Friday, August 26, 2016
The pieces in this week’s issue that I most enjoyed are Ian Frazier’s Talk story, “Body Phrases,” and James Wood’s book review, “Unwelcome Guests.”
Frazier’s “Body Phrases” is an account of “a man’s” experience sitting “in a chair in the café on the first floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center, for almost seven hours” and listening “to sixteen dancers and former dancers read Blood Memory, the autobiography of Martha Graham, one reader after the other, all the way through from beginning to end.” Sound like torture? Not for this man, whose name, I suspect, is none other than Ian Frazier, writing about himself, in conformity with Talk story tradition, in the third person.
The piece is artfully constructed, covering nearly seven hours of readings and the ninety years of Graham’s amazing life in a mere 797 words. How does Frazier do it? By describing the event in a montage of brilliantly chosen details, e.g., Graham’s childhood “in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh), where her father was a strict Presbyterian and an 'alienist,' or psychiatrist, and coal soot covered everybody”; a person visible in a window across the street organizing papers, “holding them in both hands and tapping them downward to make them even”; readers’ pronunciations – “Midwestern, Southern, New Jersey, and British”; the “tactful steps” of dancers leaving the room after they’d finished reading (“A soft step-step-step-step, head down, with torso bent; then longer quiet strides in the open, toward the elevator up ahead”).
Frazier compresses all of Graham’s adult life into this miraculous 104-word, one-sentence history:
Meanwhile, Graham grew up, studied with the Denishawn Dance Troupe, in Los Angeles, moved to New York, unwillingly became a dancer with a musical revue to support her family, refused to wear cheesy costumes, quit the musical revue, began to put together her own company, knocked everybody out with a one-night performance of her work on April 18, 1926, in a theatre she had rented with money borrowed from the owner of the old Gotham Book Mart, appeared all over the country, inspired Fanny Brice to parody her, danced for Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House, danced for eight U.S. Presidents, won worldwide fame.
Frazier is, of course, a genius at creating these capsule reports: see, for example, his wonderful “Russophilia” (The New Yorker, February 16, 2015). “Body Phrases” is among his very best.
Speaking of compression, I note that James Wood, in his “Unwelcome Guests,” an absorbing review of two story collections by Joy Williams – Ninety-nine Stories of God and The Visiting Privilege – describes Williams’s stories as “radically compressed.” He says, “She compresses narrative almost to abstraction.”
At first, I nearly gave up on this review. I’m not a devoted reader of short stories, and I’m allergic to theological writing. But, because it’s by Wood, I stuck with it, and I’m happy I did. The piece moves, in its second section, to a discussion of Williams’s The Visiting Privilege, and in this part Wood shows an essential quality of a great judge – the willingness to set aside his initial resistance to a matter and give it closer consideration. He writes,
A friend of mine likes to complain of certain writers whom she finds difficult that “their words don’t fit in my head.” I sometimes feel that Joy Williams’s words don’t entirely fit in my head. It can be difficult to work out what is at stake; her strange and superb sentences can fail to aggregate, at least for me. Since the problem is clearly with my cranium, I have spent the past few weeks slowly rereading those pages most resistant to my understanding. And it was while rereading “Marabou,” a story that had at first left me wonderingly lukewarm, that I suddenly felt I had a key to understanding not only that work but many of Williams’s best stories.
I relish Wood’s analysis of “Marabou,” his patient effort to give meaning to its “fragile and unexplained” facts. His conclusion that the story turns on the question of hallucination (“But perhaps they are not only rivals in possession but rivals in hallucination, in make-believe”) may or may not be right. I don’t know; I haven’t read the story. But I wouldn’t mind reading it, now that I have the benefit of Wood’s view. Wood’s piece has stirred my interest in Williams’s work, particularly its “radically compressed” aspect. I skipped her “Stuff” when it appeared in the magazine last month. Wood’s review has spurred me to go back and check it out.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
I’m enjoying Geoff Dyer’s new collection White Sands immensely. Two pieces in it that I’ve just finished reading and want to comment on are “Space in Time” and “Forbidden City.”
“Space in Time” originally appeared in The New Yorker as the “New Mexico” part of “Poles Apart” (April 18, 2011). It’s an account of a trip that Dyer made to the site of Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, near Quemado, New Mexico. I was bowled over by this piece when I read it in The New Yorker (see my post here).
