Category Archives: Reviews

The Zoo, Revisited

By Ian MacAllister-McDonald

The second act of Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo was originally a self-contained one-act called The Zoo Story, written in 1958. In it, a laconic textbook editor named Peter is approached in Central Park by Jerry, a disheveled hustler who’s spent his life on the fringes and is desperate for a meaningful human connection. If you have had a homeless person approach you and start talking in a way that doesn’t make perfect sense, then you can imagine Peter’s unease. Likewise, if you’ve ever been surrounded by people, but still somehow managed to find yourself deeply, suffocatingly lonely, then you can imagine Jerry’s desperation. The play is about these two men: one who wants to mind his own business and the other who needs someone to talk to, and how they reach the worst kind of compromise. Laugh-out-loud funny at times and heart-wrenchingly sad at others, The Zoo Story is an almost-perfect short play. Continue reading

The Incendiary Impact of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot

By Louise McCune

A factory sorts its oil drums. Behind door number one is a room of full barrels, and behind door two sits a stash of empty ones. Workers at the factory are wary around the full ones, taking precaution to avoid combustion, when in fact it is the other set that deserve their heightened vigilance. Those empty drums are in fact not empty at all. Once their liquid is used up, they become full of flammable vapors and are therefore even more volatile than their unused counterparts. Their menace is obscured by their moniker — “empty” — with disastrous consequence; deeming the empty drums empty of threat, workers are disarmed in their presence. They take breaks. They light cigarettes. They start a fire. Continue reading

The (Un)Draped Woman: Contemporary Iranian Art and New Self-Portraits

By Austin Park

The (Un)Draped Woman is the third in a series of pop-up shows organized by Roshi Rahnama and Advocartsy, a “collaborative visual arts platform” examining an exciting and highly active Iranian contemporary art scene in Los Angeles and beyond. This particular iteration seeks to challenge and interrogate the established or conventional image of the woman in Iranian culture, a central visual aspect of which is the image of women in various states of cover. Virtually all the works in this show engage primarily with questions about the image of self or the self-portrait. In this sense, the show as a whole attempts to visualize a contemporary Iranian and Iranian-American image of feminine self, ones that might possess qualities and inspirations from both Western and Eastern culture. Continue reading

Looking and Acting: On Ali Smith’s Autumn

By Milo Hicks

Reading a new Ali Smith novel always feels like returning to a familiar place. There is the usual smattering of quotes that mark the opening of each work, laid out like a welcome mat at the door. She always uses a single word — “past,” “beginning,” “I,” “there,” “one,” “1” — to open the first section of every one of her novels, a gentle reminder that every story is the bringing together of disparate parts. And then there is her undeniable voice that agitates and soothes in the same stroke, unbearably light and effortlessly heavy. Autumn, her most recent novel, is no exception, and it’s homier than ever. Underneath the new window coverings and re-arranged furniture are the same authorial concerns: time, art, and storytelling. Yet the familiar places of her novels never come across as worn or tired because they welcome such a diversity of characters. Smith knows that “whoever makes up the story makes up the world,” and advises us to “always try to welcome people into the home of your story.” This advice, which is one of Autumn’s foremost concerns, is lived out in every home she builds. Continue reading

The Fourth Estate Needs a Superhero

By Benjamin Reeves

On January 20th, America inaugurated a new president. He is a plutocrat who made a mint plastering his name on buildings and shellacking everything in gold like some sort of cut-rate Midas. He is a creature of the media — a whore for attention and a brazen liar. It was theoretically amusing, in years past, when he was simply taking turns on reality TV and pretending to gossip columnists that he was his own PR agent. During the early days of the campaign, the nation was all too content to suffer this particular fool so long as he kept the campaign interesting. Never forget CBS chairman Les Moonves’ words that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” When we all started living in his personal reality TV show — when he won — he became terrifying. Continue reading

Hong Kong Noir

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s, my only interaction with the police occurred when I’d return from Shenzhen by foot. Once on the Hong Kong side of the Lo Wu Bridge, I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw their crisp navy uniforms.  The sight represented stability, order, and safety, things that were in short supply in Shenzhen and the parts of Hubei that I often visited as well on my forays to the mainland.  Life in those places had a Wild West, free-for-all feel to them.  There, as opposed to in rule-honoring Hong Kong, the trend often seemed to be that those with guanxi (personal connections) could work the system, while others were left to their own devices. Continue reading

2016 Releases from Dorothy, a Publishing Project

By Emily Wells

October was a thrilling month for Dorothy, a publishing project, a small press focused on publishing “fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Dorothy releases their entire annual catalogue in October, in this year’s case, two small volumes: the first English translation of Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger, and a collection of short fiction, The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George. The two books compliment each other well. Both are unconventional forays into the burdens of womanhood and storytelling, and are desperately concerned with what it means to be female and unfulfilled. Continue reading

Coastal Elite Elegy

By Joe Donnelly

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.
-Alfred North Whitehead

Of the many forensic narratives that have been stitched together to try and shape the potentially-nightmarish November 8 election results into some kind of cloth of understanding, one in particular has approached one-size-fits-all: the Rustbelt pastoral. It feels like I’ve read dozens of these instant anthropologies in books, magazine and newspapers over the past year or so, and they just keep coming. Most are handwringing, liberal guilt trips and almost all follow the same schematic: a righteous scribe from one of the coasts ventures into the heartland, gains a keener sense of the region’s economic and psychic wounds and then bundles it into a sympathetic homily that’s meant to explain, well, everything. Continue reading

Still Life: on Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme De Gilles

By Amina Cain

I had a difficult time, while reading Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme de Gilles, separating it from the recent events in U.S. politics. A man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women has won the presidency over the woman who would have been our first female president. Originally published in 1937 by Éditions Gallimard in Paris, and reissued this fall through Melville House as part of their Neversink Library series, it is not fair to Bourdouxhe to bring today’s politics into my reading of La Femme de Gilles. And yet, she might have understood. Friends with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Bourdouxhe was a member of the Resistance in France and Belgium, and is known to have worked with surrealist artist Paul Éluard to sneak political leaflets from Paris into Brussels. In the 1940s, when the Nazis took over Gallimard, Bourdouxhe cut ties, never publishing with them again. Continue reading