Man, Woman, and Robot in Ian McEwan’s New Novel 

Charlie Friend is thirty-two. A former electronics whiz kid, he has squandered his youth on dilettantish studies in physics and anthropology, followed by a series of botched get-rich-quick schemes. His parents are dead, his friends (if they exist) go unmentioned, and his employment consists of forex trading on an old laptop in his two-room apartment. …

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Nelson Algren’s Street Cred

Twenty-six years ago in these pages, Harold Brodkey took brutal stock of the work of the late John O’Hara, whose reputation, over which O’Hara had obsessed, was already in decline. “Literary immortality is a curious notion,” Brodkey wrote, in a tone of detached sagacity that surely surprised those who knew him, for if any writer …

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Halle Butler’s “The New Me” Is an Office Novel for a Precarious Age

In its ability to induce paralyzing existential depression, the fiction of Halle Butler is perhaps matched only by those Black Friday news stories in which grandmothers get trampled in front of stacks of fifty-five-inch TVs. When I first read “Jillian,” Butler’s début, which was published in 2015 and concerns a woman’s contemptuous obsession with a …

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Poetry That Bears Witness to a Changing Natural World

David Baker is a poet of American anti-pastoral. His mind operates against the vividly rendered landscape of small-town Ohio, where he has lived for more than thirty years. Baker’s poems depend on long acquaintance with a small place, where year-over-year comparison makes even the arrival of a feeding monarch or a nagging blue jay a …

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Susan Choi’s Novel Takes High-School Drama Seriously

There are many ways of hiding knowledge from ourselves that are not really hiding at all. Not too far from the beginning of Susan Choi’s new novel, “Trust Exercise” (Henry Holt), there is a party after a high-school production of “Guys and Dolls.” The high school is a performing-arts academy, and so it follows that …

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How the Little Ice Age Changed History

It is easy to forget just how variable the climate of the earth has been, across the geologic time scale. That is partly because the extent of that variability is so difficult to imagine. A world entirely covered in ice, from pole to pole—the so-called snowball earth—is something we find it hard to get our …

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The Radical Style of Andrea Dworkin

Apologies to Andrea Dworkin, who did not like book critics and who, fourteen years after her death, from myocarditis, at fifty-eight, is being subjected to a round of us again. “I have never written for a cowardly or passive or stupid reader, the precise characteristics of most reviewers,” she wrote in the preface to the …

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Keeping Up with Amy Hempel

I have not stopped thinking about the title story of Amy Hempel’s new collection, “Sing to It” (Scribner). Is it a short story, really? Or a poem? Here it is, entire: At the end, he said, No metaphors! Nothing is like anything else. Except he said to me before he said that, Make your hands …

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When the Frontier Becomes the Wall

On Election Day, 2018, residents of Nogales, Arizona, began to notice a single row of coiled razor wire growing across the top of the city’s border wall. The barrier has been a stark feature of the town’s urban landscape for more than twenty years, rolling up and over hilltops as it cleaves the American town …

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How the Man of Reason Got Radicalized

The Enlightenment is under very bad weather right now. The French eighteenth-century movement that once was seen to have bathed Europe in the light of reason—fighting for science against superstition, and for liberty against bondage—has become the villain of many a postmodern seminar and of even more revisionist histories, from left and right alike. The …

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