AS AN INSTITUTION, the family is in the curious position of being regarded as both crucial to human survival and inimical to human freedom. It bears a note of bondage down to its root; family, that wonderfully warm, nourishing-sounding word (it’s the echo of mammal, mammary, mama, I suspect), derives
“IF YOU CANNOT GET RID OF the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance,” goes the only George Bernard Shaw quote I’ve ever bothered to fling around. Its best use may be for describing Alison C. Rose’s 2004 memoir, Better Than Sane: Tales from a Dangling Girl, where family—including, but not
When it comes to social thinking about families, there is such a thing as "American exceptionalism." Other Western countries tend to view people's life trajectories in light of their place in the class structure. But ever since the late-nineteenth century, Americans have typically attributed people's successes or failures to their family structures and values. This is, of course, a convenient way to reconcile our faith in individual achievement with the reality of racial and economic inequality.
The Men in My Life, Vivian Gornick’s 2008 collection of critical writing, begins with an essay on the nineteenth-century British novelist George Gissing. Gornick particularly admires his novel The Odd Women (1893). In the book’s feminist reformer, Rhoda Nunn, Gornick writes, “I see myself, and
IN MASHA GESSEN’S The Brothers, the first full-length book on Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev and accordingly the most complete, the two leads share no scenes and speak no lines to each other. They are never alone in a room. How could they be? Tamerlan’s death and Jahar’s imprisonment blocked our
In Washington Square, Henry James created a great bullying father who sought to control his daughter's destiny and prevent what he saw as a foolish marriage. In viewing his daughter as dull, Dr. Sloper missed what the reader of the novel began to see—Catherine Sloper was not merely sensitive but
Barbara Comyns was born in 1909, the fourth of six children, to a very eccentric mother and father who lived in a large house in a small English town called Bidford-on-Avon. On a map of England, this town appears to be at the exact center, about two hours outside London, and if you look more closely—say,
Ethan Mordden’s Buddies, published in 1986 by Stonewall Inn Editions, a historic gay-fiction imprint of St. Martin’s Press, is the second collection of interconnected short stories in Mordden’s five-volume series on gay life in Gotham (later titles include Some Men Are Lookers and How’s Your Romance?
As the press notes (for once) correctly emphasize, Joshua Cohen is the perfect age to write a novel about the Facebook era, having lived approximately an even number of years on either side of the pre-Web/post-Web divide. He gets "kids these days" and partakes of their Net-fueled narcissism, owning it in a way that earlier writers never could, but he has the erudition and historical grounding of a much older man, equally at home with Python code, Yiddish poets, porn sites, and prehistorical fertility sculptures.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrators exhibit a curious combination of extreme moral nihilism and a desperate need for violent, unforgettable experiences. Eileen, her new and best novel, is a love story told by a young woman who doesn’t understand love and who is leaving behind the only man she really loves,