When he was thirty-five, Kieran Setiya had a midlife crisis. Objectively, he was a successful philosophy professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who had written the books “Practical Knowledge” and “Knowing Right from Wrong.” But suddenly his existence seemed unsatisfying. Looking inward, he felt “a disconcerting mixture of nostalgia, regret, claustrophobia, emptiness, and fear”; looking forward, he saw only “a projected sequence of accomplishments stretching through the future to retirement, decline, and death.” What was the point of life? How would it all end? The answers appeared newly obvious. Life was pointless, and would end badly.
Unlike some people—an acquaintance of mine, for example, left his wife and children to move to Jamaica and marry his pot dealer—Setiya responded to his midlife crisis productively. In “Midlife: A Philosophical Guide” (Princeton), he examines his own freakout. “Midlife” has a self-soothing quality: it is, Setiya writes, “a self-help book in that it is an attempt to help myself.” By methodically analyzing his own unease, he hopes to lessen its hold on him.
Eileen Chang died alone in her Los Angeles apartment in 1995. A small, quiet death for a literary celebrity who had grown ever more reclusive as she aged. Similarly, Chang’s novel Little Reunions, newly translated by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz, nearly met a quiet, small death. Chang’s most autobiographical novel experienced a drawn-out journey to the hand of a publisher. Though written in 1976, it wasn’t published until 2009 in China and sold over a million copies. When she first finished it in the mid-’70s, Chang wrote to her literary executors, Stephen Soong and his wife Mae Fong Soong, asking them to read the 600-page handwritten manuscript. Later, when she wrote to discuss her will, she mentioned she’d contemplated destroying what may be the most personal of all her work to date, but didn’t go through with it. The Soongs would later be responsible for the novel’s appearance and wild success in China.
Little Reunions traces protagonist Julie’s life during prewar and wartime China. As the novel opens, Julie, who is from Shanghai, is studying abroad in Hong Kong. The reader soon finds out that much like Chang, Julie is the daughter of an opium-addicted, traditional father and a glamorous, globetrotting mother whom she never sees. The book’s title comes from those rare times spent with her complicated mother, Rachel, as a child and adult, as well as Julie’s long separations during and after the war from lover-then-husband Chih-yung, a suspected Japanese sympathizer in exile.
When the average consumer logs in to the Caviar app to order a Mulberry & Vine salad for the office or a grain bowl on the way home from work, she might reasonably assume that her order is benefitting the restaurant’s bottom line. But Gauthier, like many other restaurant owners I’ve spoken to in recent months, paints a more complicated picture. “We know for a fact that as delivery increases, our profitability decreases,” she said. For each order that Mulberry & Vine sends out, between twenty and forty per cent of the revenue goes to third-party platforms and couriers. (Gauthier initially had her own couriers on staff, but, as delivery volumes grew, coördinating them became unmanageable.) Calculating an order’s exact profitability is tricky, Gauthier said, but she estimated that in the past three years Mulberry & Vine’s over-all profit margin has shrunk by a third, and that the only obvious contributing factor is the shift toward delivery. “I think it’s a far bigger problem than a lot of operators realize,” she told me. “I think we are losing money on delivery orders, or, best-case scenario, breaking even.”