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NOV. 7, 2016

NOVEMBER 7, 2016

4 GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN


15 THE TALK OF THE TOWN

Amy Davidson on the WikiLeaks e-mails;


Hindus for Trump; Laura Dern; a shelter in Paris;
James Surowiecki on the fate of the C.E.O.
PERSONAL HISTORY

Dianne Belfrey

20

Adrift
A Brooklyn love story.

Megan Amram

27

Trumps American Girl Dolls

Jiayang Fan

28

The Emperors New Museum


The largest private art collection in China.

Kelefa Sanneh

34

The Moral Minority


An anti-Trump pastor in a pro-Trump church.

Barry Blitt

44

A Little Context, Please!

Rebecca Mead

46

Lost Time
When Kenneth Lonergan took on Hollywood.

T. Coraghessan Boyle

56

Are We Not Men?

SHOUTS & MURMURS

LETTER FROM SHANGHAI

ANNALS OF RELIGION

SKETCHBOOK

ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS

FICTION

THE CRITICS
ON TELEVISION

Emily Nussbaum

64

The unlikely feminist of Fox News.

Caleb Crain
Joshua Rothman

67
71
72

The case against democracy.


Briey Noted
Your neighbor the Trump supporter.

Alex Ross

76

Rossinis William Tell at the Met.

Peter Schjeldahl

78

Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breuer.

Hilton Als

80

Gay reflections on the stage.

Anthony Lane

82

Hacksaw Ridge, Loving.

Ocean Vuong
Adrienne Su

51
61

BOOKS

MUSICAL EVENTS

THE ART WORLD

THE THEATRE

THE CURRENT CINEMA

POEMS

Scavengers
The Lazy Susan
COVER

Bruce McCall

Glass Houses

DRAWINGS Paul Noth, Edward Steed, John Klossner, Will McPhail, Seth Fleishman,
Drew Dernavich, Ken Krimstein, Harry Bliss, Tom Toro, Peter Kuper, P. C. Vey, Roz
Chast, Tom Cheney, David Sipress, William Haefeli, Michael Crawford, Jack Ziegler
SPOTS Christoph Abbrederis
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

CONTRIBUTORS
Kelefa Sanneh (The Moral Minority,

Emily Nussbaum (On Television, p. 64)


won this years Pulitzer Prize for criticism. She has been the magazines television critic since 2011.

Caleb Crain (Books, p. 67) writes ction

Amy Davidson (Comment, p. 15), a staf

and nonction. Necessary Errors is


his rst novel.

p. 34) is a staf writer.

writer, is a regular contributor to Comment. She also writes a column for


newyorker.com.

Dianne Belfrey (Adrift, p. 20) is a mem-

Jiayang Fan (The Emperors New Mu-

Adrienne Su (Poem, p. 61) has pub-

seum, p. 28) became a New Yorker staf


writer earlier this year.

lished four books of poems, including, most recently, Living Quarters.


She teaches at Dickinson College, in
Pennsylvania.

Lauren Collins (The Talk of the Town,

p. 18) is the author of When in French:


Love in a Second Language, which
was published in September.

ber of the magazines editorial staf.

T. Coraghessan Boyle (Fiction, p. 56) is

the author of sixteen novels, including


The Terranauts, which came out in
October.

Rebecca Mead (Lost Time, p. 46) has


been a staf writer since 1997. My Life
in Middlemarch is her latest book.

Joshua Rothman (Books, p. 72), the mag-

Megan Amram (Shouts & Murmurs,

azines archive editor, often writes about


culture for newyorker.com.

p. 27), the author of the humor book


Science . . . for Her!, is currently writing for the television shows The Good
Place and Transparent.

Bruce McCall (Cover) is working on an


illustrated book about creativity. Marveltown is one of his many books.

INTERACTIVE

Where should you go to eat after


a morning at the Met? Let our handy
map be your guide.

VIDEO
Our new series covering arts and
culture eventslike Lady Bunnys
racy show at the Stonewall Inn.

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2

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

JAMES POMERANTZ (PHOTOGRAPH); EMILY RHYNE

GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN ONLINE


Our guide to the citys best in culture, at newyorker.com/go.

