Looking back now, Usher recalls how that rejection was the point that he had to ask himself how much he wanted the business to work. The answer was: very much indeed. But he was going to have to do things differently. “My dad had a big stroke the week before Sticky opened and he’d run businesses and I looked up to him,” he says. “He impressed on me how I needed to work with the banks, always to be suited and booted when I went to talk to the manager, all that. But I realised at that moment when they said no it didn’t matter what I looked like. Banks had changed. I never saw the same person twice. They had little interest in what we were trying to do.” The local branch was not far away from Sticky Walnut but, he says, no one there ever told him they had been in for lunch.
Eventually Usher managed to scrape the money together for “an airship of an air conditioning system” but he wondered if there might be another way. For a couple of years he had been in charge of everything in the kitchen, and also overseeing front of house. He had a tight team, but no way to promote anyone, without stepping aside, which he couldn’t afford. A stellar review from Marina O’Loughlin in the Guardian made Sticky Walnut even busier. It was voted AA best restaurant of the year in 2014, at which point, Usher thought: “Fuck it, let’s do another restaurant.” That way he might improve his revenue, and have a way to promote his staff. The banks, ludicrously, remained unforthcoming. Then a friend suggested crowdfunding. Usher’s elder brother Shaun had just done something similar with a book project he had been trying to get off the ground: Letters of Note. Gary was dubious at first. “But Shaun was saying to me: it will work. And that is how Burnt Truffle came about.”
There is something daring in seeking out an exchange with someone, especially a stranger. For such occasions, cultures around the world develop a repertoire of easy conversation starters. In the United States and Canada, however, one opener dominates: what do you do?
Whatever the reason—the influence of a Protestant work ethic, or a desperate attempt to not appear classist—North Americans habitually start a conversation with strangers by asking what they do for a living. It’s one of many customs in which American cultural norms deviate from those of the UK and Europe.
In most places in the world, asking a stranger what kind of work he or she does, especially without any pretext, is frowned upon. And now, “What do you do?” is finally becoming a tainted question in North America, too.
This concept of “beauty” found in maths has been referred to over centuries by many others; though, like beauty itself, it is notoriously difficult to define. Mirzakhani has compared her work to novel-writing (“There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better”); Einstein thought it “the poetry of logical ideas”; Bertrand Russell saw this “supreme beauty” as more statuesque (“a beauty cold and austere, like sculpture… sublimely pure”).
Quantum physics isn’t the only discipline whose conception of time influences the novel. L’Engle’s fascination with time pervades her fiction and nonfiction, especially as concerns kairos, a concept from classical rhetoric meaning, roughly, to say or do the right thing at the right time.
Both kairos and chronos are Greek words for time. Kairos, a term for which there is no English cognate, is usually defined in opposition to chronos. Put simply, chronos is time that can be objectively, quantitatively measured. Kairos, on the other hand, is more subjective and qualitative. Sometimes theologians translate kairos as “God’s time.” L’Engle seems to prefer the definition “real time.”
“I think I hate those fairy tales,” an evil old man declares in Victor LaValle’s strange and wonderful new novel, “The Changeling.” “Not really the tales, but how they end. Three words that ruin everything. ‘Happily ever after.’” Everybody’s a critic, especially in New York City, where this bitter man lives and where virtually the entirety of LaValle’s story — which is a fairy tale — takes place. (The urban action is interrupted only by a couple of nervous forays into the terra incognita of Nassau County.) In New York, its natives know, there’s no such thing as “ever after”: Everything changes, all the time, and the best we can do is plant our feet and hold on tight, straphangers on the hurtling express train of fate. The three words (spoiler alert) are in fact uttered on the last page of “The Changeling,” but LaValle revises them as soon as they’ve been spoken. He’s a New Yorker, Queens-raised. He gets that happiness isn’t somewhere you live forever; it’s an apartment whose rent isn’t stabilized, much less controlled.
If Eureka is beginning to sound too clever by half, rather like a 60s counterculture film, what brings it all delightfully together is Quinn’s flawless, easy-going prose. He never once puts a foot wrong either in the wealth of period detail or in giving each well-drawn character their distinctive voice. Clever, certainly, but in just the right measure.
Ollie's voice is one of the most believable I've encountered this year, sustained by honesty, realism, and compassion. In his exile, Ollie has taken stock. His reckoning with the past creates the story's exquisite tension and makes the final scene bloom with tenderness to the extent that the book doesn't even need the hollow-earth device. The core of Hollow is anything but.