “The Princess Bride.” Continue reading