THE MAIL
AMERICAN UTOPIAS

Akash Kapurs essay on utopias and


the recent spate of books that focus
on them felt strikingly relevant, despite the fact that the whole notion
of utopia is predicated on its rarity
(Couldnt Be Better, October 3rd).
The question the piece inspired in me
was whether America itself is a utopia. Founded on the dreams of the
dispossessed, in many ways it is. Democracy is, after all, just a theory,
adapted and adopted from past civilizations, most notably Greece and
Rome. It was molded by religious fundamentalists, the early colonists, who
were fed up with the loose interpretation of Protestantism by the Church
of England and sailed across the Atlantic to have it their own way. This
year, the cracks and ssures in the
American experiment have become
more visible, thanks to angry rhetoric and nger-pointing. Opinions still
vary about whether the country ever
had a singular identity to begin with.
Alexis de Tocqueville described early
America as a curiositya fascinating
and fragile venture. Perhaps we need
to be reminded of that, in spite of the
fear-mongering that has brought it to
our attention.
Martin L. Jacobs
Venice Beach, Calif.
Kapur wonders how utopian movements of the past might ofer guidance for a grand new moment of
social reform. But he does not adequately consider Americas most radical, widespread, and inuential utopian moment: the communal back-tothe- land movement of the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Between
1967 and 1975, in particular, thousands
of utopian experiments sprang up nationwide. Like utopian experiments
in earlier eras, most folded quickly,
but the movement had a profound
inuence on todays world. Its idealistic participants and their cultural
descendants are the driving force
behind everything from the organic

farmers market kale you had for lunch


to municipal recycling and composting programs. Theres a tendency to
imagine that, when a utopia fails,
the ideals of its participants vanish,
too. Most utopians of the seventies
retreated not into cynicism, as the
cynical story often goes, but into practicality, with their ideals intact. Many
moved away from free love and communal households and embraced the
nuclear family, but they kept working as organic farmers, social-justice
activists, and environmentalists. Forty
years on, were only just starting to
recognize the profound impact of
their shift from the utopian to the
practical. As Kapur puts it, this is
not a path for the impatient, but it
has the verdict of history on its side.
Kate Daloz
Brooklyn, N.Y.
I was struck by Kapurs thesis that
utopians had been seeking an interruption of what may seem like the
ineluctable march of history. Although this may have been the case
for the architects of the small-scale
intentional communities he writes
about, it was for the opposite reason
that some of historys grander utopian projectslike Communism
were so avowedly anti-human. Utopians had a tendency to believe that
the society they were crafting would
actually be the nal product of the
ineluctable march of history. The ultimate destination was the only thing
that mattered; human lives couldnt
alter it. The fundamental inhumanity of the journey toward utopia is
that one must cross rivers of blood to
reach it, yet the destination remains
stubbornly out of reach.
George Tomlinson
Aarhus, Denmark

Letters should be sent with the writers name,


address, and daytime phone number via e-mail to
themail@newyorker.com. Letters may be edited
for length and clarity, and may be published in
any medium. We regret that owing to the volume
of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

NOVEMBER 2 8, 2016

GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN

The love that the sensational Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga share as Richard and Mildred Loving, in the
director Jef Nicholss astonishing Loving, is palpable, and it frames the landmark 1967 case that nullied
laws banning interracial marriage. This intimate movie, like the current lm Moonlight, paves the way
for a new kind of American cinemaserious but not ideological, and reective of the diversity that has
always gone into the making of that complicated character otherwise known as America.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAEME MITCHELL

NIGHT LIFE
1
New and Improved

ILLUSTRATION BY CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

Goings On About Town gets a new look online.

Goings On About Town has been part of


The New Yorker since Harold Ross produced
the first issue of the magazine, in February,
1925. For a time, Goings On was subtitled
A Conscientious Calendar of Events
Worth Whileand thats still exactly what
it is.
The section was conceived as a compendium of witty, incisive commentary on the
best of New York Citys cultural offerings.
To this day, Goings On continues its tradition of astute, snappy previews and critical reviews of theatre, art, classical music,
rock, pop, jazz, cabaret, dance, movies,
restaurants, and barsand, in Above &
Beyond, the quirkier events around town
that are difficult to categorize, and all the
more intriguing for it.
The New Yorker remains one of the few
publications to cover the breadth of the
citys cultural events in detail, with scores
of comprehensive reviews. And, since technology has dramatically altered the way we
get our information, were launching a completely redesigned Goings On About Town
section, retooled and streamlined for optimal viewing on desktop computers as well
as on mobile devices. We think this will do
a better job of bringing our dynamic content to your fingertipsand helping you
decide which real-world experiences are
worth turning from your devices for.
New features include a revolving display
of spotlight articles curated by Goings On
editors, grids of listings based on category,
a Goings On About Town video series, and
an interactive map of events, navigated by
category or by neighborhood. Sign up for
the new Goings On newsletter to receive
editors lists of where to go and what to do.
With an eye toward both tradition and
the cutting edge, Goings On About Town
is timed to inform the reader about all the
great stuff happening just around the corner, but its much more than a calendar of
eventsits an arts primer and a piquant
snapshot of the days culture scene.
We invite you to check out the new
Goings On About Town online.
David Remnick

