You are on page 1of 92

AUGUST 28, 2017

5 GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN

27 THE TALK OF THE TOWN


David Remnick on Trump and the far right;
eclipse addicts; the arrests of James Cromwell;
the Patreon wars; the comedians’ table.
PERSONAL HISTORY
Ian Frazier 34 Drive Time
The unexpected joys of New York by car.
SHOUTS & MURMURS
Jen Spyra 41 Family-Vacation Breakdown
MODERN TIMES
Elizabeth Kolbert 42 The Content of No Content
Are the tech giants eroding democracy?
A REPORTER AT LARGE
Patrick Radden Keefe 46 Trump’s Favorite Tycoon
Carl Icahn’s influence with the President.
PROFILES
Nick Paumgarten 60 Singer of Secrets
What St. Vincent reveals and what she hides.
FICTION
Lauren Groff 68 “Dogs Go Wolf ”
THE CRITICS
A CRITIC AT LARGE
Louis Menand 75 A new salvo from Freud’s most implacable critic.
BOOKS
James Wood 83 The stories of Gunnhild Øyehaug.
85 Briefly Noted
THE CURRENT CINEMA
Anthony Lane 86 “Logan Lucky,” “Marjorie Prime.”
POEMS
Craig Morgan Teicher 56 “Son”
Rae Armantrout 72 “Project”
COVER
David Plunkert “Blowhard”

DRAWINGS David Borchart, Will McPhail, Roz Chast, Liam Francis Walsh, Edward Steed,
Maddie Dai, Julia Suits, David Sipress, P. C. Vey, Harry Bliss, Barbara Smaller, Carolita Johnson, Joe Dator
SPOTS Anthony Russo
CONTRIBUTORS
Patrick Radden Keefe (“Trump’s Favor- Elizabeth Kolbert (“The Content of No
ite Tycoon,” p. 46), a staff writer, is an Content,” p. 42) is a staff writer and the
Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellow at author of “The Sixth Extinction: An
New America and the author of “Chat- Unnatural History,” which won a Pu-
ter” and “The Snakehead.” litzer Prize for nonfiction in 2015.

Lauren Groff (Fiction, p. 68) is the au- Nick Paumgarten (“Singer of Secrets,”
thor of, most recently, the novel “Fates p. 60) has been writing for the maga-
and Furies.” Her short-story collection zine since 2000.
“Florida” will come out next summer.
Michael Schulman (The Talk of the Town,
Ian Frazier (“Drive Time,” p. 34) pub- p. 30), a contributor since 2006, is the
lished “Hogs Wild: Selected Report- author of “Her Again: Becoming Meryl
ing Pieces” last year and is working on Streep.”
a book about the Bronx.
Rae Armantrout (Poem, p. 72) has pub-
Jen Spyra (Shouts & Murmurs, p. 41), a lished, most recently, “Partly: New and
former senior writer for the Onion, is Selected Poems” and “Entanglements,”
a staff writer for “The Late Show with a chapbook of poems in conversation
Stephen Colbert.” with physics.

James Wood (Books, p. 83) teaches at Louis Menand (A Critic at Large, p. 75)
Harvard University. “The Nearest Thing has been a staff writer since 2001. Last
to Life” is his latest book. year, he was awarded the National Hu-
manities Medal by President Obama.
Craig Morgan Teicher (Poem, p. 56) is
the author of the poetry collection “The David Plunkert (Cover) is an illustrator
Trembling Answers,” which came out and graphic designer. This is his first
this year. cover for The New Yorker.

NEWYORKER.COM
Everything in the magazine, and more.

DAILY SHOUTS PODCAST


Miss Lasko-Gross illustrates a On this week’s episode, Lauren Groff
scavenger hunt of things to see in reads “Dogs Go Wolf,” her short
New York City this summer. story from the issue.

SUBSCRIBERS: Get access to our magazine app for tablets and smartphones at the
App Store, Amazon.com, or Google Play. (Access varies by location and device.)
2 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
THE MAIL
WHEN TO REMOVE A CHILD dren safely with parents. Often, the chil-
dren were never even separated from par-
Larissa MacFarquhar’s article shines a ents or were returned to them after only
light on the tragedy of children in the a brief period. In those instances, the
foster-care system by giving a voice to caseworker provided close supervision,
mothers, caseworkers, judges, and attor- personally checking on the families
neys (“The Separation,” August 7th & several times a week and giving the
14th). But what about the voice of the court frequent updates. Confidentiality
children? Although preserving families laws don’t allow caseworkers to speak
is a noble goal, and reunification should about their cases; however, I wish Mac-
be a top priority for social workers, ad- Farquhar—who captured the unique
vocates, and courts, it is not always in challenges inherent in dependency cases—
the best interest of the child. Parents in had done more to give them a voice.
the court system, who are often victims Cynthia G. Inda
of abuse and neglect themselves, may be Irvine, Calif.
unable to provide even a minimal level
of safety for their children. Children may I worked as a hearing officer and then
be abused or neglected. Families may as an attorney/guardian ad litem repre-
have food insecurity, and no access to senting children for twenty-five years.
adequate health care or to safe and sta- MacFarquhar’s sympathy for Mercedes
ble housing, and a child without those led her to depict the child-welfare sys-
necessities is likely to form psychologi- tem as routinely removing children from
cal and physical scars that can last a life- their parents without justification. In fact,
time. The services offered to parents in there is significant pressure on agencies
support of reunification are often inad- to keep the number of foster-care place-
equate or ineffective. Some parents are ments low. Children can sustain years of
able to make slow progress, but a few neglect and abuse before an agency pe-
years in the life of a child is an eternity. titions for court intervention. One need
The heartbreaking truth is that termi- look no further than Mercedes’s story
nation of parental rights is sometimes in for an example of the lifelong repercus-
the best interest of the child. sions of exposing children to neglect
Jean Domanico rather than removing them from the
Durham, N.C. home. Brought up in a violent environ-
ment, Mercedes ended up homeless, preg-
MacFarquhar’s article seems to portray nant at fourteen, and the victim of se-
caseworkers as setting unrealistic stan- vere physical abuse by boyfriends—as
dards for parenting. When I was an at- well as by her father—all of which lim-
torney representing caseworkers in Cali- ited her opportunities and perpetuated
fornia dependency courts, I was consis- the cycle. MacFarquhar sees a system
tently impressed by their commitment that’s rigged against parents. Rather, it
to helping parents reunite with their chil- is a system that, day in and day out, be-
dren. It was the caseworkers who thought lieves parents’ denials and excuses, spends
up the services, such as parenting classes, taxpayer dollars to provide services for
counselling, and anger-management problems that are largely intractable, and
groups, that were designed to help par- fails to protect children.
ents address their issues and get their Cathy Badal
children back. They arranged for the Reading, Pa.
children’s counselling, medical services,
and educational support; drove them •
to and from school when no one else Letters should be sent with the writer’s name,
would; and lined up placements with address, and daytime phone number via e-mail to
family members, using foster care only themail@newyorker.com. Letters may be edited
for length and clarity, and may be published in
as a last resort. Whenever possible, they any medium. We regret that owing to the volume
used any reasonable means to leave chil- of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter.

THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 3


AUGUST 23 Ð 29, 2017

GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN

Beautiful natural vistas, drama, and history come together at Boscobel House and Gardens, home of the
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, about ninety minutes north of the city. Exciting unplanned confluences,
such as a convoy of helicopters flying over “Macbeth,” occur regularly. “A Week of Revolution” (Aug. 27-Sept. 4)
will include reënactments, picnics, hikes, and a staging of Richard Nelson’s play “The General from America,”
about Benedict Arnold, who tried to hand his command of West Point—visible across the river—over to the British.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CAIT OPPERMANN


1 OPENINGS AND PREVIEWS

THE THEATRE On the Shore of the Wide World


This new play by Simon Stephens (“Heisenberg”),
directed by Neil Pepe and featuring Blair Brown,
follows a family in Stockport, England, over nine
eventful months. (Atlantic Theatre Company, 336
W. 20th St. 866-811-4111. In previews.)

Prince of Broadway
Manhattan Theatre Club stages a musical celebration
of the Broadway director-producer Harold Prince,
whose six-decade career includes “Cabaret,” “Com-
pany,” “Evita,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Prince
directs, with co-direction and choreography by Susan
Stroman; the cast features Karen Ziemba, Chuck Coo-
per, and Emily Skinner. (Samuel J. Friedman, 261 W. 47th
St. 212-239-6200. In previews. Opens Aug. 24.)

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B.


Matthias
Michael Yates Crowley’s dark comedy, directed by
Tyne Rafaeli for the Playwrights Realm, is about a
young sexual-assault survivor navigating lawyers,
guidance counsellors, and Wikipedia. (The Duke
“The Band’s Visit” follows an Egyptian police orchestra stranded overnight in the Negev Desert. on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St. 646-223-3010. Pre-
views begin Aug. 25.)

Fall Preview Booth). The Pulitzer-winning playwright


Ayad Akhtar (“Disgraced”) tackles the
The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A & In the Blood
Suzan-Lori Parks modernizes “The Scarlet Letter”
in two plays. “Fucking A,” directed by Jo Bonney, re-
Musicals, like ocean liners, are built for “greed is good” era in “Junk,” with Steven casts Hawthorne’s heroine as an abortionist trying
bigness, but some of the best works of Pasquale as an investment banker at- to free her son from jail. “In the Blood,” directed by
recent years have found poignancy in tempting a takeover of a manufacturing Sarah Benson, centers on an impoverished mother
of five desperately seeking help from friends and

1
going small: the fragile family dynamics company (Oct. 5, Vivian Beaumont). Beau former lovers. (Pershing Square Signature Center, 480
of “Fun Home,” the Canadian kindness Willimon, the creator of “House of W. 42nd St. 212-244-7529. In previews.)
of “Come from Away.” “The Band’s Cards,” grapples with the larger-than-life
Visit,” which ran at the Atlantic Theatre politics of the Trump age in “The Parisian NOW PLAYING
Company this past winter, tells the story Woman,” starring Uma Thurman as a
of an Egyptian police orchestra in pow- Washington socialite (Nov. 7, Hudson). The Terms of My Surrender
Michael Moore’s mostly one-man show (special guests
der-blue uniforms that gets stranded And there’s nothing remotely small about make appearances) is filled with good will toward the
overnight in a tiny town in the Negev “SpongeBob SquarePants,” based on the audience, and lots of self-regard. Over two or so inter-
Desert. Based on a 2007 Israeli film, the anarchic cartoon, directed by Tina Landau missionless hours, the liberal filmmaker talks about
how our democracy ended up in the toilet, why Amer-
musical, by David Yazbek and Itamar and featuring songs by the likes of Sara icans in general were ready for Trump, and why the
Moses, doesn’t hammer away at Middle Bareilles, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, folks on either coast weren’t, and still aren’t. He’s a
East politics, or even mention them; it’s and David Bowie (Nov. 6, Palace). rousing, everyday kind of guy, filled with tremendous
need—a need to be seen and heard. That’s touching
about boredom and disappointment, Off Broadway brings new works that at first, as are the stories he tells about his activism,
tricky topics for any art form. The wistful, reinvent the old. Elevator Repair Service, and how it has led, in some cases, to potential phys-
idiosyncratically funny tale moves to best known for “Gatz,” its six-hour take ical harm. But then Moore and the show run out of
steam, because, for the most part, he’s preaching to
Broadway this fall (starting previews on “The Great Gatsby,” returns to the the converted. (Belasco, 111 W. 44th St. 212-239-6200.)
Oct. 7, at the Barrymore), with David Public with “Measure for Measure,”
Cromer’s production retaining its Off infusing Shakespeare’s jaundiced parable Van Gogh’s Ear
True to the company’s m.o., Ensemble for the Ro-
Broadway leads: Tony Shalhoub, as the with—of all things—Marx Brothers-style mantic Century’s latest production pairs a dramatic
group’s conductor, and Katrina Lenk, as slapstick (Sept. 18). Kate Hamill, who structure—this one centering on Vincent van Gogh’s
a world-weary local. adapted and acted in the Bedlam com- inner torments—with elegant projections and live
classical music. The program includes eight pages
“Once on This Island” (starting Nov. 9, pany’s kinetic “Sense and Sensibility,” of musicological notes explaining the relationship
at the Circle in the Square) is also gem- hot-wires another Austen novel, “Pride between art and sound. It’s an interesting read, and
size. Michael Arden’s revival of the 1990 and Prejudice,” playing Elizabeth Ben- a useful distraction when the action onstage starts
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

dragging, which is often. Van Gogh (a bland Carter


musical fable, by Lynn Ahrens and Ste- net in the Primary Stages production Hudson, from FX’s “Snowfall”) soliloquizes on art
phen Flaherty, traces star-crossed lovers (Nov. 7, Cherry Lane). And Moisés and on his fragile mental state. At regular intervals,
from opposite ends of a Caribbean island. Kaufman directs “Torch Song,” a con- he interrupts his Provençal thoughts so that a cham-
ber ensemble can perform a piece by Debussy, Fauré,
Other Broadway fare goes for big names densed version of Harvey Fierstein’s Franck, or Chausson, but the music and the story are
and big concepts. Amy Schumer and Kee- “Torch Song Trilogy,” starring Michael merely juxtaposed, and don’t illuminate each other.
gan-Michael Key star in Steve Martin’s Urie as a drag queen in Koch-era New While Eve Wolf’s script is drawn from van Gogh’s
own letters, the production’s genteel veneer stifles
“Meteor Shower,” about a dinner party York City (Sept. 26, Second Stage). the intensity of the artist’s ruminations. (Pershing
interrupted by falling space debris (Nov. 1, —Michael Schulman Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200.)

6 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


1 CONCERTS IN TOWN

CLASSICAL MUSIC Metropolitan Opera “Summer HD” Festival


For the ninth year running, the company puts
out three thousand seats on Lincoln Center
Plaza for a week and a half of grand-opera movie
nights. This year’s schedule includes screenings
of its productions of “Rigoletto,” “Il Barbiere di
Siviglia,” and “Roberto Devereux”; the series be-
gins with a showing of Ingmar Bergman’s film
version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Aug.
25-26 and Aug. 28-29 at 8 and Aug. 27 at 7:45.
(Through Sept. 4. No tickets required.)

Bargemusic
The superb pianist Steven Beck, a mainstay at
the floating chamber-music series, returns to kick
off the weekend’s concerts, performing a single,
towering work: Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.”
Aug. 25 at 8. (Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn. For
tickets and complete listings, see bargemusic.org.)

Locrian Chamber Players


This hardy ensemble has secured a spot in the
New York scene by devotedly performing music
Sondra Radvanovsky takes the title role in the Met’s new production of Bellini’s “Norma.” that is less than a decade old. Its longtime strat-
egy is sound, with each concert anchored by
a major composer—in this case, John Luther
Fall Preview ity Wall Street plays an important role in
“The Psalms Experience,” a sequence of
Adams, whose works “Untouched” and “Little
Cosmic Dust Poem” will be showcased alongside
recent pieces by Aaron Alter, Andrew Lovett,
In a fall season bustling with innovation, twelve concerts (Nov. 2-11), presented by David Macdonald, and Adrienne Albert (for-
musical titans of the past cast looming Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, merly a mezzo-soprano, renowned for her col-
shadows. Most familiar to New Yorkers which highlights the spiritual expressions laborations with Igor Stravinsky). The venue, at
the Riverside Church, is pleasant, and tickets are
will be that of Leonard Bernstein, for of composers from the medieval era to free. Aug. 25 at 8. (10th Floor Performance Space,
whom centenary celebrations will begin the present day. But the reigning deity of Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Ave.)
this year. During Bernstein’s lifetime, the White Light will be Claudio Monteverdi,
Taka Kigawa
sheer force of his powers as a conductor, whose three extant operas will be pre- This quietly industrious pianist, who has shown
an educator, and a media personality out- sented, in matchless style, by the conduc- a consistent knack for conveying the most chal-
shone his music, but, as time passes, it is tor John Eliot Gardner and his Mon- lenging works in the modern repertoire with an
understated zeal, turns his attention to a long-
his music we treasure most. Carnegie teverdi Choir and English Baroque time specialty, Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’Oiseaux”
Hall’s opening-night concert (Oct. 4), an Soloists (Oct. 18-21). (1956-58). This sublime thirteen-part cycle not
evening with the Philadelphia Orchestra The Metropolitan Opera’s opening- only compiles the distinct songs of specific birds
but also evokes their natural traits, and the par-

1
and its music director, Yannick Nézet- night production will be a new staging (by ticular French provinces where they thrive. Aug.
Séguin, features the Symphonic Suite David McVicar) of Bellini’s “Norma,” 28 at 7. (Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. lpr.com.)
from the film “On the Waterfront” and featuring two of the company’s power
the Symphonic Dances from “West Side divas, Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce OUT OF TOWN
Story.” Lenny’s old band, the New York DiDonato (Sept. 25-Dec. 16). But the Met
Philharmonic, will go deeper, offering a will also innovate, presenting the Amer- Tanglewood
The supreme music festival of the summer wraps
survey of Bernstein’s three symphonies in ican première of Thomas Adès’s “The up its classical offerings this weekend in grand
a trio of programs (Oct. 25-Nov. 14) con- Exterminating Angel,” a work based on style. The last sweep begins on an intimate note,
ducted by Alan Gilbert and Leonard the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel (Oct. 26-Nov. however, with the commanding baritone Simon
Keenlyside joining the redoubtable pianist
Slatkin. Even the Chamber Music Society 21). New York City Opera strikes a similar Emanuel Ax in Schubert’s final song collection,
of Lincoln Center takes part, presenting balance, opening its season with Puccini’s “Schwanengesang”; Impromptus for solo piano by
the composer’s uninhibited late song cycle “La Fanciulla del West” (Sept. 6-12) but Schubert and Samuel Adams adorn the concert’s
first half. Aug. 23 at 8. • Three superb singers—
“Arias and Barcarolles” (Oct. 29). also presenting chamber operas by Tobias the soprano Kristine Opolais, the bass-baritone
The crystalline music of Anton We- Picker and Dominick Argento. BAM, as Bryn Terfel, and the tenor Russell Thomas—
bern, the most controversial of the three ever, champions the new: its fall season are out front in an imaginary night at the opera
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

at the Tanglewood Shed with the Boston Sym-


great composers of the Second Viennese includes the New York première of the phony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival
School, is often ignored. Leave it to the composer-conductor Matthew Aucoin’s Chorus. Andris Nelsons, the B.S.O.’s music di-
adventurous conductor Julian Wachner opera about Walt Whitman, “Crossing” rector, leads them in vocal and instrumental ex-
cerpts from such beloved works as “Rusalka,”
to take up the cause, leading the musical (Oct. 3-8), and “Road Trip,” a burst of fresh “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” and “Porgy
forces of Trinity Church Wall Street in material from the composers of Bang on a and Bess,” in addition to all of Act II from Puc-
the first phase (Sept. 12-14) of a two- Can which celebrates the collective’s thir- cini’s “Tosca.” Aug. 26 at 8. • Nelsons and his or-
chestra and chorus return for the festival’s tradi-
season retrospective of Webern’s complete tieth anniversary (Oct. 27-28). tional closing concert, a traversal of Beethoven’s
works. Wachner’s superb Choir of Trin- —Russell Platt Ninth Symphony. The high level of quality shared

8 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


CLASSICAL MUSIC

by the vocal soloists—Katie Van Kooten, Tamara


Mumford, Thomas, and John Relyea—is not sur-
prising, but the opening number is: “The Housa-
tonic at Stockbridge,” the third and final move-
ment of Ives’s “Three Places in New England.”
ART
Aug. 27 at 2:30. (Lenox, Mass. bso.org.)

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival


This longtime East End festival, directed by the
flutist Marya Martin, has flourished by offering
concerts both effervescent and distinguished.
In the final programs at the series’ home base,
Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, old and new
words convivially collide. On Wednesday evening,
John Harbison’s Schubert elegy, “November 19,
1828: Hallucination in Four Episodes,” is nestled
between two of Schubert’s own works for piano
trio, the Notturno (D. 897) and the Trio No. 1
in B-Flat Major. On Saturday night, Beethoven
takes charge, in a concert featuring the Sonata for
Violin and Piano in F Major, Op. 24 (“Spring”),
and the Sonata for Horn and Piano; the Sun-
day-afternoon finale includes Kevin Puts’s “Seven
Seascapes,” along with classics by Mozart (the So-
nata in E Minor for Violin and Piano, K. 304),
Suk, and Dvořák (the String Quintet with Bass Ai Weiwei’s public project is a riposte to Trump’s proposed wall and a comment on the refugee crisis.
in G Major, Op. 77). Martin’s outstanding col-
leagues include the hornist Stewart Rose, the pi-
anist Gilles Vonsattel, and the violinist Anthony
Marwood. Aug. 23 and Aug. 26-27 at 6:30. (Bridge- Fall Preview massacre as its jumping-off point and
traces the radical cultural transforma-
hampton, N.Y. bcmf.org.)
With the White House intent on roll- tions that followed through a hundred
Maverick Concerts ing back civil rights, the New Museum’s and fifty pieces—paintings, photo-
Two of America’s greatest composers of lyrical “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a graphs, sculptures, performances, films,
vocal and instrumental works have milestone
birthdays coming up: Dominick Argento will turn Weapon” could not be more timely. It land art, and more—by seventy artists
ninety in October, and Ned Rorem will be ninety- features recent works by forty artists, and collectives. Overseen by the sea-
five next year. Anticipating those occasions, the born between 1950 and 1990, from the soned Asian-art curator Alexandra
conductor Alexander Platt, the Maverick Cham-
ber Players, and assorted guests gather on Satur- Hugo Boss Prize-winning conceptual- Munroe, the show shares its title with
day night for a program that features Argento’s ist Anicka Yi to the up-and-coming a 1993 installation by Huang Yong Ping,
“Six Elizabethan Songs,” Rorem’s “After Read- painter and printmaker Tschabalala Self. a tortoise-shaped cage housing thou-
ing Shakespeare,” and arrangements by Wolfgang
Renz of Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and The show was conceived by Johanna sands of live scorpions, beetles, and
Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Sun- Burton, one of the brightest curatorial other insects that play out a brutal
day afternoon belongs to Trio Solisti, long a favor- minds at work today; expect an exhibi- power dynamic—eat or be eaten—in-
ite group at the Maverick Hall, performing clas-
sic piano trios by Dvořák and Schubert (No. 1 in tion in which the political and the plea- side the museum’s High Gallery. Opens
B-Flat Major) as well as a recent trio by the Pu- surable are intertwined. Opens Sept. 27. Oct. 6.
litzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon MOMA last organized a major show The Chinese artist, activist, and for-
(“Color Through”). Aug. 26 at 6 and Aug. 27 at 4.
(Woodstock, N.Y. maverickconcerts.org.) about clothes in 1944—millennia ago mer political prisoner Ai Weiwei, whose
in the fast-forward cycles of fashion. work is also on view at the Guggen-
Berkshire Opera Festival: Now it devotes the entire sixth floor to heim, débuts the most expansive out-
“Ariadne auf Naxos”
Following last year’s inaugural presentation playing catch-up. “Items: Is Fashion door project of his career, “Good Fences
of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” the fledging Modern?,” organized by the always in- Make Good Neighbors,” a meditation
opera festival stays within the confines of early- ventive Paola Antonelli, takes a typo- on boundaries that alludes to both the
twentieth-century Romanticism for its second
production. The company’s general director, Jona- logical approach to the wide-ranging global refugee crisis and President
thon Loy, sets Richard Strauss’s meta-opera, about subject, breaking it down into a hundred Trump’s plan to build a wall along the
two competing theatre troupes putting on a show and eleven categories. Among the three border between the U.S. and Mexico. A
for a Viennese parvenu, in the present day; Brian
Garman conducts. Aug. 26, Aug. 29, and Sept. 1 at hundred and fifty wearable items on variety of sculptural installations, all
7:30. (Pittsfield, Mass. berkshireoperafestival.org.) view are flip-flops and stilettos; blue- made from metal security wire, occupy
jeans and little black dresses; hijabs and sites across the five boroughs—from a
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

Music Mountain
The Daedalus String Quartet, an American en- headphones; red lipstick and sunscreen; low fence around the Unisphere, in
semble of enduring distinction, gets the next a down jacket and a fur coat (the latter Flushing Meadows-Corona Park,
Sunday-afternoon slot at this festival’s hall, a on loan from the archives of PETA). Queens, to a fifty-foot-high structure
whitewashed shoebox design with acoustics
that give bright and clear support to the mellow Opens Oct. 1. under the arch in Washington Square
sounds of strings. Its program offers quartets by The most ambitious show of the Park. The project is produced by the
Beethoven (including Op. 95, “Serioso”) and the season is the Guggenheim-filling “Art Public Art Fund, which turns forty this
Piano Quintet in F Minor by Brahms (with the
pianist Tanya Bannister). Aug. 27 at 3. (Falls Vil- and China After 1989: Theater of the year. Opens Oct. 12.
lage, Conn. musicmountain.org.) World,” which takes the Tiananmen —Andrea K. Scott
10 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
1 MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES
ART

writing, political action, and participatory shelving units displays arrangements of how-to
installation, much of which remains as fresh books from the “Idiot’s Guide” franchise, enig-
Metropolitan Museum as this morning. The sand, huts, potted matic urethane forms, and looping videos. The
“Cristóbal de Villalpando: Mexican Painter plants, caged parrots, and inscribed poetry main event, though, is an avalanche of dummies,

1
of the Baroque” of his sprawling “Tropicália” (1968) await dressed in Upson’s mother’s androgynous uni-
The most noteworthy aspect of “Moses and your barefoot delectation, should you choose form of plaid shirt and jeans. Through Sept. 10.
the Brazen Serpent and the Transfiguration of to park your shoes in the rack provided. So
Jesus” isn’t that it’s twenty-eight feet high, or do the multifarious love nests (mattresses,
that this is the first time it has been exhibited straw, chopped-up foam rubber, water) of a GALLERIES—UPTOWN
outside Mexico’s Puebla Cathedral, where it more austere faux beach, “Eden” (1969). Works
was installed when de Villalpando finished it, that he made in New York (and, at the time, Cameron Martin
in 1683—it’s the painting’s sheer pictorial den- showed only privately) exalt sex, drugs, and To make his elegant abstract drawings—which
sity. Combining scenes from the Gospels and rock and roll—delirium aplenty, yet managed may surprise those who recall the Brooklyn art-
the Book of Numbers, it ascends, with novelis- with acute aesthetic intelligence. Oiticica ist’s restrained paintings of rocks and trees—
tic detail, from a crowd of writhing, grimacing, was a great one for planning. His buoyant Martin covered sheets of paper with rows of
snake-afflicted Israelites at the bottom of the writings in English, displayed in vitrines and closely set, not quite vertical lines in colored
scene, each one gesturing in a different direc- seductively recited through earphones, hatch marker. In one instance, the complex inter-
tion, to a white-robed Christ, addressing three intricate utopian schemes, often architectural sections create patterns reminiscent of the vi-
amazed apostles on Mt. Tabor. His cross is set in character. In 1971, he proposed one that sual buzz of TV static. Scores of ghostly dark
off to one side, echoing Moses’ serpent-wrapped involved labyrinthine spaces, for construction quavers, interrupted by glimmers of yellow
staff; in case these Biblical references are in- in Central Park, called “Subterranean Tropicália and red, descend diagonally across the page of
sufficient, two angels hold placards with scrip- Projects.” Had he lived longer, we would another work. In a looser example, the effect
tural citations. In ten smaller paintings, which likely be blessed with a number of landmark brings to mind wood grain, albeit in a psyche-
round out the exhibition, de Villalpando—one achievements in public art. Through Oct. 1. delic strain of purple. Each one presents its own
of viceregal Mexico’s more successful home- optical challenge, creating the curious sensa-
grown painters—revels in the hallmarks of the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design tion of looking at still pictures of rolling film.

1
European Baroque: the slick and bloodless flesh, Museum Through Aug. 25. (Van Doren Waxter, 23 E. 73rd
the melting eyes, and, especially, the overdeter- “Esperanza Spalding Selects” St. 212-445-0444.)
mined, more-is-more aesthetic. Around a blue- The Grammy Award-winning jazz musician
winged, martially dressed angel holding out the and composer is the latest guest curator to un-
bitter cup to Jesus in “The Agony in the Gar- earth treasures from the museum’s archive. GALLERIES—DOWNTOWN
den,” for example, flutter three separate satin Her lively pairings include a Nigerian silk-
ruffs, in pink, green, and red. Through Oct. 15. and-cotton robe featuring Islamic calligraphy Heather Dewey-Hagborg and
styles, made around 1900, in conversation with Chelsea E. Manning
Museum of Modern Art the designer Sheila Bridges’s cheery, satirical The harsh sentencing of Manning and the sub-
“Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends” wallpaper design Harlem Toile de Jouy, from sequent, high-profile public announcement of
While creating the universe, did God have in 2006. The salon-style installation is accompa- her gender identity, in 2013, gave the suppres-
mind that, at a certain point, a stuffed goat with nied by recordings Spalding made in collabo- sion of her image while imprisoned a special
a car tire around its middle would materialize ration with the pianist and composer Leonardo significance: the circulation of outdated pho-
to round out the scheme? It came to pass, in Genovese. The four versions of “Love Songs of tos was an additional punishment. Dewey-
New York, with Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” the Nile” represent the show’s themes: evolu- Hagborg, an interdisciplinary artist who de-
(1955-59)—goat, tire, and also paint, paper, tion, deconstruction, cross-pollination, and re- veloped an algorithmic system for generating
fabric, printed matter, metal, wood, shoe heel, cycling. With a keen eye for the cultural shifts facial portraits from DNA samples, collabo-
and tennis ball—now on view in an immense charted by design trends, Spalding documents rated with Manning before her pardon and re-
retrospective of the protean artist, who died in the progression of jazz-album covers from bla- lease, using cheek swabs and strands of hair to
2008, at the age of eighty-two. Rauschenberg’s tantly racist caricature to the nuanced imagery create a surprisingly diverse array of possible
work, in mediums that range from painting of a more integrated society; the aesthetic ex- appearances. In the gallery, a group of thirty
and photography to a big vat of bubbling gray change between European colonizers and the masklike, 3-D-printed faces float, suspended
mud (“Mud Muse,” 1968-71), is uneven, and it peoples they colonized; and the more recent ad- from fishing line, in dispassionate solidarity
lost point and drama in his later decades. For vent of ingenious, socially critical works, such with the incarcerated source of their genomic
a great artist, he made remarkably little good as a glittering necklace made of pharmaceuti- data. “Probably Chelsea” (2017), as the haunting
art. But the example of his nimble intelligence cal blister packs. Through Jan. 7, 2018. sculpture is titled, challenges cultural assump-
and zestful audacity has affected the thoughts tions about genetic sex and casts doubt on sim-
and motives, doubts and dreams of subsequent New Museum plistic practices of DNA profiling. Moreover, as
generations, to this day. The show’s lead curator, “Kaari Upson: Good Thing You Are Not Manning’s poignant wall text notes, the project
Leah Dickerman, has incorporated first-rate Alone” ingeniously granted her the representation she
works by other artists—collaboration was a The Los Angeles-based artist’s large-scale, was long denied, providing a method for smug-
regular elixir for Rauschenberg. He was a graphite-and-ink drawings—chaotic kaleido- gling self-portraits into the world. Through Sept.
performance artist, first and last. You respond to scopes, swirling with images and fragments of 4. (Fridman, 287 Spring St. 212-620-0935.)
his works not with an absorption in their quality text—introduce viewers to her defining preoc-
but with a vicarious share in his brainstorming cupations, but it’s the three-dimensional works “The World Without Us”
excitement while making them. For a time, in this show that succeed in recasting the ev- Aside from the haughty blonde looking out of
momentously, what he did caught a wave of eryday in a strange new light. Tract housing, Autumn Ramsey’s small oil painting “The Face”
history and drove it farther inland than could Costco fare, domestic interiors, and the artist’s and a group of naked figures in Akira Ikezoe’s
otherwise have been the case. Through Sept. 4. mother are prominent subjects. In one room, canvas “Coconut Heads—Happy Go Lucky,” the
tinted urethane casts of well-worn furniture works in this ten-person show portray a menag-
Whitney Museum hang from the walls like misshapen parachutes erie that suggests childhood fantasies trapped
“Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium” or abandoned reptile skins. In the center of the in a murky world of adult innuendo. “Upside
This retrospective of the sorely under-known gallery, soft-drink cans, cast in aluminum, bare Down Dog,” by the young sculptor Nicholas
Brazilian artist is a revelation. Oiticica died “teeth” made of crystals. The cans and the fangs Sullivan, is a twelve-foot-high steel outline of
in 1980, of a stroke, at the age of forty-two, are part of Upson’s ongoing multimedia series, Snoopy, which leans, inverted, against a wall;
after early success in Rio de Janeiro, a brush “MMDP (My Mother Drinks Pepsi),” which black epoxy clay has been added to replicate
with fame in London, obscurity during seven she started in 2014—a psychological explora- Schulz’s wobbly lines. Ten little clay-and-plaster
years in New York, and a return to Rio that, tion of consumerism that splits the difference duck and bunny heads, by Bill Adams, suggest
at one opening, occasioned a riot. Along between humor and horror. In “Idiot’s Guide the traumatized survivors of a barnyard trag-
the way, he turned from superb abstract Womb Room,” a related installation work, com- edy. Through Aug. 25. (Brennan & Griffin, 122
painting to innovative work in sculpture, film, pleted this year, a dark gallery furnished with Norfolk St. 212-227-0115.)

12 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


1 ROCK AND POP

NIGHT LIFE Musicians and night-club proprietors lead


complicated lives; it’s advisable to check
in advance to confirm engagements.

Afropunk
This annual festival has swaggered boldly into ad-
olescence, growing from an über-niche concept
show into a two-day marathon of artists who’ve
dished out subversive takes on pop across long
and short careers. This year’s highlights include
U.K. torchbearers like Dizzee Rascal, a pioneer
of grime, and Soul II Soul, who translated Lon-
don’s sound-system culture into international hits;
Kaytranada, Sango, and Serpentwithfeet, club
kids who have restitched dance music into manic
new silhouettes; and a cross-section of R. & B.
progressives like Solange and Willow Smith, two
free minds from famous families who share a ded-
ication to tradition that anchors their forward-
churning ideas and aesthetics. (Flushing Ave. at
N. Elliot Pl., Brooklyn. afropunkfest.com. Aug. 26-27.)

The Four Tops and the Temptations


Goldie, Harry Styles, and Jay-Z set off an autumn season of big-ticket tours and cult-icon one-offs. It’s hard to overstate just how influential the golden
era of Motown Records has been on both popular
music and the public consciousness. The label pro-
Fall Preview of artists, from Bob Marley to the
Beastie Boys.
duced countless hits, including dozens featuring
the heavenly harmonies of the Four Tops and the
Temptations. Some fifty years after classics like
While recording his self-titled solo Jay-Z is still nursing his newborn “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”
album, Harry Styles unearthed an inner album, “4:44” (his thirteenth); and “My Girl” first topped the Billboard charts and
rock star—or, at least, buried his past throughout the record, he vamps with became standards, the two groups are joined by
Mary Wilson, of the Supremes, for a summer ex-
as a member of the boy band One Di- newfound transparency on fiscal re- travaganza at Coney Island, another time-tested
rection. The result, released in May, was sponsibility, urbanism, identity, and, institution that has yet to run short on thrills.
an impressive collection of ballads and naturally, marriage. He performs at (Ford Amphitheatre at Coney Island Boardwalk, 3052
W. 21st St., Brooklyn. 718-954-9933. Aug. 24.)
bops that aspire to Prince and Bowie, the Meadows festival at Citi Field on
whose shoes no one can be faulted for Sept. 15, before headlining at Barclays Show Me the Body
wanting to fill; Styles arrives at Radio Center on Nov. 26-27—expect bold Julian Cashwan Pratt, the lead singer of this Queens
hardcore outfit, steps on photographers—but only
City Music Hall on Sept. 28. For scuz- statements on par with recent music the ones who have it coming. At the ripping gigs
zier riffs, the prism-rock songwriter Ariel videos that winkingly skewer “Friends” that Show Me the Body has played since 2014, the
Pink performs at Le Poisson Rouge on and vintage Disney. Two of hip-hop’s band reserves the pit for fans only, with Pratt giv-
ing deadpan directions to his flock between shrieks.
Nov. 4, in support of an upcoming LP, most enigmatic figures, Ms. Lauryn The group puts an original twist on the hardcore
“Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.” Hill and Nas, join forces for a co-head- sound (banjos and rap verses haven’t always had
The English d.j. Clifford Joseph lining tour this November. The latter a spot in the genre) and shares a refreshing dedi-
cation to the punk tenets of inclusivity and bull-
Price, known to clubbers and subculture titled his last single “Nas Album headed productivity. They headline a long after-
junkies as Goldie, left a deep imprint Done,” but a year later he has yet to noon at MOMA PS1, following sets from Wiki,
on U.K. club music with his founda- deliver said album, and fans have lov- Actress, and Laurel Halo. (22-25 Jackson Ave., Long
Island City. momaps1.org. Aug. 26.)
tional electronic productions. In 1995, ingly joked about the likelihood of the
Goldie canonized the drum-and-bass former showing up to half of the Nicky Siano
sound with his airy, sweeping début, dates—but career quirks like these Born in Brooklyn, Siano helped fertilize the blos-
soming dance-music community of nineteen-
“Timeless”; the album’s central single, have only shored up their following. seventies Manhattan, opening the formative Gal-
“Inner City Life,” is as alluring as ever. One of the oddest shows on this sea- lery night club, in Chelsea, with his brother Joe, and
The producer’s steadfast craftsmanship son’s calendar stars the impish perfor- later becoming a resident d.j. at Studio 54. The self-
anointed Master of Disco Soul was an indispensable
and loud personal style made him an mance artist Poppy, a meta-meme con- character downtown: he helped launch the careers
early celebrity d.j., who would likely coction dreamed up by the Nashville of Grace Jones and Frankie Knuckles, and clocked
shudder at that classification; he’ll actress and singer Moriah Pereira (who studio time with Arthur Russell. In 2011, Siano re-
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

turned to d.j.’ing, and he now hosts the ongoing Na-


deliver a rare Stateside set at Output, portrays her) and the visual artist Ti- tive New Yorker party series, extending his legacy

1
on Sept. 14, a show to prioritize. On tanic Sinclair. Poppy’s profile has risen and keeping disco thumping in the city. (Good Room,
Oct. 25, the club invites Lee (Scratch) through her surrealist YouTube videos, 98 Meserole Ave., Brooklyn. 718-349-2373. Aug. 25.)
Perry, another bass technician, to per- with titles like “I Am Not in a Cult” and
form, with the Subatomic Sound Sys- “Am I Okay?” Her set on Nov. 15, at JAZZ AND STANDARDS
tem band—the legendary reggae pro- Music Hall of Williamsburg, should fall
Nels Cline
ducer has brought his innovative spin somewhere between song and sermon. Earlier this month, the guitarist Cline fronted
on recording to multiple generations —Matthew Trammell a jazz orchestra in Prospect Park, in a vivid

14 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


NIGHT LIFE

presentation of his sweeping double CD “Lov-


ers.” This residency finds the audacious impro-
viser—and part-time rock-guitar hero, owing
to his membership in Wilco—in settings less
lush but no less ambitious, collaborating with
MOVIES
a slew of like-minded sonic adventurers, includ-
ing Zeena Parkins, Erik Freidlander, Taylor Ho
Bynum, and his fellow-guitarists Mary Halvor-
son, Elliott Sharp, and Julian Lage. (The Stone,
Ave. C at 2nd St. thestonenyc.com. Aug. 22-27.)

Eddie Palmieri
Leading a compact, percussion-powered outfit,
Palmieri transforms his club performances into
highly personal musical affairs, spinning out ex-
tended and idiosyncratic solo piano pieces and
retrieving favored older works from his storied
past. He’s not just a living link to a glorious tra-
dition of Afro-Caribbean jazz—he’s a still thriv-
ing master of the genre. (Blue Note, 131 W. 3rd St.
212-475-8592. Aug. 28.)

