We tend to trust our memories and assume that we have rightly understood and interpreted what has happened to us and in our lives. But memories can be uncertain, and the ways in which people interpret even events that are currently happening in front of them owe a lot to the cultural trappings of power: witness the multiple competing narratives around the Covington Catholic students, Nathan Phillips, and the Black Hebrew Israelites meeting on the National Mall in January—or the conflicting reports that seem to constantly emerge in alleged abuse cases from Michael Jackson to Brett Kavanaugh. Two novels that masterfully explore these themes of memory and power from traditionally masculine and feminine perspectives, Tana French’s The Witch Elm and Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, come to a similar conclusion: the power structures under which we operate can mold and distort our memories, and potentially destroy our lives. That both stories are tragedies is clear from early on, and what are tragedies if not reflections on power, who has it and who doesn’t, and who’s grasping for it?
At this point, you start to question everything. Has this argument, for Hitchens at least, actually been about religion at all? Or has it, rather, been about war – about picking your side, about enemies and friends, about winning the fight and never backing down?
Forest Lawn is a cemetery in Glendale just north of LA. It has been described as a Disneyland of Death and a theme-park necropolis. It has been satirized by Evelyn Waugh, depicted by Aldous Huxley. Stars and moguls from Hollywood’s golden era are buried in its hilltop terraces. It created a new template for death culture in North America, and a business model for other cemeteries to follow.
From the bus window, I watched hairy palms rise in lonely spikes along the street. Morning smog gave the city a haunted look. The exotic cut leaves and absurd shag of the palms appeared from the mist like an idea of a place. We passed through Chinatown where a group of old men and women, bent over trundle-buggies, stood waiting in line. When the bus stopped, they slowly filed on, helping one another up the steps, around the corner, into a seat. A woman with silver hair tied in a French-roll sat next to me and asked where I was going. Glendale, I said. She said she had made the trek downtown to get food for the week, but it was difficult to carry anything, let alone the six bags she was struggling with. I asked why she didn’t use a buggy like the others. Her daughter wouldn’t let her, she said, because it made her look old.
Uniqlo isn’t in the business of chasing trends. Its staples—versatile black pants, reliable oxfords, crisp cotton socks—are available month after month, year after year. A more apt analogue would be the Gap. In its 1990s heyday, the Gap revolutionized American retailing by making basics cool. But the company eventually became a victim of its own success. “When [the Gap] tried to go from having a certain cachet to being in every single mall in every single town in America, the brand lost its edge,” Steve Rowen, a managing partner at Retail Systems Research, told me. Gap clothing became the uniform of suburban moms and dads. Despite the company’s efforts to make its khakis less baggy and its shirts slimmer, no one wants to fall into the Gap anymore—especially when you can get cheaper basics with cleaner lines at Uniqlo.
The question Uniqlo faces now is whether it can inherit the Gap’s empire without repeating its mistakes. To do so, it will have to convince shoppers across the country of a proposition that’s radical for the industry: Fashion can be affordable without being disposable.
There are almost eight billion humans in the world, and one needs a way of working out whom to like. It can’t be as simple as are they right- or left-wing, dog or cat people, or even that fail-safe, Have They Suffered. No. There is only one valid litmus test for friendship, romance, or affinity, and that is the Five Desert-Island Foodstuffs.
The Five Desert-Island Foodstuffs are the dishes one can’t live without. If you could only eat these few items, forever, which would you choose? This exercise reveals everything one wants to know about a person. Are you sufficiently interested in food to give this exercise your time? Do you have the attention to imaginary detail that the subject requires? If not, please find your own desert island; mine’s full.
Maybe not to have the word “man” in their word anymore!
This is an insightful and elegant novel, beautifully written and with an impressively large and diverse cast of characters. In the Beijing Duck, Li has created a symbol for the real Chinese restaurants through which many immigrant families have established themselves in America.