ROCK AND POP


Musicians and night-club proprietors lead
complicated lives; its advisable to check
in advance to conirm engagements.

Beach House
The surprise album drop, having become a standard of popular music, is taken one step further
by some more ambitious camps, such as the Baltimore dream-pop mainstays Beach House. Last
year, the duo unveiled their beguiling fifth album,
Depression Cherry, and, less than two months
later, followed it with another winsome collection of songs, titled Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Dont let the groups rapid-fire release schedule
fool you, howeverthey spend ample time finetuning the harmonious interplay between twinkling guitars, synthesizer-driven soundscapes, and
Victoria Legrands spine-tingling vocals, never
dictating too strictly where a song may go next.
Trance is a big part of our thing, the multiinstrumentalist Alex Scally told Pitchfork last
year. A trance-y energy is how we write, and its
not a drug thing. Well repeat a part for three
hours while we wait for the next piece to fall into
place. At this Kings Theatre performance, audiences will be entranced by a career-spanning
set of the pairs beloved cuts. (1027 Flatbush Ave.,
Brooklyn. 800-745-3000. Nov. 3.)
Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival
The irony of an electronic-music festival in Brooklyn addressing gentrification is ripe for parody.
The New York native Frankie Bones brought rave
culture to the boroughs in 1991, when he held his
first Storm Rave in Flatbush; the neighborhood
remained more or less the same after the party was
over, up to around nine years ago. If the panels
billed alongside this two-weekend festivalnow
in its ninth yearallow for self-reflection, they
might include a discussion of how such scenes of
leisure have altered the working-class communities theyve infiltrated. But if dancings more your
thing its as good a chance as any to hear Benji B,
FaltyDL, Silent Servant, Chino Amobi, and others
play excellent club sets. (Various locations. brooklynemf.com. Nov. 4-13.)
Forma
One of the more urbane groups to emerge from
the Brooklyn underground, this analog synth act
has traditionally crafted minimal kraut instrumentals that could pass for the soundtrack to a vintage episode of Nova. But on their new album,
Physicalist, presented as a sumptuous double
LP by the Chicago label Kranky, the trio veers between classic krautrock and sonic territory generally associated with the New Age movement.
The first half of the record features the buttery
arpeggiated synthesizers and pulsing drum machines that Forma is known for, but as the record
advances listeners are treated to soothing psychedelic drones and a piano composition reminiscent of the early-twentieth-century spiritualist and composer G. I. Gurdjieff. Thats no reason
to be intimidated; this is perhaps the most dinnerparty-friendly electronic music released all year,
and youd be smart to join Forma this week as they
support the longtime New York psychedelic elec-

tronic group Silver Apples. (Good Room, 98 Meserole Ave., Brooklyn. 718-349-2373. Nov. 2.)

Porches
In New York, theres a form of depression that may
be cured only by a long sulk around town. These
aimless strolls demand a soundtrack by someone
whos walked the same pavementsay, Arthur Russells outsider melancholia on World of Echo, or
the more dejected corners of Lou Reeds solo oeuvre. Porches, the brainchild of Aaron Maine, has
joined this storied lineage. The depths of introspection in his downcast pop are softened by occasional nods to New York dance music; you can
almost hear Maine swatting away the stray hand
claps and disco cowbells on a new song, Mood,
with his morose lyrics, I dont know what Id do,
but I dont want to be here. He performs at this
wooden-walled venue attached to the Greenpoint
Polish National Home. (Warsaw, 261 Driggs Ave.,
Brooklyn. 718-387-0505. Nov. 3.)

