Category Archives: Reviews

Witnessing Miracles in Teju Cole’s Blind Spot

By Austin Adams

“There is more in the world,” Teju Cole writes in his latest book Blind Spot, gesturing to Hamlet’s famous lament. The heaven and earth of Cole’s philosophy is local and seasonal. Structured as a book-length series of pairings of photographs coupled with text, we are given to consider several hundred images of day-to-day life from across the globe — happenstance corners, detritus and, occasionally, people and things that inhabit the world without spectacle or choreographed meaning. At this moment, in the first text-image pairing, we are with Cole in Tivoli, where spring has doubled the earth: “Everything grows, both what receives the light, and what is cast by it. There is more in the world, all of it proliferating like neural patterns.” Continue reading

The Bygone Beau Monde of Beer Money

By Jennifer Kaplan

Frances Stroh’s memoir Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss details the hijinks of the indulgent and entitled cast of characters who are heirs to their family’s eponymous beer fortune. Stroh depicts her family with care, but like other memoirs and biographies of privilege — Sean Wilsey’s Oh the Glory of it All, Rich Cohen’s Sweet and Low, Jerry Oppenheimer’s Crazy Rich come to mind — the enjoyment of basking in voyeuristic splendor is overshadowed slightly by the incredulity of reading about rich people who are oblivious to other people’s problems. Beer Money portrays the stereotypical dysfunctional rich kid lifestyle: the characters are the children of narcissists and addicts; they are raised by loving or malevolent nannies; they watch their siblings be favored or scorned; they are sent to tony boarding schools (sometimes only to be expelled); they spend their quickly acquired cash on copious amounts of drugs and travel to luxurious locations (someone always seems to be traveling on the Concorde between New York and Paris); they suffer at the hands of cartoon-like evil step-parents; they see wealth slip from their reach, either plundered or withheld; they squander their prospects through idleness or ineptitude and redeem themselves by not being as idle and inept as they were raised to believe they were; they live through tragedies that will be seen by the 99% as not all that tragic. Beer Money made me laugh, cry, and cringe in equal measure. Continue reading

How to Fall in Love with a Love Story

By Katy Hershberger 

My husband and I met at work, and for two years we kept our relationship a secret in the office. When we tell people that, they imagine it as exciting and sexy: sneaking around for in-office trysts. But in truth, hiding our relationship was stressful and annoying. We lied to our colleagues, stood in awkward silence in the elevator, locked down our Facebook privacy settings, and entreated friends and family to never post a photo of us together. But when people listen to the story, our lives become most interesting as a Secret Office Romance, less so as just our lives. The reality isn’t always the best story. Continue reading

Growing Up Gay in Backwoods Mississippi: Nick White’s How to Survive a Summer

By Nathan Scott McNamara

When Will Dillard was 15, his Preacher father caught him pleasuring himself with a candle in their Baptist Church. “He was not a violent man,” Will, the protagonist of How to Survive a Summer says, “but this — this — had been on the docket for a long time.” After beating Will until they’re both exhausted, Will’s father sends him to a backwoods gay conversion camp owned by their unqualified family in central Mississippi.  Continue reading

Women Without Men Without Women

By Zoë Hu

Seeing no alternative, a woman plants herself in her family’s courtyard and sprouts into a tree, begging aghast visitors, “Don’t cut me down. Let me grow.” Her name is Mahdokht, and her germination as human-cum-sapling has a loyal chronicle in the Iranian modernist novel Women Without Men, written by Shahrnush Parsipur in 1989 and first translated into English 10 years later. The text follows five women as they escape Tehran, shrug off dreary brothers and husbands, and — aided by the occasional, benevolent dollop of magical realism — find their way to a garden refuge. Rooted at the center of this botanical sorority, Mahdokht the tree-human is cared for and cultivated by the other women. She is also their witness, keeping time with her gradual growth to the loneliness and struggle that mark their isolated existences. Women Without Men asks its characters to begin new lives, free from the social mandate of a male partner, but once in the garden this possibility opens onto foreign, craggy territory. Unable to transform into a tree herself, one woman feels that nevertheless she is “rotting from within.” Continue reading

Writing Reptiles: Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile

By Rhian Sasseen

The crocodile of Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin’s recently translated first novel Notes of a Crocodile is and is not a metaphor, is and is not a character, is and is not really a crocodile at all. The crocodile — the subject of a half-dozen surreal and witty vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel’s overarching coming-of-age story — exists halfway, appearing here and there in fragments, snippets, prose that functions somewhere between fiction and theory. It’s that halfway feeling that’s so essential to and so refreshing about the book, the ambiguity of sex, gender, queerness, desire, and the question of identity itself, all the more sobering to read in today’s political climate. The crocodile’s favorite treat, the unnamed narrator slyly notes, is cream puffs. Pass the cream puffs, please. Continue reading

Don’t Panic: Coping with the Internet Age Through Ignorance

By Kevin Litman-Navarro

The last time the United States was the world’s premiere manufacturing power, American citizens lived under the specter of an atomic assault. From their perch atop a nascent post-war order, the global superpower enjoyed unprecedented levels of production — it was the 1950s, and business was a-boomin’. Foreign relations, on the other hand, were rather precarious. Continue reading