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival


It’s startling to think that Parker, the bebop ava-
tar who achieved immediate mythic status upon
his untimely death, in 1955, might still be among Jennifer Lawrence stars in “Mother!,” Darren Aronofsky’s first intimate drama since “Black Swan.”
us, at the age of ninety-seven, if the vagaries of
his life hadn’t caught up with him so quickly. This
year, the annual celebration of the jazz genius in-
cludes three uptown events, with performances Fall Preview Conflicts of the past find contempo-
rary echoes in new movies about politics,
by, among others, Anat Cohen, Terri Lyne Car-
rington, Charanee Wade, and Lee Konitz, who, The new season’s movies show the past too. In “Marshall” (Oct. 13), Chadwick
at eighty-nine years old, is one of the last sur- and the present merging in a variety of Boseman stars as Thurgood Marshall,
viving major players from the bop era. Another genres. Darren Aronofsky’s psychological the N.A.A.C.P. attorney who eventually
benchmark saxophonist, the ninety-year-old Lou
Donaldson, joins Joshua Redman to close out the horror film “Mother!” (opening Sept. 15) became the first black Justice of the Su-
festivities downtown. (Marcus Garvey Park, 18 stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bar- preme Court. The historical drama, di-
Mt. Morris Park W. Aug. 24-26. Tompkins Square dem as a couple in an isolated house rected by Reginald Hudlin, tells the story
Park, 165 Ave. A. Aug. 27.)
whose lives are thrown into disorder by of a 1941 Connecticut court case in which
Dafnis Prieto the arrival of two strangers (Ed Harris a black man (played by Sterling K.
Many gifted and resourceful jazz musicians har- and Michelle Pfeiffer). Todd Haynes Brown) was accused of raping a white
bor a dream of leading a big band, but it’s a rev-
erie that doesn’t always reach fruition. The drum- directed the fantasy “Wonderstruck” woman (Kate Hudson). As an out-of-
mer and composer Prieto, a 2011 MacArthur fellow (Oct. 20), based on a novel by Brian Selz- state lawyer, Marshall couldn’t represent
whose music explores the Afro-Caribbean jazz leg- nick, about an orphan (Oakes Fegley) the defendant, and the drama centers on
acy, gets his shot here, taking charge of a full-bod-
ied seventeen-piece ensemble whose section mates who, in 1977, runs away from Minnesota his uneasy partnership with a local white
include Chris Cheek, Mike Rodriguez, and Alan to New York and meets a woman ( Juli- lawyer ( Josh Gad), as well as on the re-
Ferber. (Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St. 212-576- anne Moore) whose experiences half a lentless menace of violent racism that
2232. Aug. 25-27.)
century earlier may shed light on his or- weighed heavily on the proceedings and
Kurt Rosenwinkel igins. Millicent Simmonds, Michelle its participants. Theo Anthony’s inventive
With its Brazilian and rock flavoring, “Caipi,” Williams, and Tom Noonan co-star. In documentary “Rat Film” (Sept. 15) con-
Rosenwinkel’s latest recording, is a bit of a left turn
for the imaginative guitarist, who has taken his “Faces Places” (Oct. 6), Agnès Varda siders the rodent infestation of Baltimore
place among the most gifted players in the gener- teams up with the photographer and mu- from journalistic, analytical, and personal
ation that followed such visionary six-string giants ralist JR for a journey through small towns perspectives; Anthony’s incisive and
as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. A trim trio setting,
with the drummer Greg Hutchinson and the bass- and hidden corners of France, where they far-reaching archival investigation links
ist Dario Fromit, will effectively showcase Rosen- bring overlooked professions and activities it to the enduring effects of legal and
winkel’s fretboard wizardry. (Village Vanguard, 178 to the fore, and where Varda seeks traces social segregation. “Battle of the Sexes”
Seventh Ave. S., at 11th St. 212-255-4037. Aug. 22-27.)
of her own personal and artistic past. (Sept. 22) is a comedic dramatization of
Steve Turre Band Richard Linklater’s comic drama “Last the 1973 tennis match between the fifty-
Since 1984, the trombonist Turre has been a fa- Flag Flying” (Nov. 3) is a sequel to Hal five-year-old former pro Bobby Riggs
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

miliar face on television, seen when the camera


pans the band during airings of “Saturday Night Ashby’s 1973 film “The Last Detail.” The (Steve Carell) and the twenty-nine-year-
Live.” A virtuoso horn player, Turre also has few, new movie, set in 2003, stars Bryan Cran- old Billie Jean King (Emma Stone),
if any, peers when it comes to extracting cogent ston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve which was instigated by Riggs, who
jazz from seashells. With horns and nautical ac-
coutrements in tow, he will be joined by two nota- Carell, as Navy veterans who travel to Iraq hoped to prove the inferiority of females
ble hard-bop practitioners, the saxophonist Javon to recover the body of a soldier killed in in the sport. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie
Jackson and the drummer Jimmy Cobb, who might combat. Like the earlier film, it’s based on Faris directed; Elisabeth Shue, Alan
as well have “the last surviving player on ‘Kind
of Blue’” printed on his business card. (Iridium, a novel by Daryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote Cumming, and Sarah Silverman co-star.
1650 Broadway, at 51st St. 212-582-2121. Aug. 26-27.) the script with Linklater. —Richard Brody

16 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


MOVIES
1 NOW PLAYING ing cut from a lumbering battle in the ring to
an elegant speed-bag session suggests that the
Le Amiche competitive aspect of boxing is not only beside
In his fourth feature film, from 1955, Michelan- the point—it’s a degradation of the sport’s pure
gelo Antonioni turns a glossy romantic melo- forms.—R.B. (Anthology Film Archives, Aug. 26.)
drama of modern prosperity inside out to reveal
the essence of modernity itself. Clelia (Ele- Columbus
onora Rossi Drago) moves to Turin to open a The title of the visual artist and video-essayist
new branch of the high-fashion boutique that Kogonada’s intellectually passionate first fea-
she managed in Rome. When Rosetta (Made- ture refers to the Indiana city that’s home to a
leine Fischer), a flighty bourgeoise in the adjoin- surprising abundance of modern architectural
ing hotel room, attempts suicide, Clelia takes masterworks. Those buildings fire the imagi-
her under her wing, joins her circle of friends, nation of his protagonist, a twentyish woman
and gets caught up in their frivolous, desperate named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), who’s
games of love. What makes this conventional stuck in place. Spurning college to care for her
drama enigmatically original is the details: the mother (Michelle Forbes), who’s a recovering
architectural contours of the film’s myriad loca- drug addict, Casey works in the local library.
tions seem to determine the action of the people When Jin (John Cho), an architectural histori-
who traverse them, and the assortment of por- an’s son, comes to town, he abets her outpouring
traits, reflections, sketches, and eye-catching of pent-up ideas and enthusiasms about architec-
clothing have more reality than the empty, mis- ture and tries to help change her life. Richard-
erable characters to whom they lend identities. son infuses her hyperalert performance with a
Antonioni’s quietly audacious attempt to con- rare dialectical ardor; her avid gaze at the city’s
vey the inner workings of modern life is also landmarks is matched by Kogonada’s own im-
a standard-issue romance—of exactly the sort ages, which capture the virtual libido of aesthetic
that fills his heroines’ minds. In Italian.—Rich­ sensibility. Filming Casey and Jin on location in
ard Brody (Metrograph, Aug. 23, and streaming.) the presence of the buildings that inspire them,
he revels in the power of contemplative com-
Beach Rats panionship—of looking, talking, thinking to-
Eliza Hittman’s second feature, like her 2013 gether—and unfolds the wonder of an artistic
début, “It Felt Like Love,” is set in South Brook- coming of age. With Rory Culkin, as Casey’s
lyn, centered on an adolescent’s sexual conflicts, ironic grad-student colleague, and Parker Posey,
and directed with a vigorous and tremulous as Jin’s longtime friend.—R.B. (In wide release.)
intimacy. This time, the landscape is broader,
the action rowdier. The story concerns Frankie Dunkirk
(Harris Dickinson), a brash and smart-mouthed The new Christopher Nolan movie is set in
Sheepshead Bay teen-ager dissipating the sum- 1940, during the mass evacuation of British and
mer with drugs, handball, and vaping, mostly French troops from northern France to the rel-
in the company of three cronies he won’t deign ative safety of England. The saga, an essen-
to call friends. He gets picked up at a Coney tial chapter in the British wartime narrative, is
Island fireworks show by a girl named Simone not widely known elsewhere, and what Nolan
(Madeline Weinstein), but he pursues the rela- delivers is neither a history lesson nor even
tionship with a callous halfheartedness. Frankie much of a war film. A good deal of it strikes
is secretly gay; he connects with men online and the senses, not to mention the nerves, as an ex-
sneaks off to desolate roadside areas for fur- ercise in high tension and near-abstraction, as
tive sexual encounters. But, when his pals de- men (there are almost no women to be seen)
tect hints of his secret life, he considers drastic are perilously poised between land and water,
and ugly action to keep it covered up. Hitt- water and air, darkness and light. Mark Ry-
man, working with the cinematographer Hélène lance, dourly determined, plays the skipper of
Louvart, conjures a palpable sense of climatic the Moonstone, one of the innumerable “Little
and emotional heat, pressing close to faces and Ships” that went to the aid of those who were
bodies in brazen sunlight, humid shadows, and trapped on the beaches. Overhead, Tom Hardy
neon haze. Her vision of a homogeneous en- is in typically phlegmatic form as a Spitfire pilot
clave’s crushing insularity is as richly textured who must protect the naval vessels from Ger-
as her tactile sense of the allure and the danger man bombers. The movie feels old-fashioned
of youthful energy.—R.B. (In limited release.) whenever it seeks to stir up British pride; as a
fable of survival, though, with its quicksilver
Boxing Gym editing and an anxious score by Hans Zimmer,
The director Frederick Wiseman has made the it amazes and exhausts in equal measure. With
performing arts a specialty, and, in this 2010 doc- Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, and Harry
umentary, about Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym, Styles.—Anthony Lane (Reviewed in our issue of
in Austin, Texas—which trains pros and ama- 7/31/17.) (In wide release.)
teurs, men and women, children and the elderly,
of all ethnicities and from all social strata—he Girls Trip
reveals the sport of boxing to be one of them. This warmhearted, occasionally uproarious
The word that seems to crop up most often in comedy doesn’t quite sustain the heights of its
the course of the film is “rhythm,” and Wise- performers’ inspirations. Ryan (Regina Hall), a
man fills the screen with it. His eye for the di- best-selling author, is chosen to deliver the key-
verse rites of training—whether it’s pounding note address at the Essence Festival, in New
the heavy bag, jumping rope, or practicing foot- Orleans, and she invites her three longtime best
work, slugging tires with a sledgehammer or tat- friends to join her for a sentimental and hard-
tooing the speed bag—highlights their contra- partying reunion. Sasha (Queen Latifah), a jour-
puntal choreography. Wiseman captures these nalist who’s now on the celebrity beat, has money
staccato polyrhythms both visually and soni- trouble; Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), a nurse and
cally. There’s not a lot of hitting here; he clearly divorced mother of two young children, is lonely;
delights in the sport’s balletic beauty. The only and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), an outrageously
serious fighting comes near the end, and a jolt- brazen pleasure-seeker, seems oblivious of the

THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 17


MOVIES

consequences of her actions. Meanwhile, Ryan his students—especially the women—but fawns the nineteen-thirties, by a scandal fuelled by
learns that Stewart (Mike Colter), her husband over one named Alex (Michael Cera), whose anti-Semitism, into an iridescent drama about
and business partner, is having an affair with successes he envies and resents. Isaac’s career the mystical lure of movies. Emmanuel Salin-
a younger woman (Deborah Ayorinde). These is reduced to public-service ads about diseases; ger plays a Jewish producer, André Korben,
women’s problems have substance even though at one studio shoot, he meets Cleo (Nia Long), based on Natan, whose control of a Paris stu-
their characters are thinly written, and the film’s a makeup artist, and they begin to date. Bravo dio is threatened—and who wants to use his
comedic flourishes offer a refreshing frankness is black and Gelman is white, and Bravo makes power and his money to film the unfilmable.
about sex from women’s perspectives. The view derisive comedy out of Isaac’s oblivious and of- He sees a stage performance by two Ameri-
of middle-class African-American women’s lives fensive attitudes and remarks regarding race, and can mediums, the sisters Laura and Kate Bar-
behind closed doors, despite its antic exaggera- out of his stereotyped suburban Jewish family low, and decides, first, to make Laura (Natalie
tion, has a lived-in specificity. Malcolm D. Lee’s (headed by Fred Melamed and Rhea Perlman). Portman) a star, and, then, to film Kate (Lily-
direction doesn’t offer much style or vigor, but Isaac veers between mistakes, disasters, and hu- Rose Depp) summoning spirits. To that end,
Haddish delivers a wild yet precise performance miliations in rigid tableaux and graphic styliza- he invests in the invention of a camera that can
of verbal and gestural fury that puts her at the tions that fuse comedy and pathos, but Bravo’s capture metaphysical phenomena. Portman,
forefront of contemporary comedy.—R.B. (In sense of style is strained. The movie declares its acting in French and English, brings a mask-
wide release.) intentions with a bland simplicity and reduces like command to her role as an accidental ac-
its characters’ substantial experiences to a se- tress for whom performing is just a business,
Good Time ries of empty gestures.—R.B. (In limited release.) and Salinger is calm yet forceful as a vision-
A headlong new movie from Josh and Benny ary who, in the face of an anti-Semitic cam-
Safdie. The latter also stars as Nick, a shy soul Nocturama paign, risks his business for his personal pas-
with learning difficulties, who is dragged into Arriving in the wake of terrorist incidents in sion. Zlotowski, recapturing the past with a
crime by his brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson). France, Bertrand Bonello’s new film risks—or glossy, abstracted sense of wonder, displays
They rob a bank; Nick is arrested, and Connie maybe courts—controversy. A group of young the cinema’s glorious myths and monstrous
spends the rest of the film trying to spring him men and women, hailing from varying classes realities.—R.B. (In limited release.)
from custody, or to raise enough money—by and races, and linked only by their disaffection
any means, fair or foul—to bail him out. Much with society, carry out coördinated attacks across War for the Planet of the Apes
of the story unrolls in the course of one night. Paris on a single day. That evening, they take ref- If only Darwin were alive to see this film. Cae-
Though Connie’s adventures border on farce, uge in a department store, after hours, and have sar, incarnated by Andy Serkis, is living proof
as he hatches a plan to smuggle a patient out of time to savor some of the finer fruits of capital- that the highest human virtues—valor, compas-
the hospital and blunders around an amusement ism: designer clothes, televisions, food and wine. sion, a keen intelligence, and a gift for leader-
park, the mood remains sleepless and crazed, Mustering outside, meanwhile, are the forces ship—are most credibly combined in a monkey.
compounded by a nagging neon glow and the of the law. The approach throughout is hyper- In this latest chapter of the simian saga, Caesar
throb of the soundtrack. For the Safdies, rest- controlled, fending off any hint of the reckless; plans to lead his freedom-loving comrades to
lessness comes with the territory, often to scat- both the editing and the cinematography keep a promised land; first, however, there is a mil-
tershot effect; this, however, is their most coher- careful pace with the tightly plotted crimes, and itary lunatic (Woody Harrelson) to contend
ent work to date, largely because of Pattinson, many of the performers patrol the scenes in an with, and murders to be avenged. What fol-
whose energy drives the tale along. Connie is a under-reactive daze. Bonello, like John Carpen- lows is often cruel, and hard to classify as en-
thief, a sponger, and sometimes a real jerk, but ter, provides his own electronic score, and, in tertainment; we see a labor camp in full spate,
you can’t get him out of your head. With Jen- the end, you are less likely to be outraged by the and—surely a cinematic first—some form of
nifer Jason Leigh, as a weary friend who’s seen movie’s political provocation than numbed by ape crucifixion. Matt Reeves’s film takes itself
it all before.—A.L. (8/21/17) (In wide release.) its hypnotizing style. In French.—A.L. (8/21/17) extremely seriously, and, without a glimmer of
(In limited release.) irony, adds a touch of religious allegory to both
Ingrid Goes West the dialogue and the highfalutin images with
Aubrey Plaza’s fiercely committed performance Patti Cake$ which the story concludes. Still, the technical
nearly rescues this dubious contrivance from Geremy Jasper’s hardscrabble New Jersey fan- achievement marches on, and there appears to
absurdity. The drama, directed by Matt Spicer, tasy has a heart—but an artificial one. It’s the be no challenge that cannot be met and over-
is the latest entry in the picturesque-mental- story of the twenty-three-year-old Patricia Dom- come by the magi of the digital craft. (Do orang-
illness genre. Plaza plays the title character, a browski (Danielle Macdonald), who lives with utans really cry?) The most affable character,
young woman whose violent outbursts lead to her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), an alcoholic, new to the franchise, is a chimp who, after a
a spell in an institution. When Ingrid gets out, and her ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). long spell in a zoo, speaks English—voiced by
instead of receiving therapy and taking medica- Patti—who’s overweight and has long endured Steve Zahn—rather better than he gibbers or
tion, she moves to Los Angeles in order to stalk the nickname Dumbo—works as a waitress at howls.—A.L. (7/24/17) (In wide release.)
an Instagram celebrity named Taylor (Eliza- a grim bar while dreaming of hip-hop stardom
beth Olsen) and insinuate herself into Taylor’s under the name Killa P. Although she can out- Whose Streets?
private life and social-media feeds. Ingrid ma- rap her fellow-locals in a street-corner contest, A new documentary, directed by Sabaah Fo-
nipulates Dan (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), her new her musical partnership with Hareesh (Sid- layan and Damon Davis, about the 2014 kill-
neighbor and quasi-landlord, for help with her dharth Dhananjay), a pharmacist whose rap ing of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri,
schemes; indifferent to the pain she causes, Ing- name is Jheri, is going nowhere. But she even- at the hands of the police, and about the wide-
rid is speeding toward disaster and determined tually meets a taciturn loud-core anarchist who spread anger that ensued. Indeed, the film is
not to crash alone. Yet Spicer’s empathetic view calls himself Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou still fired up; if it makes no effort to take a bal-
of Ingrid’s tangle of misery is outweighed by his Athie), a sort of musical genius, whom she lures anced view, that is because the time for bal-
satirical critique of online stardom, Hollywood into the group, sparking romance and success. ance—to judge by the opinions expressed with
hustling, and conspicuous consumption; he pre- There are hiccups along the way—debt, work, such vehemence here—is long gone. Few mod-
sents Ingrid’s maladies as the results of the social insult, injury, illness, death—and Patti’s forceful, erate voices are heard, and the movie seems des-
ills of the times. The action devolves into wan confident pugnacity takes some blows. She has tined to become part of the activist movement
op-ed commentary. With Billy Magnussen, as to accept her family identity while attempting that it portrays. In lieu of a narrator who might
Taylor’s dissolute yet deeply loyal brother, and to forge an artistic one—and trying to recon- shepherd us calmly through the fractious events
Wyatt Russell, as her trophy boyfriend.—R.B. cile with Barb, a former singer who put her in Missouri, we are treated to a busy collage of
(In limited release.) own dreams aside. Jasper hits every note of interviews, archival footage, and tweets, plus a
sentimental manipulation in a tale that’s as load of cell-phone-video clips, freshly caught
Lemon fleetingly affecting as it is insubstantial and from the flow of the streets. One of the most
Janicza Bravo co-wrote her first feature with her mechanical.—R.B. (In wide release.) appealing—and most forthright—figures we
husband, Brett Gelman, who stars as a sad-sack encounter is Brittany Ferrell, who instructs
actor named Isaac who’s failing and flailing at Planetarium her six-year-old daughter in the art of public
work and in love. Ramona (Judy Greer), his girl- The director Rebecca Zlotowski turns the real- protest. On that basis, Ferguson is in no dan-
friend of ten years, who is blind, leaves him. He life story of the Paris-based producer Ber- ger of being forgotten.—A.L. (8/7 & 14/17)
teaches an acting class where he mostly berates nard Natan, whose career was torpedoed in (In wide release.)

18 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


Drive East
Since 2013, this festival has been packing an amaz-

DANCE ing quantity of high-quality classical Indian dance


and music into one week of August. Along with the
usual assortment of soloists and groups in various
classical forms, this year’s dance selections include
the novelties of a combination of kathak and Korean
drumming, some circuslike folk dancing from the
deserts of Rajasthan, and, most exciting, a kathak
recital (by Rachna Nivas and Rina Mehta) with
an incendiary guest: the unsurpassed American
tap dancer Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. (Dixon
Place, 161A Chrystie St. driveeastnyc.org. Aug. 23-27.)

Beach Sessions Dance Series


For the final program in this annual series, which
combines a day at the beach with a taste of exper-
imental dance, the choreographer Madeline Hol-
lander matches dancers with beach-rake trucks in
“Arena,” a littoral meditation on the ephemeral-
ity of her art. First, the dancers, encased in cos-
tumes that resemble beekeeping suits, follow the
rakes, leaving traces of their motions in the freshly
combed sand. Then the trucks follow the danc-
ers, covering their tracks, erasing evidence of the

1
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch returns to BAM with “Café Müller,” from 1978. dance. (Beach 110th St., Rockaway Beach, Queens.
beachsessionsdanceseries.com. Aug. 26.)

Fall Preview runs Oct. 18-29, at the David H. Koch)


premières on Oct. 18, with a score by the OUT OF TOWN
In the eight years since Pina Bausch’s same composer, “Bukovinian Songs,” a Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
sudden death, her company, Tanztheater suite for solo piano based on Ukrainian The Washington Ballet—under the artistic direc-
Wuppertal Pina Bausch, has soldiered folk tunes. Ratmansky’s other recent tion of Julie Kent, the former American Ballet The-
atre star who took the helm last year—has been
on, performing her emotionally strenuous Desyatnikov ballet, “Odessa,” will be part thriving, especially in classic works. But the pro-
dance-theatre works. At BAM (Sept. 14-24), of New York City Ballet’s fall season gram for the troupe’s first Pillow appearance since
the troupe presents two scorchers, “Café (Sept. 19-Oct. 15, at the David H. Koch). 1980 (at the Ted Shawn) is a mixed bag of newer
stuff: the meretricious eroticism of Jiří Kylián’s
Müller” and “The Rite of Spring,” both Ask any dancer her favorite dance film, “Petite Mort” and the clever flash of Annabelle
made in the seventies, before a hint of and she’s likely to name the 1948 surreal- Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerisimo,” a dance for six sexy
gentleness began to creep into Bausch’s ist melodrama “The Red Shoes,” about men and their hats, offset by the elegance and elo-
quence of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas.” • A
world view. The first is set in a chair- a ballerina (played by Moira Shearer) collaboration between the choreographer John
strewn room, where nightmarish personal driven to self-destruction by her love of Heginbotham and the illustrator Maira Kalman
dramas play out to the music of Purcell. dance. Who better to adapt this gory tale would seem to risk an excess of whimsy. Yet “The
Principles of Uncertainty” (débuting at the Doris
The other takes place on a dirt-covered for the stage than the British choreogra- Duke), jumping off from Kalman’s online column
stage, a sombre setting for a hair-raising pher Matthew Bourne, who brought us turned book of the same name, also promises wel-
ritual of immolation. a danced version of “Edward Scissor- come wit in the face of mortality, and light-footed,
pleasure-giving interaction with live music by the
A redemption of sorts can be found in hands”? At City Center (Oct. 26-Nov. 5), Knights. (Becket, Mass. 413-243-0745. Aug. 23-27.)
“A Love Supreme” (New York Live Arts, the role of the aristocratic, tenderhearted,
Sept. 27-30), Anne Teresa De Keers- and obsessive heroine will be performed
maeker’s collaboration with Salva San- alternately by Ashley Shaw, of Bourne’s
chis, a former member of De Keers- London-based company New Adven-
maeker’s company, Rosas. With a mix of
choreographed movement and improvi-
tures, and N.Y.C.B.’s own drama queen
Sara Mearns.
ABOVE &
sation, Sanchis and De Keersmaeker have
conjured a physical counterpart to John
An impossible love story drawn from
Persian myth lies at the heart of “Layla
BEYOND
Coltrane’s famous 1964 album. It is danced and Majnun,” a 1908 opera by the Azer- Jazz Age Lawn Party
by four men, each of whom closely scans baijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli. In Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orches-
a musical line played by a different mem- Mark Morris’s version (in the White tra, who perform nineteen-twenties dance
ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

music as if the past ninety years had never


ber of Coltrane’s legendary quartet. Light Festival, at the Rose Theatre, happened, present a Gatsby-esque affair on
Alexei Ratmansky’s affinity for the Oct. 26-29), the singers and players— Governors Island. It is billed as the world’s
music of the contemporary Russian members of the Silk Road Ensemble—sit largest Prohibition-era-inspired gathering,
just without the Prohibition; a menu includes
composer Leonid Desyatnikov has pro- in the center of a tiered stage, as, all a period-appropriate spread of food and drink.
duced some of his most original ballets, around them, dancers from the Mark There will also be dance lessons, a Charleston
including “Russian Seasons” and “Old Morris Dance Group reënact the story contest, a display of antique gramophones,
a “Bathing Beauties and Beaus” promenade,
Women Falling Out.” His newest work of the star-crossed lovers. and a pie-baking contest. (jazzagelawnparty.
for American Ballet Theatre (the season —Marina Harss com. Aug. 26-27.)

20 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


ABOVE & BEYOND

Long Island City Boathouse Paddle


Hallet’s Cove is as tucked away as it sounds, nestled
at the border between Astoria and Ravenswood.
There, on weekends, the Long Island City boat-
house hosts regular canoeing and kayaking trips off
the shore of Socrates Sculpture Park; these “weekly
paddles” provide stunning views of Roosevelt Is-
land, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Weather
permitting, all ages are invited to take part in an
afternoon row through the cove on Saturday and
Sunday—participants must be able to swim, and
singles may be paired up. (31-2 Vernon Blvd., Asto-
ria, Queens. licboathouse.org. Aug. 26-27.)

Hudson River Stargazing


The Amateur Astronomers Association, founded
in 1927, has hosted atmospheric lectures and events
around the city for decades; this summer’s schedule
has included talks on how astronomers took the uni-
verse’s “baby picture” by capturing millennia-old
light, and on potential alternatives to dark matter.
This week, the club offers participants a chance to
study the sun up close, without a pesky solar eclipse
sweeping into their line of sight. Using special tele-
scopes designed to safely focus on the sun, attend-
ees can examine the star’s pulsing surface and iden-
tify sunspots and prominences. (Pier I, 500 W. 70th
St. riversideparknyc.org. Aug. 27 at 1.)
1 READINGS AND TALKS

Strand Bookstore
Nancy Davidoff Kelton describes the good and
bad habits of memoir writers as the difference
between “Ah-ha!” and “Oy vey!” Personal writ-
ing lends itself to self-indulgence, but memoir-
ists, Kelton says, should aspire to revelation, not
absorption. The New School professor, who has
written six books, including, most recently, “Find-
ing Mr. Rightstein,” hosts this writing workshop,
offering techniques for effective self-exploration,
tips for structuring one’s work and establishing
productive habits, and other fundamental tools
for aspiring scribes. (828 Broadway. 212-473-1452.
Aug. 23 at 6:30.)

Just a Show
Harris Mayersohn is a staff writer for “The Late
Show with Stephen Colbert” and also hosts a reg-
ular comic variety show at Sunnyvale, a remote
Bushwick bar that fittingly takes its name from
the wacky mockumentary series “Trailer Park
Boys.” On the last Sunday of each month, May-
ersohn gathers fellow standup performers and
yuckster writers from the city’s bustling comedy
community for an unpredictable night of antics
and pranks. This edition features the bright come-
dians Sasheer Zamata, Paige Weldon, Rae Sanni,
Tom Thakkar, and Joe Kwaczala. (1031 Grand St.,
Brooklyn. sunnyvalebk.com. Aug. 27 at 6.)

Riverside Church
This week, Bernie Sanders is set to publish
a how-to guide for budding revolutionaries,
aimed at those below voting age but inundated
with the issues of the adult world. “Bernie Sand-
ers Guide to Political Revolution” presents his
background and policies in easy-to-absorb lan-
guage and infographics: he recounts his early
exposure to socialism and his initial political
ambitions, draws on the hindsight gained from
his Presidential campaign, and lays out the
stakes for the future. He appears on the eve of
the book’s release for a talk co-hosted by Harp-
er’s and Book Culture. (490 Riverside Dr. book-
culture.com. Aug. 28 at 7.)

THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 21


F§D & DRINK

TABLES FOR TWO with wild tangles of green tendrils or


1 BAR TAB
Gloria magenta radish spirals. They’re also de-
licious—Garcia, who was born in Mex-
401 W. 53rd St. (212-956-0709)
ico and grew up in Napa, has a knack
For Broadway habitués and Hell’s for getting to the essence of flavors.
Kitchen residents, the opening of this Chopped scallops, slightly cooked to
pescatarian restaurant, on the fringes of bring out the sweetness, get kicked into
the theatre district, is very good news. hyperdrive with a bright-green purée of
Et Al.
Gloria infuses the neighborhood— asparagus and kale; a copious amount 191 Chrystie St.
where margarita happy hours and loaded of Jonah crab is covered with a luscious
The nastiest bouncers in New York these days
tater tots are honored traditions—with saffron-scented bouillabaisse sabayon, are probably those at the Public, Ian Schrager’s
downtown cool bolstered by an élite the richness cut with peppery nasturtium new hotel. (“Not on the list? Get the fuck out
seafood pedigree. The chef, Diego Gar- leaves. of line.”) The prize for the nicest has to go to
Hugh, a doorman about a block down on Chrys-
cia, and the manager, Phil Johnson, met If you look closely, you will discover tie Street, who greets guests with a handshake
under the auspices of Eric Ripert—Gar- an open secret: the menu is entirely and a warm welcome at Et Al., the friendliest
cia was a sous chef at Ripert’s fish tem- gluten-free. Johnson says that about one trendy bar in town. That’s not to say that walk-
ing in isn’t a touch intimidating: low-intensity

PHOTOGRAPH BY YUDI ELA FOR THE NEW YORKER; ILLUSTRATION BY JOOST SWARTE
ple, Le Bernardin, and Johnson a som- out of four diners asks for gluten-free club beats whose backing vocals seem to have
melier at his haute wine bar, Aldo Sohm. options, so they just went with it. In main been imprinted on the lips of the attending
After a stint together at Contra, a Lower dishes like wild striped bass with a red- cognoscenti at birth, décor that is strictly rave-
bondage-meets-future-Tokyo. All of this is
East Side mecca of the innovative wine-butter emulsion, and fried whole appropriate for a spot that is remembered by
affordable tasting menu, the two decided snapper served with a little copper pot devotees, albeit blearily, as the site of the long-
to strike out on their own. The concept of lobster sauce, neither gluten nor meat lost Experimental Cocktail Club. Witness the
words “anything” and “everything” projected
for Gloria, Johnson said, began as a chal- is missed. The most unassuming dish, a onto a wall near the front, Teddy bears hand-
lenge: “Can we do this without any meat bowl of Rancho Gordo beans—tender cuffed to metal poles in the back, and a twisting
at all?” The answer: “Yes, we can.” and saline in a mussel broth with a basil polyhedral light fixture above the bar. Here
eighteen-dollar cocktails are the order of the
The minimalist menu, stocked with pistou—is a sleeper hit. day. Try a Fuck You Steve, which radiates with
sustainable fish and seafood from the Care is taken everywhere: vases of mezcal, pineapple, and Campari, or a similarly
Atlantic Ocean, keeps things mysterious, wildflowers, low lighting that echoes the bromelain-laden Love Blake, with tequila re-
posado and cinnamon. Or, if you like your
with descriptions like “squid, walnut, ink, glow of evening’s magic hour, bathroom drinks strong, go for a Starring Angelo, in which
cauliflower.” The first item is the sim- signs that read “Whichever.” What neigh- oodles of Campari are mixed with bourbon and
plest: cornbread, a crunchy-moist round borhood wouldn’t welcome a beautifica- Italian vermouth. The other night, a peal of
laughter rose from a packed table as someone
that telegraphs “we’re humble and ca- tion project? When Johnson was planting exclaimed, “They were a polyamorous couple!”
sual,” while the accompanying cultured a maple tree in front of the restaurant, a Sure, the crowd veers a smidgen older than the
butter says, “but it’s going to be amaz- local passerby voiced his approval: “Love rest of Chrystie Street—even though the oldest
are probably only in their mid-thirties—but
ing.” Many of the dishes are meticulously the tree.” (Entrées $18-$39.) that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to have
staged, arranged in neat circles garnished —Shauna Lyon fun.—Nicolas Niarchos

22 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


THE TALK OF THE TOWN

COMMENT assembling his own Hitler Youth. A past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What
THE DIVIDER high-speed train from Las Vegas to surprised me was the degree to which
Anaheim that was part of the economic- those tactics and rhetoric completely
arly last November, just before stimulus package was a secret effort to jumped the rails.”
E Election Day, Barack Obama was
driven through the crisp late-night
connect the brothels of Nevada to the
innocents at Disneyland. He was, by
For half a century, in fact, the lead-
ers of the G.O.P. have fanned the lin-
gloom of the outskirts of Charlotte, as nature, suspect. “You just look at the gering embers of racial resentment in
he barnstormed North Carolina on body  language, and there’s some- the United States. Through shrewd po-
behalf of Hillary Clinton. He was in thing going on,” Trump said, last sum- litical calculation and rhetoric, from
no measure serene or confident. The mer. In the meantime, beginning on Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to
polls, the “analytics,” remained in Clin- the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the the latest charges of voter fraud in
ton’s favor, yet Obama, with the unique Secret Service fielded an unprecedented majority-African-American districts,
vantage point of being the first African- number of threats against the Presi- doing so has paid off at the ballot box.
American President, had watched as, dent’s person. “There were no governing principles,”
night after night, immense crowds And so, speeding toward yet another Obama said. “There was no one to say,
cheered and hooted for a demagogue airport last November, Obama seemed ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what
who had launched a business career like a weary man who harbored a burn- we stand for.’ ”
with blacks-need-not-apply housing ing seed of apprehension. “We’ve seen Last week, the world witnessed
developments in Queens and a polit- this coming,” he said. “Donald Trump Obama’s successor in the White House,
ical career with a racist conspiracy the- is not an outlier; he is a culmination, unbound and unhinged, acting more
ory known as birtherism. During his a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and or less as Obama had predicted. In
speech in Charlotte that night, Obama tactics of the Republican Party for the 2015, a week after Trump had declared
warned that no one really changes in his candidacy, he spoke in favor of re-
the Presidency; rather, the office “mag- moving the Confederate flag from
nifies” who you already are. So if you South Carolina’s capitol: “Put it in the
“accept the support of Klan sympa- museum and let it go.” But, last week,
thizers before you’re President, or you’re abandoning the customary dog whis-
kind of slow in disowning it, saying, tle of previous Republican culture war-
‘Well, I don’t know,’ then that’s how riors, President Trump made plain his
you’ll be as President.” indulgent sympathy for neo-Nazis,
Donald Trump’s ascent was hardly Klan members, and unaffiliated white
the first sign that Americans had not supremacists, who marched with
uniformly regarded Obama’s election torches, assault rifles, clubs, and racist
ILLUSTRATIONS BY TOM BACHTELL

as an inspiring chapter in the country’s and anti-Semitic slogans through the


fitful progress toward equality. Newt streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One
Gingrich, the former Speaker of the participant even adopted an isis ter-
House, had branded him the “food- ror tactic, driving straight into a crowd
stamp President.” In the right-wing of people peaceably demonstrating
and white-nationalist media, Obama against the racists. Trump had declared
was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the an “America First” culture war in his
Antichrist, a “liberal fascist,” who was Inaugural Address, and now—as his
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 27
poll numbers dropped, as he lost again of this White House was, and remains, Trump’s circle somewhat; business ex-
and again in the courts and in Con- Trump’s. ecutives, generals and security officials,
gress, as the Mueller investigation When Trump was elected, there advisers, and even family members have
delved into his miserable business his- were those who considered his history semaphored their private despair. One
tory, as more and more aides leaked and insisted that this was a kind of na- of the more lasting images from Trump’s
their dismay—he had cast his lot with tional emergency, and that to normal- squalid appearance on Tuesday was that
the basest of his base. There were some ize this Presidency was a dangerous il- of his chief of staff, John Kelly, who
“very fine people” among the white lusion. At the same time, there were stood listening to him with a hangdog
nationalists, he said, and their “culture” those who, in the spirit of patience and look of shame. But Trump still retains
should not be threatened. national comity, held that Trump was the support of roughly a third of the
Who could have predicted it? Any- “our President,” and that “he must be country, and of the majority of the Re-
one, really. Two years ago, the Daily given a chance.” Has he had enough publican electorate. The political figure
Stormer, the foremost neo-Nazi news of a chance yet? After his press con- Obama saw as a “logical conclusion of
site in the country, called on white ference in the lobby of Trump Tower the rhetoric and tactics of the Repub-
men to “vote for the first time in our last Tuesday, when he ignored the lican Party” has not yet come unmoored
lives for the one man who actually scripted attempts to regulate his im- from the Party’s base.
represents our interests.” Trump never pulses and revealed his true allegiances, The most important resistance to
spurned this current of his support. there can be no doubt about who he Trump has to come from civil society,
He invited it, exploited it. With Ste- is. This is the inescapable fact: on No- from institutions, and from individu-
phen Bannon, white nationalism won vember 9th, the United States elected als who, despite their differences, be-
prime real estate in the West Wing. a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and im- lieve in constitutional norms and have
Bannon wrote much of the inaugural moral human being as its President a fundamental respect for the values of
speech, and was branded “The Great and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has honesty, equality, and justice. The im-
Manipulator” in a Time cover story daily proven unyielding to appeals of perative is to find ways to counteract
that bruised the Presidential ego. But decency, unity, moderation, or fact. and diminish his malignant influence
Bannon has been marginalized for He is willing to imperil the civil peace not only in the overtly political realm
months. Last Friday, in the wake of and the social fabric of his country but also in the social and cultural one.
Charlottesville, Trump finally pushed simply to satisfy his narcissism and to To fail in that would allow the death
him out. He is headed back to Breit- excite the worst inclinations of his core rattle of an old racist order to take hold
bart News. But he was staff; his de- followers. as a deafening revival.
parture is hardly decisive. The culture This latest outrage has disheartened —David Remnick

DEPT. OF SUPERLATIVES just something that happens,” Glenn der said. “I couldn’t move. I just stood
TOTALLY Schneider, one of the triumvirate, said there, with the binoculars hanging
by phone, from Tucson, Arizona, where around my neck.”
he is an astronomer at the Steward Jay Pasachoff, a solar astronomer at
Observatory. Eclipses and the sun are Williams College, claims to have wit-
not his field, just a passion. “It will nessed more eclipses, total or other-
change your life,” he said of viewing wise, than anyone else alive: sixty-five.
a total solar eclipse. “I warn people He, too, is from the Bronx. He saw his
n Monday, people in a seventy- about that. When I give talks about first total eclipse during his freshman
O mile-wide swath of the United
States will witness one of nature’s great
eclipses, my first slide is like the label
on a cigarette pack—a warning of
year at Harvard, in 1959, from an air-
plane off the Massachusetts coast. “It
spectacles: the total solar eclipse. The addiction.” was beautiful,” he said. “But seeing one
event will attract swarms of eclipse Schneider, who grew up in the from an airplane is nothing compared
chasers—or, as some of them prefer to Bronx, saw his first total solar eclipse with what it’s like being outdoors.”
be called, “umbraphiles,” derived from in 1970, when he was fourteen. He took John Beattie, a proofreader in Man-
“umbra,” the technical term for the a bus down to Greenville, North Car- hattan, also tied for the record, declined
darkest part of the moon’s shadow. New olina, with the Amateur Observers’ So- to be interviewed. Schneider said, “De-
York City will not be a prime destina- ciety of New York to see it. “I had pre- spite being an extroverted eclipse chaser,
tion; here, the moon will obscure only pared exactly what I was going to do John eschews press notoriety and is a
seventy-two per cent of the sun. But for every second of that totality,” he rather private person.”
the city is distinguished neverthe- recalled. “I knew it was going to be Schneider and Beattie were among
less: three men currently claiming two minutes and fifty-four seconds. I a group of umbraphiles who experi-
the record for the most total solar set up telescopes and cameras and had enced the longest totality ever viewed
eclipses seen (thirty-three) are all New it all scripted, spent months practic- from a civilian aircraft, in 2010: nine
Yorkers. ing.” Then the moment came. “The minutes and twenty-three seconds. The
“I’m not out for record-setting. It’s word ‘mesmerized’ understates,” Schnei- pair also witnessed a “hybrid” eclipse
28 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
(don’t ask) that occurred between choff will lead a group of three hun- as salt-of-the-earth types (“Babe”) or as
Greenland and Iceland in 1986. They dred gazers, including students and flinty authority figures (“L.A. Confiden-
rented a private jet and flew over a researchers, a hundred miles away, in tial”). But this summer he’s been in the
one-kilometre-wide patch of the North Salem. According to Schneider, Beat- news for rabble-rousing. In July, he was
Atlantic. tie plans to be near an airport in the arrested at SeaWorld San Diego for in-
In general, umbraphiles are not a path of totality, so that in the case of terrupting an orca show wearing a T-shirt
boastful or a rivalrous bunch; in the bad weather he can hop on a plane that said “SeaWorld Sucks.” Days ear-
face of grand celestial alignments, the and see the eclipse from above the lier, he served three days at the Orange
human ego shrinks. “Before the 2002 clouds. If the weather in Oregon doesn’t County Correctional Facility, after re-
eclipse, in Australia, we were sitting coöperate, might the strategy put him fusing to pay a fine stemming from a
around with half a dozen people, in- in first place, ahead of his fellow- 2015 sit-in at a new power plant in
cluding Glenn and John, and my wife umbraphiles? Pasachoff didn’t think Wawayanda, New York. He spent his
thought people were being competi- so: “I think just being in the zone of prison time on a hunger strike, and read