1
JAZZ AND STANDARDS
Ann Hampton Callaway
Her acclaimed 2014 album, From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project, paid tribute to
a major influence, but the veteran vocalist is resolutely her own woman. Getting a jump start on the
holidays, Callaway has just released The Hope
of Christmas, which includes examples of her
original songwriting, another personal passion.
(Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. 212-581-3080. Nov. 1-5.)
Chick Corea
Coreas Three Quartets band harks back to his 1981
classical-jazz-fusion recording of the same name,
which featured the saxophonist Michael Brecker,
who died in 2007. His replacement is Ben Solomon, but the original rhythm team of the drummer Steve Gadd and the bassist Eddie Gomez is
still intact. The week concludes with Coreas Leprechaun band, which expands the earlier quartet
with the inclusion of additional horns and Coreas
wife, Gayle Moran, on vocals. (Blue Note, 131
W. 3rd St. 212-475-8592. Nov. 2-5.)
Charlie Haden Jazz Liberation Orchestra
Haden, the master bassist and openhearted jazz
spirit, died in 2014, but his Jazz Liberation Orchestra lives on under the direction of his invaluable
collaborator, the composer, arranger, conductor,
and pianist Carla Bley. The bands deeply expressive new album, Time/Life (featuring two live
recordings with Haden in tow), showcases the exhilarating soloists who strengthen the core of this
still vital ensemble. (Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St.
212-576-2232. Nov. 3-6.)
Renee Rosnes
As demonstrated on her current Written on the
Rocks recording, composition has become as important as instrumental invention for Rosnes, a
gifted pianist, who, after paying dues with such titanic modernists as Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, has stepped firmly into the role of assured
bandleader. Shes joined by such key collaborators as the vibraphonist Steve Nelson and the
bassist Peter Washington. (Village Vanguard, 178
Seventh Ave. S., at 11th St. 212-255-4037. Nov. 1-6.)
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

ART

Labor Intensive
The art of work, at the Queens Museum.
near the top of the list of inspired
manifestosFuturism, Dada, De Stijl
is Mierle Laderman Ukeless littleknown Maintenance Art. As a rsttime mother in 1969, she grew frustrated by the schism between her
domestic life, with its boredoms and
joys, and her identity as a New York
artist. (She later said, I learned that
Jackson [Pollock], Marcel [Duchamp]
and Mark [Rothko] didnt change diapers.) She channelled her feelings in
four typewritten pages, pointing out a
double standard; namely, that repetition
and systems were considered rigorous
in the context of the avant-garde, but
dismissed as drudgery when it came to
maintenance workers or housewives.
One choice excerpt: After the revolution, whos going to pick up the garbage
on Monday morning?
The manifesto is currently framed on
a wall at the Queens Museum, where it
introduces a revelatory survey of Ukeless
ve-decade career. (Also on view are
6

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

sculptures, drawings, photographs, installations, studies for unrealized projects,


and a deluge of documentation.) For
maximum impact, visit the show on a
Saturday, when a mirror-covered New
York City garbage truck is parked, during
museum hours, between the east side of
the building and the Unisphere in Flushing MeadowsCorona Park. The vehicle
is also an art workwhat Duchamp
would have called an assisted readymadeembellished by Ukeles in 1983,
with the help of the New York City Department of Sanitation, where she has
been the oicial (and unpaid) artist-inresidence since 1977.
In 1976, Ukeles invited three hundred custodial workers in one Wall
Street building to dedicate an hour of
their eight-hour shifts to perform their
duties as art, instead of as labor. (The
Polaroids she took of the participants
ll an impressive wall of the museum
in Queens.) New York had just skirted
bankruptcy, and an art critic joked in
the Village Voice that the sanitation department might secure some fresh
funding if it got in on the conceptual

act. Ukeles liked the idea and proposed


the residency to its commissioner.
Against all odds, he agreed. In 1979,
Ukeles undertook her most radical
project, Touch Sanitation, an elevenmonth-long ritual during which she
shook hands with eighty-ve hundred
san men across the ve boroughs,
thanking each one for his service. In
the most moving section of her retrospective, L.E.D. lights illuminate her
route around the museums Panorama
of the City of New York, like diligent
reies.
Ukeles isnt as well known as she
deserves to be, but fty years of her
near-devotional eforts to dignify labor
that most people see as undignied
if they deign to see it at allhas been
inuential. When Rachel Harrison
photographed the maintenance door
to Duchamps tableau tant Donns
for her 2012 series The Help, or when
Nina Katchadourian interviewed an
art handler for her new audio tour
about dust at MOMA, they became Ukeless heirs.
Andrea K. Scott

COURTESY THE ARTIST/RONALD FELDMAN FINE ARTS

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, with two unidentified workers, in Touch Sanitation Performance, which took eleven months, beginning in July, 1979.