Comparing “Space in Time” with “Poles Apart,” I find almost every sentence is different. For example, in “Poles Apart,” the description of The Lightening Field’s poles contains this line:
They were two inches in diameter and cold to the touch.
In “Space in Time,” this is changed to:
They were absolutely vertical, two inches in diameter and cold to the touch, inanimate and inorganic.
In “Poles Apart,” Dyer writes,
The poles surrounded us, but because they were a long way apart we did not feel hemmed in, as if by a forest.
In “Space in Time,” he writes,
We continued walking until there were poles on all sides, surrounding us, but because they were a long way apart – so far apart one could easily forget they were there – it was the opposite of feeling hemmed in, as if by a forest.
In “Poles Apart,” he writes,
We moved off in various directions.
In “Space in Time,” he writes,
We moved away from each other, in different directions.
In “Poles Apart,” Steve says, “We’re a small number of people in a very large space.” In “Space in Time,” it’s Ethan who says it. In “Poles Apart,” the other members of the expedition are sitting on the cabin’s porch “getting drunk on champagne.” In “Space in Time,” they’re sitting on the porch “drinking champagne.”
My favorite passage in “Poles Apart” is this beauty:
Later, we went outside again, into the huge night. The poles were gone, but we knew they were there. The sky was nothing but a dome of stars. We were no strangers to the firmament, but none of us had seen anything like this. The stars poured down all around, down to our ankles, even though they were millions of light-years away. The constellations were complicated by passenger jets, blinking planes, flashing satellites. It was like rush hour in the era of interplanetary travel. The sky was frantic and the night was as cold as old starlight. [My emphasis]
Here’s the “Space in Time” version:
Later, we went outside again, into the huge night. The poles were gone, but we knew they were there. The sky was nothing but a dome of stars. We’d all been in star-studded places before, were no strangers to the firmament, but none of us had seen anything like this. Viewed from most places on earth, stars tend to be overhead. Here they poured down all around to our ankles, even though they were millions of light-years away. I am not entirely clear about astronomy, but it seemed possible that the Milky Way was obscured by the abundance of stars. The constellations were complicated by passenger jets, blinking planes, flashing satellites: rush hour in the era of interplanetary travel. The sky was frantic, the night was as cold as old starlight. [Emphasis added]
Note, in the “Space in Time” passage, the additional “We’d all been in star-studded places before,” “Viewed from most places on earth, stars tend to be overhead,” and “I am not entirely clear about astronomy, but it seemed possible that the Milky Way was obscured by the abundance of stars.”
Note, too, the changing of the sublime “The stars poured down all around, down to our ankles” (“Poles Apart”) to “Here they poured down all around to our ankles” (“Space in Time”).
Another notable change is the merger of “The constellations were complicated by passenger jets, blinking planes, flashing satellites. It was like rush hour in the era of interplanetary travel” (“Poles Apart”) into “The constellations were complicated by passenger jets, blinking planes, flashing satellites: rush hour in the era of interplanetary travel” (“Space in Time”).
Perhaps the most interesting emendation in the above passage is the changing of the brilliant “The sky was frantic and the night was as cold as old starlight” (“Poles Apart”) to the even more brilliant “The sky was frantic, the night as cold as old starlight” (“Space in Time”).
I find these variations fascinating. They’re glimpses into Dyer’s compositional process. The variety of changes make you realize the infinite array of options available to the writer as he proceeds word by word to compose his piece.
“Space in Time” strikes me as more immediate and provisional – like notes made at the time. It shows Dyer thinking his way toward the meaning of his Lightening Field experience. It reminds me of T. J. Clark’s diarized art criticism in The Sight of Death. I relish this form of writing. “Poles Apart” is more concise, more finished, more New Yorkerish. Of course, this is with the benefit of hindsight. When I read the New Yorker piece, I wasn’t aware that it was a “version.” It was just “Poles Apart,” an extraordinary piece, and I couldn’t imagine it written any other way.
