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WRB—Aug. 17, 2022
Eliot's marriages, Dick's dystopias, that divorce memoir sucks, a rich girl, a Chinese poem, and also a poem from Pittsburgh
[I’m on vacation and forgot what day it is, so I wrote this all this morning and it’s a little slight. —Chris]
To do list:
Order a tote bag;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, now stored on this page for non-paying readers to access, either by placing or responding to one;
Elisabeth Braw at Engelsberg Ideas: Conducting is Finland’s soft superpower
Sarah Clarkson at Plough: Middlemarch Marriages: “[Eliot] strove to write novels that were doggedly true to the visible, to the foibles of human beings, to the disappointments of marriage and lost ideals. But her realism was in no way nihilistic; rather, it was an honest wrestling toward her hard-won belief that ‘the immediate object and the proper sphere of all our highest emotions are our struggling fellowmen and this earthly existence.’”
Sarah Lonsdale at The Neglected Books Page on The Work of Oliver Byrd, by Adeline Sergeant: “The Work of Oliver Byrd slipped out, unnoticed, in 1902, between The Master of Beechwood and Barbara’s Money. Very different from her other novels, it is remarkable for capturing the lives of early professional women living alone in London and negotiating social opprobrium for not accepting the chosen path laid for them of marriage and motherhood. While post-Second World War writers like Margaret Drabble and Muriel Spark are held to be the first to depict the lives of professional women, Sergeant and other forgotten women writers of the turn of the last century were doing this some fifty years earlier.”
David Samuels for Unheard on Philip K. Dick’s dystopia: “What Dick saw, and what his fellow anti-utopians did not, was that human psychology and technology are not separate actors, and that whatever emerged from the other side of the future would be different to the human thing that entered it.”
Kathy Chow reviews Elaine Castillo’s new book “exploring the politics and ethics of reading” (How to Read Now, July). At the LARB: “Castillo herself is aware that her arguments are at least a little tired. The essay on Didion begins with a confession: ‘At this point, it’s almost boring to say you hate Joan Didion’s work.’ Later in the same essay, she acknowledges, ‘Of course, the motivational thrust of the critique more commonly known as the “why doesn’t this white author ever write about people of color” argument has been feeble since the aftermath of Girls, if not Austen — no one wants your Shein haul of Diverse Characters.’ Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Rachel Connolly didn’t very much like CJ Hauser’s new memoir (The Crane Wife, July), which was based on this Paris Review essay from a few years ago. In The New Republic: “The weakness of many of the essays in The Crane Wife is that Hauser tends to elide the subjectivity of her experiences in favor of sweeping generalities that don’t quite ring true—particularly in statements about the way women are and how they act, and hence the form heterosexual relationships tend to take.”
August 23 | Knopf
by Joyce Carol Oates
From the publisher: In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved child-killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together with tragic consequences.
There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on a chilling mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of abductions and killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.
Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.
[Blurbed by AARP Magazine! –Nic]
“The Dancing” by Gerald Stern
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a postwar Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.
[Gerald Stern is a native of beautiful, filthy Pittsburgh. This particular poem is from his 1984 Paradise Poems. I will admit I picked up Stern largely out of love for his birth-city, but once I had actually started reading his work I was taken with his ability to weave stories together. Consider, as a second example, his poem “Another Insane Devotion”. —Julia] [None of that stuff happens when I dance, usually. —Chris]
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Mid-20s Catholic woman in Pittsburgh area, spontaneous, outdoorsy, looking for someone skilled at wordplay to argue with, romantically. [Email WRB with subject “Flannels in the Burgh”]
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Aging millennial looking for a piano teacher near Fairfax. [Email WRB with subject: “Tickling the Ivories”]
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