ART

1
MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES
Morgan Library & Museum
Charlotte Bront: An Independent Will
The English writers personal effects, correspondence, and original manuscripts take on the significance of religious relics in this beautiful exhibition, mounted two centuries after her birth. The
show commemorates more than Bronts enormous
talent as the author of the enduring Jane Eyre,
first published in 1847it celebrates her unprecedented success at a time when opportunities for
women were sharply constrained. (Charlotte and
her equally brilliant sisters, Emily and Anne, initially published under male noms de plume.) The
Victorian diminishment of female intellect is dramatized by one of the authors tiny dresses, with
its cinched waist and demure blue floral print, stationed near the gallerys entrance. Smallness is a
recurring theme: magnifying glasses are provided
to read the microscopic script of Bronts early
writings, such as a doll-size illustrated storybook
she made when she was twelve for the younger
Anne. This concise show strikes a balance between
indulging fans with Brontana (Charlottes compact paint box and portable writing desk are also
on view) and charting the evolution of an isolated
writers imagination, from early satirical tales
of mythic lands to the keenly observed and uncorseted prose of her mature work. Through Jan. 2.

1
GALLERIESCHELSEA
Tetsumi Kudo
More than twenty of the Japanese sculptors
busy, candy-colored birdcages are arranged

around the gallery on bleacherlike displays. At


first glance, some appear to contain toy or taxidermied parakeets and canaries; on closer look,
their contents are even stranger. Flaccid phalluses with caterpillar spikes in pastel hues hang
out in the tangerine prison of Prehistoric Monster in the Cage and People Who Are Looking
at It, a sculpture from 1971. Kudo, who died
in 1990, was a key figure in the Japanese antiart movement of the fifties and sixties; he harnessed the saccharine delights of consumer culture in order to mirror its perversity. Electronic
circuitry, kitchen gadgets, fake flowers, and
other fodder for landfill join cast-resin body
parts in the bright indictments here. In several,
floating faces appear, as if in repose or meditationwhether they have turned on, tuned in,
or simply dropped out is left to the viewer to
guess. Through Nov. 16. (Rosen, 525 W. 24th St.
212-627-6000.)

1
GALLERIESDOWNTOWN
Ree Morton
Three very different solo shows inaugurate
the gallerys spacious new Tribeca location,
but the idiosyncratic post-minimalist Ree
Morton, who died at age forty in 1977, takes
center stage. Her hybrid handmade works
painting and sculpture are one and the same
herefill the ground floor with restless energy. For Kate, produced in 1976, bursts from
a corner, its cavalierly painted streamers and
roses evoking a festive trifecta: embroidery,
valentines, and a birthday cake. Mortons incorporation of girlish crafts into her decidedly

THE THEATRE
1
OPENINGS AND PREVIEWS
A Bronx Tale
Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks co-direct a musical adaptation of Chazz Palminteris semiautobiographical one-man show, set in his native
borough in the sixties and featuring a doo-wop
score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. (Longacre, 220 W. 48th St. 212-239-6200. Previews begin
Nov. 3.)
Dead Poets Society
Jason Sudeikis plays a nonconformist teacher at
an all-boys school, in Tom Schulmans adaptation of his screenplay for the 1989 film, directed
by John Doyle. (Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th
St. 866-811-4111. In previews.)
Finians Rainbow
Melissa Errico stars in the 1947 musical, about
an Irish father and daughter who escape to the
Jim Crow South after stealing a pot of gold from
a leprechaun. (Irish Repertory, 132 W. 22nd St. 212727-2737. In previews. Opens Nov. 6.)
Homos, or Everyone in America
Robin De Jess and Michael Urie portray a couple
whose life is complicated by a violent crime in Jordan Seaveys play, directed by Mike Donahue for
Labyrinth Theatre Company. (Bank Street Theatre,
155 Bank St. 212-513-1080. In previews. Opens Nov. 6.)