The same goes for “Forbidden City.” What a transfixing piece! It’s fiction; it originally appeared in Harper’s as a “story” (see here). But it feels very close to reality. Written in the first person, it’s about an exhausted writer (I imagine it’s Dyer) on his last day in Beijing, visiting the Forbidden City, whose spirits are suddenly revived by his encounter with his tour guide, a woman named Li. It’s one of the most arresting (and humorous) descriptions of romantic infatuation I’ve ever read. I read the White Sands version first. Afterwards, comparing it with the Harper’s version, I found that the original is written in the third person. The writer’s name is James. I prefer the White Sand’s first-person version; it’s much more real. It’s like an excerpt from Dyer’s personal journal. And it contains, near the end, a crucial line not in the Harper’s version. Here’s the way the Harper’s version concludes:
Then, everyone agreed, it was time to go. James checked his watch. Two in the morning. His flight was eight hours from now. They paid — the Chinese paid; James’s money was stuffed back into his hand — stood up, and left the roof. The dismal elevator returned them to the still-busy street with its crude lights and lusts. There was much milling around, waiting for taxis. Some people in their group were heading in one direction, others in another. Li was by his side. With a little contrivance he could whisper to her, “Can I come home with you?” or, “Will you come back to my hotel?” It was premature to propose such a thing and, at the same time, almost too late. And even if she said yes, how to navigate the complications of taxi-taking, how to avoid the assumed arrangement of sharing a taxi with Min, Jun, and Wei? There was, in addition, the gulf between the polite reasonableness of the question — “Can I come home with you?’ — and everything the answer to it might allow. Why was it — what law of the barely possible decreed — that these situations only cropped up on the last night? Instead of falling asleep and waking up together, instead of eating breakfast and spending the day getting to know each other, he would get on a plane a few hours later and leave with an even greater sense of regret because, instead of having missed out on all of this totally, he would have experienced just enough to make him realize how much more he had missed out on by not missing out on it entirely. Li was still by his side. Two taxis pulled up, one behind the other. Hours and minutes had ticked by. Doors were opening, goodbyes being said. There were not even minutes left, only seconds before she would turn toward him so that he could kiss her goodbye, and then turn away. Or turn toward him and not say goodbye, not turn away.
This is an incredibly, achingly beautiful romantic ending. The White Sand’s version of it is subtly different:
Then, everyone agreed, it was time to go. It was two in the morning. My flight was eight hours from now. The bill was paid — by the Chinese; my money was stuffed back into my hand, as it had been every time I’d tried to pay for anything. We stood up and left the roof. The dismal elevator returned them to the still-busy street with its crude lights and lusts. There was much milling around, waiting for taxis, as everyone in the now-expanded group worked out who was going in which direction. Li was by his side. With a little contrivance I could whisper to her, “Can I come home with you?” or, “Will you come back to my hotel?” It was premature to propose such a thing and, at the same time, almost too late. And even if she said yes, how to navigate the complications of taxi taking, how to avoid the assumed arrangement of sharing a taxi with Min, Jun, and Wei? There was, in addition, the gulf between the polite reasonableness of the question — “Can I come home with you?’ — and everything the answer to it might allow, all that could become unforbidden. Why was it — what law of the barely possible decreed — that these situations only cropped up on one’s last night, so that instead of falling asleep and waking up with her, instead of eating breakfast and spending the day getting to know each her, I would get on a plane a few hours later and leave with an even greater sense of regret because, instead of having missed out on all of this totally, we would have experienced just enough to make us realize how much more we had missed out on by not missing out on it entirely? Li was still by my side. I turned towards her, spoke in her ear. Two taxis pulled up, one behind the other. Hours and minutes had ticked by. Doors were opening, goodbyes being said. There were not even minutes left, only seconds before she would turn towards me so that I could kiss her goodbye – or turn towards me and not say goodbye, not turn away. [My emphasis]
My god, I find that an intense, gorgeous, moving piece of writing – one of the most memorable I’ve ever read. The additional line in the White Sands version – “I turned towards her, spoke in her ear” – is significant. Gatsby would do this. Bogart would do it. Sinatra would do it. It’s a tremendous romantic gesture. What does he say to her? It’s not indicated. But I imagine he suggests they not part, not yet. In the Harper’s version, he doesn’t say anything, thereby diminishing the romantic potential. In the White Sand’s version, there’s a greater chance of his “falling asleep and waking up with her.”
Thursday, August 18, 2016
I’ve set myself a challenging task: Pick the ten best New Yorker writers’ collections. There are many wonderful ones to choose from. John McPhee’s oeuvre alone includes at least eight candidates. As usual, pleasure will be my guide. One self-imposed limitation: No writer can have more than one book on the list. Okay, here goes:
1. John Updike’s Hugging the Shore (1983) – Book reviews, for me, are the ultimate brain candy, and this collection is like a giant box of Godiva chocolates – ninety-two of Updike’s exquisite, delicious reviews.