1
tive,” Pasachoff admitted. (His wife totality should count.” five hundred pages of “The Pickwick
has accompanied him to thirty-nine —Jason Kersten Papers.”
eclipse viewings.) “One of the questions people ask
The umbraphile’s life inevitably in- OFFSTAGE you when you go in is ‘Are you anxious
volves disappointment. Newtonian DISOBEDIENT about being raped?’ ” Cromwell, who is
physics makes it possible to plan for seventy-seven, recalled. “I said, ‘Not un-
an eclipse centuries in advance, but less they’re a whole lot hornier than I
not for unexpected disasters. Pasachoff think they are.’” He was at a hotel in Al-
missed one in Eastern Europe in 1968 bany, about to speak at a rally against the
because Russia had invaded Czecho- Wawayanda power plant, which would
slovakia. “That still bothers me,” he run on fracked gas piped in from Penn-
said. Schneider missed one in Antarc- he first time James Cromwell got sylvania. (Governor Cuomo has banned
tica in 1985 because he couldn’t find a
plane or an icebreaker to take him into
T arrested was in 1971. “I sort of—
he thought I did, I didn’t think I did—
fracking in New York State, but protest-
ers were demanding that he deny the
the path of totality. assaulted a police officer on a subway plant a water permit.)
Why are the most accomplished train who was hassling a woman,” he The actor’s father, the Hollywood
umbraphiles New Yorkers? “We’ve been recalled recently. He was taken to a director John Cromwell, was black-
talking about that a lot lately,” Pasa- station house beneath Times Square, listed in the fifties, but James didn’t
choff said. “The Hayden Planetarium where a sergeant asked what he did for become politicized until 1964, when,
is definitely a link.” Pasachoff took trips a living. “I said, ‘I’m an actor.’ He went, at twenty-three, he joined the Free
there while he was a student at P.S. 114 ‘You working on anything now?’ Like, Southern Theatre and toured Missis-
and, later, at the Bronx High School You’re unemployed, you’re a fucking actor. sippi and Louisiana, playing Pozzo in
of Science. He built telescopes in the I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing a play.’ ‘What’s a mixed-race production of “Waiting
planetarium’s basement. Schneider was the play called?’ I said, ‘AC/DC,’ which for Godot.” After the Kent State shoot-
also a regular visitor. is a wonderful English play, very ab- ings, in 1970, Cromwell recalled, “I said
For this week’s eclipse, Schneider struse. Of course, he thought it meant to myself, ‘Why the fuck am I doing
will be in Madras, Oregon, and Pasa- bisexuality.” Cromwell was let off with crappy Shakespeare?’ ” He joined a
a warning. defense committee for the Black Pan-
He was arrested again a few months thers, and at one point used his father’s
later, at the May Day protests in Wash- apartment, on East Fiftieth Street, as
ington, D.C., along with thousands of a safe house for Elbert (Big Man) How-
other people. Confronting a cop, he ard. Restless, he hitchhiked around the
felt a baton against his throat, was world and wound up in India, where
tossed into a paddy wagon, and spent he became a disciple of Neem Karoli
the night in jail. From his hotel room Baba. (“This is all illusion,” Cromwell
the next morning, he saw a chaotic said, tapping on a wooden post.) He
scene—tear gas, anarchists clashing returned to California, intending to
with police—that came to mind this become a parole officer, and was cast
past January, when he was protesting in “All in the Family.” But his career
Donald Trump’s Inauguration. “It was didn’t take off until 1995, when he played
like the seventies,” he said. “Nothing’s a pig farmer in “Babe” and was nomi-
changed.” nated for an Oscar. Working with pigs
Cromwell’s penchant for civil disobe- got him into animal rights. In 2001, he
dience may seem out of character. With was arrested while occupying a Wendy’s
his woolly voice and “American Gothic” in Virginia.
look, the six-feet-seven actor is often cast Cromwell’s phone rang (the ringtone
30 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
was him saying,“That’ll do, pig”), and at the studio, they can say, ‘He can’t say founded his own tech company, Patreon,
he headed to the protest. On the way, that!’ It’ll be gone like that. And then a Web site that allows artists and activ-
he ran into another speaker, Dennis my character will really serve no pur- ists to get paid directly by fans and sup-

1
Kucinich. “I gotta go check on the sound pose at all.” porters. A creator posts a description of
system,” Cromwell told him. —Michael Schulman what she intends to make—a comic strip,
“You need a sound system?” Kucinich a podcast—and patrons sign up to fund
said with a laugh. SCREEN WARS it, each chipping in a few dollars a month.
Several hundred people had gath- GATEKEEPERS Patreon takes a five-per-cent cut. The
ered in West Capitol Park, with signs company now has about eighty employ-
that said “Protect NY Water” and ees and a hundred-and-fifty-million-
“Make Earth Great Again.” An ac- dollar valuation—big enough that many
tivist named Pramilla Malick intro- Web denizens consider Conte a new
duced Cromwell, saying, “He is never kind of puppet master.
afraid to speak truth to power.” Last month, Lauren Southern, a right-
“You really are beautiful,” Cromwell enerally speaking, anyone can say wing activist and pundit who was earn-
told the crowd. He mentioned a statis-
tic that he’d just read: “Do you know
G anything online. But, lately, things
have started to get complicated. Last
ing a few thousand dollars a month on
Patreon, received an e-mail from the
what has the most impact in reducing week, after neo-Nazis and white suprem- company’s Trust and Safety team. “Here
our carbon footprint?” acists descended on Charlottesville, the at Patreon we believe in freedom of
“Going vegan!” someone yelled. neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer disap- speech,” it read. “When ideas cross into
“Unfortunately, it’s not,” he said. peared from the Internet. GoDaddy, the action, though, we sometimes must take
“This is what it is: don’t have children. registrar of the site’s domain, had dis- a closer look.” Southern, a videogenic
Can you believe we are saying to the continued its service. The Daily Stormer Canadian in her early twenties, whose
people of this world that in order to switched its domain to Google, which book was blurbed by Ann Coulter, was
promptly shut it down as well. The site known for videos like “White Privilege
is now back up, on the dark Web, with Is a Dangerous Myth.” Her Patreon page
its publisher pleading victimhood on so- now reads “This page has been removed.”
cial media. (“I am being unpersoned.”) Southern had participated in an
What happened to the Daily Stormer anti-immigration action in the Medi-
wasn’t a violation of the First Amend- terranean Sea, in which a motorboat
ment—private companies are allowed to tried to prevent a ship from bringing
stifle speech—but it enraged people on refugees to Europe. In an apologetic
the right, many of whom were already YouTube video, Conte insisted that
deeply skeptical of the puppet masters Southern had been banned not for her
in Silicon Valley. Before any of this hap- politics but for her risky behavior. “I
pened, a pro-Trump activist named Jack didn’t expect to convince everyone, and
Posobiec was organizing a multicity that’s O.K.,” he said.
“March on Google,” calling the com- Predictably, Southern’s fans were not
pany “an anti-free-speech monopoly.” pleased. “You’re an idiot and a beta
(Last week, Posobiec announced that the cuck,” one commented. Some called
march had been postponed, citing threats for lawsuits. Others linked to a copy-
from the “alt-left.”) cat site called Hatreon. (Motto: “A plat-
Jack Conte is not an alt-right activ- form for creators, absent thought po-
ist—he’s a bald, bearded musician from licing.”) Southern set up her own site,
James Cromwell San Francisco—but he, too, once re- patreonsucks.com. “Big liberal silicon
sented the titans of Silicon Valley. A few valley companies want me to become
be able to live in it you have to give years ago, Conte was trying to make a a friendly little vlogger that spouts all
up your children?” There were tenta- living on YouTube. His music videos— the right lines,” she wrote. “I won’t let
tive cheers. funk covers of pop songs, homemade ro- that happen.” She made a YouTube
Cromwell and Kucinich led the bots playing percussion pads—often went video directing followers to her new
crowd to deliver a petition to Cuomo’s viral. “I made a video that took many, site, adding, “As for Patreon, you guys
office. “Second floor, to the War Room,” many hours and cost me thousands of can suck my balls.”
Cromwell instructed from the lobby. dollars,” Conte said. “My fans loved it. Then came Charlottesville. Jason Kess-
He recently finished shooting “Juras- It got more than a million views. And I ler, the organizer of the “Unite the Right”
sic World: Fallen Kingdom,” in which made a hundred and fifty bucks from it. rally, had a Patreon page (three backers,
he plays a scientist who warns of tech- I realized, Clearly, there is a problem generating thirty-three dollars a month).
nology run amok. While filming his with how stuff on the Internet—what It was swiftly removed for violating
big speech, he sneaked in a jab at the we now call ‘content,’ what used to be Patreon’s rule against “affiliations with
fossil-fuel industry: “When they see it called ‘art’—gets monetized.” Conte co- known hate groups.” Meanwhile, another
32 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Patreon user, the progressive activist their conversation: “Chris said to me, two new performance spaces, on West
Logan Smith, began sharing photos of ‘This is not the table where Robin Wil- Third Street, and he extended the kitchen
the torch-wielding mob on his Twitter liams sat, this is not where Ray Romano at the Olive Tree so that a proper chef
handle @YesYoureRacist. He urged peo- sat, this is not where Jon Stewart sat.’ He could cook steak and fish rather than the
ple to help him identify the participants: rattled them off, and each one was like usual falafel. Dworman claims that his
“I’ll make them famous.” Online vigi- a punch in the gut.” only stipulation to the architect was “The
lantes complied, and several marchers “The table” is actually two slate ta- comedian table cannot be moved at all.”
lost their jobs. A few people were incor- bles pushed together, with a banquette Yet the table was moved. The come-
rectly identified, causing nonparticipants on one side and wooden chairs on the dians were shifted to a temporary table,
to receive death threats. Doxing—pub- other. It was installed by Noam’s father, which ruffled feathers. Rachel Feinstein
lishing someone’s private information Manny, who opened the Cellar in 1981. (“Crashing”), who often stopped by the
online—is against Patreon’s rules. Smith Manny came to love the company of co- table to see her friends Nikki Glaser and
claims that his activism wasn’t doxing. medians like Dave Attell, Louis C.K., Amy Schumer, said, “That is our home.
“If these people are so proud of their be- and Colin Quinn. “Once you get used You just want it to feel just like it’s sup-
liefs, then they shouldn’t have a problem to hanging out with comedians, you re- posed to.” Mark Normand (“Inside Amy
with their communities knowing their ally can’t hang out with anybody else,” Schumer”) announced on his podcast
names,” he said last week. Noam said. In the late nineties, one of that he’d spoken to Rock about the ta-
Patreon disagreed, and Smith’s page the regulars, Nick Di Paolo (“Louie”), ble’s being moved, and Rock had told
was removed. “It doesn’t matter who the lobbied Manny to give the comedians him, “This place is over.”
victim is,” Conte said. “It could be a con- their own space. The next night, Manny Dworman grew worried. The reno-
victed murderer. If someone is releasing left a sign on a back table: “This Table vation took about six months, and cost
private information that an individual Is Reserved for Comedy Cellar Co- about three hundred thousand dollars.
doesn’t want to be made public, then medians Only.” When it was finished, the table had been
that’s doxing. And we don’t allow it.” “Any time a civilian would come over permanently relocated and extra ban-
(One person tweeted at Patreon, “He is and sit down and start talking, we would quette space had been added. “More com-
identifying nazis and you are slowly push that sign in front of their ics could sit there, but it wasn’t the table,”
stopping him at the request of face, and keep pushing it in front of Kelly said. Bill Burr (“The Heat”) ranted,
nazis.”) Conte went on, “We’ve been them until they got the fuck up and on another podcast, “What did Noam
getting it from all sides—of course. I get left,” Robert Kelly (“Sex&Drugs& do to the table down here? He literally
it. Taking away someone’s income is a Rock&Roll”) recalled recently. Regu- fucked with the whole aura of this place!”
hugely onerous thing, and we don’t take lars also defended the table against co- Dworman texted Burr, “Yo, we moved
it lightly.” He sighed. “We’ve dealt with medians who didn’t do standup at the the table over 4.5 ft in order to double
a huge range of stuff in the past few years, Cellar, were hacks, or were dressed badly. the size of the kitchen, so the fucking
a wider variety than I ever would have The atmosphere was combative. “Me comics can have steak and pasta instead
imagined. But the fact that we’re talking and Keith Robinson would start yell- of falafel every night. Lol.”
about swastika flags right now? It just ing and arguing about race, or whatever, Dworman later calculated that the

1
makes me sad.” and we would forget that we were in table had been moved thirty-three inches.
—Andrew Marantz a restaurant,” Di Paolo said. Another But it was closer to the bar, where fans
ringleader, Rich Vos (“Women Aren’t could eavesdrop on the comedians. “I
FURNISHED DEPT. Funny”), said, “When we left the table, think there’s just some magical distance,
TABLE TALK we left shattered and beaten down.” which is what we consider personal space,
Manny loved it. He hosted fierce de- and I violated that,” he said. After his
bates at the table, and started a book summit with Rock, Dworman got the
group. (He once handed out copies of message: he paid twenty thousand dol-
Alan Dershowitz’s “The Case for Is- lars to re-renovate. The kitchen became
rael.”) In 2003, Manny died, of cancer. hard to access, but the table was resur-
(When Di Paolo phoned Manny on his rected. “Technically, it’s not the exact
ne Saturday night last year, Noam deathbed, he asked, “Who gets the spot,” Quinn said. The Cellar’s general
O Dworman and the comedian Chris
Rock sat at the back table in the Olive
Lexus?”)
After Noam took over, a new gen-
manager, Elizabeth Furiati, clarified by
e-mail: “The table is MAYBE a few inches
Tree, a restaurant on MacDougal Street, eration of comedians changed the tone off from where it was previously.”
in Manhattan, that Dworman owns. The at the table: less hazing and more cell Rock and Dworman sat down at it
table is permanently reserved for come- phones, but the same desire for sanc- again, and Rock gave his approval. “No
dians who perform at the Comedy Cel- tuary. “It feels like a backstage area,” harm, no foul” was Dworman’s assess-
lar, a club in the Olive Tree’s basement, Michael Che (“Saturday Night Live”) ment. Quinn offered consolation: “Noam
which is also owned by Dworman. The said. “People will look over, and they’ll took a chance. Everybody’s, like, ‘Whoa,
comedians’ table had recently been moved, instantly know, O.K., we shouldn’t whoa,’ but guess what? We do the same
to make space for a kitchen extension. bother them.” shit in our act, and sometimes it fails.”
Rock was not happy. Dworman recalled By April, 2016, Dworman had opened —Andrew Hankinson
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 33
the security photos of me that the
PERSONAL HISTORY staff behind front desks take before I
go into office buildings in Manhat-

DRIVE TIME
tan. I mean that I do not think of my
car as a junker.
Recently, I was in a seven-car pileup
The surprising pleasures of driving in New York. on the Garden State Parkway. No one
was badly hurt, though the multiple
BY IAN FRAZIER collisions totalled several cars. I got hit
on the left rear bumper, which was
smashed in, along with the tail-light.
The plastic part of the bumper was
hanging down. A state policeman who
assessed the various damages came
over to my Honda with his clipboard.
He walked around the car, taking it all
in. Then he stopped at the trashed
bumper, pointed to it and the tail-light,
and asked, “Was it like this before?”
Some people say that they hate to
drive in the city and that driving in
New Jersey is even worse. It’s true that
New Jersey can be a bit of a puzzle. I
think the state has decided that pro-
viding the kind of road signs that ac-
tually explain where you should go
would do more harm than good, slow-
ing traffic flow at crucial junctures. So
the policy seems to be that the driver
will learn by trial and error. In com-
plicated places, of which there are
many, you make the mistake once or
twice or three times and then you learn.
The misconception people have about
driving in New Jersey is that we Jer-
sey drivers think we are driving. In
fact, we are swarming. Freeways are
nice, but if you have to redirect down
a puddled two-lane road between tall
reeds that’s fine, too. Anyplace where
y two cars have enough miles it. All the coolant had leaked out you can drive is acceptable, basically.
M between them to circle the earth
ten times at the equator. I prefer the
through a hole in the radiator. I started
smelling strange smells, steam and
And you have to be able to switch
quickly from driving-swarming to
older one, a 2000 Honda Civic that smoke came from under the hood, merely sitting, when you find yourself
used to belong to my mother-in-law. and I pulled over next to a Baptist in a traffic jam. Then it’s best just to
It has racked up most of its miles in church on Route 3 whose occupants chill out, count how many hot, idling
New Jersey, where I live, and in New immediately emerged to ask if they trucks within your field of vision have
York City. Nothing about it stands could help. I had “melted” the engine, “Logistics” in their company names,
out—not its tan color, or its shape, or my mechanic said later; extreme heat and enjoy the temporarily reduced risk
the small yellow-and-white 2004 park- had wrecked it beyond repair. He put of major accident.
ing decal from the College of Staten in a used engine to replace it. My mother-in-law mainly drove
Island on its left rear window. If you In eighteen years, the car’s exterior the Honda in Staten Island, where
asked people to draw a car, my Honda has accumulated some dents. I haven’t she was a professor of economics at
is probably about what they would noticed them, growing accustomed to C.S.I. She gave it to my wife and me
come up with. It has been through a them over time. The result is that the when she went into an assisted-living
lot. Last year, while driving absent- car looks different to me from the way place. When we lived in SoHo, and
mindedly, I let it get overheated. I had it does to other people, just the way then in Park Slope, owning a car
not paid attention to the greenish my face looks different in my bath- seemed to be more trouble than it was
stain on the pavement where I parked room mirror from the way it does in worth, and I travelled mostly on foot
34 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 ILLUSTRATION BY YANN KEBBI
and by subway. We did have a car— plus a big fine. Tang, a Canadian cit-
another handed-down Honda—but izen, fled to Canada. In 2014, one
I always got into it with fear. Now year A.T. (After Tang), Mayor Bill de
something about the Staten Island Blasio lowered the speed limit on
origins of my current vehicle, and my New York City streets to a wishful
status as a longtime resident of New twenty-five miles per hour.
Jersey, lets me relax and become a part The fact that somebody drove that
of the traffic flow. I’m a local person fast for twenty-four minutes in one
in an indigenous car and need apol- of the most densely populated places
ogize to nobody. on Earth demonstrates what’s possi-
When that moment of acceptance ble with New York driving. I eschew
first happened, I crossed through the this kind of craziness, and I hope Tang
mental boundary that separates pe- never comes back. I drive mainly when
destrian from driver. This is a huge I have to, for work or to do errands.
transition. It cleaves the human per- Most of the time, I still use public
sonality, because driver and pedes- transportation.
trian are not friends. Objects in mo-
tion have disdain for objects that move or me, the dreamy part of metro-
more slowly or not at all, and your
surroundings appear different de-
F area driving happens when the
traffic is light and every highway on my
pending on which side of the divide phone’s congestion map glows green.
you’re on. Most descriptions of New This occurrence is rare. Say that sun-
York City are from the point of view rise on a Saturday in June is 5:24 a.m.,
of someone who is not driving. You and it’s light by five. For something
hear less about how the city looks to I’m writing, I want to make a quick
drivers for a simple reason: almost tour of city infrastructure. I am out of
nobody wants more drivers. And, once the house and driving by five-fifteen.
you make the crossover, New York The sun comes up a notch or two
turns out to be a good city to drive north of the Empire State Building
in. Starting with what Robert Moses and shoots rays split by the city’s can-
did to New York in the middle of the yons across the New Jersey Meadow-
last century, the city has remade it- lands. On the roads are almost no cars
self to favor drivers. Those past at all. I reach the George Washing-
changes cannot be easily reversed, and ton Bridge in twenty minutes.
today the driver still enjoys the sub- I listen to songs on the radio—it’s
stantial advantages they created. In not important which ones. In my
terms of public weal, the fewer peo- mind, I have just rescued a number
ple who know this the better. of people from a foreign catastrophe
Four years ago, a young bond trad- (probably somewhere in Russia) and
er named Adam Tang, trying for a am somehow driving them back to
personal record, drove the almost- New York while being pursued. This
circumference of Manhattan, a dis- type of scenario seems to be a popu-
tance of 26.5 miles, in twenty-four lar fantasy worldwide. For example,
minutes. His route included the the “Fast and Furious” movies are
F.D.R. Drive and the West Side High- about driving daringly and skillfully
way. Even stopping for red lights, he in order to save individual people and
averaged sixty-six miles per hour. Had also the world. The most recent in
he been content to keep the feat to the series, “The Fate of the Furious,”
himself, he might have escaped any has a scene in which good guys driv-
consequences, but he posted his dash- ing fast and a bad guy driving fast on
board-camera video online. When it New York City streets vie for a brief-
came to the attention of the author- case of nuclear codes that is being
ities, Tang was arrested for reckless transported in a limo that also car-
driving and reckless endangerment. ries the Russian Minister of Defense.
He hadn’t hit anybody, though the The movie has grossed $1.2 billion,
video showed a number of near-misses in dozens of countries, since its re-
that could have been fatalities. After lease, in April. A lot more happens in
a jury found him guilty, the judge sen- it. Thanks to that movie, tens of mil-
tenced him to the maximum jail time, lions of people around the world have
36 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
imagined themselves as beautiful, beaches. Instead, I drive through the perience this cool convergence once
grease-streaked male and female driver- abundant construction up ahead, cross in a while.
daredevils trying to out-race an im- a small drawbridge, keep going, and From the turnpike, it’s I-78 west,
probably speedy nuclear submarine eventually take the exit for J.F.K. Air- Garden State Parkway north to Exit
that is also attacking them by occa- port. In normal daytime traffic, J.F.K. 151, then west on Watchung Avenue,
sionally smashing up though the ice lies far from my house, a two-hundred- south on Grove Street, and I’m home—
they’re driving on. dollar-plus and two-hour-plus cab ride five boroughs, four major bridges, two
In a few minutes, I’m over the away; it’s satisfying to be among its airports, two states, and back in time
bridge and weaving among the pil- terminals and huge jets just ninety min- for breakfast.
lars that hold up the elevated tracks utes after leaving my door.
of the 4 train in the Bronx. The slanted I cruise J.F.K., then return to the lot of the driving in and around
early-morning sun amid the pillars
colors the sides of bread trucks mov-
Belt Parkway and go back toward
Brooklyn. After eighteen miles, I
A New York takes you under things,
through various limbos where dim-
ing slowly on their deliveries. At five- exit onto the ramp for the Verrazano- ness surrounds you amid artificial il-
fifty on a Saturday morning, the bread Narrows Bridge, whose towers are in lumination and red tail-lights reflected
trucks, and not much else, are what’s a haze of mist at this hour. Under- off shiny surfaces. When you’re en-
out there. I cross the Harlem River neath, a piled-high container ship is closed like that, the sounds of other
on the Madison Avenue Bridge, one departing the harbor. To her starboard engines get louder, the bass notes of
of the city’s lesser known crossings, are two man-made islands, Hoffman the music in the cars next to you beat
and then I’m in Manhattan, on the and Swinburne, with a few small sport- like hearts, and your own car’s un-
F.D.R. Drive heading south, cruising fishing boats near them. I wonder if treated brake problems echo nerve-
by the high-rises and the hospitals of my friend Frank is fishing there this rackingly off the nearest wall. The
the Upper East Side and under the morning. At the far side of the bridge, highway subterrains have a Stygian
tower of the United Nations. On my I join the Staten Island Expressway; quality—as in the so-called (by me)
left, the East River opens out, pleated in twelve minutes, I’m across the is- Forest of Columns that brings traffic
by tugboats. The Fifty-ninth Street land and on the brand-new Goethals onto and off the G.W.B. on the Man-
Bridge (now the Ed Koch Queens- Bridge, leading to New Jersey. Once hattan side. It’s always twilight in the
boro Bridge) and the Roosevelt Is- over the Goethals, I exit left, take the Forest of Columns. I have been in
land aerial tramway pass above. New Jersey Turnpike, and merge onto backups there at all hours as traffic
An automotive mnemonic for the its northbound lanes. sorts itself out with reverberant, souls-
downtown bridges is “BMW ”— Here is the best part of the route, of-the-damned honking. You get to
Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williams- because when the landing patterns know these inhuman places inch by
burg, reading from south to north. I at Newark Airport are configured in inch if you drive them a lot. In a tube
choose the B, maybe the most glori- a certain way the planes coming in of the Lincoln Tunnel, as I crawl along,
ous bridge in the world, its cables ra- fly parallel to the turnpike and di- I always keep my eye out for the road
diating from their junction points at rectly above it. If everything is in sign, stored in a gloomy niche, that
the top of its towers like beams of synch, I can be motoring up the high- says “Police Training in Progress.” It’s
light. Continuing to Atlantic Avenue, been there for years but I’ve never seen
in Brooklyn, I pass the Barclays Cen- it used. And once in a great while
ter’s immense rust-colored bicycle there’s the fun-house thrill of seeing
helmet; then I bear right at Grand a Port Authority person go whizzing
Army Plaza so I can go by 152 Pros- by in a “catwalk car”—the vehicle
pect Park West, where my wife and I slightly bigger than a skateboard that
lived when our children were little. runs on a track along the tunnel’s wall.
Another right, and six blocks down- Passing through the tunnels I think
hill to Third Avenue; left on Third, of the fish and the keels of ships just
and up the ramp to the Brooklyn- a few dozen feet above. While work-
Queens Expressway, an elevated road. way among lanes of cars and trucks men were blasting out the Holland
Again, there are few cars and the road (the turnpike is busy at any hour) Tunnel, in 1924, the protective layer of
is open. with the freight-train tracks on the clay deposited over the blast area to
Before the end of Sunset Park, the right and all the earthbound vectors keep the explosions from blowing a
B.Q.E. divides from the Belt Park- lining up as an incoming jet roars hole in the river bottom and causing
way. I curl around the far end of overhead, outdistances everybody, disaster to the tunnel-diggers rose high
Brooklyn on the Belt, with the lower diverges to the left, and sets down enough that it impeded ships. A glass-
bay on my right, past the joggers on on a shimmery runway. The music topped tunnel would be a great idea,
the pathway through Owl’s Head Park on the radio can be helpful here; I’ve with lights aimed so that you could
and the fishermen leaning on the found that a big, anthemic prog-rock look upward, as in one of those aquar-
metal railing. My goal this morning song makes a good accompaniment. iums where you walk under the tanks.
isn’t Coney Island or any parks or Every tristate-area driver should ex- But that would probably only heighten
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 37
my fear that I’m going to be in a tun- category. When the Christie allies shut
nel someday when a wall of water comes down the lanes in order to create mis-
screaming down it. During Hurricane ery among drivers—misery that, they
Sandy, both tubes of the Brooklyn Bat- hoped, would be turned to anger at
tery Tunnel (now the Hugh L. Carey the mayor of Fort Lee, a Christie non-
Tunnel) did take on water, but no ve- supporter—the deed injected deliber-
hicles were in them. Five years later, ate malice into the everyday headaches
neither tube is fully repaired. of getting back and forth.
The longest trip I’ve ever made re- And, once the idea that the traffic
turning to New Jersey from my sister jams might be trying to drive us crazy
Maggie’s apartment in Brooklyn—al- on purpose entered the public con-
most three hours to cover the twenty- sciousness, the system was in trouble.
three miles—included about an hour A free-for-all mentality took over and
stopped in the middle tube of the Lin- any sense of common interest vanished.
coln Tunnel. My wife and I were sit- Billboards that advertise huge S.U.V.s
ting there listening to the 1010 WINS motoring like tanks over potholed roads
traffic reports every ten minutes. After implied that each of us should be fight-
forty minutes or so, the traffic guy said ing the transit demon individually—
that because of construction the mid- Hey, get your own S.U.V.! Get your
dle tube of the Lincoln Tunnel had own highway! It didn’t help that Chris-
been closed for the night. Immediately, tie had vetoed the building of a new
as one, all the drivers in the tunnel railroad tunnel under the Hudson lead-
leaned on their horns. Then as far as ing to Manhattan. Today, if you are
we could see in either direction peo- quiet on a delayed New Jersey Transit
ple jumped out of their cars and began train waiting to get into the existing
shouting and waving their arms and tunnel, and you listen to the ambient
hollering into their cell phones. They conversation noise among the passen-
wandered up and down talking to one gers, you will hear “Christie!” muttered
another, opened their car doors, yelled over and over.
some more, re-honked their horns. The
next WINS report made a correction: e have become a frantic coun-
the middle tube had not been closed
for the night, merely blocked by an ac-
W try. On the day I got into the
pileup, I could feel a static of rage and
cident in Jersey. We got back in our desperation in the air. As I stopped for
vehicles, still fuming but mollified. gas that morning, I thought that the
In New Jersey, we need more tun- last thing I needed was to get into an
nels; more bridges, too, though I don’t accident. My wife had been sick for
know where we’d put the bridges, with five months and was slowly recovering.
the ones we have already occupying the Conservatively, almost wincingly, I
best spots for overwater crossings. The pulled onto the Garden State Parkway,
whole region needs new infrastructure, on my way to see how construction was
with the Long Island Railroad having progressing on the Bayonne Bridge, a
more problems and delays each year, project I’d been keeping track of. Traffic
and the L train scheduled to be out of was bumper to bumper and moving at
commission for fifteen months, and sixty-five or seventy. Drivers tailgated
the subways in general no longer keep- one another and changed lanes like
ing up at rush hour. mad. I maintained the usual three car
Today’s mess has a particular his- lengths between my front bumper and
tory in our state. All political buffs the car ahead, but that space kept filling
should make a point of checking out up with lane-changers. At top speed,
the toll-booth entry lanes to the G.W.B. traffic approached the interchange
in Fort Lee—the lanes that two of where I-78 goes off to the east and to
Governor Chris Christie’s allies re- the west. I-78 east leads to Bayonne.
cently received jail terms for closing, The exit lanes are narrow here, with
back in 2015. These are the most con- a concrete retaining wall and a steep
sequential toll-booth lanes in the world. slope close on the right, and no room
I am always looking for new places in to change your mind if you get in the
need of historic markers, and the Fort westbound exit by mistake. A driver
Lee lanes take the top spots in that perhaps four cars ahead of me suddenly
38 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
decided to stop. I hit the brakes. A low- Neither was the woman in the car
slung red car a few feet off my rear in front of me. She stood there kind of
bumper swerved to the right and some- hugging herself and shaking. “I’m on
how made it through the narrow space my third cigarette already,” she said.
between the right lane and the wall, She worked as a car-service dispatcher
and sped away. A car behind the red at Newark Airport and was on her way
car hit me and spun across the three to that job. She had very long finger-
lanes. Several cars hit that car, on both nails and wore a low-cut top. She told
sides, while other cars were colliding me she was glad I was all right and I
farther back, the instantaneous con- told her I was glad she was all right.
cussive noises made both softer and The driver of the car behind me, a
harder by the popping of the air bags grandmother with several grandchil-
and the shattering of the windows. Bro- dren headed to the Jersey Shore for the
ken glass flew by me as if shot from a weekend, had applied her brakes so
fire hose. Standing on the brakes, I hard that they locked, and now they
skidded to a stop without hitting the wouldn’t unlock. Nobody had hit her
car in front of me, which caused it not and she hadn’t hit anybody. She put
to hit the car in front of it. In a half her grandchildren up on the concrete
second, smashed cars came to rest all wall, where they sat and watched. Fig-
over the highway like rolled dice. uring out who had hit whom gave the
After that, I went Elsewhere for a police a challenge. They walked all over
while. I guess I just sat there. Looking the fifty-yard-long crash site trying to
around inside, I found nothing broken, make sense of it, holding their clip-
on me or in the car’s interior. Even the boards horizontally and sketching on
windows had remained intact, though them. Meanwhile, E.M.S. workers put
glass from someone else’s windows injured people in neck and back braces
strewed my hood and trunk. The car and transferred them from the wrecks
in front of me had no mark on it. The onto gurneys and into ambulances. Sev-
driver, a woman, got out and lit a cig- eral of the injured were young women
arette. I could not see people in the who seemed stunned and in pain as
smashed-up cars, because the popped they were wheeled by.
air bags blocked where the windows A man with a long beard was walk-
used to be. ing the crash site and sweeping up
My car, still running, had been the glass and plastic and metal frag-
knocked into neutral. I turned it off. In ments with a push broom and then
the vicinity, I heard no sirens or honk- consolidating the smaller piles into
ing, just a strange quiet. A few cars up bigger piles. A state policeman took
ahead, a woman had got out and lain my driver’s license and registration.
down on the shoulder, and someone People were photographing the dam-
was leaning over her. I took out my age with their phones. On the other
phone and almost called my wife, then side of the chain-link fence that sep-
decided not to. A couple of months be- arated the highway from a neighbor-
fore, thieves had boosted my wallet on hood street, a crowd of people gath-
a trolleybus in Russia and I had called ered. A woman there offered a very
her right afterward to tell her, even detailed description of what had hap-
though it was four-thirty in the morn- pened that didn’t coincide with what
ing in New Jersey. With a little restraint, I’d seen, but I wasn’t sure what I’d
the shock of that call could have been seen. A man in a white T-shirt asked
avoided. As I was thinking about this, me, through the chain links, “Are you
I noticed that the highway had filled all right?” I said I was. He said, “Man,
with police cars, ambulances, and fire I’m glad you’re all right.”
trucks. I got out and saw that aside The ambulances took five or six peo-
from the smashed bumper my car was ple in all. Some had to wait until the
basically O.K., with no leaking fluids Irvington Fire Department pried the
or compromised tires. When I turned doors of their cars open. Then the rest
the key, it started. A helicopter hov- of us stood around and waited. As the
ered overhead. First responders kept stunned feeling wore off, we were talking
coming up and asking if I was hurt. to one another and to the cops and the
Thankfully, I wasn’t. firemen. It was unusual to have the
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 39
width of the Garden State’s three lanes would have thought he was nothing if
to stroll around in. At the edge of our he ran on that highway.
clearing, beyond the flashing police Speed affects you only if you have
lights, the immense traffic jam we’d something to compare it to. The whole
caused stretched who knew how far. planet is moving around the sun at sev-
The frantic feeling had subsided and enty thousand miles an hour, but, with
we were just neighbors commiserating our lack of perspective, the thrill is wasted
and passing the time. I stood with a on us. Some time after the downer of
few other people listening to a fireman running on the new highway, I had the
who was retiring in one week; he said experience of doing sprints in one of
that he hoped this would be his last ac- the halls of the school athletic building
cident. Continuing not to call my wife on a day that was too rainy for us to
increased my private sense of rightness, practice outside. The walls, just inches
and not being injured felt wonderful. away on either side, gave the illusion
The police told us that we had to that we were going blazingly fast. The
stay until the hospital called with infor- office of the athletic director, Mr. Hel-
mation about the people the ambulances wig, observed the hall through a large
had taken. If any of them died or had interior window, and we thundered by
suffered major injury, the accident be- the window in a blink while Mr. Hel-
came a possible crime scene, and a more wig sat at his desk and didn’t look up. I
detailed investigation would be required. never felt so fast or so strong in my life.
The state cop brought back my driver’s The truest basis of comparison, of
license and registration and looked again course, is with other runners. It’s the
at my car’s front. After about an hour, purest exhilaration to be running fast
I saw a cop talk on his cell phone and with fast people. Once, in a big meet, I
then walk over to the head fireman, did the hundred-yard dash in ten and
and the fireman nodded and smiled. two-tenths seconds, finishing second to
Then the cop walked among the wait- Gene Thomas, who did a ten-flat. Now-
ing drivers saying that the hospital had adays, I look at the numbers on the
reported nobody seriously hurt. We all “Walk” sign blinking down as I approach
cheered the news, giving one another a New York City crosswalk and wonder
the thumbs-up. Those of us who didn’t if ten seconds will be enough. That is
need tow trucks made ready to leave. how life goes. I still remember running
The cop I’d talked to earlier checked in a pack with Gene and a bunch of
out my car a last time and said, “Looks other guys. We won our prep-league in-
O.K. to me. You can go.” Evidently, the terstate championship in 1968. Our shoes’
collision had loosened the muffler be- long, narrow, sharp spikes went into the
cause the car made a racket as I drove track crisply, cinders flew out with each
off. It was great to be moving again. step; and once, during a quarter-mile
race, a little boy playing in the pole-vault

F ifty years ago, when I was in high school


in Ohio, I ran sprints on the track team.
Back then, construction crews were still
pit rolled into the first lane right in front
of us. Gene jumped over the boy effort-
lessly, and the rest of us avoided him
putting in the interstate highways and somehow. The boy got up untouched as
had just completed a section of I-480 we sped on. His name was Fred Harris.
near my house. The smooth white pave- He must be about sixty years old now.
ment stretched through a bulldozed mud Sometimes when I’m out on a walk
corridor with earthmoving equipment in my neighborhood in the early morn-
parked alongside—empty new road all ing, I go to a nearby bridge over the Gar-
the way to the horizon. I thought that den State Parkway and I look at the cars
would be a good place to train. I stepped that fill it bank to bank. Most are prob-
onto pavement so fresh it still didn’t have ably headed for the bridges and tunnels;
lines painted on it and began to run since the New Jersey Transit train ser-
sprints of fifty and a hundred yards. My vice has deteriorated (“Christie!”), I could
soul collapsed at my feet. The massive- swear that the number of vehicles has
ness of the road and the puniness of my doubled. Six-fifteen on a Monday morn-
efforts almost made me give up running ing and the traffic is roaring. We may be
permanently. The Olympic hundred- a divided country, but we’re all out there
metre champion Bob Hayes himself on the same road. 
40 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
actually buy anything at the Publix—
SHOUTS & MURMURS Ryan Kass: Nope. Didn’t even get out of
the car. He just wanted us to look at it.
Mike Cooper (Pro Trip Talk): Let’s turn
to one of the strongest moments of
the vacation: when you perfectly timed
out Jill’s mom bringing the kids to
the library and her dad’s CVS run to
have sex.
Jill Kass: That was just an instance of
clearheaded thinking, where you know
what needs to get done and you exe-
cute. It also helped that we’d run a ver-
sion of that play at home, when Max
went to speech therapy and Chloe
started a new episode of “Peppa Pig.”
Stefanie Delgado (Vacation Machine): The
Weinbaums took an early lead on the
first night, when they offered to pay for
Chloe’s private school. Looking back,
is that the moment things started to
get away from you?
Ryan Kass: Yeah, that definitely gave
them the upper hand. And, I have to

FAMILY-VACATION
admit, it’s a beautiful play. We were so
grateful that we didn’t even argue when,

BREAKDOWN
the next morning, they suggested vis-
iting the Chihuly exhibit we’d already
been to three fucking times.
BY JEN SPYRA Jill Kass: From there on out, we were
playing catch-up.
Andrea Lewis (Vacation Nation): Jill, Ryan, Jill Kass: No doubt about it, the P. F. Andre Gaines (Trip Daddy): It seemed
thank you for taking the time for this Chang’s misstep set us back. We tried like the parents broke it open on night
press conference. You guys just came to appease the kids, and we ended up four, with the surprise visit from the
off an eight-day visit with Jill’s parents playing their game instead of ours, Lassers. Bob and Rhonda stayed for
in Florida. You went into this vacation which is more Wendy’s drive-through. seventy-four minutes, thirty-eight of
with high hopes. It seemed like you’d The banana spring rolls ate valuable which were spent discussing water dam-
put the Disney cruise behind you and minutes off the clock, and that left age to their condo. Ryan, you asked a
had addressed some holes in your game, us tired going into the series with follow-up question around minute nine-
in terms of prioritizing Chloe’s nap my parents. teen that some folks are saying cost you
time and making Jill’s mom feel appre- Scott Kendall (Tripologist): Speaking of the conversation.
ciated. But you came up short. Can you Jill’s parents, they seemed to be tougher Ryan Kass: That’s on me. Jill had been
talk a little bit about what went wrong, competition than usual—especially her doing a great job of making little sym-
and about your plan going forward? dad. What did Stu Weinbaum do differ- pathetic noises that were polite but
Ryan Kass: I mean, honestly, this one’s ently, and was it hard to adjust to his showed no real interest. In that situa-
gonna hurt for a while. We’ll rest level of play? tion, it’s all about shutting down the
up, and then Jill and I will huddle, Ryan Kass: Look, S-Dub’s got a lot of attack with one-word responses. We
we’ll entertain the fantasy of staying ways he can hurt you. For instance, we know surprise friend visits are a part of
in a hotel next time, and we’ll take it know he’ll burst into our room and yell the Weinbaums’ game.
from there. “Waffle time!” at 7 A.M. But he brought Lois Halberstatt (Real Clear Vacay): Jill,
Andrea Lewis: Looking at some num- new heat on this trip, and it was hard what’s your message to your teammate
bers here, you finished Friday with four to adjust. At the end of the day, you after this kind of loss?
door-slams, one meltdown at a Tommy can go over strategy again and again, Jill Kass: Just get focussed on Thanks-
Hilfiger outlet, and one screaming match but until you’re actually in the car with giving. We’re better than this. And we’re
at a P. F. Chang’s. Obviously not the Stu and he’s insisting on driving sev- going to have to really buckle down
LUCI GUTIÉRREZ

game plan you had drawn up. How did enteen miles out of the way to show and get to work if we want to be ready
the drive down to Fort Lauderdale affect you the brand-new Publix, you don’t for Christmas with Ryan’s parents. Joyce
your mind-set going into the matchup know how you’ll react. and Alan are the defending champs for
against Mr. and Mrs. Weinbaum? Scott Kendall: Just to clarify, you didn’t a reason. 
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 41
publicans an obvious edge. Meanwhile,
MODERN TIMES the A.P. sought and distributed legal
opinions supporting Hayes. (Outraged