Kings of War
At the Next Wave Festival, Ivo van Hove (The Crucible) stages a mashup of Shakespeares Henry V,
Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III, set in
a modern war room and performed in Dutch, with English supertitles. (BAMs Howard Gilman Opera House,
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100. Nov. 3-6.)
Master Harold . . . and the Boys
Athol Fugard directs his 1982 drama, set in a tea
shop in South Africa in 1950, where two black men
and a white boy face the cruelties of apartheid.
(Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
212-244-7529. In previews. Opens Nov. 7.)
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Josh Groban and Dene Benton star in Dave Malloys electro-pop adaptation of a section of War
and Peace. Rachel Chavkin directs the immersive
production, which originated at Ars Nova. (Imperial, 249 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200. In previews.)
Notes from the Field
Anna Deavere Smiths new solo work, based on
more than two hundred and fifty interviews, examines issues of education, inequality, and criminal justice. (Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St. 212-2464422. Opens Nov. 2.)
Party People
The Universes ensemble stages this piece about the
Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, based

conceptual practice is not without irony, but


unabashed sensuality and refreshing sincerity rule. Downstairs, Mark Morrisroes sulky
nudes and still-lifes from the early eighties
the photographer died in 1989, at the age of
thirtyare smudged windows into his queerpunk demimonde. Willie Dohertys video installation Passage, from 2006, adds a note
of intensity, as two men walk toward one another at night with a freeways roar providing the soundtrack to their fleeting encounter. Through Dec. 22. (Alexander and Bonin, 47
Walker St. 212-367-7474.)

1
GALLERIESBROOKLYN
Evan Whale
Making his New York solo dbut in an artistrun space in the garden level of a Clinton Hill
brownstone thats only open to the public on
Saturdays, the young photographer pairs jittery
abstractions with pictures he took while hiking
near earthquake-monitoring points in L.A.
and later manipulated, using razor blades
and wire brushes. (The resulting lines evoke
seismograph readings.) His technique may owe
a debt to Marco Breuer, but Whale achieves
elegant effects, particularly in his abstract
images, which suggest veils of fabric and
slivers of agate. Where Breuer is principally
concerned with formal innovation, Whale dives
deeper. The shows title, I Heard, As It Were,
the Noise of Thunder, is taken from the Book
of Revelation, suggesting natures sublime
indifference to our fate. Through Nov. 5. (321
Gallery, 321 Washington Ave. 718-930-0493.)
on interviews with veterans of the revolutionary
groups and directed by Liesl Tommy. (Public, 425
Lafayette St. 212-967-7555. In previews.)

The Servant of Two Masters


Theatre for a New Audience presents the 1745 Carlo
Goldoni comedy, directed by Christopher Bayes and
featuring Steven Epp as Truffaldino, the doubledipping servant. (Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn. 866-811-4111. Previews begin Nov. 6.)
Sweat
Kate Whoriskey directs a new play by Lynn Nottage, about a group of friends from an assembly
line who find themselves at odds amid layoffs and
pickets. (Public, 425 Lafayette St. 212-967-7555. In
previews. Opens Nov. 3.)
Sweet Charity
Sutton Foster stars as a dance-hall hostess in the
New Groups revival of the 1966 musical, by Neil
Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields. Leigh
Silverman directs. (Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200. In previews.)
This Day Forward
Mark Brokaw directs a new play by Nicky Silver
(The Lyons), in which a wifes confession in
a honeymoon suite has ramifications fifty years
later. (Vineyard, 108 E. 15th St. 212-353-0303. Previews begin Nov. 3.)
Women of a Certain Age
Richard Nelsons three-part cycle The Gabriels,
which charts the current political year in the life of
a Rhinebeck family, concludes with a play opening
on and set on Election Night. (Public, 425 Lafayette
St. 212-967-7555. Previews begin Nov. 4. Opens Nov. 8.)
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

THE THEATRE

1
NOW PLAYING
The Harvest
Tom (Gideon Glick), a fervent young Christian
about to leave his raggedy church basement in Idaho
to spread the word in the Middle East, is the son
of a pastor named Chuck (Scott Jaeck), who loves
the Lord because He sets you free from your body.
His friend Josh (Peter Mark Kendall) would like
nothing more than to be freefrom his desire for
Tom, from his history, and from his sister, Michaela
(Leah Karpel), a former junkie and nonbeliever who
wants to love him but isnt trustworthy. Joshs family of church-basement apostles is the only one he
can cling to, and his and Toms repressed love is the
only kind he has ever known. Directed with clarity by Davis McCallum, Samuel D. Hunters play
(at LCT3) is a strange and powerful one, illustrating the eros underlying belief and the way that repression can work on the mind and cripple the soul.
(Claire Tow, 150 W. 65th St. 212-239-6200.)
Plenty
The real problem with this revival of David Hares
1978 play, directed by David Leveaux, is the play itself. The bright, beautiful, and risk-taking star Rachel Weisz plays Susan Traherne, a woman who
cant get over her past as a British freedom fighter
during the Second World War or reconcile herself to
postwar doldrums and conventionality. Weisz is in
every scene, and she charges all her moments with a
combination of madness and hope. As her husband,
Raymond, a diplomat who tries to fight the chaos
his wife insists on, Corey Stoll is very sexy, but the
rest of the cast feels diminished by his power, and
Weiszs. One wonders how much of the politics that
concerned Hare in 1978 even matter to an American
audience now. (Public, 425 Lafayette St. 212-967-7555.)
Two Class Acts
A. R. Gurneys new one-act plays, presented separately under an umbrella name, give the Socra-

