Although it’s useful for journalists, policymakers, and just about anybody to have an accurate sense of the average experience of somebody their age in America, “average” is easy. It’s a memorizable number, or a factoid. More important is to appreciate the diversity of experience, to see that groups like “college-educated at 29,” “living in a city at 29,” or “married at 29” all leave out more than 60 percent of the age group. Nothing is “normal,” really, least of all a college-educated young person living in a coastal-metro apartment.
“What is a steak frites?” He pondered that. He cocked his head. His gaze drifted off. He looked a little like Dustin Hoffmanplaying Lenny Bruce trying to tease out a joke in his head.
“A little bit of that fresh bloody thing,” he finally said. “I like that.” He mused on crispness — “the water in the lettuce” as a necessary element in a good salad, and frites whose perfection arises from “nothing but potatoes, oil and salt.”
“That’s the genius of the French tradition,” he said.
It takes time to get going, but this story of a rediscovered old master leads us into a high-society world of Russian billionaires, collectors and sheikhs with whimsy and humour.
When we dismiss confessional writing, we are really asking to be unburdened by another’s request for empathy. Not engaging with a writer’s autobiographical identity might make readers more comfortable, but it doesn’t make for more worthwhile critical discourse.