2. Pauline Kael’s Reeling (1976) – Contains at least twenty of Kael’s greatest reviews, including “Everyday Inferno” (on Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets), “Movieland – The Bum’s Paradise” (on Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye), and her famous “Tango” (on “Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris).
3. John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers (2006) – I relish this book. I relish all of McPhee’s collections. Uncommon Carriers includes “A Fleet of One,” “Tight-Assed River,” “Five Days on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” Out in the Sort,” and “Coal Train” – all masterpieces.
4. Janet Malcolm’s The Purloined Clinic (1992) – Few books have afforded me as much pleasure as this one. Includes “Dora,” “Six Roses ou Cirrhose?,” “The Purloined Clinic,” “The One Way Mirror,” “A Girl of the Zeitgeist,” and “The Window Washer.” The title piece, a review of Michael Fried’s Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane, is stunning, one of the all-time great New Yorker reviews (see my post “Top Ten New Yorker Book Reviews, 1976 – 2011, #4: Janet Malcolm’s ‘The Purloined Clinic’ ”).
5. Ian Frazier’s Gone to New York (2005) – A strong argument can be made that Frazier’s recent Hogs Wild is his best collection, but I still favor the older book, mainly because it includes his incomparable “Route 3.”
6. Peter Schjeldahl’s Let’s See (2008) – Seventy-five ravishing art reviews by The New Yorker’s premier stylist. Schjeldahl’s vivid, textured lines afford deep pleasures in subtle beauties of description and perception. I devour them and hunger for more.
7. Helen Vendler’s Soul Says (1995) – Contains ten of Vendler’s best New Yorker poetry reviews, including her brilliant “A Wounded Man Falling Towards Me,” a review of Seamus Heaney’s The Government of the Tongue (see my post “Top Ten New Yorker Book Reviews, 1976 – 2011, #1: Helen Vendler’s ‘A Wounded Man Falling Towards Me’ ”).
8. Alec Wilkinson’s The Riverkeeper (1991) – Possibly the most physically beautiful of all the books on this list (the dust jacket features a painting by Saul Steinberg), this slim, elegant collection contains three excellent pieces – “The Blessing of the Fleet,” “The Riverkeeper,” and “The Uncommitted Crime.”
9. James Wood’s The Fun Stuff (2012) – Anyone who follows this blog knows I’m crazy about Wood’s criticism. This collection includes seventeen of his New Yorker pieces (fifteen reviews and two personal essays), all of them terrific.
10. Anthony Lane’s Nobody’s Perfect (2002) – I have read and reread certain essays (“Vladimir Nabokov,” “W. G. Sebald,” “Eugène Atget,” “Walker Evans”) in this wonderful collection so many times that I’ve worn it out (the spine is broken, pages are loose). In his Introduction, Lane calls the book a “hunk of old journalism.” Physically, that’s what my copy looks like. But it’s much more than that. It’s a dazzling collection of Lane’s New Yorker writings, a tremendous source of reading pleasure.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Singer’s Mr. Personality (1988); Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel (1992); Judith Thurman’s Cleopatra’s Nose (2007); Berton Roueché’s The River World and Other Explorations (1978); John Lahr’s Joy Ride (2015); Whitney Balliett’s Ecstasy at the Onion (1971); John Seabrook's Flash of Genius (2008).
Sunday, August 14, 2016
|Photo by Thomas Struth|
If I had to pick one favorite from the cornucopia of great New Yorker pieces I’ve read since starting this blog in 2010, I might choose Janet Malcolm’s arresting “Depth of Field” (September 26, 2011), a profile of the photographer Thomas Struth. For me, it’s an instance of double bliss – I love Malcolm’s writing style and I relish her photography criticism. But there’s one aspect of “Depth of Field” that’s always bugged me. It arises from the following passage:
I asked Struth about the influence on him of the Bechers’ pedagogy.
“Their big pedagogical influence was that they introduced me and others to the history of photography and to its great figures. They were fantastic teachers, and they were fantastic teachers in the way that they demonstrated the complexity of connections. It was an outstanding thing that when you met with Bernd and Hilla they didn’t talk about photography alone. They talked about movies, journalism, literature—stuff that was very comprehensive and complex. For example, a typical thing Bernd would say was ‘You have to understand the Paris photographs of Atget as the visualization of Marcel Proust.’ ”
I said, “I don’t get it. What does Atget have to do with Proust?”
