“If I’m going to tell you the story of how I lost two people who were closer than blood to me, I have to begin here in Dennett, Texas, during the summer between the sophomore and junior years of my life. This story begins as it ends, with me, Cirilo Izquierdo, waiting for what all of us spend our whole lives waiting for: not to be alone anymore.” — Throw: A Novel, by Rubén Degollado
If I offer you the words contemplative novel, you may not immediately picture—for example—someone getting stabbed in the leg with a pencil. You may not picture a tangle of high schoolers fighting and flirting, fueling rumors and throwing shade and roaming lowrider car shows.
The Souvenir, British director Joanna Hogg’s fourth feature film, is the first part of a two-part memory piece that focuses on a love affair that took place in Hogg’s early twenties, when she was in film school in London. Though not quite a memoir, the film is unabashedly autobiographical, and similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Roma in how it seeks to reconstruct a particular period in the director’s life. To play a version of herself, a young woman called Julie, Hogg has cast Honor Swinton Byrne, a newcomer who at this point in her life is best known as Tilda Swinton’s daughter—though her performance in The Souvenir and next year’s sequel will likely change that. Swinton herself plays Julie’s mother, Rosalind, tamping down her usual charisma to embody a meek matron who rarely exerts her influence or reveals her knowledge of the world. It’s startling to see Swinton this way, especially with Byrne nearby, exuding youth and curiosity. With her height and her red hair, Byrne looks enough like Swinton to bring to mind her mother’s glamour, but also has a calm dreaminess that it is all her own.
Review of The Souvenir: Is She Really Going Out with Him?
A few years ago, I made an impromptu road trip to a Canadian ghost town called Bradian. Tucked into the Chilcotin Mountains about five hours north of Vancouver BC, Bradian lies at the end of a forbidding 45-mile dirt road and was deserted in 1971 after the local gold mine closed. Despite its near-total inaccessibility, Bradian has become a strangely coveted object since its abandonment. The town has passed from one owner to the next, each with their own ludicrous plan for its empty streets: a retirement community, a sketchy immigration scheme, a drug smuggling operation. And as if rebuffing the unwanted advances of a long line of suitors, the town has foiled every attempt to claim it. (It’s currently on the market for $1.2 million.) Writing about Bradian for The Common in 2017, I saw its bizarre holdout as a parable for the tug-of-war between human conquest and the natural world, a reminder that not everywhere should be subject to the drumbeat of development.
Issue 17 is almost here! Subscribe by March 31st to get your copy, then kick off the weekend with a book recommendation from one of our Issue 17 contributors. This month, our contributors are taking us on inventive narrative journeys across all seven continents and through all four corners of consciousness.
From its joyous opening dance sequence to its melancholy ending, Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano) is unlike any movie you have seen about illegal drug trafficking. It’s a gangster movie that downplays violence, looks closely at attempts at peacemaking, and is centered on the fate of a mother and a daughter. Set in Colombia between the late 1960s and early 1980s, the film is told from the perspective of a Wayúu family who live in the arid, northern region of the country and become significant exporters of marijuana to the U.S. Their success in the drug trade brings wealth, but it also pulls them into a world of violence and greed that engulfs and divides their family and their community.
In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of Singapore. The title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”
When I think of what it was like to grow up as a gay boy, I remember a particular kind of longing, a confusion over what to do with, or what might happen to, my heart. Most of us lived our earliest years without role models who think and love as we do, whether we looked to our own families or to TV and movies. As we came of age, for many of us, that confusion lingered but led to surprising, triumphant love once overcome. Gary Eldon Peter’s debut short story collection, Oranges, deftly portrays the life of its protagonist, Michael Dolin, as he navigates this trajectory from a childhood in Mason City, Iowa to adulthood in Minneapolis.
Willa Cather once said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I thought of those words while reading Paula Saunders’s cinematic debut novel, The Distance Home, which she has said is based on her fractured 1960s South Dakota childhood. Saunders draws from a deep well.
The Distance Home joins such recent novels as Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton that explore family dysfunction. Saunders asks us to consider the violent underside of American drivenness and its impact on a family’s most vulnerable members.
Graphic novel written by BESSORA and illustrated by BARROUX. Translated from the French by SARAH ARDIZZONE.
Reviewed by JULIA LICHTBLAU
In 1994, the last year my husband and I lived in Paris, a Senegalese woman named Delphine cleaned our apartment, often bringing her baby girl. At some point, she asked us to help her resolve her immigration problems. The baby was a French citizen; Delphine had come to France to work for French expats returning from Dakar and been let go some years ago.
In Ivy Pochoda’s latest novel, Wonder Valley, we find ourselves amidst a scruffy, largely invisible subset of Los Angelenos: drifters, con artists, criminals, quack healers, the homeless. The few in their orbit who have money or a measure of success are in danger of losing their souls. Everyone is close to the edge, all the time. Yearning. Longing. Trying to get someplace. Anywhere but here.