THE CONTENT OF NO CONTENT


Tilden supporters took to calling it the
“Hayesociated Press.”) As Democrats
watched what they considered to be the
Is Big Tech too powerful? theft of the election, they fell into a funk.
“They are full of passion and want
BY ELIZABETH KOLBERT to do something desperate but hardly
know how to,” one observer noted. Two
n the night of November 7, 1876, cratic paper. (The piece claimed that days before Hayes was inaugurated, on
O Rutherford B. Hayes’s wife, Lucy,
took to her bed with a headache. The
Hayes, who had been a general in the
Union Army, had accepted money from
March 5, 1877, the New York Sun ap-
peared with a black border on the front
returns from the Presidential election a soldier to give to the man’s family, but page. “These are days of humiliation,
were trickling in, and the Hayeses, had failed to pass it on when the soldier shame and mourning for every patriotic
who had been spending the evening in died.) The A.P. flooded the wires with American,” the paper’s editor wrote.
their parlor, in Columbus, Ohio, were articles discrediting the story. History, Mark Twain is supposed to
dismayed. Hayes himself remained up Once the votes had been counted, have said, doesn’t repeat itself, but it does
until midnight; then he, too, rhyme. Once again, the Pres-
retired, convinced that his ident of the United States is
Democratic opponent, Sam- a Republican who lost the
uel J. Tilden, would become popular vote. Once again, he
the next President. was abetted by shadowy agents
Hayes had indeed lost the who manipulated the news.
popular vote, by more than And once again Democrats
two hundred and fifty thou- are in a finger-pointing funk.
sand ballots. And he might Journalists, congressional
have lost the Electoral Col- committees, and a special
lege as well had it not been counsel are probing the de-
for the machinations of jour- tails of what happened last
nalists working in the shady fall. But two new books con-
corners of what’s been called tend that the large lines of
“the Victorian Internet.” the problem are already clear.
Chief among the plotters As in the eighteen-seventies,
was an Ohioan named Wil- we are in the midst of a tech-
liam Henry Smith. Smith ran nological revolution that has
the western arm of the Asso- altered the flow of informa-
ciated Press, and in this way tion. Now, as then, just a few
controlled the bulk of the copy companies have taken con-
that ran in many small-town trol, and this concentration
newspapers. The Western A.P. of power—which Americans
operated in tight affiliation— have acquiesced to without
some would say collusion— ever really intending to, sim-
with Western Union, which ply by clicking away—is sub-
exercised a near-monopoly verting our democracy.
over the nation’s telegraph
lines. Early in the campaign, hirty years ago, almost no
Smith decided that he would
employ any means necessary to assure a attention shifted to South Carolina, Flor-
T one used the Internet for
anything. Today, just about everybody
victory for Hayes, who, at the time, was ida, and Louisiana—states where the re- uses it for everything. Even as the Web
serving a third term as Ohio’s governor. sults were disputed. Both parties dispatched has grown, however, it has narrowed. Goo-
In the run-up to the Republican National emissaries to the three states to try to in- gle now controls nearly ninety per cent
Convention, Smith orchestrated the re- fluence the Electoral College outcome. of search advertising, Facebook almost
lease of damaging information about the Telegrams sent by Tilden’s representatives eighty per cent of mobile social traffic,
Governor’s rivals. Then he had the West- were passed on to Smith, courtesy of West- and Amazon about seventy- five per
ern A.P. blare Hayes’s campaign state- ern Union. Smith, in turn, shared the con- cent of e-book sales. Such dominance,
ments and mute Tilden’s. At one point, tents of these dispatches with the Hayes Jonathan Taplin argues, in “Move Fast
an unflattering piece about Hayes ap- forces. This proto-hack of the Democrats’ and Break Things: How Facebook, Goo-
peared in the Chicago Times, a Demo- private communications gave the Re- gle, and Amazon Cornered Culture and
42 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 ILLUSTRATION BY NISHANT CHOKSI
Undermined Democracy” (Little, Brown), lion links—but, often, after one link is set out to revitalize the magazine, hir-
is essentially monopolistic. In his ac- taken down, the song goes right back ing high-priced talent and redesign-
count, the new monopolies are even up at another one. In the fall of 2011, ing the Web site. Foer recounts that he
more powerful than the old ones, which legislation aimed at curbing online copy- became so consumed with monitoring
tended to be limited to a single prod- right infringement, the Stop Online traffic to the magazine’s site, using a
uct or service. Carnegie, Taplin suggests, Piracy Act, was introduced. It had bi- tool called Chartbeat, that he checked
would have been envious of the reach partisan support in Congress, and back- it even while standing at the urinal.
of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. ing from such disparate groups as the The era of good feeling didn’t last. In
Taplin, who until recently directed National District Attorneys Association, the fall of 2014, Foer heard that Hughes
the Annenberg Innovation Lab, at the National League of Cities, the As- had hired someone to replace him, and
the University of Southern California, sociation of Talent Agencies, and the that this shadow editor was “lunching
started out as a tour manager. He worked International Brotherhood of Team- around New York offering jobs at The
with Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, and the sters. In January, 2012, the bill seemed New Republic.” Before Hughes had a
Band, and also with George Harrison, headed toward passage, when Google chance to fire him, Foer quit, and most of
on the Concert for Bangladesh. In “Move decided to flex its market-concentrated the magazine’s editorial staff left with him.
Fast and Break Things,” Taplin draws muscles. In place of its usual colorful “World Without Mind” is a reflection on
extensively on this experience to illus- logo, the company posted on its search Foer’s experiences and on the larger forces
trate the damage, both deliberate and page a black rectangle along with the reshaping American arts and letters, or
collateral, that Big Tech is wreaking. message “Tell Congress: Please don’t what’s nowadays often called “content.”
Consider the case of Levon Helm. He censor the web!” The resulting traffic “I hope this book doesn’t come across
was the drummer for the Band, and, overwhelmed congressional Web sites, as fueled by anger, but I don’t want to
though he never got rich off his music, and support for the bill evaporated. (Sen- deny my anger either,” he writes. “The
well into middle age he was supported by ator Marco Rubio, of Florida, who had tech companies are destroying some-
royalties. In 1999, he was diagnosed with been one of the bill’s co-sponsors, de- thing precious. . . . They have eroded
throat cancer. That same year, Napster nounced it on Facebook.) the integrity of institutions—media,
came along, followed by YouTube, in 2005. Google itself doesn’t pirate music; it publishing—that supply the intellec-
Helm’s royalty income, which had run to doesn’t have to. It’s selling the traffic— tual material that provokes thought and
about a hundred thousand dollars a year, and, just as significant, the data about the guides democracy. Their most precious
according to Taplin, dropped “to almost traffic. Like the Koch brothers, Taplin asset is our most precious asset, our at-
nothing.” When Helm died, in 2012, mil- observes, Google is “in the extraction in- tention, and they have abused it.”
lions of people were still listening to the dustry.” Its business model is “to extract Much of Foer’s anger, like Taplin’s, is
Band’s music, but hardly any of them were as much personal data from as many peo- directed at piracy. “Once an underground,
paying for it. (In the years between the ple in the world at the lowest possible amateur pastime,” he writes, “the bootleg-
founding of Napster and Helm’s death, price and to resell that data to as many ging of intellectual property” has become
total consumer spending on recorded companies as possible at the highest pos- “an accepted business practice.” He points
music in the United States dropped by sible price.” And so Google profits from to the Huffington Post, since shortened
roughly seventy per cent.) Friends had to just about everything: cat videos, behead- to HuffPost, which rose to prominence
stage a benefit for Helm’s widow so that ings, alt-right rants, the Band perform- largely by aggregating—or, if you prefer,
she could hold on to their house. ing “The Weight” at Woodstock, in 1969. pilfering—content from publications like
Google entered and more or less im- the Times and the Washington Post. Then
mediately took over the music business
when it acquired YouTube, in 2006, for
“ I wasn’t always so skeptical,” Franklin
Foer announces at the start of “World
there’s Google Books. Google set out to
scan every book in creation and make the
$1.65 billion in stock. As Taplin notes, Without Mind: The Existential Threat volumes available online, without both-
just about “every single tune in the world of Big Tech” (Penguin Press). Franklin, ering to consult the copyright holders.
is available on YouTube as a simple audio the eldest of the three famous Foer broth- (The project has been hobbled by law-
file (most of them posted by users).” ers, is a journalist, and he began his ca- suits.) Newspapers and magazines (in-
Many of these files are illegal, but to reer, in the mid-nineties, working for Slate, cluding this one) have tried to disrupt the
Google this is inconsequential. Under which had then just been founded by Mi- disrupters by placing articles behind pay-
the Digital Media Copyright Act, signed crosoft. The experience, Foer writes, was walls, but, Foer contends, in the contest
into law by President Bill Clinton shortly “exhilarating.” Later, he became the editor against Big Tech publishers can’t win; the
after Google went live, Internet service of The New Republic. The magazine was lineup is too lopsided. “When newspa-
providers aren’t liable for copyright in- on the brink of ruin when, in 2012, it was pers and magazines require subscriptions
fringement as long as they “expeditiously” purchased by Chris Hughes, a co-founder to access their pieces, Google and Face-
take down or block access to the mate- of Facebook, whose personal fortune book tend to bury them,” he writes. “Ar-
rial once they’re notified of a problem. was estimated at half a billion dollars. ticles protected by stringent paywalls
Musicians are constantly filing “take- Foer saw Hughes as a “savior,” who almost never have the popularity that
down” notices—in just the first twelve could provide, in addition to cash, “an algorithms reward with prominence.”
weeks of last year, Google received such insider’s knowledge of social media” and Foer acknowledges that prominence
notices for more than two hundred mil- “a millennial imprimatur.” The two men and popularity have always mattered in
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 43
publishing. In every generation, the pri- (In July, Cecil’s son, Xanda, was shot, and the producers at CBS News who
mary business of journalism has been prompting another digital outpouring.) decided what the public did (or didn’t)
to stay in business. In the nineteen- Donald Trump, Foer argues, rep- learn. No longer would the suits at the
eighties, Dick Stolley, the founding resents “the culmination” of this trend. entertainment companies determine
editor of People, developed what might In the lead-up to the campaign, Trump’s what the public did (or didn’t) hear.
be thought of as an algorithm for the politics, such as they were, consisted of “The Internet was supposed to be a boon
pre-digital age. It was a formula for empty and outrageous claims. Although for artists,” Taplin observes. “It was sup-
picking cover images, and it ran as fol- none deserved to be taken seriously, posed to eliminate the ‘gatekeepers’—the big
lows: Young is better than old. Pretty many had that coveted viral something. studios and record companies that decide
is better than ugly. Rich is better than Trump’s utterances as a candidate were which movies and music get widespread
poor. Movies are better than music. equally appalling, but on the Internet distribution.”Silicon Valley, Foer writes, was
Music is better than television. Televi- apparently nobody knows you’re a dem- supposed to be a liberating force—“the dis-
sion is better than sports. And anything agogue. “Trump began as Cecil the Lion, ruptive agent that shatters the grip of the
is better than politics. and then ended up president of the sclerotic, self-perpetuating mediocrity that
But Stolley’s Law is to Chartbeat what United States,” Foer writes. constitutes the American elite.”
a Boy Scout’s compass is to G.P.S. It is The Internet revolution has, indeed,
now possible to determine not just which oth Taplin and Foer begin their books sent heads rolling, as legions of bookstore
covers sell magazines but which articles
are getting the most traction, who’s e-mail-
B with a discussion of the early days of
personal computers, when the Web was
owners, music critics, and cirrhotic edi-
tors can attest. But Brand’s dream, Tap-
ing and tweeting them, and how long in- still a Pynchonesque fantasy and lots of lin and Foer argue, has not been realized.
dividual readers are sticking with them smart people believed that connecting the Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple—
before clicking away. This sort of detailed world’s PCs would lead to a more peace- Europeans refer to the group simply as
information, combined with the pressure ful, just, and groovy society. Both cite GAFA—didn’t eliminate the gatekeep-
to generate traffic, has resulted in what Stewart Brand, who, after hanging out ers; they took their place. Instead of be-
Foer sees as a golden age of banality. He with Ken Kesey, dropping a lot of acid, coming more egalitarian, the country
cites the “memorable yet utterly forgetta- and editing “The Whole Earth Catalog,” has become less so: the gap between
ble example” of Cecil the lion. In 2015, went on to create one of the first virtual America’s rich and poor grows ever wider.
Cecil was shot with an arrow outside networks, the Whole Earth ’Lectronic Meanwhile, politically, the nation has
Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe, by Link, otherwise known as WELL. lurched to the right. In Foer’s telling, it
a dentist from Minnesota. For whatever In an influential piece that appeared would be a lot easier to fix an election
reason, the killing went viral and, accord- in Rolling Stone in 1972, Brand proph- these days than it was in 1876, and a lot
ing to Foer, “every news organization” (in- esied that, when computers became harder for anyone to know about it. All
cluding, once again, this one) rushed to widely available, everyone would be- the Big Tech firms would have to do is
get in on the story, “so it could scrape some come a “computer bum” and “more em- tinker with some algorithms. They have
traffic from it.” He lists with evident scorn powered as individuals and co-opera- become, Foer writes, “the most impos-
the titles of posts from Vox—“Eating tors.” This, he further predicted, could ing gatekeepers in human history.”
Chicken Is Morally Worse Than Killing enhance “the richness and rigor of spon- This is a simple, satisfying narrative,
Cecil the Lion”—and The Atlantic’s Web taneous creation and human interac- and it allows Taplin and Foer to focus
site: “From Cecil the Lion to Climate tion.” No longer would it be the editors their ire on GAFA gazillionaires, like Zuck-
Change: A Perfect Storm of Outrage.” at the Times and the Washington Post erberg and Larry Page. But, as an account
of the “unpresidented” world in which we
live, it seems to miss the point. Say what
you will about Silicon Valley, most of its
major players backed Hillary Clinton. This
is confirmed by campaign-finance filings
and, as it happens, by the Russian hack of
Democratic National Committee e-mails.
“I hope you are well—thinking of all of
you often and following every move!”
Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl
Sandberg, wrote to Clinton’s campaign
chairman, John Podesta, at one point.
It is troubling that Facebook, Goo-
gle, and Amazon have managed to
grab for themselves such a large share
of online revenue while relying on
content created by others. Quite pos-
sibly, it is also anti-competitive. Still,
“He’s at that awkward age—too old to be cute, but not dead yet.” it seems a stretch to blame GAFA for
the popularity of listicles or fake news. cluding those for search algorithms, cell- announced its intention to buy Whole
Last fall, some Times reporters went phone operating systems, self-driving Foods.) “The culture industries need to
looking for the source of a stream of largely cars, smart thermostats, advertising ex- present themselves as the organic alterna-
fabricated pro-Trump stories that had run changes, and virtual-reality platforms. tive, a symbol of status and aspiration,” he
on a Web site called Departed. They traced “It would seem that such a licensing writes. “Subscriptions are the route away
them to a twenty-two-year-old computer- program would be totally in line with from the aisles of clickbait.” Just after the
science student in Tbilisi named Beqa Google’s stated ‘Don’t be evil’ corporate election, he notes, the Times added more
Latsabidze. He told the Times that he had philosophy,” Taplin writes. At the same than a hundred thousand new subscrib-
begun the election season by pumping out time, he urges musicians and filmmak- ers by marketing itself as a fake-news an-
flattering stories about Hillary Clinton, ers to take matters into their own hands tidote. And, as an act of personal resis-
but the site hadn’t generated much inter- by establishing their own distribution tance, he suggests picking up a book. “If
est. When he switched to pro-Trump non- networks, along the lines of Magnum the tech companies hope to absorb the
sense, traffic had soared, and so had the Photos, formed by Robert Capa, Henri totality of human existence,” he writes,
site’s revenues. “For me, this is all about Cartier-Bresson, and others in 1947. “then reading on paper is one of the few
income,” Latsabidze said. Perhaps the real “What if artists ran a video and audio slivers of life that they can’t fully integrate.”
problem is not that Brand’s prophecy failed streaming site as a nonprofit coopera- These remedies are all backward-
but that it came true. A “computer bum” tive (perhaps employing the technol- looking. They take as a point of refer-
sitting in Tbilisi is now so “empowered” ogy in some of those free Google pat- ence a world that has vanished, or is
as an individual that he can help turn an ents)?” he asks at one point. “I have no about to. (If Amazon has its way, even
election halfway around the world. illusion that the existing business struc- artisanal cheese will soon be delivered
Either out of conviction or simply out tures of cultural marketing will go away,” by drone.) Depending on how you look
of habit, the gatekeepers of yore set a cer- he observes at another. “But my hope at things, this is either a strange place
tain tone.They waved through news about is that we can build a parallel structure for meditations about the future to end
state budget deficits and arms-control that will benefit all creators.” up or a predictable one. People who
talks, while impeding the flow of loony Foer prefers the model of artisanal worry about the fate of democracy still
conspiracy theories. Now Chartbeat al- cheesemakers. ( “World Without Mind” write (and read) books. Those who are
lows everyone to see just how many (or, apparently went to press before Amazon determining it prefer to tweet. 
more to the point, how few) readers there
really are for that report on the drought
in South Sudan or that article on mo-
nopoly power and the Internet. And so
it follows that there will be fewer such
reports and fewer such articles. The Web
is designed to give people what they want,
which, for better or worse, is also the
function of democracy.

ost-Cecil, post-fact, and mid-Trump,


P is there anything to be done? Taplin
proposes a few fixes. To start, he wants
the federal government to treat compa-
nies like Google and Facebook as mo-
nopolies and regulate them accordingly.
(Relying on similar thinking, regulators
in the European Union recently slapped
Google with a $2.7-billion fine.)
Taplin notes that, in the late nine-
teen-forties, the U.S. Department of Jus-
tice went after A.T. & T., the Google of
its day, for violating the Sherman Anti-
trust Act. The consent decree in the case,
signed in 1956, compelled A.T. & T. to li-
cense all the patents owned by its re-
search arm, Bell Labs, for a small fee.
(One of the technologies affected by the
decree was the transistor, which later
proved essential to computers.) Google,
he argues, could be similarly compelled
to license its thousands of patents, in-
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 45
A REPORTER AT LARGE

TRUMP’S FAVORITE TYCOON


The Washington misadventures of Carl Icahn.
BY PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE

ne day in August, 2016, the finan- morning, and then to spend the rest of The refiner that he was worried about

O cier Carl Icahn made an ur-


gent phone call to the Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency. Icahn is
the day and much of the night working
the phone, making deals. Years ago, a
reporter asked Icahn why he kept mak-
is CVR Energy, which is based in Sugar
Land, Texas. In 2012, Icahn acquired a
controlling stake in the company, with
one of the richest men on Wall Street, ing money when he already had more the intention of making it more profitable
and he has thrived, in no small mea- than he could ever spend. “It’s a way of and then selling it at a higher price. But
sure, because of a capacity to intimi- keeping score,” he said. He is one of the under the Renewable Fuel Standard—a
date. A Texas-based oil refiner in which wealthiest individuals not just in the law passed, under George W. Bush, to
he had a major stake was losing money world but in the history of the world—a promote the use of ethanol and other
because of an obscure environmental man who takes pride in many things, biofuels—refiners like CVR are forced
rule that Icahn regarded as unduly oner- not the least of which is his ability to either to blend ethanol into their prod-
ous. Icahn is a voluble critic of any gov- get just about anybody on the phone. ucts or to purchase credits, known as Re-
ernment regulation that constrains his “She’s on vacation,” McCabe’s assis- newable Identification Numbers, from
companies. So he wanted to speak with tant said, flatly. refiners that do. CVR did not make
the person in charge of enforcing the For how long? sufficient investments to blend ethanol
policy: a senior official at the E.P.A. Two weeks. into all its products, choosing to buy
named Janet McCabe. To Icahn, there was something that credits instead. When Icahn bought his
Icahn works from a suite of offices, simply did not compute about going on shares in the refiner, rins were cheap—
atop the General Motors Building, in vacation and leaving one’s work behind. about a nickel each—so it was reason-
midtown, that are decorated in the oak- Surely, he insisted, McCabe could inter- ably affordable for the company to com-
and-leather fashion of a tycoon’s lair in rupt whatever leisure activity she was en- ply with the law. But in 2013 the price of
a nineteen-eighties film. During that gaged in to take a pressing phone call rins, which had been stable, began fluc-
decade, Icahn made his reputation as from Carl Icahn? tuating, and by 2016 the company was
one of the original corporate raiders, pi- No, McCabe’s assistant informed him. spending two hundred million dollars a
oneering the art of the hostile takeover She couldn’t. year on credits. When Icahn called Mc-
and establishing himself as a human jug- The old conundrum about whether Cabe, CVR’s stock had dropped seventy
gernaut—a pugnacious deal machine, it is better to be loved or feared has per cent from the previous year. This
all avarice and swagger. By the time he never posed much of a dilemma for incensed him.
called the E.P.A., he was eighty, and Icahn. In “King Icahn,” a 1993 biogra- “Look, I’m too old to be politically cor-
long since unburdened of any personal phy, the author, Mark Stevens, described rect,” he told CNBC, on September 13th.
or dynastic need to make money; ac- his subject as a “germophobic, detached, “This woman, Janet McCabe . . . she’s
cording to Forbes, he is worth approxi- relatively loveless man,” and quoted one never run a business.” Icahn pointed out
mately seventeen billion dollars. Plenty contemporary saying, “Carl’s dream in that, “at the risk of being immodest,” he
of titans who are not as old and not as life is to have the only fire truck in town. had made a great deal of money in his
rich as Icahn have opted to devote their Then when your house is in flames, he career. “The government shouldn’t run
remaining years to spending their money, can hold you up for every penny you things, because they aren’t trained to run
or to giving it away. Not Icahn. A tall have.” When the biography was pub- things,” he continued. This is a core el-
man with a shambling manner, he re- lished, Icahn stocked his office with ement of Icahn’s philosophy. Jimmy Wil-
cently grew a white beard, which soft- copies to give to visitors. These days, liams, a former in-house lobbyist for
ens his round face, giving him the cud- he bristles at the term “corporate raider,” Icahn, told me, “Carl is a man who thinks
dly appearance of an elderly Muppet. favoring the euphemism “activist inves- that business should be unfettered and
But he has not lost his taste for the kill. tor,” but the reality is that when Icahn that government should not be involved
A few years ago, he sold his mega-yacht, targets a company the response from in the free-market economy. With every
because cruising on it bored him. He management is generally terror. He has fibre in his body, that is what he truly
has engaged in philanthropy, building a volatile temper and a vindictive streak. believes.”
charter schools and a stadium on Ran- Everyone makes time to take his calls. When Icahn couldn’t reach McCabe,
dall’s Island that bears his name. But the Incredulous that Janet McCabe might he wrote a blistering open letter to the
charity circuit is a snooze. What Icahn not do so, Icahn asked, “What if the E.P.A., in which he demanded that the
loves beyond all else is to rise late each world’s falling apart?” rules be changed so that other parties,
46 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
After Icahn became a special adviser to the President, one of his associates called it “the cheapest takeover Carl’s ever done.”
ILLUSTRATION BY BEN JONES THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 47
In the months after the election, the
stock price of CVR, Icahn’s refiner, nearly
doubled—a surge that is difficult to ex-
plain without acknowledging the ap-
pointment of the company’s lead share-
holder to a White House position. The
rally meant a personal benefit for Icahn,
at least on paper, of half a billion dollars.
There was an expectation in the mar-
ket—an expectation created, in part, by
Icahn’s own remarks—that, with Trump
in the White House and Icahn playing
consigliere, the rules were about to
change, and not just at the E.P.A. Icahn’s
empire ranges across many economic
sectors, from energy to pharmaceuticals
to auto supplies to mining, and all of
them are governed by the types of reg-
ulations about which he would now po-
tentially be advising Trump.
Janet McCabe, who left the E.P.A.
¥ ¥ in January, and now works at the Envi-
ronmental Law and Policy Center, told
me, “I’m not naïve. People in business
and not refiners, would be responsible drop Trump’s name when it served his try to influence the government. But the
for blending ethanol or purchasing cred- interest. Appearing on Bloomberg TV job of the government is to serve the
its. “At the risk of being immodest,” he on August 16, 2016, he vowed that Trump American people, not the specific busi-
wrote, “most respected experts involved would put an end to “these crazy reg- ness interests of the President’s friends.
in markets and the way they function ulations” on his first day in office. In To think that you have somebody with
would agree there are few in the coun- fact, Icahn continued, he had spoken that kind of agenda bending the Presi-
try that understand investing in markets with Trump about the E.P.A. rule oblig- dent’s ear is troubling.”
better than I do.” ing his refiner to purchase renewable- Conflicts of interest have been a
One person who was listening to Icahn fuel credits. If elected, Trump “will stop defining trait of the Trump Administra-
was the Republican Presidential nomi- that,” Icahn promised. “That’s a hun- tion. The President has not only refused
nee, Donald Trump. Icahn and Trump dred per cent.” to release his tax returns; he has declined
have known each other for decades, and Several weeks after Trump’s victory, to divest from his companies, instead
Icahn supported his friend’s aspirations Icahn tweeted, “I’ve agreed to serve as a putting them in a trust managed by his
for the White House at a time when special advisor to the president on issues children. Questions have emerged about
they still looked quixotic. Trump has long relating to regulatory reform.” In a press the ongoing business ties of his daugh-
boasted about his association with more release, Trump said, “Carl was with me ter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and
successful businesspeople, dropping ref- from the beginning and with his being Jared Kushner, who, since Trump took
erences to potentates the way kids dec- one of the world’s great businessmen, office, have reaped nearly two hundred
orate their school binders with the names that was something I truly appreciated. million dollars from the Trump hotel in
of their favorite pop stars. But, in real- He is not only a brilliant negotiator, but Washington, D.C., and from other in-
ity, many New York financiers consid- also someone who is innately able to pre- vestments. Although Trump promised
ered him a buffoon. In 2015, Lloyd Blank- dict the future, especially having to do to “drain the swamp,” he has assembled
fein, the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs, with finances and economies.” He added a Cabinet of ultra-rich Americans, in-
greeted the suggestion that Trump might that Icahn would help him address reg- cluding two billionaires: Betsy DeVos,
run for President by remarking that the ulations that were “strangling” Ameri- the Secretary of Education, and Wilbur
notion of the former star of “The Ap- can business. Ross, the Secretary of Commerce.
prentice” having his “finger on the but- Icahn’s role was novel. He would be But Icahn is worth more than the
ton blows my mind.” In this context, an an adviser with a formal title, but he Trump family and all the members of
endorsement from Icahn was a precious would not receive a salary, and he would the Cabinet combined—and, with no
credential. On the campaign trail, Trump not be required to divest himself of any constraint on his license to counsel the
bragged about his “very dear friend Carl of his holdings, or to make any disclo- President on regulations that might help
Icahn,” the name functioning as a by- sures about potential conflicts of inter- his businesses, he was poised to become
word for boundless prosperity. est. “Carl Icahn will be advising the Pres- much richer. Robert Weissman, who runs
If Icahn was willing to be enlisted ident in his individual capacity,” Trump’s the watchdog group Public Citizen, told
in this fashion, he was also prepared to transition team asserted. me, “This kind of self-enrichment and
48 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
influence over decision-making by an at Princeton (where he wrote a thesis the company’s C.E.O., a veteran of the
individual mogul who is simultaneously titled “The Problem of Formulating an Israeli Army, likened dealing with him
inside and outside the Administration Adequate Explication of the Empiricist to negotiating with terrorists.
is unprecedented. In terms of corrup- Criterion of Meaning”) and a stint in Icahn prefers to describe himself in
tion, there’s nothing like it. Maybe ever.” medical school (he was a hypochondriac, more righteous terms, as a warrior for
In conversations with me, financiers who which did not help his bedside manner), stockholders who have been disenfran-
have worked with Icahn described his Icahn shifted to Wall Street. For a time, chised by inattentive corporate boards
appointment as a kind of corporate raid he worked as an arbitrageur, but he even- and myopic executives. He sees himself
on Washington. One said, “It’s the cheap- tually established himself as a takeover as a champion of “shareholder rights,”
est takeover Carl’s ever done.” artist, orchestrating high-profile raids on an advocate for the little guy. By going
companies such as Texaco, RJR Nabisco, after lacklustre management, he argues,

Ihavefalike.
you squint, Trump and Icahn look
Both grew up in Queens and
an outer-borough chip on their
and Phillips Petroleum. His method was
straightforward: he identified businesses
whose assets were worth more than their
he has generated “billions and billions”
of dollars for shareholders, while man-
aging to make out just fine himself. “I’m
shoulders. Both first came to tabloid stock; he acquired enough of that stock like a gunfighter you hire to save the
prominence against the gaudy backdrop to force changes in the company which town,” he once remarked. “That gunfight-
of the nineteen-eighties. Both are brash, drove up the stock price; then he sold er is there to do good. He knows he’s on
plainspoken street fighters, examples of the stock. Implicit in Icahn’s approach the right side, and he’s proud of it, but
an American archetype: the populist rich was the conviction that he was smart he’ll only do what he does if he knows
guy. But Trump comes from the wealthy enough to know more about how to make he’ll get paid for it.”
enclave of Jamaica Estates, whereas Icahn money in a given business than the ex- It is true that Icahn has increased the
grew up in a lower-middle-class family ecutives who actually ran the business. value of many companies that he has in-
in Bayswater. His mother, Bella, was a He regarded the management at the vested in, but there are also numerous
schoolteacher; his father, Michael, was a companies he targeted with contempt. instances in which, in the aftermath of
failed opera singer who, even though he Unlike Trump, Icahn was not one to in- a raid, he emerges as a winner and ev-
was an atheist, became the cantor in a sinuate himself into the sort of club that eryone else seems to lose. In 1985, he
local synagogue, because he loved the would not accept him as a member; he seized control of the airline T.W.A. Ac-
music. Carl was an only child, born to- preferred to storm the clubhouse with a cording to the Times, Icahn celebrated
ward the end of the Depression, in 1936. pitchfork. One of Icahn’s oft-repeated by donning a T.W.A. flight jacket and
Throughout his youth, his father railed bromides is that the average C.E.O. is strutting around his office, exclaiming,
against the robber barons, condemning the like a fraternity president: a nice guy to “We’ve got ourselves an airline!” He took
concentration of extreme wealth. Icahn have a beer with, but maybe not too bright. the company private, pocketing nearly
told Mark Stevens, “The social juxtapo- Corporations, seeing Icahn coming, half a billion dollars, then sold off its as-
sition of a tiny group of people living often tried to fight him off. His reputa- sets. He also waged a bitter fight against
in great splendor and many more living in tion grew so fearsome that some com- the flight attendants’ union. Because most
abject poverty was anathema to him.” panies paid him to go away by buying attendants were women, Icahn insisted,
As a boy, Icahn was bright and am- his shares back at a premium—a prac- they were not “breadwinners,” and should
bitious. When he was offered a scholar- not expect compensation commensurate
ship to Woodmere Academy, an expen- with that of male employees. At one
sive private school on the South Shore point in the negotiations, he reportedly
of Long Island, his parents toured the suggested that if the flight attendants
campus and met with teachers. But they were having such trouble making ends
worried about the values that their son meet they “should have married a rich
would be exposed to there, so they sent husband.” (Icahn denied having made
him to public high school instead. The sexist comments.) C. E. Meyer, the com-
sting of that reversal lingered. Half a pany’s chief executive, described Icahn
century later, in the heat of a high-stakes as “one of the greediest men on earth.”
negotiation, Icahn would occasionally tice known as “paying greenmail.” Marty T.W.A. eventually went out of business.
digress to inform his adversaries that al- Lipton, a corporate lawyer whose firm Like Trump, Icahn adheres to a sim-
though he attended public school instead has often been hired by companies that ian dominance code in which every
of Woodmere Academy, he still went on were looking to thwart an Icahn take- deal—and possibly every human inter-
to become a billionaire. Icahn is an old over, wrote a memo four years ago in action—is a zero-sum contest. Only the
man now, with an old man’s penchant which he described raiders like Icahn as alpha prevails. Yet, among Trump’s pan-
for repeating stories; he frequently re- engaging in “a form of extortion.” In Lip- oply of wealthy boosters, Icahn is dis-
turns to the theme that his parents un- ton’s view, such investors “create short- tinctive, if not unique, because of the
derestimated him. “My father was never term increases in the market price of President’s willingness to play the beta
able to accomplish anything,” he once their stock at the expense of long-term role and genuflect before him. When
said, adding, “I never respected him.” value.” In the nineties, when Icahn was they met, during the eighties, Trump
In 1960, after studying philosophy fighting for control of Marvel Comics, was an eager supplicant, perhaps in part
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 49
because Icahn really is what Trump has “Possibly?” the judge asked. Post. “But I will say he’s a consensus
always pretended to be: a genuine mas- “Possibly,” Icahn said, adding, “Don’t builder.” When Trump first announced
ter dealmaker, and a legitimately self- tell my wife.” (Icahn’s first marriage ended his candidacy, in June, 2015, he appeared
made man. Icahn started out with much in an acrimonious divorce. He is now on “Morning Joe,” and said, “I would like
less than Trump did, and ended up with married to his former assistant, Gail to bring my friend Carl Icahn” into the
vastly more. In 1988, Trump paid eleven Golden, who manages his charitable in- government, suggesting that Icahn might
million dollars to host a heavyweight terests.) When Oliver Stone was doing make a good Treasury Secretary. Icahn
title fight between Mike Tyson and research for his 1987 film, “Wall Street,” replied, in a post on his personal Web
Michael Spinks, at Boardwalk Hall, in he paid a visit to Icahn, and borrowed site, “I am flattered but do not get up
Atlantic City. Before the fight, Trump one of his observations for the charac- early enough in the morning to accept
took Icahn backstage to meet Tyson. ter Gordon Gekko: “If you need a friend, this opportunity.”
The bout started late, and get a dog.” Trump’s almost
the announcer was obliged canine subservience to the hen Icahn initially made a take-
to recite an attenuated roll
call of famous guests, among
older financier is such that,
for years, Icahn, who is a ten-
W over bid for CVR Energy, in Feb-
ruary, 2012, the company hired Wachtell,
them Trump’s “good friend” nis fan, has enjoyed droit-du- Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the formidable
Carl Icahn. seigneur access to Trump’s per- New York law firm, to deflect him. But
Two years later, Trump sonal box at the U.S. Open. Icahn prevailed, acquiring an eighty-two-
unveiled the Taj Mahal, In 2010, Trump again per-cent stake in the refiner. CVR had
a spangled confection on found himself in trouble in never built enough of its own ethanol-
the boardwalk. It had been Atlantic City. But this time blending facilities to comply with the
financed entirely with junk Icahn was his antagonist. Renewable Fuel Standard, buying rin
bonds, and by the time construction was Along with a Texas banker, Icahn was credits instead. This was a bad bet. “Up
complete it was already imperilled by trying to gain control of three Trump until 2013, the conventional wisdom was
debt. When Trump needed to make an casinos. When a lawyer asked, during that there would be no volatility in rin
interest payment on the loans, his father, a deposition, whether Icahn intended prices,” Tristan Brown, a professor at
Fred, sent a lawyer to another Trump ca- to rebrand the casinos, he said that a the State University of New York’s Col-
sino, the Trump Castle, to buy $3.3 mil- consultant had deemed the Trump name lege of Environmental Science and For-
lion in chips. Not long afterward, Trump a “disadvantage.” In an interview, Trump estry, who has studied the rin market,
was bailed out once again—this time by shot back, “Everybody wants the brand, told me. But that year prices started to
Icahn. One of Icahn’s specialties is in- including Carl. It’s the hottest brand in climb. The rin market is much less trans-
vesting in distressed debt, and he pur- the country.” But in Icahn’s opinion the parent than the stock market, and some
chased the Taj’s outstanding bonds at a only real downside to shedding the players appeared to be hoarding credits,
steep discount. Rather than oust Trump, Trump name was the expense that would which drove up their price. Icahn wor-
Icahn negotiated with the other bond- be associated with changing all the sign- ried that CVR’s competitors, knowing
holders to allow Trump to retain equity age. Trump expressed dismay at Icahn’s that the company was in trouble, were
in the casino, as well as his place on the slight, telling the Times, in 2011, that he deliberately manipulating the price,
board. Years later, when Trump named was a “loyalist” who prioritized friend- subjecting his refiner to a so-called “short
Icahn a special adviser, the Democratic ship, whereas “with Carl the friendship squeeze.” (Icahn is no stranger to this
National Committee released a state- stops where the deal begins.” (Icahn re- tactic, having attempted to put a short
ment that alluded to the Atlantic City sponded that he did not consider the squeeze on the investor Bill Ackman by
episode, suggesting that the White House two of them to be close, adding, point- driving up the price of Herbalife, a stock
appointment was “a quid pro quo twenty- edly, that he had not been invited to that Ackman was betting against.)
five years in the making.” Icahn, how- Ivanka Trump’s wedding.) In court pa- During the 2016 Presidential cam-
ever, had already been handsomely re- pers, Icahn’s lawyers suggested that paign, Icahn—who owns twenty or so
munerated for his investment: he sold Trump’s name was no longer “synony- companies and has investments all over
the bonds, in 1993, for more than dou- mous with business acumen, high qual- the world—raised the issue of renewable-
ble what he had paid for them. ity, and style.” Icahn told the Wall Street fuel credits at every opportunity, speak-
Icahn and Trump maintained a loose Journal, “I like Donald personally, but ing of the “insane” perfidy of the E.P.A.
friendship during the ensuing decades, frankly I’m a little curious about the big and the plight of his refiner. “This is
one that was hardly as intimate as deal about the name.” If the Trump something that Carl does,” a former Icahn
Trump likes to make it sound. The very brand carried such cachet, he asked, employee told me. “He becomes fixated
notion of a relationship that transcends why did Trump properties keep going on something, even something that rep-
mercenary self-interest may be alien bankrupt? resents a small part of his portfolio. He
to Icahn. Once, in a court proceeding, Even after Icahn started supporting gets obsessed.”
he said, “If the price is right, we are Trump’s Presidential run, he often sea- Trump’s bid for the Presidency may
going to sell. I think that’s true of ev- soned his praise with a dash of disdain. have seemed like a long shot, and Icahn
erything you have, except maybe your “I’m not here to say Donald’s a great professed to have misgivings about the
kids and possibly your wife.” businessman,” he told the Washington “negativity” of his chosen candidate.
50 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
But he believed that Trump would slash creating a Big Oil “oligopoly” that would like Carl Icahn. When the press asked
regulation and, specifically, would make cause gas prices to skyrocket. whether the fact sheet signalled Trump’s
the change that Icahn wanted on bio- Whatever sympathy Trump may have intention to adjust the rule—at the risk
fuel credits—shifting the so-called felt for Icahn’s predicament, he had an of inflaming Corn Belt voters—a spokes-
“point of obligation” so that other par- important interest of his own: he needed man responded that an “incorrect” ver-
ties, closer in the supply chain to the states like Iowa on his side in order to sion of the fact sheet had been posted.
gas pump, would be compelled to pur- win the Presidency. At a June, 2016, rally The bullet point disappeared.
chase rin credits, instead of merchant in Cedar Rapids, he pledged his support
refiners like CVR. for the Renewable Fuel Standard, and s an investor, Icahn likes to zig where
Even if Trump was elected, there were
reasons to believe that Icahn’s objective
promised to save the ethanol industry,
which was “under siege.”
A others zag. It is not clear how much
confidence he had in Trump’s prospects
might be difficult to achieve. The etha- That September, however, something in 2016, or whether, on Election Night,
nol industry opposed shifting the point curious happened. The Trump cam- he was as surprised as the rest of the
of obligation, and was represented by ex- paign—which had not distinguished it- country. But Icahn attended the im-
perienced lobbyists. In August, 2016, Bob self for the wonky exactitude of its white promptu victory party at the Hilton in
Dinneen, who runs a leading ethanol papers—issued a fact sheet on economic midtown, where nobody seemed to have
trade group, the Renewable Fuels Asso- policy that, amid generic promises of arranged for balloons, though a cake had
ciation, told the Houston Chronicle that “unbridled economic growth,” contained been fashioned into a bust of a scowling
the Renewable Fuel Standard functions a surprisingly detailed bullet point about Trump. Supporters wearing “Make
basically as it should, providing incen- the E.P.A.’s rin program. “These re- America Great Again” hats celebrated,
tives to refiners that blend ethanol and quirements have turned out to be im- in a daze. Icahn left the party after mid-
penalizing those which do not. Chang- possible to meet and are bankrupting night. The global markets were tanking
ing the regulation, Dinneen said, would many of the small and midsize refiner- on the news of Trump’s win, so he went
simply reward “folks who haven’t done ies in this country,” the passage read. home and made a billion dollars’ worth
what the law said they should do.” “These regulations will give Big Oil an of investments.
The Renewable Fuel Standard had oligopoly.” This did not sound especially Within days of the victory, according
passed with support from an improba- like Donald Trump. It did sound a lot to people familiar with the situation,
bly diverse coalition: environmentalists,
who wanted to curb greenhouse-gas
emissions; national-security hawks, who
wanted to reduce reliance on foreign oil;
and farm-state lawmakers, who wanted
to boost the corn industry. (Most etha-
nol is made from corn.) Senator Chuck
Grassley, the Iowa Republican, opposed
shifting the point of obligation. So did
the American Petroleum Institute, one
of the most powerful lobbying groups in
Washington, because some integrated
oil giants, such as BP and Shell, were
now producing so much blended fuel
that they were generating surplus cred-
its, which they sold to smaller refiners
like CVR. Because the petroleum indus-
try and the ethanol industry tend to see
in one another an existential threat, there
are few policy issues on which they agree.
The point of obligation for rin credits
is one of them.
This daunting array of forces only
intensified Icahn’s ire, reinforcing his
sense of himself as an aggrieved out-
sider. In his open letter to the E.P.A.,
he fumed that the rin market was
“rigged,” giving Big Oil a windfall at
the expense of smaller refiners such as
CVR. Without a policy change, he
warned, the regulation would soon
bankrupt small and mid-sized refiners,
this should be done immediately.” One
reason that the rin market is so unsta-
ble is that the price of the credits is ex-
tremely sensitive to developments in the
news that might affect their future value.
On the day that Pruitt was appointed,
the price of rins plunged—a welcome
outcome for Icahn, because it would cost
CVR less to purchase the credits that it
needed to fulfill its regulatory obligation.
On December 22nd, the day after
Icahn was formally declared to be an ad-
viser to the President, rin prices dropped
again. It was hardly lost on Wall Street
that the famously single-minded inves-
tor might leverage his new role to advo-
cate for his own investments. Barron’s
asked, “Has Carl Icahn been appointed
Secretary of Talking His Own Book?”
“What do you think of the new cubicles?” The Web site Dealbreaker, noting Icahn’s
lack of conflict-of-interest constraints,
proposed an alternative job title: “Secre-
• • tary of Do Whatever the Fuck You Want.”

