The first time I told the story of my drinking, I sat among other drinkers who no longer drank. Ours was a familiar scene: circled folding chairs, foam cups of coffee gone lukewarm, phone numbers exchanged. Before the meeting, I imagined what might happen after it was done: People would compliment my story or the way I’d told it, and I’d demur, Well, I’m a writer, shrugging, trying not to make too big a deal out of it. I practiced with notecards beforehand.
It was after I’d gone through the part about my abortion, and how much I’d been drinking pregnant; after the part about the night I don’t call date rape, and the etiquette of reconstructing blackouts — it was somewhere in the muddled territory of sobriety, getting to the repetitions of apology or the physical mechanics of prayer, that an old man in a wheelchair, sitting in the front row, started shouting: “This is boring!”
Other people at the meeting shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The woman sitting beside me touched my arm, a way of saying, Don’t stop. So I didn’t. I kept going — stuttering, eyes hot, throat swollen — but this man had managed to tap veins of primal insecurity: that my story wasn’t good enough, or that I’d failed to tell it right, that I’d somehow failed at my dysfunction, failed to make it bad or bold or interesting enough; that recovery had flatlined my story past narrative repair.
His doctor then did something that doctors today would never be permitted to do. He told Mr. Wright a story, a lie. The news reports, the doctor said, were wrong. Krebiozen was in fact a potent anticancer drug. Why, then, Mr. Wright wondered, had he relapsed, and so badly? Because, his doctor said, Mr. Wright had unfortunately been given an injection of the stuff from a weak batch, but the hospital was expecting a new shipment and it was guaranteed to be two times stronger than even the most potent Krebiozen to date. Mr. Wright’s doctor delayed administering anything to his patient so that his anticipation would build. After several days had passed, the doctor rolled up Mr. Wright’s sleeve; Mr. Wright offered his arm, and the doctor gave his patient a new injection—of pure water.
Again hope made an entrance. Mr. Wright let all his tumors go. Once again they shrank and disappeared until no trace of them could be found in his body, and once again he left the hospital. It’s not hard to picture him dancing his way through his days. A second remission! Mr. Wright lived for a further two months without symptoms and then, unfortunately for him, came another news report. The American Medical Association, after numerous tests on patients, issued its final verdict on Krebiozen, confidently declaring the drug to be useless. Mr. Wright’s tumors reappeared, and this time, within two days after his readmission to the hospital, he was dead.
In the decade I spent editing and annotating the notebooks of Tennessee Williams, I learned that one cannot find nor, as my editor Jonathan Brent noted, tell the story of anyone’s life in a linear way, certainly not Williams’s. As I endeavored to track down individuals with only their first names as guide and find and identify unpublished manuscripts referred to only in the most generic ways, my efforts, at times, took more the form of a scavenger hunt, even a flea-market trawl. Along the way, I unearthed several lost notebooks and unknown manuscripts, including a one-act play. Encouraged by the British Museum’s ability to tell the history of the world across a span of two million years with one hundred objects, I have chosen, from Williams’s archives, four objects from four categories—an unpublished poem, a passage from a journal, an unknown one-act play, and a letter—to give insight into his ambition, his psyche, his creative process, and, finally, his sense of humanity.
To some, restaurants are just businesses, with cooks who prepare the food and servers who bring it, a purely transactional experience. To others, restaurants are places where friends meet, birthdays are celebrated, special occasions toasted and memories made. To those in the latter group, a beloved restaurant closure can be a blow. Therese Rando labels these blows “disenfranchised losses,” which are personal losses that are not publicly recognized as such.
Filled with turbulence and sudden plunges in altitude, “The Flight Attendant” is a very rare thriller whose penultimate chapter made me think to myself, “I didn’t see that coming.” The novel — Bohjalian’s 20th — is also enhanced by his deftness in sketching out vivid characters and locales and by his obvious research into the realities of airline work.
Since my mother-in-law came to visit America she is quite busy. First, she has to eat many blueberries. Because in China they are expensive! While here they are comparatively cheap. Then she has to breathe the clean air. My husband, Wuji, and I have lived here for five years, so we are used to the air. But my mother-in-law has to take many fast walks. Breathing, breathing. Trying to clean out her lungs, she says, trying to get all the healthy oxygen inside her. She also has to look at the sky. “So blue!” she says during the daytime. “I have not seen such a blue since I was a child.”
At nighttime, she says, “Look at the stars. Look! Look!”
She has to post pictures of the stars on WeChat for her friends. And she has to take some English-language classes. Because these classes are expensive in China! she says. Here they are free.
She thinks this is very strange.
“Why are they free?” she asks. She says, “America is a capitalist country. What about so-called ‘market force’?” “Market force” sticks out of her Chinese like a rock in a path. “And what about so-called ‘invisible hands’?” she goes on, and there it is—another rock.