“It’s a similar time span. What Bernd meant was that when you read Proust that’s what the backdrop is. That’s the theatre.”
“Did you read Proust while you were studying with the Bechers?”
“No, no. I didn’t.”
“Have you read Proust since?”
“So what was the point for you of connecting Atget with Proust?”
Struth laughed. “Maybe it’s a bad example,” he said.
“It’s a terrible example,” I said. We both laughed.
A few paragraphs later, Malcolm writes,
As we were leaving the café, Struth said, “I feel bad about Proust and Atget.” Struth is a sophisticated and practiced subject of interviews. He had recognized the Proust-Atget moment as the journalistic equivalent of one of the “decisive moments” when what the photographer sees in the viewfinder jumps out and says, “This is going to be a photograph.” I made reassuring noises, but I knew and he knew that my picture was already on the way to the darkroom of journalistic opportunism.
Yes, but perhaps it’s a bit too opportunistic. The connection between Atget and Proust may be questionable, but it isn’t implausible. Anthony Lane, in his review of Atget Paris (“A Balzac of the Camera,” The New Yorker, April 15, 1994), mentions a book titled A Vision of Paris that couples scenes by Atget with extracts by Proust. Lane writes,
It was not the happy marriage you might expect; for one thing, it reminded you just how deeply À la Recherche breathed the air of the beau monde, whereas Atget was a man of the monde, pure and simple. But something else about the book was off key: the attempt to dress Atget up as an expert in nostalgia and, by printing the images in sepia, turn him into a kind of minor-league Proust who longed to clutch at the past. You can see the temptation: no one can look at his shots of the Tuileries, or the Arcadian vistas that he found at Versailles, without a sympathetic pang.
That Malcolm hadn’t read Lane’s New Yorker review and that she didn’t know about the existence of A Vision of Paris is, given her deep interest in the aesthetic of photography, inconceivable. So when she says to Struth, “I don’t get it. What does Atget have to do with Proust?,” what she’s really doing is giving Struth a hard time. She knows about the Atget-Proust connection. She may not agree with it, but she knows about it. At least, I suspect she does. If I’m right, it follows that she knows Struth’s reference to Becher's observation (“You have to understand the Paris photographs of Atget as the visualization of Marcel Proust”) isn’t as ridiculous as she makes it out to be.
Credit: The above photograph, Thomas Struth’s "String Handling, SolarWorld, Freiberg 2011,” is from Janet Malcolm’s “Depth of Field” (The New Yorker, September 26, 2011)
Friday, August 12, 2016
Jill Lepore’s “The War and the Roses,” in this week’s issue, is extraordinary, as extraordinary as Norman Mailer’s “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” which is the only literary precedent I can think of that resembles it. Like Mailer, Lepore sees the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with her own eyes and her own words, “see it by the warp or stance of my character,” as Mailer expressed it in the Preface of his great 1976 collection of convention pieces, Some Honorable Men. What makes their convention reporting extraordinary is the writing – great gusts of description and perception – this one, for example, “The War and the Roses” ’s superb opening paragraph:
They perched on bar stools, their bodies long and lean, like eels, the women in sleeveless dresses the color of flowers or fruit (marigold, tangerine), the men in fitted suits the color of embers (charcoal, ash). Makeshift television studios lined the floor and the balcony of the convention hall: CNN, Fox, CBS, Univision, PBS. MSNBC built a pop-up studio on East Fourth Street, a square stage raised above the street, like an outdoor boxing ring. “Who won today? Who will win tomorrow?” the networks asked. The guests slumped against the ropes and sagged in their seats, or straightened their backs and slammed their fists. The hosts narrowed their eyes, the osprey to the fish: “Is America over?”
