Search View Archive


Helen Dewitt’s
The English Understand Wool

New Directions has issued Helen Dewitt’s brief new fiction as a stand-alone text, one of their “StorybookND” series, a handsome little package. Once it’s unwrapped, though, out springs a midsummer’s night dream, a turbulent and amoral comedy, disrupting the sleep with its dodges and masks—altogether a delight. The English Understand Wool offers another spin snowball of a narrative, gathering weight as it slaloms the hills of Dewitt’s imagination.

On Cormac McCarthy

In 2005 James Wood in The New Yorker wrote, “To read Cormac McCarthy is to enter a climate of frustration: a good day is so mysteriously followed by a bad one. McCarthy is a colossally gifted writer, certainly one of the greatest observers of landscape. He is also one of the great hams of American prose.” Now eighty-nine, McCarthy’s two new novels—at least on the surface—focus on the tragic relationship between a brother and sister, Bobby and Alicia (Alice) Western. The first, The Passenger, is novel-length and the second (much shorter text), Stella Maris, is structured as a series of therapy sessions between Alicia and her psychiatrist at the psychiatric facility where she has committed herself for the third and tragically final time.

In Conversation

Tiffany McDaniel with Carissa Chesanek

I first learned of Tiffany McDaniel’s work while shopping around in a bookstore one hot summer years ago. I picked up what I considered a fitting title for that late August, McDaniel’s first novel, The Summer That Melted Everything. What I didn’t expect was to fall desperately for her writing: the lush sentences, the specific details, and the characters that did melt your heart. She isn’t afraid to tackle tough subjects, such as race, class, abuse, and trauma, and the impact our actions can have on everyone around us. McDaniel has a knack for creating characters you can’t help but want to follow and root for by making even those unrelatable, relatable.

Bachtyar Ali’s
The Last Pomegranate Tree

“Since the day I left the desert,” declares our narrator Muzafar-i Subhdam, “I have met one person after another who is running away.” With that, he widens his melancholy embrace: “Look at yourselves: who are you but a bunch of ghosts on a ferryboat, running away from something that has no name or color, that cannot be caught or tamed?” The man’s got a point, in a time when so much of the world is unhoused, but regarding his own case, Muzafar’s guilty of some exaggeration.

In Conversation

Jasmine Sawers with Kate Bernheimer

Wonder—as in a rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious—is a vital response to fairy tales across cultures, old and new. In their debut collection The Anchored World: Flash Fairy Tales and Folklore, author Jasmine Sawers filters Western and Thai tales through their unique sensibility, yielding a curious and curiosity-evoking book with something to wonder at for every reader.

On Anthony Julian Tamburri

The two books that I have in front of me are at once similar and quite different. What makes them similar is their Italian American context and the semiotic approach that the author, veteran student of the Italian American experience and Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute in New York City, Anthony Julian Tamburri, employs.

Joy Harjo & Haruki Murakami

In these two very different works on writing by two very different writers, there is much for fans and for writers alike.

Miranda Seymour's I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys

Seymour’s hard work and fundamental respect for Rhys is evident all through this biography, but so also are her judgements, omissions, and preferences (in this she is no different than most biographers). But it is good to see Rhys come alive at times as if she could speak back for herself.

Eileen Myles’s Pathetic Literature

Rejecting the urge to erase, minimize, or turn away from an unsightly feeling, the writers included in this anthology audaciously inhabit a sentiment that society exhorts its high-functioning citizenry to disown. The beautiful, weird aggregate that results is profoundly, pathetically human.

In Conversation

Luther Hughes with Tony Leuzzi

Poet Luther Hughes and Rail Contributor Tony Leuzzi discuss Hughes's new book, A Shiver in the Leaves.

Alyssa Quinn’s Habilis

Disorientation is the rule in Alyssa Quinn’s Habilis, right from the first sentence: “The museum is a discotheque.”

Robert D. Richardson’s Three Roads Back

To feel seen in grief, to have your grief witnessed, is powerful and essential. This emotional pull, this beautifully authentic book, continues from Marshall’s foreword until the last page of Richardson’s final work.

Michael Brenson’s David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformative Sculptor

This artist’s life stares back at the would-be biographer, like a gorgon. The author turned a mirror on it. The tale is made to tell itself, witness by witness, snapped off in an unblinking chain of hard short chapters, almost voice by voice. By conscientious decision, maybe a matter of self-preservation, Brenson is a laconic guide rather than interpreter and thankfully, no explainer.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

All Issues