By ELVIS BEGO
The first time I came upon Raley was in a volume of Edith Wharton’s correspondence—a short, scabrous note he wrote from Venice in the winter of 1908. When I later read his Drowned City—one of those belated NYRB Classics that seem to appear out of a hidden crack in the library of Babel—I found its rooftop phantasmagoria irresistible. Tales of an unnamed city’s last population of gnarled maniacs, scheming widows, foolish valentines, old men whose eyes are black with mascara, boatmen mooring their vessels to weathervanes, women who sell their kisses for a dry bed. The city is half-sunk in its dream and no news of the world across the spent sea. “An imagination as awkward and prophetic as Kafka’s,” says the blurb, predictably. Nobody knew about the book for a hundred years. It was privately printed in Venice in 1899—only a trunkful of copies—and remained obscure till Edward Kingsley, the Anglo-Italian philanthropist-slash-Luddite, found it in a library in Burano. James Wood’s piece in the New Republic, although not without censure (“Raley’s iambic murmur too often apes the Jacobeans … but the wry vision is his own. His world is peopled by blind self-unravelers, and we are their stunned eavesdroppers”), sent me to the bookshop, and I tore through the two hundred perfect pages in a sitting.
By EMILY CHAMMAH
I wouldn’t say that Omar is my best friend, because I like to think we are closer than that, that there is something bringing us together more than any friendship could. While it is true that he is my cousin, I never feel as connected to the others—to Muhammad or Nour or Ahmed or Anais—or even to my older sister, Sousan. They don’t know, for example, that I prefer to drink my orange juice without sugar, that I’d rather eat falafels straight out of a paper cone than smashed inside a pocket of bread.
Mostly, Les gossips and writes about girls. One’s “a real peach” and another “darn nice.” Poor Esther has legs like parentheses—she “must have been born with a barrel between her legs.” Then there’s Mildred, who’s darn good-looking but too biting: “Sarcastic is no word. That’s complimenting her.” Les gets a little revenge when he sees her at a dance with “an awful dopey looking hobo.” He has a good time, even though “nearly every girl there was a pot.”
The church ladies were having coffee in the living room of the Baker house when Martin Williams delivered his parachute to Lily Baker, his bride. Only some of the church ladies could really have been there, but in retellings they all claimed seats. They allowed one another this. A natural desire, to be part of the story.
By ELIZABETH POLINER
That summer, even before she took up mowing, Suzanne was doubting herself, an uncertainty that set in when her husband began to notice the Mandlebrauns’ oldest daughter, Alison, soon to finish college. Alison, who lived in the only other house on their riverside lane, was home in Middle Haddam for the summer and came by to play tennis on their court with their daughter, Michelle, also soon to finish college. The girls, never close friends to begin with, had drifted further apart during their time away at school. It was surprising, then, to see them suddenly pair up, even if only for tennis.