I couldn’t care less really if I’ve disillusioned you. It is within your gift not to read the book. So really, it didn’t give me the minimum pause for thought.
Her characters sleepwalk to their certain fates through artificial pocket universes, each one seemingly constructed to satisfy the curiosity of an inhumane, omniscient narrator. Few writers have been so consistently and brilliantly unkind.
Is it possible to read fiction by an actor without thinking of them as the character that made them famous? It’s a question many people asked when reading James Franco, and it’s a question they’re likely to ask again when reading One More Thing, a new book of short stories by The Office star B. J. Novak. At Open Letters Monthly, Justin Hickey reviews Novak’s collection.
Philip Roth may have retired, but that doesn’t mean he’s done giving interviews. The author recently sat down with the editor of a Swedish newspaper, who talked with him about misogyny, Sabbath’s Theater and the need for “obstinacy” in a writer. (Related: our own Hannah Gersen reviewed Roth Unbound.) (h/t The Paris Review)
Perhaps this fundamental disconnect between the balance implied by its title and the economic realities of literary life circa 2014 explains the underthrob of panic that courses through a number of the essays in the new collection by writers outside the orbit of Planet MFA. Harbach, who edited this new volume, has tapped his stable of n+1 writers, a fair number of whom, like him, went to Harvard and earned six-figure advances for their first books. Whatever is ailing these folks, it isn’t lack of chutzpah or unwillingness to do what it takes to succeed, and yet what was clearly intended as a series of artsy-smartsy essays examining the state of play in literary America too often comes off as an extended moan of self-pity from a once-cosseted corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.
And I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ And the sound of drumming began—the drumming I had been hoping for. And so there was all of this drumming, and it was very exciting. And we went to the central square of the village, where there was a small makeshift wedding bed that I had to get into with the ram. I had been told it would be very, very bad luck if the ram escaped, and that I had to hold on to him, and that the reason we had to be in this wedding bed was that all my depression and all my problems were caused by the fact that I had spirits. In Senegal you have spirits all over you, the way here you have microbes. Some are good for you. Some are bad for you. Some are neutral. My bad spirits were extremely jealous of my real-life sexual partners, and we had to mollify the anger of the spirits.
Are we now living in a golden age of the uncanny? The Millions contributor Porochista Khakpour suspects that we are, and she also suspects that our historical moment, populated as it is with alienating developments and surreal art, is key to understanding the work of Helen Oyeyemi. In the Times, Khakpour reviews Oyeyemi’s new novel. (You could also read both writers’ Year in Reading pieces.)
W.H. Auden lived a secret life, not as a man with a second family or an illicit habit but as, weirdly enough, a genuinely kind human being. He paid for a friend’s costly operation and camped outside the apartment of a woman who suffered from night terrors until she felt safe enough to sleep on her own again. So why did the poet want to hide his good deeds? He claimed he didn’t want to be admired for basic decency.