Trump had enlisted Icahn to help him the years, you develop instincts for pick- ll Presidents seek advice from the
staff major government agencies. Icahn
employees began reviewing the refer-
ing the right C.E.O.,” he said. “Is there
anything wrong with me saying, ‘This
A private sector. Sometimes they have
done so informally, as when Bill Clin-
ences and résumés of potential Cabinet guy is the right guy for this job at this ton made late-night phone calls to a
appointees. It has frequently been re- time’? It doesn’t mean Donald is going “kitchen cabinet” of business leaders. On
marked that Trump has stacked his Ad- to take my advice, necessarily.” other occasions, an Administration has
ministration with plutocrats. Less often When Scott Pruitt visited Trump brought executives into the bureaucracy
acknowledged is the degree to which Tower to discuss the top job at the E.P.A., on a part-time basis, making them so-
many of these appointments bear Icahn’s the President-elect concluded the inter- called Special Government Employees,
fingerprints. On November 15th, Icahn view by instructing him to walk two which requires certain divestments and
tweeted, “Spoke to @realDonaldTrump. blocks uptown to meet with Icahn. disclosures. Between these informal and
Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross are Trump, according to a Bloomberg News formal models lies a third option: Pres-
being considered for Treasury and Com- account, told him, “He has some ques- idents often establish outside advisory
merce. Both would be great choices.” He tions for you.” Pruitt was precisely the boards of corporate leaders; in such sit-
added, “Both are good friends of mine sort of candidate that Icahn might favor. uations, the business leaders are not ex-
but, more importantly, they are two of A fierce opponent of environmental reg- pected to give up any of their holdings,
the smartest people I know.” Two days ulation, Pruitt had spent years, as the at- and may advocate on behalf of their in-
later, Icahn told the Fox Business Chan- torney general of Oklahoma, suing the dustries without having to register as
nel that he had just had dinner with agency that he was now in talks to over- lobbyists. Icahn has likened his sinecure
Mnuchin, and had “urged Donald to see. Even so, Pruitt knew that Icahn to this type of arrangement, saying, “I’m
consider him.” He continued, “I’m not would likely want to discuss one partic- not making any policy. I am only giving
going to be the one to announce it, but ular issue—rin credits—and as Pruitt my opinion.”
I do believe he will get the job.” On No- and an aide headed up Fifth Avenue they For any executive, having access to
vember 30th, Mnuchin did. searched the Internet for information on the Oval Office can be good for busi-
When potential Cabinet secretaries the credits system and its impact on ness. In a new research paper, “All the
visited Trump Tower to meet with the Icahn’s refiner. President’s Friends,” the University of
President-elect, they were sometimes Pruitt was nominated on Decem- Illinois finance professors Jeffrey R.
sent for a second interview—with Icahn. ber 8th. The next day, Icahn said in an Brown and Jiekun Huang studied the
On the day that Jay Clayton was an- interview with Bloomberg News, “I’ve share prices at companies whose execu-
nounced as Trump’s choice to head the spoken to Scott Pruitt four or five times. tives visited the White House, and found
Securities and Exchange Commission, I told Donald that he is somebody who that the real, or implied, influence of such
he stopped by Icahn’s office for a meet- will do away with many of the problems encounters boosted the value of the com-
ing. Appearing on CNBC in December, at the E.P.A.” He continued, “I do think panies in the months after such visits.
Icahn defended his role as a talent spot- he feels pretty strongly about the absur- Jimmy Williams, Icahn’s former lobby-
ter for the Trump Administration. “Over dity of these obligations, and I feel that ist, told me, “Can Carl Icahn take his
52 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
influence with the President and make as a younger man, hopped on planes to Some speculated that Dinneen had
deals that benefit him? Any C.E.O. who visit companies he was investing in, but been influenced by Valero, a refiner whose
has a relationship with the President can now he mostly has people come to him. biofuels subsidiary had recently joined
do that, regardless of party.” His offices are full of reminders, as if ar- his association, and which had sent a
Brown and Huang were able to write ranged by a set decorator, that Icahn is representative to join Dinneen at his
their paper only because the Obama a conqueror: the walls are lined with oil meeting with Icahn. Like CVR, Valero
White House made public its visitor paintings depicting famous battles, as had not sufficiently invested in blending
logs—something that Trump has refused well as framed stock certificates and other infrastructure and was spending huge
to do. Without such information, it is trophies from companies that he has sub- sums on RIN credits. But, after reporters
impossible to know which executives are dued. A pair of antique duelling pistols hounded Dinneen, he offered a differ-
meeting with the Trump Administra- adorn his desk. ent explanation: in a statement, he ex-
tion at the White House. And the kind Icahn is known for his stamina and plained that he had “received a call from
of outside panels that Icahn considers to deviousness as a negotiator. Connie an official with the Trump Administra-
be similar to his role are subject to the Bruck, in her 1988 book, “The Predators’ tion, informing us that a pending exec-
Federal Advisory Committee Act, which Ball,” describes his passion for all-night utive order would change the point of
mandates that their meetings must be negotiation sessions, and notes that some obligation.” In other words, the policy
held in public. Austan Goolsbee, who of his interlocutors suspect that he de- was going to change by Presidential fiat,
served as the chairman of Obama’s Coun- liberately prolongs these encounters, not whether the industry liked it or not. “I
cil of Economic Advisers, told me, just as a tactic but “because he is having was told in no uncertain terms that the
“The Obama Administration established such a good time.” Icahn is a serious point of obligation was going to be
clear disclosure and full transparency chess player; as a young man, he consid- moved,” Dinneen said. The executive
about what advice people were giving ered becoming a chess master but de- order would be “non-negotiable.”
and when they were giving it. You can cided not to, because there was no money Confronted with this fait accompli,
be an outside adviser or a government in it. He paid his way through Prince- Dinneen apparently felt that his only op-
employee. The rules are clear for each. ton, in part, with poker earnings, and he tion was to secure whatever concessions
With Icahn, they seem to be trying to has played the game with Leon Black, he could for his industry. One long-
invent a kind of Guantánamo Bay situ- the founder of Apollo Global Manage- standing priority for Dinneen and other
ation, in which you’re simultaneously ment; Sam Waksal, the ImClone founder, biofuel advocates has been to change
both and neither.”  who went to prison for insider trading; laws so that gas blends containing fifteen
Norm Eisen, who served as Obama’s and the onetime junk-bond king Mi- per cent ethanol can be sold year-round.
Special Counsel for Ethics and Govern- chael Milken, who has also done time (Such blends cannot legally be sold during
ment Reform, argues that Icahn is “not for white-collar crime. “Waksal, Milken, the summer, the peak driving season;
just an outside kibbitzer” but a formal Ivan Boesky,” the former Icahn employee Dinneen contends that the prohibition,
adviser who should be subject to con- said. “Carl has never got into trouble. meant to alleviate smog, is outdated.) So
straints. “He gets a title,” Eisen said. “He But he’s played with everyone who did.” Dinneen pressed for that adjustment, in
gets a broad policy portfolio. He’s in- In his business dealings, Icahn is a mas- exchange for his acquiescence on the
volved in personnel decisions, in policy ter of the bluff. “Carl views the legal point of obligation.
discussions. To me, all of that adds up to norms as a starting point for a negotia- Many ethanol-industry watchers I
him being a Special Government Em- tion, rather than a moral compass,” a spoke with were flabbergasted by this
ployee.”The blitheness with which Icahn financier who has faced off against him turn of events. When I called Dinneen,
and the Trump White House sidestepped told me. “He’s not afraid to cross the line he told me that the only Trump Admin-
the federal requirements is evidence, if he thinks he’s on firm ground. ‘Per- istration official he had been speaking
Eisen contends, that “this is a lawless Ad- haps the law says that this is wrong. But with was Icahn. “I’m old-school,” Din-
ministration.” Immediately after Icahn’s I know better, and I am willing to sue or neen said. “If I get a call from a special
appointment was announced, shares in be sued.’ It’s a rare breed of person who adviser to the President, I’m going to
Icahn Enterprises surged. Forbes esti- will do that. Carl lives in that breach.” take it.” Dinneen explained that although
mated that his stake in the company rose On February 27th, the news leaked Icahn never said explicitly that he was
in value from $6.8 billion to $7.3 billion— that Dinneen and Icahn had struck a deal: speaking on behalf of the President, he
an increase of five hundred and ten mil- the Renewable Fuels Association would did say that he had discussed the point
lion dollars, in a day. end its long-held opposition to changing of obligation with Trump, and that he
the point of obligation, and side with was confident that a change in policy

IFuelsnDinneen,
early February, Icahn contacted Bob
the head of the Renewable
Association. Icahn proposed that
Icahn in his push to shift the obligation
away from refiners like CVR. This was a
surprising development. There had been
was coming soon. Normally, Dinneen
pointed out, any negotiation between the
government and private industry would
they meet to discuss Dinneen’s opposi- no ambiguity about Dinneen’s position, take place with “an army of people” as-
tion to shifting the point of obligation and earlier that month the Renewable sembled on opposite sides of a confer-
for RINs. Dinneen took the train from Fuels Association had made a submission ence table: a phalanx of lawyers, techni-
Washington to New York and went to to the E.P.A. objecting to such a change. cal specialists, and other advisers. This
the offices of Icahn Enterprises. Icahn, What was behind this abrupt reversal? was different. Then again, he noted, with
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 53
a dry chuckle, “This whole town is differ- officers at the agency; he does, however, of the news reports about the executive
ent now.” Now he was cutting deals, mano meet regularly, behind closed doors, with order told me that he had assured them,
a mano, with Icahn: a friend of Trump, industry executives. Some observers fear “I was not consulted on this.”
the owner of a refiner, and a special ad- that the E.P.A. is now run like a Senate Brooke Coleman, the executive direc-
viser to the President. If this was the new office, where representatives meet with tor of the Advanced Biofuels Business
reality, Dinneen figured, he needed to constituents and do constituent services— Council, pointed out to me that these
find a way to work with it. To do other- except that the constituent is industry. events unfolded just a month into the
wise would be malpractice, he said, add- For example, under the Obama Admin- Trump Administration. Many staffers
ing, “Icahn had a title I couldn’t ignore.” istration the E.P.A. moved to ban chlor- had not arrived yet, and there was no real
Dinneen insisted to me that he and pyrifos, a pesticide manufactured by Dow policymaking apparatus. The point-of-
Icahn never struck a conclusive deal; they Chemical, after agency scientists found obligation rule was a relatively obscure
simply came to an agreement that he that it caused neurodevelopmental dam- agenda item, a top priority for almost no-
would propose to his board age in children. Dow lob- body but Icahn. “This was a middle-of-
that the association end its bied against the ban, and the-night quick strike,” Coleman said. “In
opposition to shifting the Pruitt recently tabled it, cit- the middle of the night, Icahn said, ‘Sign
point of obligation. But, ing “uncertainty” about the this.’ But it didn’t work. He got caught.”
after a phone call with Din- scientific evidence that it is Those were heady times for executive or-
neen on February 23rd, hazardous to kids. ders, with the President seeming to sign
Icahn spoke with the Pres- Icahn could scarcely have a new one each day. But several people
ident and relayed the sub- asked for a more business- told me that the point-of-obligation
stance of this agreement. friendly figure at the E.P.A. change could not have been made sim-
Icahn, who had been out But, when news leaked ply by executive prerogative. “It’s a regu-
walking his dog, talked to about a policy shift on the lation,” Janet McCabe said. “So the reg-
Trump from the lobby of point of obligation, the eth- ulation would have to be changed, and
his apartment building. Bloomberg News anol industry protested. Jeff Broin, the there is a whole process for that.” In 1946,
later reported that, according to Icahn, C.E.O. of Poet, a large ethanol producer, the Administrative Procedure Act estab-
“Trump seemed receptive.” Trump in- complained, “This was a back-room ‘deal’ lished a protocol for rule-making that in-
structed Icahn to telephone Gary Cohn, made by people who want out of their volves interagency coördination and input
his senior adviser on economic issues. obligations.” One group, Fuels America, from interested parties.
Cohn handed the matter to an aide on declared that Dinneen’s Renewable Fuels “Icahn was always talking about an
the National Economic Council, a for- Association was “no longer aligned with ‘executive order’—that was his vernacu-
mer oil lobbyist named Mike Catanzaro, America’s biofuel industry,” and severed lar,” Dinneen recalled. An official in the
who spent an hour going through the ties with it. Emily Skor, who runs Growth Trump Administration told me that re-
details with Icahn. When, four days later, Energy, another trade group, objected ports about an impending executive order
Bloomberg News broke the story that an that Dinneen had been negotiating with- were “not true,” because “there was no
executive order was imminent, corn and out consulting other stakeholders in the organic executive-order process that
gasoline prices went berserk. ethanol industry. “This is no deal for any- would be normal for something like that.”
It was not hard to believe that the one but Carl Icahn,” she said. Senator There was a draft executive order, the
Trump White House had shifted policy Joni Ernst, of Iowa, also derided the deal, official acknowledged, but it did not orig-
at the behest of an industry crony. The pointing out that it would benefit only inate in the White House: “It was some-
Administration had devoted itself, in its a “select few.” thing Icahn sent to us.”
early days, to dismantling the regulatory “Icahn is very sophisticated,” Brooke
state, in close consultation with business n February 28th, Kelly Love, a Coleman said. “But maybe not about
interests. The White House established
deregulation teams at various federal
O spokeswoman for the White House,
denied that there was any plan to shift
Washington.” Senator Chuck Grassley
not only represents corn growers; he also
agencies. Administration officials have the point of obligation, telling Reuters, chairs the Judiciary Committee, which
refused to disclose the names of team “There is no ethanol executive order in helps confirm Trump’s appointments of
members, but reporting by ProPublica the works.” In an interview with Bloom- judges. This is the reason that traditional
and the Times suggests that many of berg, Stefan Passantino, the White House policy negotiations are so overcrowded.
them have come from the regulated in- lawyer in charge of ethics and compli- Washington is a city of vying constitu-
dustries themselves. ance, questioned any characterization of encies, many of which happen to be very
Efforts at health-care reform, an in- Icahn as a government official, saying, powerful. Coleman believes that “some-
frastructure bill, and tax cuts have all “He is simply a private citizen whose one probably walked into Trump’s office
stalled, stymied by the infighting, indis- opinion the President respects and whom and said, ‘Here’s why you need Chuck
cipline, and incompetence of the Trump the President speaks with from time to Grassley more than you need Carl Icahn.’ ”
Administration. But deregulation has time.” In subsequent conversations with Did Icahn think that he could bluff
been a quiet success, and nowhere more industry representatives, Pruitt distanced his way to a change in federal regu-
so than at the E.P.A. Pruitt has not made himself from Icahn’s efforts. Two people lation? One thing is clear: whatever
it a habit to meet with senior career who spoke with Pruitt in the aftermath the White House might say, Dinneen
54 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
believed that Icahn was negotiating on quently reported that, when the price of ergy sector, pointed out that “if an in-
behalf of the Trump Administration. RINs was high, CVR sold millions of the dividual has influence over expectations
Icahn has boasted to associates in New credits. The company would eventually in this market, he can end up moving
York about his access to the President. need to turn over its quota of credits to prices.” When rin prices dropped, it
On March 1st, in a filing to the Securi- the E.P.A., yet in the months before its afforded CVR an opportunity to cover
ties and Exchange Commission, Icahn annual deadline it was quietly selling them its short, buying back the rins it needed
Enterprises made a point of mentioning off. This was extremely unusual. “To my to meet its regulatory obligation at a
that “Mr. Icahn is currently serving as a knowledge, this is the first time you had steep discount.
special advisor to President Donald J. someone taking a short position in the Because CVR will not comment on
Trump on issues relating to regulatory RIN market,” Tristan Brown, the SUNY the trades, it is impossible to know how
reform.” Such a disclosure could indi- professor, told me. many credits were bought during this pe-
cate merely that Icahn is being transpar- To short a stock or a commodity is to riod. Normally, the refiner posted a loss
ent with his shareholders. But it is also, make a bet that the price will drop. And for the sum that it spent on RINs each
unequivocally, a signal: I have the ear of in this instance it was extremely risky: if quarter, and those losses had lately
the President. the deadline arrives and a refiner does amounted to as much as sixty million
Richard Painter, who served as the not have the required quota of credits, dollars. But, on a shareholder call in April,
chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, the E.P.A. can enforce fines of $37,500 a a CVR representative said that in the
told me that it was irrelevant whether or day for each RIN owed until the refiner first quarter of the Trump Administra-
not Icahn received a salary or had an complies—a figure that would climb into tion the company had experienced a “neg-
office in the West Wing. “When you give the billions of dollars immediately. “You’re ative” loss of six million dollars—that is,
someone a title, you make him your agent,” essentially gambling,” Brown said. “And, a profit. Tristan Brown told me that the
Painter said. He pointed out that Icahn’s if you’re wrong, the penalty is pretty much notion of a profit resulting from compli-
title stood out amid the arid nomencla- unlimited.”This was, Brown said, not the ance with the Renewable Fuel Standard
ture of official Washington, where “spe- sort of speculative play one might antic- was unheard of for a merchant refiner
cial advisers” proliferate but only a cho- ipate from a mid-sized refiner like CVR. like CVR. When I asked a longtime rin
sen few can append the words “to the Rather, it was the kind of gamble that a trader about this gambit, he said, “Either
President.” “With a title like that, he has bold Wall Street investor might make. Icahn was extremely lucky or he knew
the authority to represent the President’s In the near term, at least, Icahn’s bet something that other people didn’t.”
views. If he goes out and says ‘The Pres- paid off. As soon as the news broke that
ident thinks this,’ that means something.” an executive order on the point of ob-
If Icahn’s objective was to shift the ligation was imminent—and that Icahn
, what are you doing?” Icahn
“ S oasked me when I called him for
point of obligation, his bluff failed. This and Dinneen had reached a deal—prices this story. For all his brusque qualities,
would appear to be an instance in which of rins plummeted. Jim Stock, a pro- Icahn is an engaging interlocutor, his
the same lattice of vested interests that fessor at Harvard who studies the en- voice a raspy staccato, his accent a time
can cause dysfunction in Washington
actually led to a proper result; it pre-
vented a hasty change in policy that was
designed primarily to assist one person.
“The process worked, at the end of the
day,” the Trump Administration official
told me. “We made the right decision.”
Mark Stevens, Icahn’s biographer, re-
called, “Carl once told me, ‘I don’t be-
lieve in the word fair. It’s a human con-
cept that became conventional wisdom.’ ”
To Icahn, it may have seemed that the
roadblocks he faced were not a sign of a
sound bureaucracy but, rather, evidence
of a power play by more formidable spe-
cial interests, in the form of the ethanol
lobby and Big Oil.
But Icahn’s first foray as a Presiden-
tial adviser was by no means a complete
failure. Icahn had spent the second half
of 2016 complaining bitterly about CVR’s
obligation to buy rins. But, when CVR
released an earnings report in April, 2017,
it emerged that the company had actu-
ally been selling them. Reuters subse-
capsule of old New York. In the course
of three phone calls, we spoke for nearly SON
four hours. Icahn has given hundreds of
interviews over the decades. He is a great I don’t even know where my father lives.
raconteur. But, on the subject of his role I know his number, and whenever
as an adviser to Trump and his effort to I call he answers and gives
change the E.P.A. regulation, he pre- the usual update about getting together
ferred to talk almost entirely off the re- with the stepkids and their kids,
cord. A lawyer joined him for each call. about the latest minor crises
Icahn insisted to me that he does not op- with his health, about what he did
pose all regulation, and feels, for exam- with Maryanne for their anniversary.
ple, that “some Wall Street regulation is He lives somewhere in Connecticut,
necessary.” Notwithstanding the title that near where he lived before.
Trump had conferred on him, Icahn de- It’s been easy not to go there, but
scribed his advisory role as “unofficial,” I know I should—there won’t always be more
and said, “I have only ever made sugges- time. There will always be less.
tions that I believed would benefit all I don’t even know my father’s address.
companies in particular industries, never
any one particular company.” Beyond —Craig Morgan Teicher
that, he would say little on the record.
Icahn was less guarded when his that, once he and Gary Cohn had con- These assurances notwithstanding,
appointment originally generated cluded that Icahn was attempting to hi- Icahn could be in legal jeopardy. “He’s
controversy. “I own a refinery,” he told jack the policy process, they put a stop walking right into possible criminal
Bloomberg News, in March. “Why to it. One of the sources said, “I think charges,” Richard Painter, the Bush Ad-
shouldn’t I advocate?” He later added, “I Icahn thought if he told his pal Don, ministration ethics lawyer, said. He cited
have a right to talk to the President like ‘This is a bad thing,’ and explained why a federal statute that makes it illegal for
any other citizen. . . . And, yeah, it helps it was stupid, Don would say, ‘God damn executive-branch employees to work on
me. I’m not apologizing for that.” With it, Carl, you’re right!’—and then the law any matter in which they may have a di-
me, he was more calibrated, insisting would change. That’s not how it works rect financial interest. The President and
that his role has been overstated, and down here. We have this thing called the the Vice-President are exempted from
that he has spoken to Trump only “a Administrative Procedure Act.” Another this statute. Unpaid White House advis-
handful” of times since the election. source said, “Mike had to make clear that ers are not. Painter suggested that the
Confronted with Dinneen’s account the government is not a vending ma- public-integrity division of the Justice
of their interactions, Icahn deferred to chine—that it’s not here to profit the Department should be investigating. “If
his lawyer, Jesse Lynn, who disputed sev- President’s friends.” He added, “Not ev- I were Icahn’s private lawyer, I would tell
eral points. Although Dinneen was ad- erybody in this Administration neces- him that he shouldn’t have accepted the
amant that Icahn had assured him an ex- sarily sees it that way.” special-adviser title,” he said. Jesse Lynn
ecutive order was in the works, and had Icahn would not acknowledge having told me that he has reviewed the rele-
spoken of discussing the matter with directed CVR to short rins. Jesse Lynn vant law, and that it does not apply to
Trump, Lynn told me that Icahn had said that CVR’s strategies on rins are Icahn: “Unlike a government employee,
merely expressed “hope” that Trump decided by its board of directors. (He did Mr. Icahn has no official role or duties
would come around to his view. Lynn not mention that the chairman of the and he is not in a position to set policy.”
also denied the White House’s account, board is Icahn.) On the question of Painter disagrees. “That is clearly an
maintaining that the draft executive order whether Icahn had exploited his prox- official title,” he said. “If he was advising
was not prepared by Icahn. imity to the President to make bets in on a matter where he had an interest,
I spoke to someone who has seen the the marketplace, Lynn said, “Any sugges- then Icahn was in direct violation of the
draft executive order, and he told me that tion that we had access to information criminal statute.”
it looked conspicuously like something that others didn’t is unequivocally false.” The Trump Justice Department may
that had been prepared by someone with Neither Icahn nor Lynn would comment be unlikely to initiate an investigation.
no experience in Washington: “It was like further on the trading of rins, but Icahn But Eliot Spitzer, the former prosecutor
‘I, the President, instruct Scott Pruitt to told me, “I have a decades-long, impec- and New York governor, told me that
move the point of obligation.’ It was al- cable record of creating literally hundreds Icahn’s activities in Washington should
most amateurish. Any policy person or of billions of dollars of value for share- also draw scrutiny in New York. “At a
lawyer would understand that this thing holders. I’ve lived through many turbu- minimum, it looks improper,” he said. “If
was never going to fly.” lent times but I’ve never had any prob- I were sitting downtown at 120 Broad-
Several sources in Washington who lems with the government.” He added way, where I used to be the state attor-
have discussed the matter with Mike that he has “a great respect for the law,” ney general, and somebody presented this
Catanzaro, the Trump Administration and that he and his associates “cross every fact pattern to me, I would say, ‘Let’s take
official who dealt with Icahn, told me ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ in our activities.” a hard look at this.’ Giving policy advice
56 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
as a formal government adviser while at ters to the White House and to various come. In May, the C.F.T.C. replied to the
the same time trading on the potential agencies to protest the nature of Icahn’s senators’ letter: the agency would not be
impact of that advice violates our notions role, and to seek clarity on the question investigating Icahn or CVR, because rins,
of transparency in government work. It of what he has actually been doing. even though they are commodities, do
seems problematic on its face.” Whitehouse told me that, because of the not trade on a futures market, and the
In March, Icahn published an article “definitional murk” surrounding Icahn’s agency therefore had no jurisdiction to
in The Hill, defending himself against appointment, it is important to answer a look into the matter. By this logic, the
any suggestion that, as a private citizen series of baseline questions. How often fifteen-billion-dollar market for renew-
lobbying the Administration on behalf has he consulted with Trump or others able-fuel credits is not regulated by any
of his own business interests, he might at the White House? Has his position government agency.
be expected to register as a lobbyist. “I provided access to confidential govern- In the absence of disclosures about
have vetted my activities with a number ment information that might affect his what Icahn has and has not advised on,
of lawyers and it is clear that no registra- investments? How broad an array of reg- any investment that he makes in a regu-
tion is required,” he wrote. He argued ulations has Icahn offered advice on, and lated industry can come to seem suspi-
that it was not merely refiners like CVR how have his recommendations dove- cious. In February, he acquired a stake in
that were suffering under the current tailed with his own portfolio? the pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers
point of obligation; so were mom-and- I asked several people who know Squibb. During Jay Clayton’s confirma-
pop gas stations, many of which were Icahn whether he even has policy inter- tion hearings, Elizabeth Warren noted
“minority owned.” Icahn argued, with a ests beyond his own investments. They that Icahn had made this move after as-
straight face, that he was actually fight- noted Icahn’s commitment to educa- suming his role as a special adviser to the
ing this battle on behalf of minority com- tion—he has built eight charter schools President. The value of a company like
munities. The investor who has negoti- in the Bronx—but struggled to offer Bristol-Myers would be affected by Food
ated with Icahn told me, “Carl confuses other examples. Someone who used to and Drug Administration decisions, pat-
the personal good and the social good in work for Icahn told me, “Carl has zero ent determinations, and policies that affect
a very profound way.” interest in the details of regulation. He Medicare and Medicaid, she pointed out.
Following the reports that Icahn was has a general feeling that he doesn’t want It is almost impossible to imagine, she
negotiating with Dinneen and urging regulations to affect him, but it’s not like argued, that Icahn did not “have some
Trump to shift the point of obligation, he’s going to be consulting the Federal inside information about how these pol-
Icahn acknowledged, in March, that he Register and making policy recom- icies would affect a company like Bris-
had not been buying RINs. Jesse Lynn mendations. It’s ludicrous.” When a tol-Myers.” Warren posed a hypothet-
insisted that there was “nothing unusual Bloomberg reporter pressed Icahn about ical to Clayton: If Icahn had inside
or inappropriate about any rins trad- sectors beyond oil refining where he information about federal regulatory pol-
ing that may have been conducted.” felt that regulation was excessive, he icy that would affect Bristol-Myers, and
Icahn had no ability to influence pol- spoke of railcars and liquid natural gas— he chose to buy shares in the company
icy at the White House, Lynn insisted. two heavily regulated industries in based on that information, would that
All that his title and his relationship which Icahn has extensive holdings. not be a violation of securities laws?
with the President afforded was “an op- In May, after the revelations about the Clayton demurred, saying that it
portunity to express his views.” would depend on an analysis of the “facts
and circumstances.”
ne recurring feature of the Trump “We are talking about an Adminis-
O Presidency has been an acute col-
lective sensation, shared by a substantial
tration that just has conflicts everywhere,”
Warren pressed. “It is very difficult to de-
portion of the electorate, of helpless wit- termine whether someone is actually
ness. Dismayed Americans wait, like spec- working in the interests of the American
tators at a game that has turned suddenly people or they are just lining their own
dangerous, for a referee to step in and cry pockets.”The public should not be forced
foul. But one reason that Trumpism is so to “guess” whether its government is serv-
transfixing to watch is that it is about the rin trading by CVR, the senators wrote ing its interests or that of the President’s
upending of norms, the defiance of ta- to the heads of the S.E.C., the E.P.A., cronies, she continued. “And when Carl
boos, the destabilization of institutions. and the Commodities Futures Trading Icahn is influencing policy that will affect
School’s out forever. What this means in Commission, calling on them to inves- companies and then he is investing in
practice is a serious deficit of account- tigate. But it could not have escaped the those companies . . . that creates a conflict
ability. Whom can you call when the au- senators’ attention that two recipients of of interest that is just beyond what we
thorities are the ones breaking the rules? their letter—Jay Clayton and Scott are even talking about everywhere else.”
Since Icahn’s appointment, Senators Pruitt—had met with Icahn in the con- In his conversation with me, Icahn
Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, and text of securing their jobs. The Senate expressed indignation about the effort
Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, Democrats cannot issue subpoenas to to hold him accountable, which he has
along with several of their Democratic agencies unless they get the Republican described, in conspicuously Trumpian
colleagues, have written a string of let- majority to sign on—an unlikely out- language, as “fake news” and “a witch
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 57
hunt.” He told me that any criticism of Icahn does not have a position with the ters related to Carl Icahn,” because Icahn
his role is “both politically motivated and Administration, nor a policymaking role.” was a former client. This was the first I
motivated by certain large business in- It is ironic for Passantino to rule on had heard of any recusal, and I asked when
terests,” and is “completely without merit.” the controversy surrounding Icahn’s con- it had happened. On the first day of the
When I asked Icahn about the nature flicts of interest—because Passantino has Administration, the spokeswoman replied.
of his special-adviser role, he maintained a conflict of his own. On June 28th, Wal- If the White House spokeswoman was
that what had initially appeared to be a ter Shaub, the head of the Office of Gov- correct, then at the time that Passantino
broad policy portfolio was, in practice, ernment Ethics, wrote a letter pointing issued the Administration’s judgment that
much more limited. “The only sugges- out that Passantino, in his mandatory Icahn’s role posed no ethical conflicts he
tions I have ever made throughout this disclosures as a full-time White House was already recused from offering legal
whole period were on the rins issue,” he employee, noted that before joining the advice on precisely that question. “That’s
said. No railcars? No liquid natural gas? Administration he had been a corporate not how recusal works,” Shaub told me.
Icahn says that he has not had a single lawyer. He listed the clients for whom “Recusing yourself means not delivering
conversation with anyone in the Admin- he had done work in the two years prior the White House’s legal theories about
istration about regulations in these in- to joining the government. One of them whether Icahn is an employee.” The
dustries, or in any others in which he has was Icahn. At the time that Passantino spokeswoman maintained that, when Pas-
holdings. He acknowledges advocating was initially queried about the propriety santino made his declaration, he wasn’t
on the rins issue. But he maintains that of Icahn’s position, he made no mention making a legal judgment, but “merely re-
this was not problematic, because, though of this relationship. iterating a fact.” Richard Painter, who
the refiner he owns might benefit from Two weeks after Shaub sent his let- used to hold Passantino’s job, told me that
a shift in the point of obligation, it would ter, he resigned, saying that he could no the White House’s repeated assertion that
not be the only company that would wel- longer meaningfully perform the func- Icahn is simply a private citizen is “bogus,”
come such a change. In Icahn’s telling, tion for which the Office of Government adding, “The ethics shop in this White
this makes him practically disinterested. Ethics was designed. Shaub warned that House is not very good.”
The White House official who would, the United States was facing a “historic If Passantino never weighed in on the
in theory, police Icahn’s status is Stefan ethics crisis.” The White House released terms of Icahn’s unusual appointment,
Passantino, the deputy counsel to the Pres- a statement lashing out at Shaub, dis- surely some other White House lawyer
ident for compliance and ethics. Passan- missing his concerns as “grandstanding.” looked into the matter. I asked who that
tino was responsible for “counselling” For all of President Trump’s fulmina- was. The spokeswoman responded that
Kellyanne Conway, the Presidential ad- tions about the danger of leaks, his White it “wasn’t necessary” to perform any such
viser, after she sparked an outcry by pro- House has a bizarre habit of authorizing legal vetting of Icahn’s role.
moting Ivanka Trump’s apparel line during spokespeople to talk with the press on
a Fox News interview. In the view of the condition that their names not be or the moment, Icahn’s push on the
Trump Administration officials, Passan-
tino laid to rest the Icahn controversy with
mentioned. When I asked the White
House for an interview with Passantino,
F point of obligation appears to have
stalled. But, in July, CVR announced its
his February declaration that Icahn was to discuss how he had vetted Icahn’s po- most recent quarterly results, and once
“simply a private citizen.” Kelly Love, the sition, a spokeswoman replied that Pas- again the firm was spending a great deal
White House spokeswoman, said, “Mr. santino had been “recused on any mat- of money to purchase RINs. On a call
with investors, CVR’s chief executive,
John Lipinski, cited the volatility of RIN
prices. “When there’s news in the mar-
ket, it goes up and it goes down,” he said.
Lipinski complained, several times, about
speculators who were “manipulating” the
price of the credits. When he was asked
about CVR’s own speculative trading of
RINs, he said that he didn’t “intend to
go into any detail” on such questions.
RIN prices, which hit a low of thirty
cents following the news of Icahn’s deal
with Dinneen, have since tripled. In the
coming weeks, the E.P.A. is expected to
issue a formal rejection of proposals to
shift the point of obligation. According
to Reuters, some investors on Wall Street
are now betting against Icahn—by short-
ing CVR stock.
“ You’re allowed to keep collecting the teeth, but we’re going to Dinneen, for one, does not anticipate
call you a fairy to make it sound less terrifying.” that Icahn will simply let the issue go.
“He doesn’t seem like a man who will he tweeted, “Today, with President Trump’s demands from casino employees for bet-
quit easily,” he said. blessing, I ceased to act as special advisorter pay and health benefits. Eventually,
Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving to the President on issues relating to reg- Icahn shuttered the casino. “The great
Door Project, a nonprofit focussed on ulatory reform.” In a letter posted to his dealmaker would rather burn the Trump
government corruption, told me that Web site, Icahn explained that he had Taj Mahal down just so he can control
Icahn’s relationship with Trump is a par- spoken with Trump that day. His resig- the ashes,” Bob McDevitt, the president
ticularly bald example of a kind of clien- nation came during a week when numer- of the local union, said at the time. “It’s a
talist politics that has been more typical, ous private-sector advisers distanced them- classic take-the-money-and-run—Icahn
historically, of banana republics, but which selves from Trump, in response to his takes hundreds of millions of dollars out
is on the rise in the United States. “Once equivocal comments in the aftermath of of Atlantic City and then announces he
there is an acquiescence that this sort of a white-supremacist rally in Charlottes- is closing up shop.” The casino’s demise
corruption is acceptable, then you just ville. But Icahn made no mention of these put three thousand people out of work.
see the demise of representative govern- events, claiming instead, “I chose to end In March, 2017, Icahn found a buyer: Hard
ment,” Hauser said. “We will essentially this arrangement,” and citing “the insin- Rock International. One day earlier this
become a feudal state, with people cre- uations of a handful of your Democratic summer, former employees queued up
ating their own fiefdoms and extracting critics.” He insisted, “I never had access alongside treasure hunters and curious
rents from the public.” to nonpublic information or profited from passersby on the boardwalk outside the
On August 14th, I asked the White my position, nor do I believe that my role beleaguered casino. A liquidator had ar-
House to confirm that Icahn was still a presented conflicts of interests.” ranged a fire sale of the items inside. Peo-
special adviser to the President. The In our conversations, Icahn was un- ple carted home used bed linens and
spokeswoman e-mailed me back: “Icahn failingly polite about President Trump. scuffed armchairs and statuary of fake
is NOT ‘a special adviser to the presi- But it struck me that it must vex him that gold. They looked for souvenirs bearing
dent for regulatory reform.’ ” This was Trump—the lesser intellect, the lesser the Trump name, but there weren’t any.
certainly news. In my conversations with businessman, the little-brother tagalong— For many years, an odd structure stood
Icahn and his lawyer, I had not devel- may now be too busy to take his phone down the boardwalk from the Taj Ma-
oped any impression that his status had calls, and would jettison him from his po- hal—a three-story rooming house. It had
changed. Was the Administration cut- sition as a White House special adviser been bought, in 1961, by an eccentric local
ting him loose? without so much as a heads-up. If Icahn’s woman named Vera Coking, who ran it
I wrote back to the spokeswoman, raid on Washington has proved unsuc- in the manner of a boarding house in a
asking when Icahn had been let go. She cessful, he cannot blame the scrupulous- Hitchcock film: cheap rooms for rent,
replied, “There was no ‘effective’ end date, ness of the Trump Administration. The with a shared bathroom down the hall.
because there was never a formal appoint- aging takeover artist may have flown a When the casino boom swept Atlantic
ment or title after January 20.” This was little too close to the sun in his pursuit City, in the eighties, many suitors came
transparently false; Icahn had been named of a particular political objective, but histo Coking, hoping to buy her building
a special adviser to “the President,” not failure was itself an illustration of the for the valuable land that it sat on. But
to “the President-elect.” On March 1st, power of transactional politics in Wash- Coking, who was stubborn, refused to
Icahn’s company told the S.E.C. that he ington. Trump may want to govern like sell. Donald Trump was one of those suit-
was “currently” a Trump adviser. And why a businessman. But Washington is a club ors. “He’d come over to the house, prob-
had the White House lawyer, Stefan Pas- like any other, with some codes and pro- ably thinking, If I butter her up now, I’ll
santino, recused himself on January 20th tocols that even the brashest arrivistes get her house for a good price,” she told
from “any matters related to Carl Icahn” cannot ignore. Trump needed the farm- the Daily News, in 1998. “Once, he gave
if, as of that very day, Icahn had no role ers of Iowa to win the Presidency, and he me Neil Diamond tickets. I didn’t even
in the Administration? would need them to win it again. To a know who Neil Diamond was.” Trump,
Instead of simply breaking off a ques- businessman like Icahn, it may have the great negotiator, could not get Cok-
tionable liaison, the White House seems seemed that, in the pay-for-play politics ing to sell. He enlisted the State of New
intent on going further, insisting that the of Washington, everything has a price. Jersey to invoke eminent domain in order
liaison never happened in the first place. But reëlection is priceless. to oust her from her property, but Cok-
But, in the event that state or federal in- ing fought in court and prevailed. She
vestigators do examine the legality of cahn eventually succeeded in gaining derided the future President as “a mag-
Icahn’s role in the early days of the Trump
Administration, this heedless revision-
I control of the Trump Taj Mahal casino. got, a cockroach, and a crumb.”
In 2014, a bankruptcy-court judge ex- Finally, in 2014, the house went up
ism is unlikely to withstand scrutiny. After pressed concern that Icahn Enterprises for auction. Trump had, by that time,
all, if Icahn had really been dismissed on would just close the place, and insisted walked away from Atlantic City, and was
the first day of the Administration, it that company executives testify that they preparing to run for President. Coking
might have behooved the White House had no plans to shut the casino down. Ini- was living in a retirement home in Cal-
to tell Bob Dinneen, or the senators who tially, Icahn promised to invest a hundred ifornia. The property sold to an unnamed
wrote all those letters. Or Icahn. million dollars in the ailing facility. But buyer, for five hundred and thirty thou-
On Friday, August 18th, four days after he ended up embroiled in yet another bit- sand dollars. The buyer was Carl Icahn.
the White House disavowed Icahn to me, ter union fight, and refused to yield on He knocked the house down. 
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 59
PROFILES

