Category Archives: Reviews

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

Romeo and Juliet of Hell’s Kitchen: On Tina Cane’s Once More with Feeling

By Matthew Lippman

When you read Tina Cane’s Once More with Feeling you will scratch your head and say, “What the fuck?” You might not actually say, “What the fuck?” But I did. The question gave rise to another one: “What took so long for someone to publish this book?” But don’t waste too much time on questions; return to the poems and read them again — once more, with feeling. One way to read this book is to listen to Lou Reed’s 1989 classic record New York. The book is a Romeo and Juliet of Hell’s Kitchen. That is to say, it is New York — a New York that rolls around in the late 1970s then falls straight away into the 1980s. If you were coming of age in New York at that time, be it in Queens, Manhattan, or Canarsie, you will get this book. It’s part of your DNA, already in you, even though you had no idea it was there. It’s some back page of your personality, which you might have filed away, might have forgotten about, but once you step inside Cane’s vision, boom, there you are, hopping into the L train at 14th Street and headed into Williamsburg. It’s 10th Avenue, stinking and brutal, up in your eyeballs. You know it. You will know it. Delicious, like a mile-high pastrami sandwich from The 2nd Avenue Deli, or the rear corner of Gus “N” Bernie’s Candy store, with all those fantastic comic books. Continue reading

The Heart Grows Stranger: Sorrow & the Unspeakable in Three Recent Prose Texts

By Kristina Marie Darling

In Black Sun, Julia Kristeva observes that mourning is, in essence, a loss of language. Words abandon their meaning; sentences no longer fit together the way they should. Yet it is language that allows us to derive significance from an experience, integrating it into our understanding of the world around us. The sorrow of a lost object, then, is a double loss: the thing itself has vanished and so too has its place in the lovely arc of story. Once we have fallen out of language, the absence itself becomes unspeakable, and likewise, the stories that makes us ourselves. Continue reading

Beneath the Veneer: John Banville’s The Untouchable

By Steve Isenberg

John Banville’s The Untouchable (1997) gives imaginative life to what Lord Annan, then Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, described as  “the long-running inquest upon the culture, morality, and patriotism of intellectuals” brought about by the “saga of the Cambridge spies.”  The artistry of the novel is, indeed, no less captivating than the reality from which it draws — the double life of Anthony Blunt, who juggled the intense secrecy of a spy with the public stature of a leading art historian. Continue reading

Destruction and Deconstruction in Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem

By Massoud Hayoun

Tommy Pico’s book-length epic Nature Poem is written, in parts, like a string of OK Cupid messages from every run-of-the-mill gay manic depressive I’ve ever met — frantic thoughts, ultimately wretched and whining.

Maybe that’s what grated on me at the onset of this young, gay, city-dwelling Native American man’s journey. All-too familiar to me, as a gay Arab-American man, are the histrionics that pass for conversation at the Boiler Room in the East Village or at The Abbey in WeHo on a Saturday night. Even at a gay bar I once visited in faraway Urumqi, China, there was this same mixture of thirst and depression. It’s a global plague, deeply bourgeois; if you have the disposable income to buy a drink at a gay bar, you probably have enough time to think. And if you think too much about what’s going on around you at a gay bar, you’ll probably become thirsty and depressed. Continue reading

Xue Generis: Can Xue and the Dangers of Literary Exceptionalism

By Amanda DeMarco

“Can Xue’s works are truly exceptional,” Can Xue assures us. China’s most prominent author of experimental fiction is known, among other things, for talking about herself in the third person using her pseudonym, which means “dirty snow.” Her works inhabit a space of connected disjointedness somewhere between Diane Williams and Nadirs-era Herta Müller. Think Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair politically unmoored. Hers is generally not a strangeness of voice or syntax — this is neither Woolf of The Waves, nor McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Rather its strangeness resides in the world, or at least in what the speaker notices about it. Her works are usually related in a simple style that ranges from elegantly plainspoken to abrupt. There are halting arcs of narrative, rumor, causation; clues as well as red herrings. It has all of the bones of storytelling, but often lacks the connective tissue, leaving the deductive work to the reader, along with a much harder sort of work: the struggle to accept and comprehend things that don’t make sense. Continue reading

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers and the Devastation of the Deportation Machine

By Louise McCune

An interactive map on The GEO Group’s website bears 74 green dots. These represent the 74 for-profit correctional facilities — which house 80,566 incarcerated people — under the company’s purview in the United States. The green dots are spread widely. The shores of Puget Sound on the West coast and those of Chesapeake Bay on the East are comparably adorned. But the green dots do seem subject to some sort of latitudinal gravity; their numbers swell in the southern states, near the border with Mexico and the Gulf. Continue reading

Leonora Carrington’s Hellish Playgrounds

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Leonora Carrington’s stories are whimsical nightmares in the spirit of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. A man rides a happy cadaver to search for his lost love. A hyena kills a maid and wears her face to a fancy ball. A priest gifts a pork chop to a woman during a game of bridge. “The chop, which had undoubtedly spent a very long time near the ecclesiastic’s stomach didn’t appeal to me,” the woman says. It oozes “horrible blobs of grease” between her fingers, and she sneaks out to the yard to try (unsuccessfully) to bury it. Continue reading

Philosophy of Life and Death: Ryan Ruby’s The Zero and the One

By Austin Adams

Anxiously self-aware teenagers the world over ask themselves why life is worth living, and forthwith tumble into a crisis. Life cannot be lived with purpose or grace, they swear, until the Gordian knot of this dilemma is resolved. Years later, recalling the question and crisis, mortification necrotizes in the gut: how fatuous it all seems now, the urgent, naïve philosophizing of our youth. Continue reading