“Suicide notes and love letters are almost exactly the same.”: Reading Daphne Gottleib’s “Saint 1001”

Saint 1001

Daphne Gottleib’s latest, Saint 1001, is a damning, weird, sexy, tremendously literary, and extremely Gen X novel, told in a thread of letters and later emails through story, allegory, poetry, and Craigslist personal ads. 

Remember Craigslist? I didn’t use it in its heyday, which I guess was the ’90s, but I was around in the early 2000s and have quite a few fond memories using and perusing the site. Some of the best apartments and roommates I’ve ever had were found on Craigslist. There was a period of time when I was working at Whole Foods as a cashier when I got my name mentioned on the Missed Connections section what seemed like every other week (I was probably too friendly back then, always asking customers about what they were going to do with the ingredients they were purchasing, making conversation with everyone as we were prompted to do by management). I met some interesting people on the Strictly Platonic section, once a paralegal who was in town for a lawsuit and wanted a dining companion, and I as a super broke 21-year-old was down for pretty much anything and happy to meet up with the stranger who happened to be staying at the Four Seasons Hotel. He didn’t come on to me but we did smoke weed on the patio outside the hotel and on his last night in town I convinced him to have a party in his hotel room where I invited all of my rag tag friends and some guests down the hall complained to security of a funny smell coming from the room. Those were the good old days, I guess. Today I’m not sure if I would use Craigslist in the same way that I did in the early 2000s, but I like to browse the real estate section for San Francisco apartments I can’t afford. The idea of Craigslist and the way this liminal space is employed in Saint 1001 still holds this kind of mystique that reminds me of a more rose colored time, prior to the Craigslist killer being a news item.

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From Abomination to Acceptance: Chosen Family Redefined

"The Family Way"

Christopher DiRaddo’s The Family Way is a gateway drug into the quirk and fabulousness of all things gay. What to wear to “Souper des Femmes,” where they drink their dinner in drag? Prefer “a fuzzy treasure trail” or “a man hairy as a shark?” “What’s a whale breach?” Can they romance their friend’s new lover? Don’t ask, don’t tell no longer evokes the era of discrimination against gays in the U.S. military but describes how to cope with encounters on- and offline. Is it better not to know? Are you among the commitment phobic? What about NSAs (not the National Security Agency) after your relationship reaches the two -year mark? We learn what it’s like to be on the inside of these conundrums and ultimately from a chosen family that never questions acceptance after centuries of discrimination in every aspect of their lives. 

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The Literature of Public Transit: On Lauren Elkin’s “No. 91/92”

Lauren Elkin book cover

Is there a canon of literature inspired by city buses? This was a question that first came to my mind when reading Lauren Elkin’s recent No. 91/92: A Diary of the Year on the Bus, a chronicle of Elkin’s daily travels across Paris over the course of a turbulent year. The only other work that came to mind was Magnus Mills’s The Maintenance of Headway — a work that blended Mills’s trademark deadpan with reflections gleaned from his time working as a bus driver.

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Claire Messud Considers the Privileged: Notes on “A Dream Life”

A Dream Life

I will eventually forgive myself for not reading The Emperor’s Children the moment an advance reading copy landed in my lap all those years ago. At the time I dismissed it and did the same with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. Why? When the publishing world tells me it’s great, I pause. What is “great” these days? Post pandemic (numbers are going up and do enough of us care?) post truth, post whatever? Fiction has been front and center of late, as the public refuses to believe truth, fact, or the nose on their face. When A Dream Life landed in my inbox I was intrigued (I also broke one of my cardinal rules, to never read a book on a device, in this case my phone). My heart lifted! Here was my chance at redemption for failing to get on the Claire Messud bus all those years ago. I eventually did read The Emperor’s Children and had to apologize to the person who pushed it on me. Like A Visit From The Goon Squad, it’s an important novel, searing, topical, and resonating. I refuse to use the word “interesting” to describe these two books. Can’t we get more creative than that? If anyone cares to revisit the last twenty years in the literary world, you will be hard pressed to find two books that are more important to the conversation about life in New York City than The Emperor’s Children and Ms. Egan’s gem. 

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An Artist’s Death, Told in Fragments: On Max Porter’s “The Death of Francis Bacon”

"The Death of Francis Bacon"

There’s a long literary tradition of longform fiction set against the backdrop of someone on their deathbed. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of the lodestars here, for sure; I myself am partial to By Night in Chile for its haunting construction, both Satanic humblebrag and chastened confession. Max Porter’s latest novel, The Death of Francis Bacon, taps into that same dread-inducing momentum — the sense of a protagonist hurtling, depending on your (or their) perspective, into either the great beyond or complete nothingness.

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Uncivil Rest and the Search for Authenticity: Thoughts on Dana Spiotta’s “Wayward”

"Wayward"

Dana Spiotta’s Wayward follows the contentious path of Sam, who falls in love with a decrepit yet glorious Arts and Crafts bungalow in downtown Syracuse, leaving behind her husband Matt and daughter Ally to start a new life. While the novel doesn’t jab at the tilt of western society — and America in particular, toppled by the election of Trump — it stabs us straight in the heart, right where the knife belongs. Locked into a society that seems to evolve without us, it’s driven by a tribal mentality with the help of social media on steroids and textbook activism so finding her place without the anchor of family is a challenge. AIgorithms, hardly artificial as they represent the worst of human tendencies and rarely intelligent, reduce the lives around her into a ravenous, heterogenous blob that consumes anything and everything 24/7. All of which is evident when it spills over into group think as activists and renegades stake their place in a kind of Kabuki theatre of the absurd. Alongside the need to promote that which they consume, bloated by misinformation and seduced by material wealth, they belong in a parallel universe, which Spiotta brilliantly illuminates through her laser-sharp prose, revealing an admirable take on culture where authenticity isn’t valued over recognition.

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An Unsettling Suburban Idyll: On Megan Miranda’s “Such a Quiet Place”

"Such a Quiet Place"

Megan Miranda’s fifth novel for adults, Such a Quiet Place, is hazy and buoyant with suspicion and explores intimate, female friendship. This quiet place, which of course isn’t quiet at all, is Hollow’s Edge, an insular, preplanned community by a lake. A year and a half after the unsolved murder by carbon monoxide poisoning of Brandon and Fiona Truett, Ruby Fletcher, the prime suspect and their dog sitter, returns to the neighborhood after 14 months away and an overturned conviction.

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A Subtle Apocalypse: Notes on adrienne maree brown’s “Grievers”

"Grievers"

Consider the apocalyptic writ small. While some novels and stories have taken the idea of a world-ending or world-changing event as a way to use the largest possible canvas, other writers have taken the opportunity to zero in on one specific element of society. Both Laura van den Berg’s Find Me and Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation have embraced this route, which — not unlike some of J.G. Ballard’s work — offers a chilling vision of an imploding society. 

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