Over the last year, little by little, I have grown suspicious of the erotics of art. It’s not just that I object to the opposition, famously asserted by Susan Sontag, between interpretation and sensuality. It’s that any overeager commitment to producing or consuming art as an erotic experience often results in some very inexpert writing about both aesthetics and sex—rhapsodic, humorless, self-aggrandizing prose that gets off on the most basic category errors. When asked by an interviewer what the most interesting thing was that she had learned from a book recently, the actress and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge replied, “That orgasms can be brought on by art, and vice versa.” I found this idea distressing. Practical considerations aside, what kind of sick person wants her orgasms to come from art? A person more concerned with receiving pleasure than giving it is one answer; a person who prefers her pleasure depersonalized, disembodied, and safely contained by representation is another. Art, after all, doesn’t demand reciprocity or reality.
At the News, misery had become so commonplace that, as one current staffer told me, “The arrival of Alden was barely a blip on the radar. There’s nobody left to lay off, and no parts to strip from what’s left of the paper. All that’s left is turning out the lights.” Another News journalist echoed that sentiment: “Just a decade ago we were major players in the national media. Money was no object and we could go the distance on anything. Now we have a skeleton crew that races around to prop up a once great newspaper.”
Reading about these developments, it was hard to believe this was the same publication that inaugurated the U.S. tabloid press a century earlier and went on to become the most widely circulated newspaper in America, an 11-time Pulitzer Prize winner that inspired Superman’s Daily Planet, gave the world journalism legends like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, and battled in the trenches with Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. It was just as hard to believe that this was the same place where I’d worked from 2006 to 2011, a period of time that, looking back, seems like the beginning of the end of America’s last great newspaper war.
Roads furnish our imaginations with images of freedom. Journeys like Kerouac’s have come to stand for a sense of unimpeded progress and self-discovery, an open horizon connoting limitless possibility. Roads conjure what it feels like to be modern. They open up the world for us, but, as Emerson realized, they also dictate the direction we take. Roads accompany us for so much of our lives—how much time do any of us spend more than a hundred meters from a road, or out of earshot of their whispering voices?—and yet we have somehow trained ourselves not to really notice them at all.
Jane Austen said, “Man has the advantage of choice; woman only the power of refusal,” but Casey is determined to hold out for a plot on her own terms. The result is an absolute delight, the kind of happiness that sometimes slingshots out of despair with such force you can’t help but cheer, amazed.
Lily King's new novel, her fifth, won't transport you to an exotic locale the way her last one did, but oh my, it's a good read. After Euphoria (2014), a richly researched and imagined tragic love triangle inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead's life, King returns to her comfort zone: a distressed young woman finding her way in late 20th century New England.
Stevens’s writing proves that both time and technology are best understood in retrospect, sequences made logical long after each moment has passed. The novel has a romantic slowness, unfurling gracefully, little by little, to show how quickly the present gives way to the future, or concedes to the past.
The novelist Edmund White has observed that a remarkable number of American writers, from Hawthorne to Pynchon, have endured the shock and strain of class descent, and that an entire undercurrent in American fiction is driven by the fear of such a loss in status.
Lee Durkee’s disarmingly honest and darkly comic sophomore novel, “The Last Taxi Driver,” is the most recent of these narratives of displacement. The book follows a single, miserable day in the life of Lou Bishoff, a worn-down, middle-aged cabdriver who narrates our story as he chauffeurs the residents of a fictional Mississippi town. Lou’s fortunes have declined precipitously since his promising start “a few decades ago, back when I was a budding young writer with a swanky Brooklyn girlfriend, back before I went cold on the page and never finished that second novel I’d already been paid for.” And now things are about to get worse: Uber is coming into town to disrupt what little he has left. Durkee knows whence he speaks: It’s been nearly 20 years since his own acclaimed debut. In between, to make ends meet, he drove a cab.