SINGER OF SECRETS
Art, songs, gossip, and St. Vincent.
BY NICK PAUMGARTEN

nnie Clark, the songwriter and this somewhat severe performer who pose that Clark is plotting a grab for pop

A multi-instrumentalist known as
St. Vincent, has an apartment
in the East Village. She’s rented it since
was both her and not her. The act
was a blend of rock-goddess bloodlet-
ting and arch performance art, self-
success. In June, she released a single called
“New York,” and on the evidence the sup-
position seems fair. It is—by her stan-
2009. But last winter and spring, while expression and concealment. (She says dards, anyway—a fairly straight-ahead
she was in town recording a new album, that she got the name from a reference, piano ballad, lamenting lost love, or ab-
she didn’t stay there. If she wanted some- in a Nick Cave song, to the Greenwich sence of a kind. “You’re the only moth-
thing, she sent someone to get it. “I need Village hospital where Dylan Thomas erfucker in the city who can handle me,”
to not have to worry about the plumb- died.) The ensuing tour was called “Dig- she sings. Fans immediately began spec-
ing and the vermin,” she said. “Also, the ital Witness,” named for a creepy/peppy ulating that it was about Delevingne, or,
trinkets and indicators of my actual life.” song on the album about our culture of if you thought about it differently, David
She was immersed instead in the filtra- surveillance and oversharing. Her life Bowie, who died last year. “It’s a compos-
tion of that actual life into song. She was was a whirlwind. There was a Grammy, ite,” Clark told me, though of whom she
in a hermetic phase: celibate, solitary, some best-album acclaim and time on wouldn’t say. She objects to the idea that
sober. “My monastic fantastic,” she called the charts, and a binge of attention from songs should automatically be interpreted
it. A stomach bug in March left her un- the music and fashion press, and, even- as diaristic, especially when the songwriter
able to stand even the smell of alcohol, tually, from the gossip industrial com- is a woman. “That’s just a sexist thing,”
and, anyway, there were so many things plex, too, when she began a relationship she said. “ ‘Women do emotions but are
she wanted to get done that she didn’t with the British actress and supermodel incapable of rational thought.’ ”
have the time to be hungover. She ab- Cara Delevingne. The Daily Mail, strug- A few weeks before the release she
stained from listening to music, except gling to take the measure of this Amer- told me, “It’s rare that you get to say
her own, in order to keep her ears clear. ican shape-shifting indie rocker, called ‘This song could be someone’s favor-
She was staying at the Marlton Hotel, Clark “the female Bowie.” (The paper’s ite.’ But this might be the one. Twenty
in Greenwich Village, a block away from stringers doorstepped Clark’s family.) years of writing songs, and I’ve never
Electric Lady Studios, one of the places When that romance came to an end, had that feeling.” It was May, at Elec-
where she was making the record. Most after more than a year, she began to be tric Lady. She was in the studio with
days, she got up at sunrise, took a Pi- photographed with Kristen Stewart, an- Antonoff.“We’re doing the flavor-
lates class, and then headed to Electric other object of fan and media obsession, crystally bits,” Clark said. This essen-
Lady, to work past sundown. She had and so the St. Vincent project took on tially meant adding or removing pieces
dinner in the studio, or else alone at a a new dimension: clickbait, gossip fod- of sound to or from the sonic stew they’d
nearby restaurant, or in her room. A der. This bifurcation, as Clark called the spent months concocting. “There’s a lot
book or an episode of “The Handmaid’s split between her public life as an artist of information on this album,” she said.
Tale,” and then early to bed. Not exactly and the new one as a tabloid cartoon, Clark, who is thirty-four, was sitting
“Hammer of the Gods.” was disorienting to her, and even sad. cross-legged on a couch. She had on
It had been more than three years But there was a way to put it all to work: studded leather loafers, a suit jacket, and
since the release of her last album, which write more songs. Clark, quoting her black leggings with bones printed on
she’d named “St. Vincent,” as though friend and collaborator Annie-B Par- them, in the manner of a Halloween
it were her first under that name, rather son, the choreographer, told me one day, skeleton costume. Her hair was black
than her fourth—or fifth, if you in- “The best performers are those who have and cut in a bob. (In the past, she has
clude one she made with David Byrne, a secret.” dyed it blond, lavender, or gray, and has
in 2012. All these were well regarded, been in and out of curls, its natural state.)
and with each her reputation and fol- or the new album—it comes out this She wasn’t wearing much makeup. When
lowing grew. The music was singular,
dense, modern, yet catchy and at times
F fall, although Clark has not yet pub-
licly revealed its name—she hooked up
she performs, she puts on the war paint,
and usually goes in for fanciful costumes
soulful, in an odd kind of way. with the producer Jack Antonoff, who, in and serious heels. For the “Digital Wit-
Still, the self-titled album was widely addition to performing his own music, ness” tour, she wore a tight, perforated
considered to be a breakthrough, a con- under the name Bleachers, has co-writ- fake-leather jumpsuit with a plunging
summation of sensibility and talent, a ten and produced records for Taylor Swift neckline, and smeared lipstick. Last year,
fulfillment of the St. Vincent conceit— and Lorde. This has led people to sup- she did a show while attired in a purple
60 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Annie Clark shreds on guitar, but not in a wanky way. “I don’t love it when the guitar sounds like a guitar,” she said.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARILYN MINTER THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 61
up having what he described as an emo-
tionally intense dinner together at the
Sunset Tower in Los Angeles. “She was
very open about the things in her life,”
Antonoff said. “That’s what I was in-
terested in. Continuing to reveal more
and more. I said, ‘Let’s go for the lyrics
that people will tattoo on their arms.’ ”

lark has eight siblings, some half,


C some step. She’s the youngest of
her mother’s three girls. Clark’s parents
divorced when she was three. This was
in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her father, from a
Catholic family with eleven kids, was a
stockbroker and a prodigious reader who
could recite passages from “Ulysses”; for
a while, he had the girls convinced that
“She stood me up. I hosed off my Crocs for nothing.” he was a Joycean scholar. When Clark
was ten, he gave her “Lucky Jim” for
• • Christmas. At thirteen, she got “Vile
Bodies.” She acquired a knack for punch-
ing up: in junior high, she toted around
foam toilet. Parson, who is responsible can be funny, if dispiriting, to read, in the Bertrand Russell pamphlet “Why I
for the rigid postmodern dance moves the comments sections of her perfor- Am Not a Christian.”
that Clark has embraced in recent years, mances on YouTube, the arguments that By then, Clark’s mother, a social
referred to her aspect as “wintry,” which guitar nerds get into about her chops.) worker, had remarried and moved to
doesn’t quite encompass her tendency to When she listens to a playback, she the suburbs of Dallas. Clark was reared
throw herself around the stage or dive often buries her head in her arms, as mostly by her mother and stepfather,
off it to surf the crowd. though she can hardly bear to hear her- and considers herself a Texan. Her fa-
Now she seemed slight, fine-boned, self, but, really, it’s just her way of listen- ther remarried and had four kids, with
almost translucent—it was hard to ing hard. Once, during a mixing session, whom Clark is close. In 2010, he was
imagine her surviving a sea of fore- while she was at the board and I was convicted of defrauding investors in a
arms, iPhones, and gropey hands. She behind her on a couch, surreptitiously penny-stock scheme, and was sentenced
has a sharp jawline, a few freckles, and reading a text message, she picked up to twelve years in prison. She has never
great big green eyes, which can proj- her head, turned around, and said, “Did publicly talked about this, although she
ect a range of seasons. She thinks be- I lose you there, Nick? I can feel when told me, “I wrote a whole album about
fore she speaks, asks a lot of questions, attention is wandering.” Her cheery use it,” by which she meant “Strange Mercy”
and has a burly laugh. of the name of the person she is address- (2011), her third. When I asked her if
On a coffee table in front of her were ing can seem to contain a faint note of she felt any shame about his crimes,
a Chanel purse and containers of goji mockery. There’d be times, in the fol- she said, “Shame? Not at all. I didn’t
berries, trail mix, and raw-almond mac- lowing months, when I’d walk away from do anything wrong. It’s not my shame.”
aroons. She stood occasionally, to play a conversation with Clark feeling like As a child, Clark was shy, quiet, stu-
slashing, tinny lines on an unamplified a character in a kung-fu movie who dious. She played soccer. (There’s a
electric guitar of her own design—a red emerges from a sword skirmish appar- charming video from a few years ago of
Ernie Ball Music Man, from her signa- ently unscathed yet a moment later starts her demonstrating the mechanics of the
ture line, that retails for upward of fifteen gushing blood or dropping limbs. rainbow kick, while keeping her hands
hundred dollars—which, on playback, Part of this is a function of Clark’s in the pockets of her overcoat.) Her
sounded thick and throbby. solicitousness, her courteous manner. nickname was M.I.A., because she was
She shreds on electric guitar, but not “She’s created a vernacular of kindness so often holed up in her bedroom, lis-
in a wanky way. It often doesn’t sound in her public life,” her close friend the tening to music. She was a classic-rock
like a guitar at all. Her widely cited fore- writer and indie musician Carrie Brown- kid—Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Je-
bears are Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, stein told me. “But the niceness comes thro Tull—but the real gateway was Nir-
of King Crimson. “I don’t love it when through a glass case.” Clark has ob- vana. “Nevermind” hit when she was
the guitar sounds like a guitar,” she said. served, of the music industry in this era, nine, and she was precocious enough to
“The problem is, people want to recog- that good manners are good business. notice. Like a lot of kids, she found a
nize that it’s a guitar. I have facility, and Clark and Antonoff had met casu- mentor behind the counter of the local
so I feel like I should use it more. I don’t ally around New York but hardly knew record store, who turned her on to stuff
have any other ‘should’ in my music.” (It each other until they somehow wound like Stereolab, PJ Harvey, and Nick Cave.
62 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Also like a lot of kids, she started play- with another giant band. “At that time, Around the release of the “St. Vin-
ing guitar when she was twelve. Her first there were a dozen musicians touring in cent” album, Clark had been on tour
live performance was at age fifteen, at a my band, and there was always a mo- more or less perpetually for ten years.
club in Dallas’s Deep Ellum neighbor- ment in the set where people could ‘take “I was running hard. There were fam-
hood—she sat in with her guitar teacher a solo,’ ” Stevens went on. “All the men ily things, illness,” she said. “I’m a lit-
on “The Wind Cries Mary.” She played usually just played a lot of notes really tle like a greyhound. Get me running
bass in a heavy-metal band and guitar fast. But, when Annie’s turn came, she in a direction, and I’ll run myself into
in a hardcore outfit called the Skull Fuck- refused to do the obvious white-male the ground.” Among other things, her
ers: riot grrrl, queercore, Big Black. masturbatory thing on the guitar. Instead, mother had a health crisis, which Clark
Clark’s uncle—her mother’s brother— she played her effects pedals. She made doesn’t like to talk about.
is Tuck Andress, a jazz-guitar virtuoso such weird sounds. It was like the Loch “I was hurling myself into crowds,
who, since 1978, has performed with his Ness monster giving birth inside a silo.” climbing the rafters,” she said. “I felt
wife, the singer Patti Cathcart, as the duo At the time, Clark had her first like, if I’m not bruised and bloody
Tuck & Patti. When Clark was a teen- album, “Marry Me,” in the can, and when I come offstage, I haven’t done
ager, she spent summers as their roadie sometimes she performed solo before it right.”
on tours of Asia and the United States. her sets with Stevens. “I didn’t have There’s a song on the new album
After graduating from high school, she that performance character she has,” called “Pills.” “Pills to grow, pills to
worked as their tour manager in Europe. he said. “I kind of wish I had. It’s both shrink, pills, pills, pills and a good stiff
It was a lean outfit, so she handled pretty personal and protective. To get atten- drink / pills to fuck, pills to eat, pills,
much everything, from settling with the tion as a woman, in a heteronormative pills, pills down the kitchen sink.” (As
clubs to fetching towels and water—an context where sex appeal sells, and to it happens, those lines are sung by De-
aspiring rock star’s mail room. The great- sell yourself instead by emphasizing levingne, who will be credited, for the
est lesson, though, may have been wit- your skill, ingenuity, and work ethic is benefit of the British gossip press, as
nessing the power that music could have an incredible feat.” an underground sensation named Kid
over strangers. “I’d watch Tuck & Patti The first song on “Marry Me,” “Now, Monkey.) “I was trying to hold on,”
bring people to tears,” she said. Now,” had her singing, “I’m not any, Clark recalled. “I didn’t have coping
“We knew she was serious about any, any, any, any, any, any, anything,” mechanisms for tremendous anxiety
this music thing,” Cathcart told me. which, intentionally or not, sounds like and depression. I was trying to get
“You couldn’t keep her from it,” An- “I’m not Annie, Annie. . . .” You might through pharmaceutically.”
dress said. “But, until you hit the road, say that it was the opening salvo in Clark may resent the assumption
you have no idea. Of course, now she St. Vincent’s still unfolding act of con- that everything she writes about is per-
travels in a dramatically more luxuri- cealment and disclosure. sonal, that the protagonist is always
ous way than we do.” “This scaffolding that she has been her. “You couldn’t fact-check it,” she
Clark went to Berklee College of so deliberate in constructing has allowed said. To questions about sexuality, she
Music, in Boston, but dropped out after her to take more risks,” Brownstein said. insists on fluidity. “I’m queer,” she said.
two and a half years, itchy to write and “She presents this narrow strand of vis- But “the goal is to be free of heteronor-
record her own music rather than train ibility. She can mess around with the mativity. I’m queer, but queer more as
to be a crack session hire, which is how whole thing of her being called doe-eyed an outlook.”
she saw the program there. The best or a gamine. There’s a classic kind of pro- Yet there is just one narrator on this
thing she got from it, she says, is a love fessionalism in the act, sort of like the album. “The emotional tones are all
of Stravinsky. She still can’t read music. old country stars—Loretta Lynn, Johnny true,” she said. “The songs are the most
She moved to New York, but after three Cash. They let you know when you have coherent expression of them. Songs are
months ran out of money and retreated access to their world. It’s a contrivance.” like prophecies. They can be stronger
to Texas, where a friend who played than you are.”
theremin with the Polyphonic Spree, he new album, by Clark’s own reck- One day, during a mixing session
a big choral-rock band out of Dallas,
encouraged her to audition. She toured
T oning, is the gloomiest one she’s
made: “It’s all about sex and drugs and
at Electric Lady, Clark told me that
her favorite lyric on the album was
with them as a singer and a guitar player sadness.” It ends with a song about sui- “Teen-age Christian virgins holding
for a while. cide, which she sings in a husky voice out their tongues / Paranoid secretions
Later, she hired on with Sufjan Ste- that is downright frightening. (“Like falling on basement rugs.” Later, she
vens, the orchestral-folk artist. He first any red-blooded American, I’ve con- texted me to say that her favorite was
saw her at the Bowery Ballroom, where sidered suicide,” she told Marc Maron, actually “ ‘Remember one Christmas
she was performing solo as the warmup on his “WTF” podcast.) She says that I gave you Jim Carroll / intended it as
act for a band she also played in, the Cas- she wrote it on a tour bus en route from a cautionary tale / you said you saw
tanets. “She was up there with a guitar, Lithuania to Latvia. Sure, sometimes yourself inside there / dog-eared it
standing on a piece of plywood for a kick the Baltics can bring you down, but, like a how-to manual.’ Cause Christ-
drum, two microphones, one of them dis- beyond that, there’s clearly some seri- mas—carol—Emanuel.” That’s from
torted, and two amps,” Stevens told me. ous heartbreak and darkness underly- a song about a hard-luck old friend
“Obviously, she had talent.” Off she went ing this new project. or lover named Johnny, who hits the
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 63
singer up for money or support. “You reading? What album would you want He peeled down her shorts to mea-
saw me on movies and TV,” she sings. on a desert island?—and her answers sure her hips. “Cheetahkini,” she said.
“Annie, how could you do this to me?” are mostly but not always sardonic. “Is that a portmanteau?”
I asked her one day who Johnny was. They were written by Brownstein. Clark “Spread for me,” Smith said. “Your
“Johnny’s just Johnny,” she said. shot another film, a kind of surreal press legs.”
“Doesn’t everyone know a Johnny?” conference, with a similar deadpan ge- “Comedy gold, Nick,” she said.
stalt and Day-Glo color scheme and Later, when she’d started calling me
s Clark neared the end of record- trio of kinky models. In this version, Uncle Nick or Nicky boy, I’d find my-
A ing, she turned some attention to
the next phases—packaging, publicity,
in reply to the woman-in-music ques-
tion, she performs a “Basic Instinct”
self wondering if this skin-suit episode
hadn’t been an elaborate setup, a prov-
performance. She has observed that, uncrossing of her legs, as the camera ocation or even a trap laid by someone
when she makes the rounds to local zooms in on her crotch, accompanied known to be in command of her pre-
media outlets or on cattle-call press jun- by the echo of a drop of water in a cave. sentation in the world. Or maybe it
kets, she is repeatedly asked the same These videos don’t quite serve the util- was just show biz, the same old meat
questions, many of them dumb ones. itarian function that Clark had put market now refracted through self-
“You become a factory worker,” she said. forth—that of saving her time and en- aware layers of intention and irony.
“When you have to say something over ergy by furnishing her interrogators with “Should we get someone to volun-
and over, there’s a festering self-loath- workable answers—but they do convey teer to be my body?” Clark asked. “To
ing. No better way to feel like a fraud.” a sensibility that suits the brand: cheeky, add a little pizzazz? I could choose my
She’d made what she was calling an sexy, a little Dada. (They’re more on mes- own adventure here. I could get a cus-
interview kit, a highly stylized short sage, perhaps, than her recently announced tom crotch.” She began referring to
film, which consists of her answering role as a star of the new ad campaign for this as her “perfect pussy.” “I’ll scroll
typical questions. She sits in a chair with Tiffany.) She’d prefer to embody certain through Pornhub and find one.”
her legs crossed, in a short pink skirt ideas than to have to verbalize them, when
and a semitransparent latex top before the context comprises dubious, inherited, fter the skin-suit sizing, Clark drove
a Day-Glo green backdrop, with a cam-
era and a sound crew of three female
unexamined assumptions about gender,
sexuality, songwriting, and celebrity. She
A across town, to a coffee shop off
Melrose called Croft Alley, to have lunch
models in heels, dog collars, dominatrix prefers gestures to words. She sent me a with her creative director, Willo Per-
hoods, and assless/chestless minidresses. photo of herself from a video shoot and ron. Perron, who is from Montreal, does
A screen reads, “Insert light banter,” and wrote, “Me performing gender.” visual and brand work for a variety of
then Clark reappears, saying, with a Meanwhile, she was having a cos- pop stars—Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar,
strained smile, “It’s good to see you again. tume made for her solo performance: Rihanna. He helps them conceptual-
Of course I remember you. Yah, good a “skin suit” that would give her the ize music videos, album covers, and
to see you. How’s—how’s your kid?” appearance of being naked onstage. stage shows.
There follows a series of questions One morning, I met her in downtown Perron, who is forty-three, wore
and answers, with the former presented Los Angeles, at the L.A. Theatre, an white jeans and a light-gray T-shirt
as text onscreen—generic placeholders: old movie palace. She arrived alone and black-and-white leopard-print
Q. Insert question about the inspi- in a black BMW M-series coupe. The skater shoes from Yves Saint Laurent.
ration for this record. costume’s designer, Desmond Evan (“They may be a bit too rad dad,” he
A. I saw a woman alone in her car Smith, met her outside, to take advan- said.) He had a droll, weary air; his ex-
singing along to “Great Balls of Fire,” tage of the sun. He had swatches of pertise was assured but lightly worn.
and I wanted to make a record that latex, to compare with her skin. One He drives a Tesla. His girlfriend was
would prevent that from ever happen- was too pink, another too yellow. the waitress at Croft Alley.
ing again. “This is me with a slight tan,” Clark He wanted to discuss the album
Q. Insert question about how much said. “I’m pretty pale.” She had on cutoff cover. There’d been a shoot in Los An-
of her work is autobiographical. jean shorts, a Western-style shirt knot- geles, on the same set they used to film
A. All of my work is autobiograph- ted above her navel, and the studded the satirical interview kit. “Did you
ical, both the factual elements of my loafers. Smith led her to a gilded hall- look at the photos?” he asked Clark.
life and the fictional ones. way on the second floor to size her up “Can we just do it? It’s good. It’s bold,
Q. Insert question about being a with a tape measure. too. It’s the one that stood out.” He
woman in music. “What do you need me to do?” Clark was talking about a photograph I’d first
A. What’s it like being a woman in asked. seen on the home screen of Clark’s cell
music? . . . Very good question. “I just need you to stand there and phone: an image of her research assis-
The camera cuts to her interlaced look pretty,” Smith said. tant, a photographer and model named
fingers. She wears paste-on finger- “Done and done.” Carlotta Kohl, with her head stuck
nails, each with a letter. They spell out He read out her neck, waist, and through a pinkish-red scrim. Really, it
“F-U-C-K-O-F-F.” bust numbers. was a picture of Kohl’s legs and rear
There are more—What’s it like to “Hear that?” Clark said. “Perfect end, in hot-pink tights and a leopard
play a show in heels? What are you babe measurements.” thong bodysuit. “This is not my ass,”
64 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Clark had said. “This is my friend Car- “The best ideas are the ones that for there to be some physical obstacle
lotta’s ass. Isn’t it a nice ass?” might turn out to be terrible ideas,” to overcome, to help me focus. It’s about
Perron explained to me, “It all started, Clark said. manufacturing your strength. You’re
well— There hasn’t been a female lead They got into Perron’s Tesla and headed wondering why I came to you. It’s be-
who’s been able to be both absurdist and to his office, on the second floor of a house cause you worked with David Blaine.”
sexual. Sultriness but in a New Wave on a residential street nearby. A few as- Perron said nothing. “It should feel ba-
character. The energy of ‘Pee-wee’s Play- sistants worked quietly at laptops. There nanas, not pretentious,” Clark went on.
house,’ ‘Beetlejuice,’ the Cramps, the was a rack of file boxes, with the names Then Perron said, “Do we want to
B-52s, with some chips of Blondie. Think of clients: Drake, the xx, Bruno Mars, make a decision on this cover art?”
of Poison Ivy, from the Cramps: absurd Coldplay, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga. “Let me look again,” Clark said. “Op-
but hot.” They watched a rough cut of the tion one: Carlotta’s ass. Two, one of my
“Manically happy to the point of interview-kit press conference. “There selects. A head shot.”
being scary,” Clark said. are moments where you seem really “That gives me the last two or three
“We built these Day-Glo canvases pretentious,” Perron said. “But then, records,” Perron said. “I want this one
and had people sticking limbs and heads the brand should be ‘absurdist.’ ” to be more aggressive. Let’s move away
through the canvases. Then we found Clark said, “Yes, there are moments from that thing.”
that the most entertaining thing was where people will be, like, ‘Is she just “You mean that kooky thing?”
the back of the canvas: Carlotta os- a pretentious dickhead?’ ” “That sedated thing.”
triched into the wall, just her ass.” They discussed possible music-video Clark said, “Let’s do Carlotta’s ass.”
“Can we do it?” Clark said. directors and brought examples of their “The label will give us some push-
“It says everything that we want to work up onscreen. (One was a duo back,” Perron said. “But, honestly, I
say,” Perron said. called We Are from L.A., who are from think it’s great.”
“But will people assume that it’s my France.) Then they talked about the After a few moments, Clark said cheer-
ass? I’m doing all these body-double solo show, with the skin suit. ily, “Fun fact: Carlotta has scoliosis.”
things.” She went on, “I was thinking “Remember when I said the only
a photo of my face that encapsulates
the entire record—but maybe that’s a
ideas worth doing might be terrible
ideas?” Clark said. “This might be one.
“ I t’sandbeen a generative time, creatively,
I would like for it to set the
bit of a fool’s errand.” She mentioned Me solo with the guitar, and other char- stage for a broader vision,” Clark told
an image from the shoot of herself with acters who are shambolically me. It’s me one day, with uncharacteristic career-
some stylists around her. high-tech Tracy & the Plastics. I want oriented self-seriousness. Talk like this,
“It’s too ‘1989,’ ” Perron said. Carrie to write the dialogue.” out of rock-and-roll people, usually
“Too on the nose?” Clark said. “There’s dialogue?” Perron said, means projects, sidelines, interdisciplin-
“It’s a single cover, not an album wearily. ary schemes. For example, Clark had an
cover.” “Yes, I’m putting aside postmodern idea to take old Mussolini speeches and
Clark and Perron hooked up four choreography for this round. But I like make Mad Libs out of them. She’d have
years ago, when she was working on
the “St. Vincent” album. “That thing
was near-future cult leader,” he said.
“We were talking about media and
paranoia and blah, blah. Annie refer-
enced ‘Black Mirror.’ It had only been
on the BBC. And the films of
Jodorowsky. We were working with a
1970 psychedelic aesthetic, plus post-
modernist Italian, but in Memphis
style.” The cover showed Clark sit-
ting on a pink throne, with her gray
hair in a kind of modified Bride of
Frankenstein.
“One of the early conversations we
had was about how indie rock always
does the unintentional thing, so that it
doesn’t have an opportunity to fail,”
Perron said. By this, he meant, say, a
band in T-shirts, looking tough, stand-
ing in the back of a warehouse—au-
thenticity as a euphemism for the ab-
sence of an idea. “But we wanted
pop-level intention.”
the Freehand hotel in Chicago: “Doing
battle in the shadows / Baby you ain’t
rambo (rimbaud).” She keeps a neat,
sparse house. She’s a born de-clutterer.
The art work is eclectic: a Russ Meyer
nude, paintings made by people in ex-
treme mental distress, and a photo mural
of the high sage desert of West Texas.
There’s a downstairs sitting room—“If
musicians want to take a break,” Clark
emphasized—with a stocked bar, Wil-
liam Scott busts of Janet Jackson and
CeCe Winans, and some show-and-
tellable mementos. She took one down:
“I was on an ill-fated surfing trip to Bar-
bados, in my 90 S.P.F., and I looked
down and there was this cock and balls
made of coral.” This had survived the
purges. So had a brass heart sent by the
surviving members of Nirvana. In 2014,
when the band was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Clark
• • played Kurt Cobain’s part in a live per-
formance of “Lithium.” There was a
her nieces and nephews fill in the miss- nist. The writer is David Birke, who plaque in recognition of her inclusion,
ing words and phrases; then, in an art wrote the screenplay for “Elle,” with Is- in 2014, on Vanity Fair’s international
gallery in Italy, Isabella Rossellini would abelle Huppert, which had become an best-dressed list. “I’ve been wearing ath-
sit and recite the Mad Libs (the script obsession of Clark’s. (In the film, Hup- leisure ever since,” she said.
delivered to her by Clark via an earpiece, pert’s character’s father is in prison.) For a while, her friend Jenny Lewis,
to add a layer of awkwardness) to a Birke, it turned out, had taken his daugh- the singer-songwriter, had slept on the
soundtrack of chopped-up, sort-of- ter to see a show during the “Marry Me” couch down here. “She’s like a tree,” Clark
recognizable Verdi and a monitor play- tour, ten years ago. So, here was mutual said. “I would take shade in her. She
ing clips of Mussolini himself. admiration, a chance to play together made me eat food, because I forgot.”
Or motion pictures. Last year, Clark in the sandbox of success. Lewis told me, “I would go upstairs,
co-wrote and directed a short film called The “Dorian Gray” treatment called make a quesadilla, cut it in half, and leave
“The Birthday Party,”for “XX,” an an- for six historical settings. “It would be a half there. Maybe the little mouse would
thology of horror films directed by an expensive film to make,” Clark said. come. I’d come up later, see the half gone,
women. In it, a suburban mother hides She reckoned twenty-five million dol- and think, My work is done here.”
her dead husband’s body inside a large lars. “The likelihood of making this film “As an adult, I haven’t cohabitated
panda suit at her young daughter’s birth- is, like, two per cent. But I don’t care, with another human,” Clark said. “Jenny
day, and it keels over into the cake, pro- because it’s fun. Worst-case scenario is and I have been on tour so long, we
viding the film’s subtitle: “The Mem- I get seen as a hardworking person with know the ways to not annoy people.”
ory Lucy Suppressed from Her Seventh ideas in a medium I’m interested in. I When they first got to be friends,
Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s sort of subscribe to the idea of the bus- years ago, “we Freaky Fridayed,” Lewis
Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says ier you are, the busier you are.” said. Clark, eager to get away from New
It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy).” York, moved to Los Angeles, and Lewis,
At one point, Clark had a development he day after her session with Per- escaping some personal rubble in Cal-
deal to write and direct another film,
called “Young Lover,” which is also the
T ron, we drove up to Laurel Can-
yon, to Compound Fracture, which is
ifornia, moved into Clark’s East Vil-
lage apartment.
name of a song on the new album. A what she calls the house that serves as “We shared so much,” Lewis said.
writer in her twenties has a sadomas- her studio and working space. Techni- “The sacrifices you make for your music,
ochistic affair with an older married cally, it is not a residence. There is a live not having a family. Some things unique
woman—“ ‘Swimming Pool’ meets ‘Bit- room in the den (good for recording to being a woman on the road, silly
ter Moon’ meets ‘Blue Velvet’ ” is how drums), a studio in the garage, and, just stuff like removing your makeup in
Clark pitched it. Recently, Lionsgate, inside the front door, a white grand filthy sinks around the world. Just being
mining properties out of copyright, ap- piano, with a book on the music rack of a woman out there trying to keep it
proached Clark with the idea of direct- the complete Led Zeppelin (tablature together. Also, being a woman in charge,
ing a film based on “The Picture of for intermediate guitar), and, next to it, and the nuances of that.”
Dorian Gray,” with a female protago- some lyrics scribbled on stationery from They also both had fathers who had
66 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
been incarcerated. Lewis’s had been in and an array of vintage synthesizers. the final masters of the record the day
prison for two years—“Everyone in my Check it out, an E-mu Emulator II. before they started. “I took a whole night
family goes to jail or prison,” she said— Marks sat down at the console. off,” she said. She was wearing a leop-
and then was diagnosed with colon “Smells nice in here. It doesn’t smell ard-print bodysuit. “Now I’m done with
cancer and died soon after. like dudes.” my emotional anorexia, my monastic
“It’s this Japanese incense.” fantastic. It’s so good to just play music.”
lark wanted to go for a hike in the A Pro Tools session in the dying It went like this: An engineer, Pat-
C midday heat. Every day, she tries
to put herself in what she calls a stress
light of a Laurel Canyon afternoon.
Marks got to work checking out the
rick Dillett, played a track from the rec-
ord, then Bartlett spent a few minutes
position—some kind of physical diffi- mixes. It was easy to imagine Clark in learning it and vamping on an electric
culty, to force herself to persevere. We here alone for hours, days, weeks, thick- piano, and then they went into the re-
made the short drive from her house ening and pruning the sound as it cording studio and laid down a few takes,
to a ridgeline with a view in the direc- scrolled by onscreen. Outside, you could him on a grand piano and her cross-
tion of Burbank, and began descend- hear a neighbor playing drums and the legged on a couch, singing into a mike.
ing a trail through scrub and poison occasional honk of a lost Uber. Inside, After the first take, Dillett said, “It
oak. She had on some flats that she Marks was listening to a track that sounds pretty. Is it supposed to?”
called tennis shoes. The dryness made Clark wanted to reimagine. “The vo- “Will I be ashamed of myself ?” she
the steeper pitches slick, and she ap- coder’s not working for me,” Clark said. asked him.
proached them with great care. At one “I like the guitar better. If you need to “I hope so. Isn’t that the point?”
point, a hum of bees caused her to shriek sleaze it up, add Gary Glitter tuning. They recorded in sequence and got
and run. I was reminded of her song Just add glam guitar.” through several songs a day.
“Rattlesnake,” which is about an en- “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” Later that week, she and Bartlett
counter with a rattler while she was Clark’s voice was singing, while Clark invited a dozen or so friends to hear
hiking naked in the Texas desert. “I’m herself stood behind Marks, checking her perform the album. Among them
afraid of everything,” she said. “I’m al- her phone. were David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens, and
most inured to it. Same with shame. I “Oh, my God,” she said, eyes suddenly the singer Joan As Police Woman, who
figured out years ago that, if everything wide. “This is so stupid. Oh, my God.” was celebrating her birthday at the stu-
is absurd, then there is nothing to be She typed a response, put her phone dio afterward. They sat in folding chairs.
afraid or ashamed of.” down on a preamp, and began pacing in Clark was on the couch, made up and
Despite her stress-position talk, Clark anticipation of a reply. “It’s so convo- dressed fashionably in a long jacket
is a creature of habit, a curator of rou- luted.” She scooped up the phone and and pants.
tine. Brownstein recalled insisting that read a new text. Typing a reply, she was “Now I can feel the feelings,” she
they go on a different hike from this shaking her head. “What?” Marks asked. said. She made a show of unbuttoning
one, a couple of miles away. “She asked “It’s a cuckold situation,” Clark said. her pants in order to sing.
that I never drag her anywhere unfa- “I can’t talk about it.” This was more “The acceptance of beautiful mel-
miliar again,” Brownstein told me. than just hot goss. It was the most ex- ody is sometimes difficult for a down-
An hour later, we were back at the cited I’d ever seen her. Another exchange town New York musician,” Byrne had
house. A mixing engineer named Cath- told me earlier in the day. But here was
erine Marks arrived, to listen to some Clark, without all the sonic tricks—the
of the mixes on the new album. Clark jagged guitar and the scavenged beats—
wanted a fresh set of ears. (The prin- accepting her melodies, feeling the feel-
cipal mixer, back at Electric Lady, was ings. She told me later, “I didn’t realize
Tom Elmhirst, an eminence who has the depth of the sorrow on the album
worked with Adele, Lorde, Bowie, and until I performed it that night.” The
Beck.) Marks, a tall Australian, was next day, she was shelled and had to
wearing a tank top that read “La La cancel appointments. “It turns out that
La.” Clark had showered and changed that was crucial to my being done with
into a Pink Floyd “The Wall” T-shirt. of texts, more pacing, head-shaking, the the experience of making it. Now I need
They talked about the low end on burly laugh. “It’s the first time I’ve felt to do what I need to do as a performer:
one of the songs. “I want to give it more glee all day.” I need to be able to disassociate.”
balls,” Marks said, which had a good The final song on the album, the
ring to it, in the Aussie accent. “Tom ast month, Clark went into a stu- one about suicide, concludes with her
is a genius, obviously.”
“Best idea wins,” Clark said. They
L dio, in midtown Manhattan, with
her friend the producer, composer, and
repeating “It’s not the end,” in a voice
that makes you want to bring her hot
talked for a bit about how unprepared pianist Thomas Bartlett, to record an al- soup. On the night of the studio per-
each of them had been for how hot ternative version of the new album: just formance, she finished singing and
Elmhirst is. They went out to the ga- her voice and his piano, a chance to hear, sheepishly accepted the applause of her
rage studio, which was full of wonder- and to preserve, the songs stripped down friends. Then she buttoned up her pants
ful toys—racks of guitars, various mikes, to their bones. She had signed off on and said, “Party time, everyone.” 
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 67
FICTION

LETTERING BY BRIAN REA

68 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 PHOTOGRAPH BY ROSE CROMWELL


he storm came and erased the was not a girl but a rabbit, and the hamburger patties without ketchup or

T quiet.
Well, the older sister thought,
an island is never really quiet. Even with-
other rabbit was her own sister. The
girl was kind to her and gave her food,
but the rabbit looked at her sister and
buns and told them not to touch the
dog because he was a mean little sucker.
The younger sister didn’t listen, and
out the storm, there were waves and she knew that this was her only chance. suddenly her forearm was bleeding.
wind and air-conditioners and genera- She slipped out of the collar and ran Melanie shrugged and said, Told you.
tors and animals moving out there in as fast as she could over the field, and The older girl got one of their moth-
the dark. she and her sister hopped into the for- er’s Maxi Pads from her dopp kit and
What the storm had erased was the est. The rabbit family was so happy to wrapped it, sticker side out, around her
silence from the other cabin. For hours, see her. They had a party, dancing and sister’s arm.
there had been no laughing, no bottle singing and eating cabbage and car- Smokey Joe sat outside all afternoon
caps falling, none of the bickering that rots. The end. under the purple tree with its nubby
the girls had grown used to over the The little sister was asleep. The two green-banana fingers. He was listen-
past two days. fishing cabins rocked on their stilts, the ing to his CB radio. Then he stood up
This was because there were no dock ground against the shore, the wind and shouted for Melanie. Melanie ran
more adults. They’d been left alone spoke through the cracks in the win- out, her breasts and belly moving in all
on the island, the two little girls. Four dow frames, the palms lashed, the waves kinds of directions under her shirt. The
and seven. Pretty little things, strang- shattered and roared. The older girl older sister heard Smokey Joe say, Safer
ers called them. What dolls! Their held her little sister. to leave ’em.
faces were exactly like their mother’s. All night, she and the island were Melanie poked her head into the cabin.
Hoochies- in-waiting, their mother awake, the island because it never She was pale under her orangey tan.
joked, but she watched them anxiously slept, the girl because she knew that She said, Stay here. If someone
from the corner of her eye. She was a only her ferocious attention would keep shows up, don’t you go with no man.
good mother. them safe. Girls, listen to me. Stay here, be good.
The fluffy white dog had at least I’ll send a lady to get you in a few
stopped his yowling. He had crept close efore they were left alone in the hours.
to the girls’ bed, but when they tried
to stroke him he snapped at their hands.
B fishing camp on the island in the
middle of the ocean, there had been
The girls went outside and watched
Smokey Joe and Melanie running down
The animal was torn between his ha- Smokey Joe and Melanie. They were the dock. Melanie was screaming for
tred of children and his hatred of the strangers to the girls. He wore a red the dog, but the dog stood still and
wild storm outside. bandanna above his eyebrows. Her didn’t follow her. And then Joe threw
shirts couldn’t hold in all her flesh. off the lines and Melanie jumped into
he big sister said, Once upon a The older girl knew that the two the boat, almost missing it. One leg
T—princess,
time, there was a—
the little sister said.
adults were nervous, because they
didn’t stop smoking and arguing in
dangled in the water, then she lifted
it over the side and they took off at
Rabbit, the big sister said. hushed voices while the girls watched full speed.
Rabbit princess, the little sister said. “Snow White” over and over. It was Before that, exactly one day before
Once upon a time, there was a tiny the only tape they’d brought. In the Smokey Joe and Melanie left the girls
purple rabbit, the older sister said. A afternoon, Smokey Joe took the girls alone on the island, their mother had
man saw her and scooped her up in on a walk to the pond at the center come to them in their own cabin, and
his net. Her family tried to stop him, of the island. It was a weird place. Be- she was dressed all fancy and smelled
but they couldn’t. The man went into yond the sandy bay where the dock like a garden. Her boyfriend Ernesto
the city and took the rabbit to a pet and the cabin were, the land grew and she were going out in Ernesto’s
store and put her into a box in the win- rough with a kind of spongy stone boat, she said. We’ll only be gone for
dow. All day long people stuck their and the trees seemed shrunken and an hour or two, honey bears. She pressed
hands in to touch the purple rabbit. bent by the wind. them close to her, her face made up
Finally, a girl came in and bought the Watch out, he told them. A Holly- with blue eyeshadow, her eyelashes so
rabbit and took her home. It was bet- wood movie had been made here a long thick and long that it was a wonder
ter there, but the rabbit still missed her time ago and some monkeys had es- she could see. She left red kisses on
family. She grew and slept with the caped. You come close, they’ll rip your their cheeks.
girl in her bed, but most days she stared hair out and steal your food from your But the hours clicked by and she
out the window all sad. She began to bowl and throw poop at your head. He didn’t come back at all. When night
forget that she was a rabbit. One day, was joking, maybe. It was hard to tell. fell, the girls had to sleep on the
the girl put a leash on the rabbit and They didn’t see any monkeys, though floor in Melanie and Smokey Joe’s
they went out into the park. The rab- they did see huge black palmetto bugs, cabin, and Melanie and Smokey Joe
bit looked up and saw another rabbit a rat snake sunning itself on the sandy whispered behind their bedroom door
staring at her from the edge of the path, long-necked white birds that all night.
woods. They looked at each other long Smokey Joe called ibises. And, two days before that, their
enough for her to remember that she In the cabin, Melanie gave them mother had come into the girls’ room
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 69
in Fort Lauderdale in the middle of they lived with a man who may have around to yell now. They ate them all.
the night and thrown a few of their been the little sister’s father. Late at night, there was a terrible
things into a bag and said, We’re going Before Phoenix, she was too small to grinding sound and the girls went
on a boat ride, pretties! Ernesto’s going remember. Or maybe there was nothing. outside with flashlights and looked
to make us rich, and she laughed. Their at the air-conditioning unit, and saw
mother was so beautiful she just glinted he morning was painfully clear. that a brown snake had fallen into it
off light. Before the sun was even up,
they were on Ernesto’s boat, going fast
T Once, at Goodwill, the mother
had found a glass that she rang with
from the palm trees; with every turn
of the blade, a millimetre more of the
through the dark. And then they’d come a fingernail, and the glass sang in a snake was being eaten by the fan.
to this little island, and the adults had high and perfect voice. The sunlight They watched the snake dissolve bit
talked all day and all night was like that after the by bit until the skin fell all the way
in the other cabin, and storm. through and lay, empty of meat, on
their mother had seemed There was nobody the ground.
wild on the inside, flushed to tell them not to, so
on the outside. they ate grape jelly with he girls woke up sticky and hot.
And before Ernesto,
many nights before him,
spoons for breakfast. They
watched “Snow White”
T The air-conditioning had died
sometime before dawn.
their mother would come on the VCR again. The older one thought the snake
home very late, jangling. The dog whimpered had gummed things up, but nothing
She usually made dinner at the door. He had a lit- was working—no lights, no water pump,
for the girls, then left the tle pad in the bathroom no refrigerator—and then she under-
older girl in charge of get- where he did his business. stood that it was the generator. She
ting her sister’s teeth brushed and read- Melanie’s so damn lazy, their mother went out back and kicked it. She found
ing her to sleep. The older girl never had muttered when she first saw the a hole where the gas went in and looked
slept in her own bed, always just stayed pad. What a lazy bitch. But maybe, the inside with her flashlight.
beside her sister until their mother was older sister thought, the dog just needed We runned out of gas, she told her
home. Sometimes, when the mother a little air. She got up and put his pink sister, who was sucking her fingers
came in, she would get the girls up in leash on, and let him out. The dog went again, the way she had when she was
their nightgowns, the night still in the down the steps so fast that he pulled a baby.
windows, and sprinklers spitting in the the leash out of her hand. He looked Fix it, the little sister said, I’m so
courtyard, and she’d smell of vodka and back at the girl, and she could see the hot. But they looked and looked and
smoke and money, and would put music gears turning in his head, then he sped there was no more fuel. When the older
on too loud and they’d all dance. Their off into the woods. She called for him, sister tried to flush the toilet, it wouldn’t
mother would smoke cigarettes and fry but he wouldn’t come. flush. When the cabin started to smell
up eggs and pancakes that she’d top She went inside and didn’t tell her from the toilet and the dog’s pad, they
with strawberry ice cream. She’d talk sister what had happened. It wasn’t moved back to the other cabin, where
about the other women she worked until dinner—tuna fish and crackers their mother’s stuff was still in the clos-
with. Idiots, she called them. Skanks. and cheese—that the little sister looked ets and on the dresser. They began going
She didn’t trust other women. They around and said, Where’s the dog? to the bathroom outside.
were all backstabbing bitches who’d The older sister shrugged and said, There was no food in their cabin,
rob you sooner than help you. She liked I think he ran off. so they took everything they could find
men. Men were easy. You knew where The little sister started crying, and from Melanie and Smokey Joe’s. Fro-
you were with men. Women were too both girls went outside with a bowl of zen peas, which they ate like popcorn,
complicated. You always had to guess. water and a can of tuna and opened it one Hungry-Man TV dinner, which
You couldn’t give them an inch or they’d and called and called for the dog. He they opened and left out for the dog.
ruin you, she said. trotted out of the forest. There were A block of cheese and yellow mustard.
Before they came to Fort Lauder- sticks in his fur and mud on his belly, White bread, more cheese in a spray
dale’s blazing sun they had been in Tra- but he looked happy. He wouldn’t come can, a can of beans. Bourbon and ci-
verse City, where the older girl remem- near the girls, only growled until they gars that smelled like a spice drawer.
bered only cherries and frozen fingers. went inside, and then watched them In the afternoon, they put on their
Before Traverse City, San Jose with through the screen door as he gulped mother’s clothes, her makeup. They
its huge aloe plants and the laundro- down his food. The older sister lunged looked like tiny versions of her, both
mat below their apartment chugging out the door and tried to grab his leash, of them, though the little sister didn’t
all day. but he was too fast and disappeared need to go in the sun to be tanned.
Before San Jose, Brookline, where again. The older sister read everything she
the little sister came to them in a tiny The little girl stopped crying only could to her little sister. There was one
blanket of blue and pink stripes, a when her sister brought out Melanie’s fat book, yellow and swollen, on Mel-
cocked hat. cookies. Don’t you touch my damn anie’s nightstand. It had a man on the
Before Brookline, Phoenix, where Oreos, she’d said to them, but she wasn’t cover with an axe over his shoulder
70 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
but no shirt. She read the cereal box the magazine, but the younger sister unmoving, like a sculpture. There were
she dug out of the garbage. She read made the noises the mother made when cypress knees, like stalagmites, in the
the old magazines on the coffee table. she was in her bedroom with her boy- shallows.
The older girl understood that there friends. Then she started crying. At On the far side of the pond, there
was no more water only when they first she only shook her head when her was a small wooden rowboat turned
were thirsty and she tried to turn on sister asked her why. Finally she said, upside down. It was a flaking blue. The
the faucet. She ignored her thirst for a I miss the dog. older sister kicked it, wondering how
long time, until her throat felt stuffed Nobody could miss that dog, the to drag it through the forest toward
with cotton and the little girl wouldn’t older sister thought. the cove and the dock. Then she won-
stop complaining. How could Melanie leave him? the dered how she would make sure, once
It was going to be dark in a half little sister said. they’d launched it, that they floated
hour or so. The sun was burning at the Then the older sister thought, Oh. toward land, and not into the deep-
edge of the ocean. Let’s go on a dog hunt, she said. blue sea. Maybe it was best just to wait
The older sister sighed. I think we They took the steak knife, binocu- for the lady Melanie was supposed
have to walk to the pond, she said. lars, an old whiskey bottle with the last to send.
The little sister started to cry. But of their boiled water, and a giant pan- When she looked up, her little sis-
the monkeys, she said. ama hat they’d found in a closet, which ter had vanished. Her heart dropped
We’ll make lots of noise. They won’t the older sister wore because she burned out of her body. She called her sis-
bother us if we’re together, the older sis- to blisters all the time. They took the ter’s name, then screamed it over and
ter said, and they walked very fast, hand rest of the crackers and sprayed them- over.
in hand, to the pond, and it was twilight selves with the last of Melanie’s Skin She heard a laugh from below, and
when they got back. The girls saw a So Soft bug spray. her sister slid out from under a lip of
white flash in the woods, and the little The little sister was happy again. It rock that made a shallow invisible cave.
one was so frightened that she dropped was early afternoon. There was no wind, That was so mean, the older sister
her bucket and spilled half her water, and the heat of the clearing cooled yelled, and the little sister shrugged
and she ran all the way back to the cabin, when they went into the forest. They and said, Sorry, though she wasn’t.
slamming the door. The older sister cried sang the dog’s name, walking. The older There could’ve been snakes there,
with rage and carried the buckets back sister nervously scanned the branches the older sister said.
by herself. Out of meanness, she wouldn’t for monkeys. But there weren’t, the little one said.
let her little sister drink the water until The pond held a great gray heron, They walked all the way across the
she’d put it in a saucepan and set it over
the charcoal grill to boil, which took a
very, very long time, until the moon was
fat and bright in the sky.

Ione’snoutthehair
morning, the older girl took
her sister’s braids and the little
fluffed out into a beautiful
dark cloud.
They took the only knife, a steak
knife, and whittled points into the ends
of sticks, and they went into the chilly
shallow water to fish, because they’d
have to find food soon. But the water
was so nice and the fish were so little
that they abandoned the spears and
swam all morning.
They painted their fingernails with
polish they found in Melanie’s medi-
cine cabinet. Then they painted their
toenails, then tattoos of hearts on their
biceps, which made their skin itch until
they scratched the hearts off.
They found a candy bar in a night-
stand, then a dirty magazine under
Smokey Joe’s bed. A woman was lick-
ing a pearl off another woman’s pink
private skin.
Yuck, the older sister said and threw
island and found a yellow-sand beach
on the other side. Their dresses were
soaked with sweat when they got back PROJECT
to the pond and filled the whiskey bot-
tle up with green water. Your clock’s been turned to zero,
Back in the fishing camp, the dog though there is no zero on a clock.
was waiting on the steps. The girls Your skin is petal soft no matter
poured out unboiled water for him, how old the starter kit was—
and the dog lapped it up, watching but you will get tired or bored.
them with his angry black-button That’s when the clock starts up.
eyes. Even though the little sister sang
softly to him in her voice that their Your parents want you happy,
mother always said would knock the but we also want to set you down,
angels out of Heaven, the dog wouldn’t to get back to our old lives.
come near, and backed into the for- How will you turn against us
est again. once you figure this out?

he girls’ clothes were so dirty that You’re about to discover intention.


T they put on Smokey Joe’s last two
clean T-shirts. They swept the path
There are four stuffed animals
in front of you on strings.
behind the girls like ball gowns when They are targets.
they ran, flashes of red and blue through You won’t understand this for a while.
the green-gold forest. You flail your arms.
The little sister carried her bucket Sometimes you make one bounce.
all the way back from the pond with-
out complaining. Are humans the only creatures
They caught three crabs under the who must learn
dock with their hands and boiled them, to move with purpose?
and the flesh tasted like butter, and the Is that why we harp on motive,
water they boiled the crabs in they why we think of earth
drank like soup, and afterward they as some god’s handiwork?
felt full for a little while.
Then the rest of the food was gone. —Rae Armantrout
The bananas on the tree, Smokey Joe
had said, were not ripe yet and would
make them sick if they tried to eat ing she filled her pockets with cereal. lady came out. She was nice to them,
them. The older sister had heard of They weren’t starving if they had and she kept giving them cake and
people eating bugs and there were cereal, the little sister said. mini pizzas.
plenty of cockroaches everywhere, but The girl filled her pockets with blue And milk, the younger sister said.
the thought of the crunch under her pebbles from the fish tank. And when And apples.
teeth made her feel ill. the boyfriend led them out into the There was a television. The lady
They ate cherry ChapStick. They woods she dropped the pebbles one didn’t even make them sit down to eat
opened an unlabelled can they found by one by the side of the path, so that their food; they just lay there and
in the back of the cabinet, mandarin when he vanished they could find their watched cartoons and ate all day long.
oranges. They ate strange red berries way back. The boy and the girl fol- The boy and the girl got really fat. And
from the bushes, though the mother lowed the stones home, and the mother when they were superfat the lady tied
had always said never to do that. was so happy to see them. But the them up and tried to shove them into
I’m hungry, the little sister said. boyfriend grew angry. The next day, the oven like turkeys. But the girl was
Once upon a time, the big sister he took them out again, but he’d sewn smart. She said, Oh, let me give you
said, there was a boy and a girl whose up their pockets so they couldn’t leave one last kiss! And the lady leaned her
family had no food at all. You could a trail. He left them, and they wan- head forward, and the girl took a bite
see their ribs. The mother had a boy- dered and wandered and found a cave out of her throat. Because she’d become
friend who didn’t like the kids. One to hide in for the night. The next a champion eater at the lady’s house,
day, the boyfriend told the mother morning they smelled wood smoke she ate the lady all the way down until
that they had to get rid of the kids and and followed it to find a little cabin there was nothing left, not even blood.
that he was going to take them for a out in the woods, made of cookies and And the boy and the girl stayed all win-
hike and leave them way out in the candy. So they ran over and started ter eating the cookie house, and when
woods. The girl had heard the adults taking bites out of the house, because spring came they’d turned into adults.
talking that night, and in the morn- they hadn’t eaten in a long time. A Then they went to find the boyfriend.
72 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Why? the little sister said. crying out. He turned around slowly, get up. Lie still, the bones said. Their
To eat him, the older sister said. looking into the woods. hearts made music in their ears.
People eat people? the little sister Come on out, he shouted. He had The older sister could almost see
said. an accent. I know you’re here. the lady now, coming down the dock.
Sometimes you just have to, the big He waited, and said, We got your She’d wear a blue dress with a skirt so
sister said. mama with us. Don’t you want to see huge they could hide beneath it; she’d
No, the little sister said. your mama? We’ll make you a big old have their mother’s yellow hair that
Fine. The lady was made of whipped feast and you can sit in her lap and eat was dark at the roots. She’d smile down
cream, then, the older sister said. They it all up. Bet you’re hungry. at them. Girls, she’d whisper. Come
never found the boyfriend. But they The older sister struggled to keep home with me.
would have eaten him if they had. the little one from standing. The man They hadn’t eaten in three days.
must have heard, because his head swiv- Somewhere not too far away, the white
he older sister’s head was gentle elled in their direction. dog had howled all night until his howls
T with clouds. The sand of the bay
smelled like almonds to her. She was
Run, the older girl said, and they
ran through the woods, the palmettos
sounded like wind. The older sister had
dreamed of the courtyard of their Fort
sitting alone by the charcoal grill, wait- lashing at their ankles and making them Lauderdale apartment, of the fountain’s
ing for the water to boil. Her sister was bleed. They found the path, they found turquoise water and the red-dyed cedar
inside, singing herself to sleep. She was the pond. mulch and the tree heavy with sweet
happy, the older sister realized. Over- The older girl slid into the cave near oranges that almost peeled themselves
head was the thinning moon. Across the boat, then her little sister came in, in your fingers, the golden sun pour-
the water came the squeak and rat- and she held her tightly. ing down over everything, all of it
tle of some big birds with blood-red Soon they heard the man’s footsteps shimmering but untouchable, as if be-
throats that were passing on their way crashing and his breath wheezing in hind glass.
to somewhere colder, somewhere larger, and out, hard. Girls, he said, I saw you.
somewhere better than here. I know you’re around here. ight came, day came, night came.

here’s a man, the little sister said


His boots came into view, so close.
He moved toward the boat, and kicked
N The dog had gone silent. The
little sister’s ribs were sharp beneath
TThere’s
from the screen door.
no man, the older sister said
it once, twice, then the girls saw the
rotten wood break apart and a hun-
her skin. Her eyes were hot, the way
their mother’s were hot when she came
dreamily. dred frightened bugs ran out. home from work, wanting to dance,
He’s in a boat. On the dock, the lit- Fine, he said. Ain’t going to chase smoke, sing.
tle sister said, and now the big sister you all day. Starve to death if you like. The older sister’s body was made of
could hear the purr of the motor. She The girls were silent, shaking, until air. She was a balloon, skidding over
stood up so fast that her head lost blood they heard his footsteps fading. After the ground. The light on the waves in
and she fell and then got to her knees too long, they heard the boat start up, the bay made her cry, but not with sad-
and stood again. then the motor thinned and he was ness. It was so beautiful, it wanted to
Go, she whispered, and dragged her gone. Still, they waited. speak to her; it was about to say some-
sister through the door, down the steps, There was a rustling at their feet, thing if she only watched hard enough.
into the woods. and the little dog slunk out of the cave, The zip of a mosquito near her ear
They crouched in the ferns, and the where he must have been hiding all was a needling beauty. She let the mos-
ferns covered them. They were naked, this time, inches away. The girls watched quito land on her skin, and slowly it
and the ground beneath their bare feet him gather the pink leash in his mouth pulsed and pumped and she felt her
could have been full of snakes, lizards, and trot himself off. blood rising up into the small creature.
spiders. It was all so much. Through the
The man’s boots pounded down the here’s the lady? the little sister years to come, she’d remember these
dock. He came into view. He was stocky,
with jeans and a sweaty T-shirt, a thick
W said. She’s taking a long time.
What lady? the older sister said.
days of calm. She’d hold these beauti-
ful soft days in her as the years slowly
gold chain around his neck. The older The one to save us, the little sister moved from terrible to bearable to bet-
sister knew—something whispered said. That Melanie’s sending. ter, and she would feel herself grow-
silently to her—that he was in fact a The older sister had forgotten there ing, sharpening. She’d learn the lan-
bad man. was supposed to be a lady. The girls guage of men and use it against them:
Be quiet, the whisper said. Get away. were deep in their nest. They’d taken she’d become a lawyer. Her little sister,
He went into the girls’ cabin and all the pillows and sheets in the camp so lovely, so fragile, only ever wanted
there were crashing noises; he went and piled them in the middle of the to be held. For a long time, the older
into Melanie and Smokey Joe’s cabin living room of their cabin, where a sister was the one who did this for her.
and again there were crashing noises. breeze passed over their sweaty bodies She was the shell. But then the little
When he came out, he kicked over the on its way from the screen door out sister met a man who first gave her
grill, and the older girl put her hand the window. It was late in the morn- love, then withdrew it until she be-
over her sister’s mouth to keep her from ing, but the girls’ bones didn’t want to lieved the things he believed. He made
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 73
her give up her last name, which the he would live forever, the girl knew. He ing along to a different song on the
older sister had fought their whole would stay in that forest, running and radio, her feet waggling back and forth
childhood to keep, though their third howling and eating birds and fish and in time.
foster parents had wanted to adopt lizards. That dog was too mean to There was a man beside the dinghy
them, because it was the only thing ever die. with his swimming trunks down to his
they had of their mother. And then She came back to find her sister knees. He was peeing, the girls saw. He
one day the older sister stood in the naked outside the cabin, under the ba- didn’t even wash his hands in the waves,
pews and watched her baby sister get nana tree. Look, the little girl said, suck- but went over to the woman and
married to this man. She wore a white ing her fingers. stooped and put them in a cooler for
dress with a skirt so giant she could The older sister looked but saw a minute, then popped them under the
barely walk, and bound herself to him. nothing. She did not see the unripe woman’s bikini bottom while she
The older sister watched and started bananas like stubby fingers hanging screamed and swatted at him.
to shake. She cried. An ugly wish spread down, which had been there when she He laughed and took a beer can
in her like ink in water: that she and went to get the water; she did not see from the cooler and opened it and drank
her sister had stayed on the island all the peels, which she would find later deeply, and picked up a sandwich in
those years ago; that they’d slowly van- in the garbage. waxed paper. The older sister’s mouth
ished into their hunger until they turned There was a monkey, the little sis- watered. She was glad when he crum-
into sunlight and dust. ter said. A tiny, tiny monkey. It had pled the paper up and didn’t litter but
Once upon a time, the older sister fingers like person fingers. It sat on the put it neatly back into the cooler.
croaked, and the little sister whispered, roof and peeled the bananas and ate The older girl looked at her sister.
No. Shush, please. them all up. She was wild. You could see all her
Once upon a time, the older sister The older girl looked at the little bones. The older sister took the brown
said, there were two little girls made sister. She stared back with round eyes. leaves out of the little one’s hair, brushed
out of air. They were so beautiful that There was a long silence, and some- the dirt off her dress, took out their
everyone who saw them wanted to thing in the older sister turned away, mother’s lipstick, which she’d put into
scoop them up and put them into their even as she nodded. her pocket as they ran out the door.
pockets. One day, the god of wind saw All right, then. There was a monkey. She put lipstick on her sister’s lips,
them and loved them so much that he Now, over the wind, all the way then made tiny circles on her cheeks.
lifted them up and took them with him across the pond, from the beach on the Now me, she ordered, and her little
to the clouds to be his daughters. And other side of the island, there came a sister’s face pursed in concentration
they lived there forever with their fa- noise the older sister caught, then lost, and the lipstick tickled on her own
ther, and it was full of rainbows and then caught again. It was a song their cheeks and lips.
people singing and good things to eat mother had often sung along to on the She put the lipstick back into her
and soft beds made of feathers. radio in the car. A song—that meant pocket. She would keep the gold car-
The end, the little sister said. a radio. The older girl took her sister’s tridge of it long after the makeup in-
face in her hands. We got to get ready side was gone and only a sweet waxy
he younger sister dozed in the fast, she said. Then we got to run. smell of her mother remained.
T cabin. The older one let her body
float above the path to the pond and hey scrubbed themselves in the
Ready? she said. Her sister nodded
and took her hand. Together they
back with water. There was no more
charcoal, so they had to boil it over
T waves and, wet, put on their moth-
er’s dresses, the only clean things there
stepped out of the shadows and onto
the blazing beach.
sticks she collected on the way back. were. Shifts in tropical patterns that The woman on the blanket looked
Twenty feet from the cabins, she came down below the older girl’s knees, up at them, then shaded her eyes with
heard the slightest of sounds. She to the younger one’s ankles; on their a hand to see better. Later the woman
peered into the palmettos and saw a mother those dresses were so short would visit the girls once, then dis-
glint of metal. She walked through the you could sometimes see her under- appear after she left the older sister a
prickles and not one reached out to wear when she was sitting down. They gift, a vision of how the sisters had
scratch her. poured her perfume all over their wrists looked just then: ghost girls in clown
It was the dog. He had spun his and heads. makeup and floral sacks, creeping out
leash so tightly around a scrub oak that Then they ran. They stopped when of the dark forest. The woman’s mouth
his tongue was extended and his eyes they were still among the trees, breath- opened and a cry of alarm stuck in
bulged. He was no longer white fluff ing heavily. her throat. She raised her arms in
but knots of yellow and brown string. There was a boat anchored not far amazement. The girls took the gesture
The girl took the steak knife from out, and a rubber dinghy pulled up on for a welcome. Though they were very
her belt and knelt and sawed and sawed. the wet part of the sand and a fishing tired and felt tiny under the angry
She had to take breaks, because she pole buried next to it. A woman lay sun, they ran. 
kept getting dizzy. At last the leash on a blanket. She was white, though
broke and the dog stood and stumbled her shoulders and thighs were going NEWYORKER.COM
off into the underbrush again. There pink. She was plump. She was mouth- Lauren Groff reads her short story.

74 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017


THE
HE CRITICS
CRITI

A CRITIC AT LARGE

THE STONE GUEST


Can Sigmund Freud ever be killed?

BY LOUIS MENAND

SJuneigmund Freud almost didn’t make


it out of Vienna in 1938. He left on
4th, on the Orient Express, three
had resisted pleas from friends that he
flee. He changed his mind after his
daughter Anna was arrested and inter-
friends set him up in Hampstead, in a
big house that is now the Freud Mu-
seum. On January 28, 1939, Virginia and
months after the German Army en- rogated by the Gestapo. He was able Leonard Woolf came for tea.The Woolfs,
tered the city. Even though the perse- to get some of his family out, but he the founders and owners of the Ho-
cution of Viennese Jews had begun left four sisters behind. All of them died garth Press, had been Freud’s British pub-
immediately—Edward R. Murrow, in in the camps, one, of starvation, at The- lishers since 1924; Hogarth later pub-
Vienna for CBS radio when the Ger- resienstadt; the others, probably by gas, lished the twenty-four-volume translation
mans arrived, was an eyewitness to the at Auschwitz and Treblinka. of Freud’s works, under the editorship
ransacking of Jewish homes—Freud London was Freud’s refuge, and of Anna Freud and James Strachey, that
ILLUSTRATION
BY ARMANDO VEVE THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 75
were diagnosed with mental disorders.
Most important, psychoanalysis
helped move the treatment of mental
illness from the asylum and the hospi-
tal to the office. Psychoanalysis is a talk
therapy, which meant that people who
were otherwise functioning normally
could avail themselves of treatment. The
greater the number of people who wanted
that kind of therapy, the greater the de-
mand for therapists, and the postwar de-
cades were a boom time for psychiatry.
In 1940, two-thirds of American psychi-
atrists worked in hospitals; in 1956, sev-
enteen per cent did. Twelve and a half
per cent of American medical students
chose psychiatry as a profession in 1954,
an all-time high. A large percentage of
them received at least some psychoan-
alytic training, and by 1966 three-quar-
ters reported that they used the “dy-
namic approach” when treating patients.
“We’re looking for an outfit that says we are really The dynamic approach is based on
going to buckle down this semester.” the cardinal Freudian principle that
the sources of our feelings are hidden
from us, that what we say about them
• • when we walk into the therapist’s office
cannot be what is really going on. What
is known as the Standard Edition. This tleness, great strength. . . . A formida- is really going on are things that we
was the Woolfs’ only meeting with Freud. ble man.” Freud died in that house on are denying or repressing or sublimat-
English was one of Freud’s many September 23, 1939, three weeks after ing or projecting onto the therapist by
languages. (After he settled in Hamp- the start of the Second World War. the mechanism of transference, and
stead, the BBC taped him speaking, Hitler and Stalin, between them, the goal of therapy is to bring those
the only such recording in existence.) drove psychoanalysis out of Europe, things to light.
But he was eighty-two and suffering but the movement reconstituted itself Amazingly, Americans, a people ste-
from cancer of the jaw, and conversa- in two places where its practitioners reotypically allergic to abstract systems,
tion with the Woolfs was awkward. He were welcomed, London and New York. found this model of the mind irresist-
“was sitting in a great library with lit- A product of Mitteleuropa, once cen- ible. Many scholars have tried to ex-
tle statues at a large scrupulously tidy tered in cities like Vienna, Berlin, Bu- plain why, and there are, no doubt, mul-
shiny table,” Virginia wrote in her diary. dapest, and Moscow, psychoanalysis tiple reasons, but the explanation offered
“A screwed up shrunk very old man: was thus improbably transformed into by the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann
with a monkey’s light eyes, paralyzed a largely Anglo-American medical and is simple: alternative theories were worse.
spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but cultural phenomenon. During the “Freud’s theories were like a flashlight
alert.” He was formal and courteous in twelve years that Hitler was in power, in a candle factory,” as she puts it. Freud-
an old-fashioned way, and presented only about fifty Freudian analysts im- ian concepts were taken up by intellec-
her with a narcissus. The stage had been migrated to the United States (a coun- tuals, who wrote about cathexes, screen
carefully set. try Freud had visited only once, and memories, and reaction formations, and
The Woolfs were not easily im- held in contempt). They were some of they were absorbed into popular dis-
pressed by celebrity, and certainly not the biggest names in the field, though, course. People who had never read a
by stage setting. They understood the and they took over American psychi- word of Freud talked confidently about
transactional nature of the tea. “All ref- atry. After the war, Freudians occupied the superego, the Oedipus complex, and
ugees are like gulls with their beaks out university chairs; they dictated medical- penis envy.
for possible crumbs,” Virginia coolly school curricula; they wrote the first Freud was recruited to the anti-
noted in the diary. But many years later, two editions of the Diagnostic and Sta- utopian politics of the nineteen-fifties.
in his autobiography, Leonard remem- tistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the Intellectuals like Lionel Trilling, in
bered that Freud had given him a feel- DSM). Psychoanalytic theory guided “Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture,”
ing that, he said, “only a very few peo- the treatment of hospital patients, and, and Philip Rieff, in “Freud: The Mind
ple whom I have met gave me, a feeling by the mid-nineteen-fifties, half of all of the Moralist,” maintained that Freud
of great gentleness, but behind the gen- hospital patients in the United States taught us about the limits on human
76 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
perfectibility. Popular magazines equated days, he became radicalized, and he York Review of Books called “The Un-
Freud with Copernicus and Darwin. considered his interest in Freud to be known Freud,” he emerged as a full-
Claims were large. “Will the Twen- part of his radicalism. He thought that blown critic of Freudianism and a leader
tieth Century go down in history as the Freud, as he later put it, “licensed a spirit in a group of revisionist scholars known
Freudian Century?” asked the editor of of dogmatically rebellious interpreta- as the Freud-bashers.
a volume called “Freud and the Twen- tion.” In fact, Freud was dismissive of The article was a review of several
tieth Century,” in 1957. “May not the radical politics. He thought that the be- books by revisionists. Psychoanalysis
new forms of awareness growing out lief that social change could make peo- had already been discredited as a med-
of Freud’s work come to serve as a more ple healthier or happier was deluded; ical science, Crews wrote; what research-
authentic symbol of our consciousness that is the point of “Civilization and ers were now revealing was that Freud
and the quality of our deepest experi- Its Discontents.” But Crews’s idea that himself was possibly a charlatan—an
ence than the uncertain fruits of the Freudianism was somehow liberatory opportunistic self-dramatizer who de-
fission of the atom and the new chart- was widely shared in the sixties (al- liberately misrepresented the scientific
ing of the cosmos?” though it usually required some tweaks bona fides of his theories. He followed
to the theory, as administered, for ex- up with another article in the Review,
rofessors in English departments ample, by writers like Herbert Marcuse on recovered-memory cases—cases in
P naturally wondered how they might
get in on the action. They did not have
and Norman O. Brown).
In 1970, Crews published an anthol-
which adults had been charged with
sexual abuse on the basis of supposedly
much trouble finding a way. For it is ogy of essays promoting psychoanalytic repressed memories elicited from chil-
not a stretch to treat literary texts in criticism, “Psychoanalysis and Literary dren—which he blamed on Freud’s the-
the same way that an analyst treats what Process.” But he had started to get cold ory of the unconscious.
a patient is saying. Although teachers feet. He had soured on radical politics, Crews’s articles triggered one of the
dislike the term “hidden meanings,” de- too—by the early seventies, “Berkeley” most rancorous highbrow free-for-alls
coding a subtext or exposing an implicit had pretty much reverted to being “Cal,” ever run in a paper that has published
meaning or ideology is what a lot of a politically quiescent campus—and his its share of them. Letters of supreme
academic literary criticism does. Aca- experience with his graduate seminar huffiness poured into the Review, the
demic critics are therefore always in the had begun to make him think that there writers lamenting that considerations
market for a theoretical apparatus that was something too easy about psycho- of space prevented them from pointing
can give coherence and consistency to analytic criticism. Students would pro- out more than a handful of Crews’s er-
this enterprise, and Freudianism was pose contradictory psychoanalytic read- rors and misrepresentations, and then
ideally suited for the task. Decoding ings, and they all sounded good, but it proceeding to take up many column
and exposing are what psychoanalysis was just an ingenuity contest. There inches enumerating them.
is all about. was no way to prove that one interpre- People who send aggrieved letters to
One professor excited about the pos- tation was truer than another. From the Review often seem to have missed
sibilities was Frederick Crews. Crews this, it followed that what was going on the fact that the Review always gives its
received his Ph.D. from Princeton in writers the last word, and Crews availed
1958 with a dissertation on E. M. For- himself of the privilege with relish and
ster. The dissertation explained what at length. He gave, on balance, better
Forster thought by looking at what For- than he got. In 1995, he published his
ster wrote. It was plain-vanilla history- Review pieces as “The Memory Wars:
of-ideas criticism, and Crews found it Freud’s Legacy in Dispute.” Three years
boring. As an undergraduate, at Yale, he later, he edited “Unauthorized Freud:
had fallen in love with Nietzsche, and Doubters Confront a Legend,” an an-
Nietzsche had led him to Freud. By the thology of writings by Freud’s critics.
time the Forster book came out, in 1962, Crews had retired from teaching in
he was a professor at Berkeley, and his in the analyst’s office might also be 1994, and is now an emeritus professor
second book, “The Sins of the Fathers,” nothing more than a kind of interpre- at Berkeley.
was a psychoanalytic study of Nathan- tive freelancing. Psychoanalysis was be-
iel Hawthorne. It came out in 1966, and, ginning to look like a circular and he arc of Freud’s American repu-
along with Norman Holland’s “Psycho-
analysis and Shakespeare,” published the
self-justifying methodology.
Crews registered his growing disil-
T tation tracks the arc of Crews’s ca-
reer. Psychoanalytic theory reached the
same year, was one of the pioneering works lusionment in a collection of essays that peak of its impact in the late fifties,
in psychoanalytic literary criticism. Crews came out in 1975, “Out of My System.” when Crews was switching from history-
began teaching a popular graduate sem- He still believed that there were re- of-ideas criticism to psychoanalytic crit-
inar on the subject. deemable aspects to Freud’s thought, icism, and it began to fade in the late
He also got involved in the antiwar but he was on his way out, as a second sixties, when Crews was starting to no-
movement on campus, serving as a co- essay collection, “Skeptical Engage- tice a certain circularity in his graduate
chair of the Faculty Peace Committee. ments,” in 1986, made clear. In 1993, with students’ papers. Part of the decline had
Like many people at Berkeley in those the publication of a piece in The New to do with social change. Freudianism
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 77
was a big target for writers associated century biology, like the belief in the in­ Freud did not destroy, Ernst Lanzer—
with the women’s movement; it was heritability of acquired characteristics the Rat Man—it is clear that he mis­
attacked as sexist (justifiably) by Betty (Lamarckianism). In 1975, the Nobel represented the facts as well. In a study
Friedan in “The Feminine Mystique” Prize­winning medical biologist Peter of the forty­three treatments about
and by Kate Millett in “Sexual Politics,” Medawar called psychoanalytic theory which some information survives, it
as it had been, more than a decade ear­ “the most stupendous intellectual confi­ turned out that Freud had broken his
lier, by Simone de Beauvoir in “The dence trick of the twentieth century.” own rules for how to conduct an analy­
Second Sex.” One corner of Anglo­American in­ sis, usually egregiously, in all forty­three.
Psychoanalysis was also taking a hit tellectual life where Freudianism had In 1983, a British researcher, E. M.
within the medical community. Studies always been regarded with suspicion Thornton, published “Freud and Co­
suggesting that psychoanal­ was the philosophy depart­ caine,” in which she argued that Freud,
ysis had a low cure rate had ment. A few philosophers, who early in his career was a champion
been around for a while. like Stanley Cavell, who of the medical uses of cocaine (then a
But the realization that had an interest in liter­ legal and popular drug), was effectively
depression and anxiety can ature and Continental addicted to it in the years before he
be regulated by medica­ thinkers took Freud up. wrote “The Interpretation of Dreams.”
tion made a mode of But to philosophers of sci­ Freud treated a friend, Ernst Fleischl
therapy whose treatment ence the knowledge claims von Marxow, with cocaine to cure a
times reached into the of psychoanalysis were al­ morphine habit, with the result that
hundreds of billable hours ways dubious. In 1985, one Fleischl became addicted to both drugs
seem, at a minimum, ineffi­ of them, Adolf Grünbaum, and died at the age of forty­five. Thorn­
cient, and, at worst, a scam. at the University of Pitts­ ton suggested that Freud was often high
Managed­care companies and the burgh, published “The Foundations of on cocaine when he wrote his early sci­
insurance industry certainly drew that Psychoanalysis,” a dauntingly thorough entific articles, which accounts for their
conclusion, and the third edition of the exposition designed to show that, what­ sloppiness with the data and the reck­
DSM, in 1980, scrubbed out almost ever the foundations of psychoanalysis lessness of their claims.
every trace of Freudianism. The third were, they were not scientific. By 1995, enough evidence of the
edition was put together by a group of Revisionist attention also turned to doubtfulness of psychoanalysis’s scien­
psychiatrists at Washington Univer­ Freud’s biography. The lead blood­ tific credentials and enough questions
sity, where, it is said, a framed picture hound on this trail was Peter Swales, about Freud’s character had accumu­
of Freud was mounted above a urinal a man who once called himself “the lated to enable the revisionists to force
in the men’s room. In 1999, a study pub­ punk historian of psychoanalysis.” the postponement of a major exhibition
lished in American Psychologist reported Swales never finished high school; in devoted to Freud at the Library of Con­
that “psychoanalytic research has been the nineteen­sixties, he worked as a gress, on the ground that the show pre­
virtually ignored by mainstream scien­ personal assistant to the Rolling Stones. sented psychoanalysis in too favorable
tific psychology over the past several That would seem a hard gig to bail on, a light. Crews called it an effort “to pol­
decades.” but he did, and, around 1972, he got ish up the tarnished image of a business
Meanwhile, the image of Freud as a interested in Freud and decided to de­ that’s heading into Chapter 11.” The
lonely pioneer began to erode as well. vote himself to unearthing anything exhibition had to be redesigned, and it
That image had been carefully curated and everything associated with Freud’s did not open until 1998.
by Freud’s disciples, especially by Freud’s life. (Swales is one of the two figures— That year, in an interview with a Ca­
first biographer, the Welsh analyst the other is Jeffrey Moussaieff Mas­ nadian philosophy professor, Todd Du­
Ernest Jones, who was a close associ­ son—profiled in Janet Malcolm’s smart fresne, Crews was asked whether he
ate. (He had flown to Vienna after the and entertaining report on the Freud was ready to call it a day with Freud.
Nazis arrived to urge Freud to flee.) revisionists, “In the Freud Archives,” “Absolutely,” he said. “After almost
Jones’s three­volume life came out in published in 1984.) twenty years of explaining and illustrat­
the nineteen­fifties. But the image orig­ Swales’s most spectacular claim was ing the same basic critique, I will just
inated with, and was cultivated by, Freud that Freud impregnated his sister­in­ refer interested parties to ‘Skeptical En­
himself. Even his little speech for the law, Minna, arranged for her to have an gagements,’ ‘The Memory Wars,’ and
BBC, in 1938, is about the heavy price abortion, and then encoded the whole ‘Unauthorized Freud.’ Anyone who is
he has paid for his findings (he calls affair in a fictitious case history—a Sher­ unmoved by my reasoning there isn’t
them “facts”) and his struggle against lockian story that was almost too good going to be touched by anything fur­
continued resistance to them. to check (though some corroborating ther I might say.” He spoke too soon.
In the nineteen­seventies, historians evidence was later dug up). Swales and
like Henri Ellenberger and Frank Sullo­ other researchers were also able to show rews seems to have grown worried
way pointed out that most of Freud’s
ideas about the unconscious were not
that Freud consistently misrepresented
the outcomes of the treatments he based
C that although Freud and Freudian­
ism may look dead, we cannot be com­
original, and that his theories relied on his theories on. In the case of one of pletely, utterly, a hundred per cent sure.
outmoded concepts from nineteenth­ the only patients whose treatment notes Freud might be like the Commendatore
78 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
in “Don Giovanni”: he gets killed in this, was still able to take tea with his wrote to her virtually every day. Some
the first act and then shows up for din- guests. In Yeats’s line, those ancient, fifteen hundred letters survive. Crews
ner at the end, the Stone Guest. So glittering eyes were gay. This is, obvi- makes a great deal of the correspon-
Crews spent eleven years writing “Freud: ously, the reputation the Woolfs car- dence, and he finds much to disap-
The Making of an Illusion” (Metro- ried with them when they went to meet prove of.
politan), just out—a six-hundred-and- Freud in 1939. Who would want to be judged by
sixty-page stake driven into its subject’s As Crews is right to believe, this letters sent to a lover? What the ex-
cold, cold heart. Freud has long outlived psychoanal- cerpts that Crews quotes seem to show
The new book synthesizes fifty years ysis. For many years, even as writers us is an immature and unguarded young
of revisionist scholarship, repeating were discarding the more patently ab- man who is ambitious and insecure,
and amplifying the findings of other surd elements of his theory—penis boastful and needy, ardent and impa-
researchers (fully acknowledged), and envy, or the death drive—they con- tient—all the ways people tend to come
tacking on a few additional charges. tinued to pay homage to Freud’s un- across in love letters. Freud makes re-
Crews is an attractively uncluttered blinking insight into the human con- marks like “I intend to exploit science
stylist, and he has an amazing story dition. That persona helped Freud to instead of allowing myself to be ex-
to tell, but his criticism of Freud is re- evolve, in the popular imagination, ploited by it.” Crews takes this to ex-
lentless to the point of monomania. from a scientist into a kind of poet of pose Freud’s mercenary attitude to-
He evidently regards “balance” as a the mind. And the thing about poets ward his vocation. But young people
pass given to chicanery, and even read- is that they cannot be refuted. No one want to make a living. That’s why they
ers sympathetic to the argument may asks of “Paradise Lost”: But is it true? have vocations. The reason for the pro-
find it hard to get all the way through Freud and his concepts, now converted longed engagement was that Freud
the book. It ought to come with a bulb into metaphors, joined the legion of couldn’t afford to marry. It’s not sur-
of garlic. the undead. prising that he would have wanted to
The place where people interested Is there anything new to say about assure his fiancée that his eyes were
in Freud’s thought usually begin is this person? One of the occasions for ever on the prize.
“The Interpretation of Dreams,” which Crews’s book is the fairly recent emer- Freud mentions cocaine often in the
came out in 1899, when Freud was gence of Freud’s correspondence with letters. He used it to get through stress-
forty-three. Crews doesn’t get to that his fiancée, Martha Bernays. Freud got ful social situations, but he also appreci-
book until page 533. The only subse- engaged in 1882, when he was twenty- ated its benefits as an aphrodisiac, and
quent work he discusses in depth is six, and the engagement lasted four Crews quotes from several letters in which
the so-called Dora case, which was years. He and Martha spent most of he teases Martha about its effects. “Woe
based on an (aborted) treatment that that time in different cities, and Freud to you, little princess, when I come,” he
Freud conducted in 1900 with a woman
named Ida Bauer, and which he pub-
lished in 1905, as “Fragment of an
Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.” Crews
touches briefly on the other famous
case histories Freud brought out be-
fore the First World War—the Rat
Man, the Wolf Man, Little Hans, the
analysis of Daniel Paul Schreber, and
the book on Leonardo da Vinci. The
hugely influential works of social psy-
cholog y that Freud went on to
write—“Totem and Taboo,” “The Fu-
ture of an Illusion,” “Civilization and
Its Discontents”—are largely ignored.
The “illusion” in Crews’s subtitle
isn’t Freudianism, though. It’s Freud.
For many years, Freud was written
about as an intrepid scientist who dared
to descend into the foul rag-and-bone
shop of the mind, and who emerged
as the embodiment of a tragic wis-
dom—a man who could face up to the
terrible fact that a narcissus is never
just a narcissus, that underneath the
mind’s trapdoor is a snake pit of de-
sire and aggression, and, knowing all “ You just carpe, carpe, carpe.”
One thing that’s going on is straight-
forward enough: this is internecine
business in the Freud wars. Some Freud
scholar floated the suggestion that
since Minna’s bedroom was next to
Freud and Martha’s, there would have
been few opportunities for hanky-
panky. Consistent with his policy of
giving scoundrels no quarter, Crews
is determined to blow that sugges-
tion out of the water. He is on a cru-
sade to debunk what he calls “Freudol-
atry,” the cult of Freud constructed
and maintained by the “home-team
historians.” These include the “house
biographer” Ernest Jones, the “gull-
ible” Peter Gay, and the “loyalists”
George Makari and Élisabeth Rou-
dinesco. (The English translation of
Roudinesco’s “Freud: In His Time
“They were only supposed to find truffles, but then they found and Ours” was published by Harvard
Roger—a man who curiously smells a lot like truffles.” last fall.)
In Crews’s view, these people have
created a Photoshopped image of su-
• • perhuman scientific probity and moral
rectitude, and it’s important to take their
writes in one. “I will kiss you quite red that Freud had sex with a prostitute, hero down to human size—or maybe,
and feed you quite plump. And if you and was therefore not a virgin when, in compensation for all the years of
are naughty you will see who is stron- at the age of thirty, he finally got mar- hype, a size or two smaller. Their Freud,
ger, a gentle little girl who doesn’t eat ried. Noting (as others have) the homo- fully cognizant of his illicit desires, stops
or a big wild man with cocaine in his erotic tone in Freud’s letters to and about at his sister-in-law’s bedroom door, for
body.” Crews’s gloss: Freud “conceived men he was close to—Fleischl and, he knows that sublimation of the erotic
of his chemically eroticized self not as later, Wilhelm Fliess—Crews suggests drives is the price men pay for civiliza-
the affectionate companion of a dear that Freud “wrestled with homosex- tion. Crews’s Freud just walks right in.
person but as a powerful mate who would ual impulses.” (In either account, civilization some-
have his way, luxuriating in the crush- Let’s assume that Freud used cocaine how survives.)
ing of maidenly reluctance.” (Freud, in- as an anxiolytic and aphrodisiac. That For readers with less skin in the
cidentally, was a small man, five feet he had an eye for sexy women. That he Freud wars, the question is: What is at
seven inches. He was taller than Mar- masturbated, solicited a prostitute, shared stake? And the answer has to be Freud-
tha, but not by much. The “big wild he-man fantasies with his girlfriend, ianism—the theory itself and its post-
man” was a joke.) and got crushes on male friends. Who clinical afterlife. Although Freud re-
Freud would be the last person to cares? Human beings do these things. nounced his early work on cocaine,
have grounds for objecting to a biog- Even if Freud had sex with Minna Ber- Crews examines it carefully, and he
rapher’s interest in his sex life, but nays—so what? The standard revision- shows that, from the beginning, Freud
Crews’s claims in this area are often ist hypothesis is that the sex took place was a lousy scientist. He fudged data;
speculation. During his engagement, on trips that the two took together with- he made unsubstantiated claims; he
for example, Freud spent four months out Martha, of which, as Crews points took credit for other people’s ideas.
studying in Paris, where he sometimes out, there were a surprising number. But Sometimes he lied. A lot of people in
suffered from anxiety. “It is easy to Crews imagines assignations in the fam- the late nineteenth century believed
picture how Freud’s agitation must ily home in Vienna as well. He notes that cocaine might be a miracle drug,
have been heightened by the daily pa- that Minna’s bedroom was in a far cor- and Crews may be a little unfair when
rade of saucy faces and swaying hips ner of the house, meaning that “the noc- he tries to pin much of the blame for
that he witnessed during his strolls,” turnal Sigmund could have visited it the later epidemic of cocaine abuse on
Crews observes. Crews is confident with impunity in predawn hours.” Could Freud. Still, even starting out, Freud
that Freud, during his separation from he have? Apparently. Should he have? showed himself to be a man who did
Martha, masturbated regularly, “mak- Probably not. Did he, in fact? No one not have much in the way of profes-
ing himself sick with guilt over it” knows. So why fantasize about it? A sional scruples. The fundamental claim
(something he says Freud’s biogra- Freudian would suspect that there is of the revisionists is that Freud never
phers covered up). He also suspects something going on here. changed. It was bogus science all the
80 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
way. And the central issue for most of him that, by the method of free asso­
them is what is known as the seduc­ ciation, patients could uncover what
tion theory. they had repressed and achieve some
relief. And so psychoanalysis was born.
he principal reason psychoanaly­ This narrative was challenged by
T sis triumphed over alternative the­
ories and was taken up in fields outside
Jeffrey Masson, whose battle with the
Freud establishment is the main sub­
medicine, like literary criticism, is that ject of Janet Malcolm’s book. In “The
it presented its findings as inductive. Assault on Truth,” in 1984, Masson ar­
Freudian theory was not a magic­lantern gued that, panicked by the reaction to
show, an imaginative projection that his hysteria paper, Freud came up with
provided us with powerful metaphors the theory of infantile sexuality as a way
for understanding the human condi­ of covering up his patients’ sexual abuse.
tion. It was not “Paradise Lost”; it was But there turned out to be two prob­
science, a conceptual system wholly de­ lems with the official narrative about the
rived from clinical experience. seduction theory, and Masson’s was not
For Freudians and anti­Freudians one of them. The first problem is that
alike, the key to this claim is the fate the chronology is a retrospective recon­
of the seduction theory. According to struction. Freud did not abandon the se­
the official narrative, when Freud began duction theory after 1897, he did not in­
working with women diagnosed with sist on the centrality of the Oedipus
hysteria, in the eighteen­nineties, his complex until 1908, and so on. Various
patients reported being sexually mo­ emendations had to be discreetly made
lested as children, usually by their fa­ in the Standard Edition, and in the edi­
thers and usually when they were under tion of Freud’s correspondence with
the age of four. In 1896, Freud delivered Fliess, for the record to become consis­
a paper announcing that, having com­ tent with the preferred chronology.
pleted eighteen treatments, he had con­ That is the minor problem.The major
cluded that sexual abuse in infancy was problem, according to the revisionists,
the source of hysterical symptoms. This is that there were no cases. Contrary to
became known as the seduction theory. what Freud claimed and what Masson
The paper was greeted with derision. assumed, none of Freud’s subsequent
Richard von Krafft­Ebing, the leading patients spontaneously told him that
sexologist of the day, called it “a scien­ they had been molested—those eigh­
tific fairy tale.” Freud was discouraged. teen cases did not exist—and no pa­
But, in 1897, he had a revelation, which tients subsequently reported having Oe­
he reported in a letter to Fliess that be­ dipal wishes. Knowing of his reputation
came canonical. Patients were not re­ as sex­obsessed, some of Freud’s patients
membering actual molestation, he real­ produced the kind of material they knew
ized; they were remembering their own he wanted to hear, and a few appear to
sexual fantasies. The reason was the Oe­ have been deliberately gaming him. In
dipus complex. From infancy, all chil­ other cases, Freud badgered patients
dren have aggressive and erotic feelings into accepting his interpretations, and
about their parents, but they repress they either gave in, like the Rat Man,
those feelings out of fear of punishment. or left treatment, like Dora. If your an­
For boys, the fear is of castration; girls, alyst tells you that you are in denial about
as they are traumatized eventually to wanting to sleep with your father, what
discover, are already castrated. (“Castra­ are you going to do? Deny it?
tion” in Freud means amputation.) Ever since he stopped teaching his
In Freud’s hydraulic model of the Berkeley seminar, Crews has com­
mind, these forbidden wishes and de­ plained about the suggestibility of the
sires are psychic energies seeking an psychoanalytic method of free associ­
outlet. Since they cannot be expressed ation. It replaced hypnosis as a way of
or acted upon directly—we cannot kill treating hysterical patients, but it wasn’t
or have sex with our parents—they much better. That is why Crews wrote
emerge in highly censored and distorted about the recovered­memory cases, in
forms as images in dreams, slips of the which investigators seem to have fed
tongue, and neurotic symptoms. Freud children the memories they eventually
claimed his clinical experience taught “recovered.” How effective a therapist
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 81
Freud was is disputed—many people cessive feeding), seclusion, “female cas- popes, the sadists of the Inquisition, the
travelled to Vienna to be analyzed by tration,” and, of course, institutionaliza- modern promulgators of ‘blood libel’
him. But Crews believes that Freud tion. There was also serious interest in slander, and the Catholic bureaucrats
never had “a single ex-patient who could the paranormal. The most prevalent who had held his professorship hos-
attest to the capacity of the psychoan- nineteenth-century psychiatric diagno- tage.” Freud set out to “pull down the
alytic method to yield the specific effects ses, hysteria and neurasthenia, are not temple of Pauline law.”
that he claimed for it.” even recognized today. That wasn’t “bad” Crews suggests that this is why the
One response to the assault on psy- science. It was science. Some of it works; affair with Minna was significant. If it
choanalysis is that even if Freud mostly a lot of it does not. Psychoanalysis was did happen, it was right before Freud
made it up, and even if he was a poor not the first talk therapy, but it was the wrote “The Interpretation of Dreams,”
therapist himself, psychoanalysis does bridge from hypnosis to the kind of talk the real start of Freudianism. Forbid-
work for some patients. But so does therapy we have today. It did not abuse den sex could have given him the confi-
placebo. Many people suffering from the patient’s body, and if it was a quack dence he needed to take the extreme
mood disorders benefit from talk ther- treatment it was not much worse, and step into mind reading. “To possess
apy and other interpersonal forms of was arguably more humane, than a lot Minna,” Crews says, “could have meant,
treatment because they respond to the of what was being practiced. first, to commit symbolic incest with
perception that they are being cared for. Nor did psychoanalysis put a halt to the mother of God; second, to ‘kill’ the
It may not matter very much what they somatic psychiatry. During the first half father God by means of this ultimate
talk about; someone is listening. of the twentieth century, all kinds of sacrilege; and third, to nullify the au-
People also find appealing the idea medical interventions for mental disor- thority both of Austria’s established
that they have motives and desires they ders were devised and put into practice. church and of its Vatican parent—
are unaware of. That kind of “depth” These included the administration of thereby, in Freud’s internal drama, free-
psychology was popularized by Freud- sedatives, notably chloral, which is ad- ing his people from two millennia of
ianism, and it isn’t likely to go away. It dictive, and which was prescribed for religious persecution.” Then I guess he
can be useful to be made to realize that Virginia Woolf, who suffered from major didn’t just walk right in.
your feelings about people you love are depression; insulin-induced comas; elec- It all sounds pretty Freudian! Where
actually ambivalent, or that you were troshock treatments; and lobotomies. is it coming from? This idol-smashing
being aggressive when you thought you Despite its frightful reputation, electro- Freud is radically different from the
were only being extremely polite. Of convulsive therapy is an effective treat- Freud of writers like Trilling and Rieff,
course, you shouldn’t have to work your ment for severe depression, but most of who saw him as the enduring reminder
way through your castration anxiety to the other treatments in use before the of the futility of imagining that improv-
get there. age of psychopharmaceuticals were dead ing the world can make human beings
Still, assuming that psychoanalysis ends. Even today, in many cases, we are happier. And it is certainly not how
was a dead end, did it set psychiatry basically throwing chemicals at the brain Freud presented himself. “I have not
back several generations? Crews has and hoping for the best. Hit or miss is the courage to rise up before my fellow-
said so. “If much of the twentieth cen- how a lot of progress is made. You can men as a prophet,” he wrote at the end
tury has indeed belonged to Freud,” he call it science or not. of “Civilization and Its Discontents,”
told Todd Dufresne, in 1998, “then we “and I bow to their reproach that I can
lost about seventy years worth of po- eople write biographies because they offer them no consolation: for at bot-
tential gains in knowledge while befud-
dling ourselves with an essentially me-
P hope that lives have lessons. That’s
what Crews has done. He believes that
tom, that is what they are all demand-
ing—the wildest revolutionaries no
dieval conception of the ‘possessed’ the story of Freud’s early life has some- less passionately than the most virtu-
mind.” The comment reflects an atti- thing to tell us about Freudianism, and ous believers.”
tude present in a lot of criticism of psy- although he insists on playing the part Crews’s idea that Freud’s target was
choanalysis, Crews’s especially: an ide- of a hanging judge, much of what he Christianity appears to be a late fruit
alization of science. has to say about the slipperiness of of his old undergraduate fascination
Since the third edition of the DSM, Freud’s character and the factitiousness with Nietzsche. Crews apparently once
the emphasis has been on biological ex- of his science is persuasive. He is, after saw Freud as a Nietzschean critic of
planations for mental disorders, and this all, building on top of a mountain of life-denying moralism, a heroic Anti-
makes psychoanalysis look like a detour, research on those topics. christ dedicated to liberating human
or, as the historian of psychiatry Ed- Crews does bring what appears to beings from subservience to idols they
ward Shorter called it, a “hiatus.” But it be a novel charge (at least these days) themselves created. Is his current re-
wasn’t as though psychiatry was on solid against psychoanalysis. He argues that nunciation a renunciation of his own
medical ground when Freud came along. it is anti-Christian. By promulgating a radical youth? Is his castigation of Freud
Nineteenth-century science of the mind doctrine that makes “sexual gratifica- really a form of self-castigation? We
was a Wild West show. Treatments in- tion triumphant over virtuous sacrifice don’t need to go there. But since hu-
cluded hypnosis, electrotherapy, hydro- for heaven,” he says, Freud “meant to manity is not liberated from its illusions
therapy, full-body massage, painkillers overthrow the whole Christian order, yet, if that’s what Freud was really all
like morphine, rest cures, “fat” cures (ex- earning payback for all of the bigoted about, he is still undead. 
82 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
has written admiringly about her work.
BOOKS Like Davis, she moves easily from the
theoretical to the humanely engaged.

ENTANGLEMENT THEORY
(There is a piece in this collection, en-
titled “The Object Assumes an Ex-
alted Place in the Discourse,” that is a
A Norwegian master of the short story. sparkling riff on a phrase of Roland
Barthes’s.) And, like Davis, she can
BY JAMES WOOD produce stabs of emotion, unexpected
ghost notes of feeling, from pieces so
short and offbeat that they seem at first
like aborted arias. “Vitalie Meets an
Officer,” for instance, is about a woman,
Anna Bae, who likes reading biogra-
phies. Actually, I’ve made the story
sound more expansive than it is. It is
about a woman who comes across a
sentence, in a biography of Arthur Rim-
baud, about the poet’s mother, who was
named Vitalie: “Although Vitalie’s so-
cial life was confined to the church,
shopping, and occasional games of
whist, she somehow managed to meet
a French army officer in 1852.” The rest
of the story is about Anna’s delighted
response to this single sentence. “SOME-
HOW SHE MANAGED IT!” Anna thinks,
and the story continues:
Sometimes when you read, it’s like certain
sentences strike home and knock you flat. It’s
as if they say everything you have tried to say,
or tried to do, or everything you are. As a
rule, what you are is one simmering, endless
longing. And that was how this sentence struck
Anna Bae’s consciousness, like a quivering
arrow of truth. That said: it’s possible. To
meet a French army officer. Or simply to man-
age whatever it is you are longing for. That
seems impossible to manage. That blankets
you like destiny.

Anna imagines how Vitalie might have


ranslation can be a sluggish tri- readers can encounter fiction by Per met her officer. She thinks of a song by
T umph. It has taken thirteen years
for Gunnhild Øyehaug’s collection of
Petterson, Linn Ullmann, Dag Solstad
(three of his novels, jewels from a hoard
Nick Cave “(Are You) The One That
I’ve Been Waiting For,” then of Vitalie’s
stories, “Knots,” which first appeared of nearly thirty books, have been trans- longing, and how it lay “like a well-hid-
in Norwegian, to arrive in an English lated into English; more are promised), den egg in her chest and purred unseen
version (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; trans- Roy Jacobsen, Tor Ulven, Jon Fosse, with glorious, secret dreams.” Anna pic-
lated by Kari Dickson); Øyehaug is and Carl Frode Tiller, among others. tures this egg, and then the officer, and
forty-two, but the book represents her Gunnhild Øyehaug joins that group then a woman at a window. The story
début in this country. Contemporary at a slight angle—as a female (I just ends with the arrival of a U.F.O.—
Norwegian fiction is astonishingly vital enlisted a platoon of men, apart from which, on closer inspection (Anna goes
and various. If some of that vitality is Ullmann), a short-story writer and poet out into the fields to look at it), might
gradually becoming apparent to non- as well as a novelist, and a writer com- just be the green sofa she has been sit-
Norwegians, it’s partly because of the mitted to literary experiment. Her work ting on. The piece convincingly com-
success of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My is playful, often surreal, intellectually bines realism and an ethereal surreal-
Struggle,” which may have the effect rigorous, and brief. She sometimes re- ism; it flies up but stays tethered to that
of shortening the literary struggles of sembles Lydia Davis, who has read her first ingenuous burst of delight: “some-
a number of his peers. Anglophone in both Norwegian and English, and how SHE MANAGED IT!”
Øyehaug is intensely interested
Gunnhild Øyehaug loves to blend light with shade, wit with torment. in consciousness, and in the pictures
ILLUSTRATION BY JUN CEN THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 83
consciousness makes; this emphasis lessness might be “The Deer at the Edge match between Serena Williams and
constantly humanizes her experiments of the Forest,” a page-long paragraph Anna Kournikova, and the man thinks,
in abstraction and the fantastical. Her that daringly inhabits an animal’s con- “The very fact that I’m recording the
riff on the line from Barthes—“the ob- sciousness. Again, the literary dangers match and not watching it live is the
ject in discourse assumes an exalted are obvious enough—whimsy, sentimen- start of the virtuous circle that buying
place,” from his “Writing Degree tality, grating eccentricity—and again the blinds was going to start, and what’s
Zero”—could easily have been precious they are short-circuited by Øyehaug’s more, I’ve come here and no one—that’s
or tedious, or otherwise annoying. But appealing, vigorous simplicity: to say, my wife—knows that I’m here.”
Øyehaug proceeds with a simplicity The narrator clings to this detail, re-
The deer stood at the edge of the forest and
and a frankness that quickly charm. was miserable. He felt like there was no point turning to it in the way that Thomas
“We carefully study a sentence we love,” in anything, like he might as well give up. I Bernhard’s narrators (or, closer to home,
she writes, and then goes on to quote walk around here, day in and day out, the deer Knut Hamsun’s) roll the same torment-
Barthes’s own words. But what is “the thought, and there’s no one who sees me. Am ing phrases back and forth, like stress
object”? Her narrator insists on visu- I invisible, or what? He didn’t think so. I walk balls that have morphed into stress gre-
around here and could change people’s lives if
alizing it. She imagines a sailing green they could only see me, but no one sees me. nades. When, a few pages later, we trip
prism, and thinks of “Blade Runner” Here I am, a hart, and no one cares. The whole across another mention of that “virtu-
and “the small flying cars that Harri- point is that I am supposed to be difficult to ous circle,” we have a fairly good idea
son Ford uses”: “It is absolutely no sur- see, I know that, I am supposed to roam around that this man’s circle is vicious rather
prise that at this point we have the pic- in the forest and not be seen. But it’s the very than virtuous. Some kind of depressive
premise of my life that is now making me mis-
ture of a luminous green prism sailing erable. I want to be seen. So here I am at the stasis has befallen him; he imagines his
in through the dark and taking an ex- edge of the forest. I am open to being seen, to wife, standing at home, crying, “because
alted place on our retina, a bit like when being shot. If someone doesn’t see me soon, she thinks that I can’t breathe, that she
you’ve been staring too hard at a lamp I’m going to do something drastic, I mean it. is smothering me, which is why I can’t
on the ceiling and then close your eyes! Right now it feels like I’m trapped in deerness. face doing anything, why I sit on the
Oh, I would love to change everything, be some-
How strange, we think, that a sentence one else, something completely different. sofa for most of the day and watch TV
that was written to explain an aspect and feel that I’m turning into an old
of modern poetry can have roughly the This might be a sly commentary on Ril- man and that life, in short, is over.”
same effect on our imagination as sci- ke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” in The story is delicate because the
ence fiction.” “The Object Assumes an which the poet tries to enter an alien, in- drama of the man’s entrapment, de-
Exalted Place in the Discourse” is com- accessible consciousness, and concludes, spite his repetitive, educated verbosity,
pact, just over two pages, and perfect: “You must change your life.” What Rilke seems to allow for only very limited
it makes gentle fun of French theory’s makes explicit is here kept beautifully self-knowledge. As he enters IKEA, he
more sublime pretensions while simul- implicit: do we treat this as a deer think- trips and falls on the stairs, and is seen
taneously paying Barthes’s lyrical work ing, or as a person merely projecting by two laughing teen-age girls. In a
the lyrical tribute it deserves. It is cir- her troubled thoughts onto the deer? distinctly Øyehaugean touch, we get a
cular and self-reflexively postmodern— reflection on Baudelaire’s theory of
Øyehaug’s text enacts what Barthes ovely as these brief texts are, Øye- laughter: namely, that it is never the
theorizes, exalting an “object” that is
itself just a sentence—while also reg-
L haug is at her most captivating in
her longer, slightly more conventional
person who falls in the street who
laughs but the person who witnesses
istering some brief flash of conscious- pieces, where she uses a kind of tightly the accident—unless, she writes, “the
ness, some small explosion of longing, controlled, repetitive dramatic mono- person who falls is a philosopher and
that, like Anna Bae’s discovery in Rim- logue to animate a character’s inner tor- able to reflect on his fall, able to see
baud’s biography, seems true to our ments. “Nice and Mild” and “Two by himself from the outside. You laugh a
own experience of passionate reading: Two,” the stories that begin and end little. You reflect on your fall, and laugh
jouissance, to be precise. this collection, are like sparks thrown a little.” It is characteristic of Øyehaug’s
Øyehaug succeeds, more often than off by a furious wheel of suffering. In nice sense of irony and human com-
not, by staying focussed on the object both pieces, we are in the midst of do- plexity that our protagonist is at once
of her inquiry. Having established her mestic anguish, as experienced by a something of a philosopher and not
thought experiment, her area of study—a troubled protagonist, and must do our philosopher enough: he can see him-
woman reading a biography, an actor best to catch up. In “Nice and Mild,” self from outside, but only at this mo-
about to walk onto the stage for a one- an unnamed male narrator has come ment; he opens one door just to find
man avant-garde play (“Compulsion”), to IKEA to buy blinds for his son’s bed- another, this one apparently locked.
a man buying blinds at IKEA (“Nice and room. It soon becomes clear that this “Two by Two” is written in the third
Mild”), a girl trying to avoid playing the is an arduous project, one that has been person, but it occupies its protagonist’s
piano for her oppressively doting grand- deferred for at least six months. Some- mind so intently that it resembles a
father (“Overtures”)—she presses down thing is wrong with this obsessive and fierce dramatic monologue. Edel, a book-
on the exquisite dilemma, and fearlessly astoundingly unconfident man. A clue seller in a rural community, is waiting
follows the logic of the form she has may be found in a particular detail: at up for her husband to return. It is al-
chosen. The best example of this fear- home, the DVR is recording a tennis most one in the morning, and snowing.
84 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017
Edel is furious, because she thinks that
her husband, Alvin, who should have
been home forty minutes ago, is visit- BRIEFLY NOTED
ing his mistress. (She’s right.) Full of
rage and revenge, she gathers up their Life in Code, by Ellen Ullman (MCD). This “personal history
sleeping son and sets out in her car to of technology” by a novelist and former computer program-
confront the errant spouse. All this is mer presents a unique perspective on software, the people who
familiar enough, the ground rail for a write it, and the world it has created. Ullman recounts strug-
lot of conventional fictional traffic. But gles to define herself in the boys’-club atmosphere of technol-
Øyehaug, as ever, does fresh things with ogy companies and to come to terms with the implications of
convention. Edel has been taking courses her work. Her most trenchant critiques concern the social val-
in English literature at a local college ues inherent in the “mesh of code that envelops human life.”
and, in particular, has been enjoying Whether considering the atomistic culture of the Internet, the
“Symbolism in Literature,” which has mechanistic philosophy of mind prevalent in the field of A.I.,
convinced her that modern readers are or the “algorithms of the wealthy” that control the movement
too quick to disdain symbolism as “an- of capital, she is generally skeptical about technology. She
tiquated, romantic thought.” On the hopes to show “that code has biases, that programs are writ-
contrary, “she believed that something ten by human beings and can be changed by human beings.”
could stand for something else, a rose
for love, an ocean for life, a cross for Behave, by Robert M. Sapolsky (Penguin Press). This mammoth
death.” Now, however, as she drives to- study by a neuroendocrinologist and MacArthur Fellow ex-
ward the place where she assumes her amines our capacity for both good and evil from an evolu-
husband is, she’s irritated by some vul- tionary perspective. Considering topics as diverse as My Lai,
garly obvious symbolism: only her side honor killings, and mother-infant bonding in rhesus mon-
of the road has been cleared of snow, keys, Sapolsky argues against a hard distinction between psy-
and she immediately thinks, “Is that chology and biology: “Brains and cultures coevolve.” “The
how it is, is that what this means, is his pulling of a trigger or the touching of an arm,” he writes, can
path closed, will he not come back?” be understood only through the intersection of neuron con-
Øyehaug loves to mix her elements: struction, brain chemistry, evolution, childhood environment,
she is always dabbing light onto shade, and societal structure. The book is, at heart, a rejection of easy
blending wit with torment, driving to- conclusions. Sapolsky sees human biology not as determina-
gether bookishness and life. (Her work tive but as a field of “potentials, vulnerabilities, predispositions,
is itself highly bookish, but also in- proclivities, interactions.”
tensely life-filled.) So she has some fun
with Edel and her ambivalence toward Fly Me, by Daniel Riley (Little, Brown). Suzy Whitman, the
literary symbolism, even as she refuses protagonist of this début novel, set in Southern California in
to turn away from Edel’s acute pain. 1972, is a smart recent Vassar grad turned air hostess. After
And she has another joke in store. Alvin, someone hides cocaine in her carry-on, she gets caught up in
on his guilt-racked way back to his a drug-trafficking scheme, just as there is an uptick in sky-
wife, pulls off the road, leaves the car, jackings. Born a year too early for coed matriculation at Yale,
and lies in the snow. This is where Edel “she was never exactly where she was convinced she should
eventually finds him, and as she be- be,” and soon she is yearning to be a pilot. Riley conjures a
rates him in the expected ways—“You Technicolor vision of seventies California and casts Suzy’s
little shit . . . we’re finished”—Alvin ambition as a feminist quest for self-determination. Her ex-
cuts in with an excuse: his car has bro- ploits build to a climax that suggests the book’s title is not so
ken down, and that’s why he is so late; much an invitation as a challenge.
he’s been stuck here for nearly an hour.
It’s an obvious lie, but the car really The Purple Swamp Hen, by Penelope Lively (Viking). The sto-
won’t start. Alvin may have saved his ries in this collection by the noted British novelist, now in her
bacon; the marriage may live another mid-eighties, take the long view of life. Many of the charac-
day; against all ethical odds, the lie ters are elderly and reckoning with the past: a narrator has
worked. Or: an invention, a fiction, lunch with the woman for whom her (recently dead) ex-husband
mysteriously became “true,” and did so left her, decades earlier; a couple almost broaches the long-
because Øyehaug wittily decided to undiscussed subject of the death of their small son; the bird of
disable the car and thus spare her char- the title, a resident of ancient Pompeii, recalls the debauched
acters the divorce furnace. The sym- days before the eruption of Vesuvius. Covering pregnancy, birth,
bol, now appearing as authorial sleight love, and death, the stories are compact yet often novelistic in
of hand, determines the rest of the story. scope, deftly alighting on the seemingly trivial moments that
Trust the teller, not the tale.  determine the direction of relationships and lives.
THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 85
blower named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig),
THE CURRENT CINEMA the only hitch being that he’s in jail. No
problem. Clyde gets himself arrested,

HAPPY RETURNS
by driving briskly through the window
of a store, and thrown into the same
prison. He and Joe must break out for
“Logan Lucky” and “Marjorie Prime.” the day, hook up with Jimmy, pull off
the theft, and break back in without
BY ANTHONY LANE being missed. All of which sounds wacky
enough, but is it simpleminded?
he good news about the new her clients that he doesn’t like cell That question meanders through
T Steven Soderbergh film, “Logan
Lucky,” is that, although it’s about a
phones. “You one of those Unabomber
types?” she asks. Jimmy also has a
“Logan Lucky.” What we have here is
a filmmaker of proven liberal creden-
heist, it contains not a single person brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who tials (a few years ago, he made a two-
named Ocean. George Clooney in a lost half an arm in Iraq. Despite being, part, four-and-a-half-hour bio-pic of
well-pressed suit, his bons mots tum- in physical terms, the least plausible Che Guevara) addressing himself to a
bling like dice, is never going to be an siblings since Danny DeVito and Ar- patch of America where those creden-
eyesore, but even the proudest Las nold Schwarzenegger, in “Twins” (1988), tials don’t mean jack. Such is the mer-
Vegan will have tired of the spectacle Jimmy and Clyde are conjoined in riment of the new movie, and so spir-
by now. That explains why Soderbergh, mental sloth. In the words of one on- ited is its pace, that you barely notice
the wavering of the tone. On the one
hand, Soderbergh and his screenwriter,
Rebecca Blunt, set up various charac-
ters as ninepins—folks like Joe’s broth-
ers, Fish and Sam, played so broadly
by Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, and
with such raw redneckery, that they’re
begging to be knocked down. Roll up,
the movie cries, watch the hicks toss
toilet seats instead of horseshoes! Lis-
ten to them mangle the lingo of the
modern age! (“All the Twitters, I know
’em.” “I looked it up on the Google.”)
Soderbergh reinforces this overkill with
leering closeups; we’re crotch-side with
Joe as he does pushups in his cell, and
Clyde slides a cocktail so near to the
lens that he might as well be offering
Adam Driver and Channing Tatum star in Steven Soderbergh’s heist movie. the cameraman a swig.
On the other hand, check out race
who directed “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) looker, “You Logans must be as sim- day—which, wouldn’t you know it, hap-
and its two sequels, begins the latest pleminded as people say.” pens to be heist day, too. Some of the
movie with so sweaty a statement of Yet the movie doesn’t always bear speedway footage was shot live during
intent: Channing Tatum, busy with his out that verdict. For one thing, the the Coca-Cola 600, one of the premier
tools, under the hood of a truck. Sit- brothers show a casual proficiency that Nascar events of the year, and Soder-
ting nearby is his young daughter, Sadie borders on cool. Clyde pours drinks, bergh doesn’t just give us the hullaba-
(Farrah Mackenzie), who passes him with a conjurer’s grace, at a local bar; loo that surrounds it. He gives it to us
the wrenches that he needs. Caesars Jimmy takes off his hard hat and skims straight. As LeAnn Rimes sings “Amer-
Palace seems a long way off. it backhanded into a storage locker, ica the Beautiful” and fighter jets fly in
Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, who yards away, like 007 tossing his trilby formation above, all the spectators (bar-
lives in Boone County, West Virginia, onto a hat stand. Then there’s the plan. ring Joe Bang, who needs to stay in-
and drives an excavator at the mine. In Jimmy’s kitchen is what Clyde de- cognito) bare their heads, and you can
As befits a lover of country music, he scribes as “a robbery to-do list,” the idea feel the film following suit, as you can
has an ex-wife named Bobbie Jo (Katie being to steal a cornucopia of cash from when Sadie, shimmering with hair-
Holmes), who wears a fringed white the Charlotte Motor Speedway, in Con- spray and fake tan, carols a John Den-
top and rhinestone-studded jeans, and cord, North Carolina—or, more pre- ver song at a beauty pageant, with her
a sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), who cisely, to suck the cash from a vault be- audience crooning along. What Soder-
works as a hairdresser. Stopping by neath the track, through a network of bergh implies at such moments is that
Mellie’s salon, Jimmy admits to one of tubes. The boys enlist the aid of a safe- for countless Americans this is the life,
86 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 ILLUSTRATION BY MARK TODD
and that you mock it at your peril. And meat. Not all of them succeed. Seth has chosen to have him return as an
yet, elsewhere, the movie points and MacFarlane isn’t much funnier or more earlier self, thus setting an immediate
snorts. When historians come to tell believable as a British racing driver moral test: if you could summon up
the tale of the Trumpian epoch, and of than Don Cheadle was as a British those you have loved and lost, at what
confused cultural attitudes toward the thief in the “Ocean’s” saga; whatever stage would you capture them? In their
heartland, “Logan Lucky” will be part strange fixation Soderbergh has on heyday? Or as they were in yours?
of the evidence. Cockneys, or fake Cockneys, should Almereyda’s movie, adapted from a
Then again, many people will leave be laid to rest. But Katherine Water- stage play by Jordan Harrison, is tech-
the cinema with nothing more pro- ston does wonders with a brief role as nically science fiction, picking through
found—or more enjoyable—than the Sylvia, a woman who went to high the thorny issues of identity that grew
image of Daniel Craig, adorned with school with Jimmy and wound up as in “Blade Runner,” yet it looks only
a garish blond buzz cut that makes his a medic. In a few minutes, she gives lightly futuristic. We never find out
blue eyes madder than ever. In jail, he you a hint of the startling ways in which how you order a Prime, or whether it’s
wears a traditional inmate’s uniform, lives can peel apart and come together just the well-to-do who can afford one;
with black and white stripes. Asked by again, and she sets Jimmy thinking. will the poor continue to mourn as be-
Clyde and Jimmy how it’s going when He and Clyde used to fear a Logan fore? At one point, we gather that Mar-
they pay a visit, Joe replies, “I’m sitting family curse, but their exploits here— jorie herself must have passed away, be-
on the other side of the table wearing not the plunder alone but the patent cause it’s a reboot of her—not younger,
a onesie. How d’you think it’s going?” elixir of hope, savvy, and silliness— but more kempt—who chats with her
The laugh that met this line when I break the spell. daughter, the sorrowful Tess (Geena
saw the movie seemed to unlock its Davis), politely asking for details of the
good cheer, and so liberated does Craig f you are feeling especially dumb, or departed Marjorie, so as to become a
appear, on a hollering vacation from
his stern-visaged duties as James Bond,
IPrime.”
hungover, steer clear of “Marjorie
Michael Almereyda’s film is so
more accurate copy. (“I’m vain?” “A lit-
tle.” “That’s helpful.”) Then we have
that his mood exalts the whole enter- subtly smart, and veiled in such layers Tess’s husband, Jon (Tim Robbins),
prise. “I’m about to get nekkid,” Joe says, of suggestion, that you need to be on fond of his Scotch; we wonder whether
sprawled on the rear seat of a Mustang your toes from the beginning. he, in turn, will bring forth a substitute
V-8, and he takes great joy in cooking In a beautiful house by the sea, an Tess, once she is no more, and whether,
up explosives from gummy bears and elderly woman, Marjorie (Lois Smith), like all the humans in the movie, he
bleach. Soderbergh refuses to get wonk- talks to a more youthful man, named will be tempted to arrange for an im-
ish about the crime; he drops in a few Walter ( Jon Hamm). He sits erect on proved or happier model. “Marjorie
rum details—for what possible pur- the couch, unflappable and neatly Prime” could use a trim, as some of the
pose, you wonder, is Mellie painting groomed, like Don Draper crossed with exchanges linger too long, but Mica
live cockroaches with nail polish?— a robot; there’s something not quite Levi, who worked on “Under the Skin”
and stands back, as if to say, Let the right about him, and it’s only at the end (2013) and “Jackie” (2016), contributes
games begin. of the scene that the something be- another searching score, and the film,
Once they’re done, we get a late comes clear. As Marjorie brushes past with its coastal haze and its fickle gusts
twist that I failed to understand, plus him, she walks through his shoes as if of rain, is likely to lodge in your mem-
some wary sleuthing from an F.B.I. they weren’t there at all. And they’re ory. Or, as it will soon be called, your
agent (Hilary Swank). Neither addi- not. Walter is a Prime—a computer pro- hard drive. 
tion is necessary, but, then, “Logan gram, providing a 3-D facsimile of a de-
Lucky” delights in superfluities; it’s ceased person. In this case, the true Wal- NEWYORKER.COM
more about the trimmings than the ter was Marjorie’s late husband, and she Richard Brody blogs about movies.

THE NEW YORKER IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF ADVANCE MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS INC. COPYRIGHT ©2017 CONDÉ NAST. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.

VOLUME XCIII, NO. 25, August 28, 2017. THE NEW YORKER (ISSN 0028792X) is published weekly (except for five combined issues: February 13 & 20, June 5 & 12, July 10 & 17,
August 7 & 14, and December 18 & 25) by Condé Nast, which is a division of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. PRINCIPAL OFFICE: Condé Nast, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007.
Elizabeth Hughes, chief business officer; Risa Aronson, vice-president, revenue; James Guilfoyle, executive director of finance and business operations; Fabio Bertoni, general counsel.
Condé Nast: S. I. Newhouse, Jr., chairman emeritus; Robert A. Sauerberg, Jr., president & chief executive officer; David E. Geithner, chief financial officer; James M. Norton, chief business
officer, president of revenue. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. 123242885-RT0001.

POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO THE NEW YORKER, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684. FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS, ADDRESS CHANGES, ADJUSTMENTS, OR BACK
ISSUE INQUIRIES: Please write to The New Yorker, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684, call (800) 825-2510, or e-mail subscriptions@newyorker.com. Please give both new and old addresses as
printed on most recent label. Subscribers: If the Post Office alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within one year. If during
your subscription term or up to one year after the magazine becomes undeliverable, you are ever dissatisfied with your subscription, let us know. You will receive a full refund on all unmailed issues. First
copy of new subscription will be mailed within four weeks after receipt of order. For advertising inquiries, please call Risa Aronson at (212) 286-4068. For submission guidelines, please refer to our Web
site, www.newyorker.com. Address all editorial, business, and production correspondence to The New Yorker, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. For cover reprints, please call (800) 897-8666,
or e-mail covers@cartoonbank.com. For permissions and reprint requests, please call (212) 630-5656 or fax requests to (212) 630-5883. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the consent
of The New Yorker. The New Yorker’s name and logo, and the various titles and headings herein, are trademarks of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Visit us online at www.newyorker.com. To sub-
scribe to other Condé Nast magazines, visit www.condenast.com. Occasionally, we make our subscriber list available to carefully screened companies that offer products and services that we believe would
interest our readers. If you do not want to receive these offers and/or information, please advise us at P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684 or call (800) 825-2510.

THE NEW YORKER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RETURN OR LOSS OF, OR FOR DAMAGE OR ANY OTHER INJURY TO, UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS,
UNSOLICITED ART WORK (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND TRANSPARENCIES), OR ANY OTHER UNSOLICITED
MATERIALS. THOSE SUBMITTING MANUSCRIPTS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ART WORK, OR OTHER MATERIALS FOR CONSIDERATION SHOULD NOT SEND
ORIGINALS, UNLESS SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED TO DO SO BY THE NEW YORKER IN WRITING.

THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 28, 2017 87


CARTOON CAPTION CONTEST

Each week, we provide a cartoon in need of a caption. You, the reader, submit a caption, we choose
three finalists, and you vote for your favorite. Caption submissions for this week’s cartoon, by Benjamin Schwartz,
must be received by Sunday, August 27th. The finalists in the August 7th & 14th contest appear below. We will
announce the winner, and the finalists in this week’s contest, in the September 11th issue. Anyone age thirteen or
older can enter or vote. To do so, and to read the complete rules, visit contest.newyorker.com.

THIS WEEK’S CONTEST

“ ”
..........................................................................................................................

THE FINALISTS THE WINNING CAPTION

“This all started with the Fancy Feast.”


Rob Gregory, Chicago, Ill.

“Maybe it’s time we had a kid.” “Should we try that new place in the corner?”
John Lammers, Baldwinsville, N.Y. Gary Borislow, Johns Creek, Ga.

“His videos bought this house. He deserves a little respect.”


Tom Trottier, Ottawa, Ont.