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A Literary Thriller with Legs

Skepticism seems to be a natural by-product of literary nonfiction. Today we tend to think of ourselves as uniquely cynical.

Dystopia, with Dancing

What makes a dystopia? Must evil be its driving force, or could there be a less sinister foundation, akin to a dysfunctional family gone awry?

The Morality of Money

My interest is in addressing the writer Jean Thompson and her work at present, but one is immediately confronted with the question of where to begin.

Inscriptions for Headstones

Matthew Vollmer’s essay collection reads more like a group of experiments in form and narrative structure than one of essays

Portrait of the Artists

A couple of years ago, Janet Malcolm accompanied Thomas Struth, the German photographer, to a shoot at a solar panel factory near Dresden. Malcolm was eager to watch Struth at work; she was profiling him for the New Yorker, where she has written since 1963. But as the day stretched on, Struth became so absorbed in the project that he neglected Malcolm, stranding her at the facility long after they were set to leave—a rare slight from a normally considerate man. Eventually, she “rather crossly” took a taxi back to the city.

Pick a Card

If anthropologists are right that culture is transmitted principally through the family, then childhood games are as much a part of culture as the novel, the modern manifestation of which was first elaborated by Cervantes between the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th. When game and novel come together, the results can be dazzling, as in Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, or belabored, as in Arturo Pérez Reverte’s mystery, The Flanders Panel. Lotería, the promising first novel by Mario Alberto Zambrano, falls somewhere between these two extremes, though it spends a lot more time dazzling us than boring us.

Apples & Oranges

The central thesis of Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander’s massive new tome, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, is as follows: “the spotting of analogies pervades every moment of our thought…constituting thought’s core...we swim nonstop in an ocean of small, medium-sized, and large analogies, ranging from mundane trivialities to brilliant insights.” Dredging up the past to compare it with a present circumstance requires an analogy—it is nothing if not analogy.

Storied History

Michael Paterniti’s The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese is a story about the importance of stories. The title promises action, a plot—perhaps a romance, an affair, a retaliatory act of violence or sabotage, all inspired, strangely, by a particularly delicious piece of dairy food. But there is little action, at least in the present tense.

The Prisoner's Journal

Astragal, one of Sarrazin’s two autobiographical novels written in jail, was first published in 1965 in France to great commercial success. Sarrazin became an immediate celebrity and the book found a tentative place in a literary tradition headed by Jean Genet, the archetypal rogue writer. But by the mid-’70s Sarrazin was no longer being read; her work was relegated to the confines of scholarly appraisals, which focused on Sarrazin’s representation of the female prison experience.

With Kings and Camp Counselors

A bristling yet alluring doohickey, ostensibly about a week away from the workaday world, Gabe Durham’s Fun Camp also signals the end for one of American publishing’s finest escapes from the ordinary.

Once Bitten

These seven stories all take place in the familiar terrain of a home or a college campus and orbit such topics as infidelity, obligation, spirituality, and the often-deceptive nature of appearances. But these everyday aspects are just the surface layer of Lee’s stories, a thin veil over the more unusual circumstances lurking underneath.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues