At the Snow Canyon, the non-human star of the show is the HTR608, a rotary snow blower made by the Nichijo company—the 608 refers to the 608-horsepower engine. The HTR608 can plow through snow up to six feet high. The rotating bar helps pull snow into the machine, and a powerful propeller ejects it out of an aerodynamic pipe that can spray the snow nearly 50 feet high and half a football field to the side. But before this monster can even begin its job on the Snow Canyon, a series of prior snow-clearing events must take place.
In the spring of 1984 I began to write a novel that was not initially called “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I wrote in longhand, mostly on yellow legal notepads, then transcribed my almost illegible scrawlings using a huge German-keyboard manual typewriter I’d rented.
The keyboard was German because I was living in West Berlin, which was still encircled by the Berlin Wall: The Soviet empire was still strongly in place, and was not to crumble for another five years. Every Sunday the East German Air Force made sonic booms to remind us of how close they were. During my visits to several countries behind the Iron Curtain — Czechoslovakia, East Germany — I experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing. So did the repurposed buildings. “This used to belong to . . . but then they disappeared.” I heard such stories many times.
Here’s a challenge: tell me a story, without knowing the beginning, middle, or the end. Now, tell it in your second language, or one where the handful of words you know transforms you back into a child. No, let’s say you are a child. Let’s say this conversation will be recorded, and what you say—and how you say it—will determine where you are allowed to live. Let’s say you came alone.
This situation happens every day at the immigration courts in New York City, where novelist and essayist Valeria Luiselli volunteers as an interpreter. In her expanded essay Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Luiselli outlines the intake form for undocumented minors. The procedure, on paper, is simple: Luiselli presents the questions, the children speak, and Luiselli transcribes their answers in English for the lawyers who will fight to secure their legal status.
The author of two previous memoirs, in “The Middlepause” Benjamin deftly and brilliantly examines the losses and unexpected gains she experienced in menopause. She reached that milestone more suddenly, and surgically, than most women do — the process usually spreads out over many years — but the timing of her hysterectomy came close to the average age of menopause, 51.
It’s a crisp fall day in 1968. A man in a beige fedora and grease-stained trench coat sits on a New York City stoop, eating a hot dog and singing the first lines of a Beatles song. As a female office worker walks by, he whips open his coat to reveal “the shriveled purple stump of his penis.” Down the street, Yuki, a sensitive and lonely Japanese teenager living with her parents on the edge of Greenwich Village, watches in fascination, so hungry for experience of any kind that she envies even a mildly repellent one.
This early scene sets the tone of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel, “Harmless Like You.” Though it alights briefly on a variety of themes, the book is chiefly preoccupied with the romance of New York City in the 1960s and ’70s, a place and time imagined as a bohemian paradise full of both danger and opportunity. Within 50 pages, Yuki has been befriended by a glamorous, feral blonde named Odile, who teaches her how to skip meals and glue Twiggy-style nylon eyelashes onto her bottom lids; has received her first kiss in a bar near Washington Square Park; and has persuaded her parents to let her remain in New York to pursue a career as an artist when they return to Japan.