Jo van Gogh-Bonger was previously known to have played a role in building the painter’s reputation, but that role was thought to have been modest — a presumption seemingly based on a combination of sexism and common sense, since she had no background in the art business. There were intriguing indications for those interested enough to look. In 2003, the Dutch writer Bas Heijne found himself in the Van Gogh Museum’s library and stumbled across some letters, which prompted him to write a play about Jo. “I just thought, This woman’s life is a great story,” he says. Luijten likewise told me that the letters between the brothers, and those exchanged with other artists and dealers, were littered with clues. He searched the museum’s library and archives and found photographs and account books that contained more hints. He corresponded with archives in France, Denmark and the United States. He began to formulate a thesis: “I started to see that she was the spider in the web. She had a strategy.”
When I first met Carol Dana, in the spring of 2018, she told me that she was thinking of getting a parrot. Dana, a member of the Penobscot Nation, one of five hundred and seventy-four Native American tribes recognized by the United States federal government, was attending a small ceremony at the University of Maine’s anthropology museum. She wore her silver hair pulled back from her face, and introduced herself to me as the tribe’s language master, a title, she added, that she wasn’t fully comfortable with. The idea of mastery seemed an imprecise way to describe the fraught relationship she had with the Penobscot words inside her head. Though not fluent, Dana has a better grasp of the language than anyone else on Indian Island, where six hundred of the world’s estimated twenty-four hundred members of the Penobscot tribe live. She admitted to being linguistically lonely. “I’ve been talking to myself in Penobscot for years,” she said. “You need to say it out loud, so your own ears can hear it.” Though she knew that a bird wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, she thought that simply hearing Penobscot words spoken at home by another living creature would be better than nothing.
The project of Gold Diggers is to deconstruct that dream. But what makes the novel so compelling is the playfulness with which Sathian deconstructs it. You feel for the characters and the ways they have been warped by their pursuit of greatness and the ways they are haunted by their sins — but also, there are heists and alchemy. It’s a blast.
A sharp sense of purpose sheathed in humor glints through every story, which are delightfully varied in subgenre, voice and time period.
What was once known as “mass hysteria” (a term that has echoes of misbehaving nuns, dancing Canadians or the 1962 laughing epidemic of Tanganyika) is now more carefully described as “mass psychogenic illness” (MPI). O’Sullivan refers at different times to “functional neurological disorders” (FND) and “biopsychosocial” disorders, which seems a sensible label for symptoms that exist in the body as a result of activity in the brain and the influence of culture and environment. Whatever we call them, there are many reasons why these disorders are difficult to identify and treat – not least that many patients would rather be diagnosed with almost anything else. Fortunately, O’Sullivan is convinced that they can be helped.
The cultural historian and Paris Review contributor Edward White brings home to us the film titan’s enduring presence in “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense.” While not essential to casual filmgoers, the study helpfully dissects, for Hitchcock obsessives, this most calculatingly self-conscious director’s methods and compulsions.
In his new book, “The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest,” the author and adventurer Mark Synnott skillfully describes early-20th-century exploration, then dives into a story about Everest that merges mystery, adventure and history into a single tragic bundle.