But then, other people’s relationships are always mysterious. A relationship is a closed world, and it’s impossible to see clearly into the interior from the outside. St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Only the singer hears it and the one to whom he sings. Only the external details are clearly visible: once there was a young and passionate poet who fell in love with a married man, and the affair inspired a magnificent work.
“By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a staggering accomplishment, an exquisite and often ecstatic rendition of a tumultuous affair: ‘Jupiter has been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan wars. All legend will be broken, but who will escape alive?’” — Emily St. John Mandel
Sometimes I worry that jazz has been ruined for the 21st century by caricatures of zoot suits and hirsute beatniks snapping away over black coffee, or has been relegated to the pathetic limbo of aural wallpaper at cocktail parties. It’s a shame that jazz doesn’t get the same kind of attention and mainstream buzz it used to.
"I submit that the kind of place Parker holds within jazz tradition is a little like what you would get if you mixed Beethoven with Jimi Hendrix. He was a game changer."
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.
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.)
This is a tricky novel to review. I’m not even sure it is a novel. And I’m not certain as to whether its fragmentary nature belies an organic structure of astutely sewn intention or is merely a disingenuous device to conceal a let’s-get-something-out cobbling together of unpublished material lying around the writer’s desk. What I can tell you is this: I was powerfully engaged and richly entertained by Sergio De La Pava’s PERSONAE.