The Fixers

by Troy Jollimore

Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film, Fargo, begins with the following statement: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” The statement was, of course, false. So far as we know, there was no desperate man, in Minnesota or anywhere in the Midwest, who hired two goons to kidnap his wife in the hopes of stealing the ransom money that would be paid by his

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‘Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California’ by Matthew Specktor: Blood Sports

by Paul Wilner

As the Beat poet Lew Welch pithily put it, “More people know you than you know. Fame.” Welch was someone who knew whereof he spoke. He disappeared from his friend Gary Snyder’s house into a nearby mountain range in May 1971, leaving behind a cryptic farewell note that read, in part: “I had great visions but could never bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It’s gone.’’ Matthew Specktor explores the pulls—and perils—of chasing success in Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California (300 pages; Tin House), an eloquent account of […]

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‘To Write as If Already Dead’ by Kate Zambreno: The Body of the Author

by Alana Frances Baer

Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” saw a challenge, two years later, with Michel Foucault’s lecture “What Is an Author?” Kate Zambreno abbreviates the distinction between these two works: “Barthes wants to kill the author, Foucault wants the author to take on the appearance of a dead man.” Zambreno’s two-part book, To Write as If Already Dead (158 pages; Columbia University Press), meditates on its title throughout, circumscribing death in its consideration of the author as a living and breathing body, flesh behind words. Zambreno is the author of the novel Drifts and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow […]

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‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner: If Belief Were Real

by Ray Levy Uyeda

The chorus of “In Heaven,” the first track on Michelle Zauner’s first album as Japanese Breakfast, goes: Oh do you believe in heaven? / Like you believed in me / Oh it could be such heaven / If you believed it was real. The “you” and the “me” could be anyone, the “heaven” could be any utopia. But as revealed in Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart (239 pages; Knopf), these lyrics were drafted in the aftermath of her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer and formed at a time when she was reckoning with her identity while caring for her […]

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‘Somebody’s Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford: Together Amidst the Flames

by Oriana Christ

From a young age, author Ashley C. Ford was taught that family is all you have and all you need, and for this reason you should love them and hold onto them, no matter what. In her memoir, Somebody’s Daughter (210 pages; Flatiron Books), Ford grapples with this maxim as she grows up with a single mother prone to violent fits of rage, and an absent father who has been incarcerated for as long as she can remember. Her childhood, which makes up about half of the book, is spent believing that she is fundamentally bad inside, while fearing her […]

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‘Low Country’ by J. Nicole Jones: Lost Dreams, Anger, and Ghosts

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In every family there is an archivist. Someone to keep track of lost things, tales of victory and heartbreak, someone who can recall nearly-forgotten names. In author J. Nicole Jones’ family, that person was her grandmother, a woman who could fluidly weave a tale of home—Horry County, South Carolina. With her memoir, Low Country (230 pages; Catapult), Jones has succeeded in the role of family archivist, imploring us to see that the story of the Jones family is the story of South Carolina, and the story of J. Nicole Jones is the story of the women who preceded her. Low […]

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Q&A WITH MEGAN CULHANE GALBRAITH: ‘THE GUILD OF THE INFANT SAVIOUR’ AND DIORAMAS OF A CHILDHOOD

by K.L. Browne

In Megan Culhane Galbraith’s hybrid memoir, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book (288 pages; Mad Creek Books), she investigates our desire for belonging with generosity and an eye for hidden truths. Galbraith was adopted as a baby in the late 1960s, and through a dual lens of subject and observer, she considers this tumultuous period of sexual freedoms for women and its consequences. The book’s unique form bridges the private and historical. Galbraith looks at programs for women and infants that echo an unconscious disregard; Catholic charities claimed to save unwed mothers, a domestic economy […]

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‘Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?’ by Jenny Diski: Seeing, Being, Naming

by Alana Frances Baer

Jenny Diski’s posthumous collection, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told? (448 pages; Bloomsbury), consists of thirty-three essays, selected from the over two hundred the prolific British author wrote for the London Review of Books up until her death in 2016 at 68. Opening with a lighthearted account of a breakup and concluding with a humble meditation on her cancer diagnosis, the book synopsizes the inertia of life. Between those bookend essays are others that tend toward a topic-oriented approach that awards agency to her subject, rather than herself. Writing about Friedrich Nietzsche and his sister Elisabeth, Diski discerns […]

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Q&A with Joshua Mohr: ‘Model Citizen’ and Pointing Out the Frictions

by Kyubin Kim

Model Citizen (336 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is Joshua Mohr’s memoir on addiction, sobriety, and fatherhood. It’s a brutally sincere addition to his repertoire that includes the previous memoir Sirens and five novels. Told in a series of non-chronological vignettes, Model Citizens begins with Mohr’s jagged path to recovery in episodes of self-destruction and regret. We’re pulled so viscerally into San Francisco bars where one drink turns into a blacked-out night that we feel like the gears in Mohr’s brain, trying to make sense of how we got here. We also experience the anguish of recovery and relapse, drawn […]

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‘Beautiful Things: A Memoir’ by Hunter Biden: A Document of Addiction and Redemption

by Joseph Holsworth

“I’ve smoked more cheddar popcorn than anybody on the face of the earth.” This line from Hunter Biden’s new memoir catches him at the lowest of lows. At this point in his decades-long addiction, he’s scrounging around for drugs, desperately searching between the seats of his car for anything resembling crack. His favorite snack food left flaky little pieces that to his addict’s eye looked just like rocks. Hunter Biden’s memoir, Beautiful Things: A Memoir (272 pages; Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), is written with the acumen and craft of a born writer. This book is not the typically pointless and […]

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‘Love is an Ex-Country’ by Randa Jarrar: An Unexpected Destination

by Kyubin Kim

When we think of the American road trip novel, it’s easy to recall Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the manic adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, traipsing from New York to San Francisco as carefree and self-destructive as white men in the Fifties were allowed to be. That was America for them. But Randa Jarrar’s road trip memoir, Love Is an Ex-Country (240 pages; Catapult), demands a re-landscaping of America for a queer Arab American woman. The road trip is not a linear starting point-to-destination; it’s an evolving struggle to claim and inhabit a home in a place […]

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‘The Criminal Child: Selected Essays’ by Jean Genet: A Refusal to Conform

by Morgan Goldstein

The Criminal Child: Selected Essays by Jean Genet

Born in Paris, novelist, poet, and dramatist Jean Genet grew up as a delinquent in state institutions, enduring the horrors of captivity only to later become a famous author and help revolutionize poetry and theatre. In The Criminal Child: Selected Essays (124 pages; NYRB Classics; translated by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman), a collection of Genet’s intimate and astounding essays on such themes as homosexuality, trauma, individuality, and the healing potential of creativity, we see how he chooses to view his past experience as a necessary evil on the path to becoming a great artist. His beautiful, lyrical language is […]

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