I read that and was immediately hooked, swept into the speeding prismatic current of Lepore’s heightened consciousness. But the passage that blew me away comes seventeen paragraphs later when Lepore reports the last day of the G.O.P. convention. She says, “The rule inside the Convention was: Incite fear and division in order to call for safety and union,” and then she does something totally wild and unexpected; she breaks away from the Convention, steps outside and unfurls this 258-word tour de force of description and observation:
I decided that the rule outside the Convention was: No kidding, it’s really awfully nice out here, in a beautiful city park, on a sunny day in July, where a bunch of people are arguing about politics and nothing could possibly be more interesting, and the Elect Jesus people are giving out free water, icy cold, and the police are playing Ping-Pong with the protesters, and you can take a nap in the grass if you want, and you will dream that you are on a farm because the grass smells kind of horsy, and like manure, because of all the mounted police from Texas, wearing those strangely sexy cowboy hats; and, yes, there are police from all over the country here, and if you ask for directions one of them will say to you, “Girl, I’m from Atlanta!” and you have to know that, if they weren’t here, who knows what would happen; there are horrible people shouting murderous things and tussling, that’s what they came here for, and anything can blow up in an instant; and, yes, there are civilians carrying military-style weapons, but, weirdly, they are less scary here than they are online; they look ridiculous, honestly, and this one lefty guy is a particular creep, don’t get cornered; but, also, there’s a little black girl in the fountain rolling around, getting soaked, next to some white guy who’s sitting there, just sitting there, in the water, his legs kicked out in front of him, holding a cardboard sign that reads “Tired of the Violence.”
What this passage shows, among many other amazing things, is the spectacle of a great journalist suddenly taking, with powerful sureness, a daring creative leap. She turns her back on the “grievously vexed” proceedings she’s been describing inside the Quicken Loans Arena and cuts to the Public Square where “the Elect Jesus people are giving out free water, icy cold, and the police are playing Ping-Pong with the protesters, and you can take a nap in the grass if you want, and you will dream that you are on a farm because the grass smells kind of horsy, and like manure. . . .” It’s an inspired Maileresque move, showing an alternative to the “fear and division” inside the Convention hall. Lepore is a brilliant stylist. “The War and the Roses” is her masterpiece.
Monday, August 8, 2016
|Illustration by Enzo Pérès-Labourdette|
I’m pleased to see that newyorker.com has posted a Robert Macfarlane piece (“The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web,” August 7, 2016). Macfarlane’s writing brims with the kind of active, specific, vibrant, subjective, journalistic notation I relish (e.g., from his superb The Old Ways, “Out and on we walked, barefoot over and into the mirror-world. I glanced back at the coast. The air was grainy and flickering, like an old newsreel”; “Mid-morning departure, Stornoway harbor, which is also known as the Hoil: hints of oil, hints of hooley. Sound of boatslip, reek of diesel. Broad Bay’s wake through the harbor – a tugged line through the fuel slicks on the water’s surface, our keel slurring petrol-rainbows”).
The newyorker.com post, a report on a study of “dazzlingly complex and collaborative” underground fungal networks being conducted by a young plant scientist named Merlin Sheldrake, contains this wonderful passage:
We stopped to eat in a dry part of the forest, on rising ground amid old pines. Sheldrake had brought two mangoes and a spinach tart. He drank beer, I drank water, and the pine roots snaked and interlaced around us.
That “and the pine roots snaked and interlaced around us” is very fine. To my knowledge, “The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web” is Macfarlane’s first New Yorker piece. I hope it’s the first of many.
Credit: The above illustration by Enzo Pérès-Labourdette is from Robert Macfarlane’s “The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web” (“Elements,” newyorker.com, August 7, 2016).
Friday, August 5, 2016
For me, the most pleasurable items in this week’s issue are all, except for one, in “Goings On About Town”:
1. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Young Master,” a consideration of Rembrandt’s Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver (“The coins—count ’em, thirty—lie strewn in a pool of light on the floor”);
2. Richard Brody’s capsule review of Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe (“Zulawski films it all with a wildly gyrating camera that scampers across fields, vaults over hilltops, thrusts through phalanxes of warriors, and pivots to reveal soldiers dancing on the beach in front of orange flames”);
3. Becky Cooper’s “Tables For Two: Barano” (“End a meal with the panna cotta, cool and deeply vanilla, tucked under pistachio-hazelnut brittle and ribbons of basil, with slices of grapefruit just sanguine enough for you to pretend they’re blood oranges from Mt. Etna.”)
4. Emma Allen’s “Bar Tab: Northern Territory” (“Up on the pleasant roof deck, a Swiss gent ordered a pint of Narragansett lager with a healthy pour of Sprite, a take on his country’s panaché, or shandy: ‘The perfect thing for summer’ ”).
The exception is Marie Howe’s wonderful poem “Low Tide, Late August,” an evocation of a quiet coupling, floating in a bay’s “softly sucking and lapping water, / as the pulling out reached its limit and the tide began to flow slowly back / again.”