tic method a workout. In the two-hander Ajax,


a female adjunct allows a cocky male student to
hijack her intro class on Greek theatre when he
rewrites a Sophocles tragedy as a contemporary
P.T.S.D. tale. Too bad the classroom setting is
so unrealistic; Ajax would work better framed
as a tutorial. Whats worse is that Gurney paints
the teacher as a docile nincompoop, preventing
a balanced dialectic and undermining whatever
point he is trying to make. Set in 1977, Squash
follows a buff undergrads coaxing of an equally
buff classics professors sexual awakening. Rodney Richardson and Dan Amboyer (from TVs
Younger) engage in convincingly awkward flirting, but in the end the heterosexual status quo triumphs, and the other options are casually tossed
out like so many discarded electives. (Flea, 41
White St. 212-352-3101.)

Vietgone
This gleefully salacious quasi-musical could be seen
as a fascinating companion piece to the novel The
Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won
this years Pulitzer Prize. Each begins with the fall
of Saigon and follows its Vietnamese protagonists
to refugee limbo in America, and each feels like
a decades-overdue corrective of American obliviousness to Vietnamese people in particular and a
purge of American horseshit about Asian people in
general. But only this play boasts an eye-popping
comic-book aesthetic, a physics-defying five-way
fistfight, and several foulmouthed rap ballads.
The playwright Qui Nguyen based his delightfully gonzo script on the true story of his parents
escape from Vietnam, and its hard to think of an
instance where a writer has tackled his parents
courtship more vividly, outrageously, and hilariously. The whole Manhattan Theatre Club production, from its outstanding ensemble to its resourceful director, May Adrales, is in perfect synch with
Nguyens deranged yet heartfelt vision. (City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St. 212-581-1212.)

CLASSICAL MUSIC
1
OPERA
Metropolitan Opera
If the punishing role of Arnold is the No. 1 reason
that opera companies avoid Rossinis magnum opus,
Guillaume Tell, then they no longer have an excuse, thanks to the American tenor Bryan Hymel,
whose trumpetlike sound cuts through the orchestra
with jaw-dropping brilliance. The rest of the cast
Gerald Finley (an eloquent Tell), Marina Rebeka
(an exquisitely shaded Mathilde), Janai Brugger
(a pure Jemmy), and John Relyea (an inky-voiced
Gesler)maintain Hymels high level. Fabio Luisis conducting is vibrant and dramatically alert,
and Pierre Audis production stays safely out of the
way, with cleverly minimalist settings, pretty backdrops, and stylish costumes. Nov. 2 at 6:30 and Nov. 5
at 7. Also playing: During the Mets Joseph Volpe
era, Karita Mattila was a leading prima donna, racking up a string of successes in some of the most challenging repertory for sopranos, including the title
role of Janeks searing drama Jenfa. Now she
takes on the scene-stealing role of Jenfas intimidating stepmother, the Kostelnika, in a cast that
also includes Joseph Kaiser, Daniel Brenna, and Oksana Dyka, as Jenfa; David Robertson conducts.
8

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Nov. 3 and Nov. 7 at 8. This weeks performance


of Mozarts Don Giovanni features Ildar Abdrazakov, Malin Bystrm, Amanda Majeski, Nadine Sierra, Paul Appleby, and Matthew Rose in the leading
roles; Fabio Luisi. Nov. 4 at 8. Verdis grand Aida
returns to the house, with Marco Armiliato conducting and Liudmyla Monastyrska, Marco Berti,
and Ekaterina Gubanova in the leading roles. Nov.
5 at noon. (Metropolitan Opera House. 212-362-6000.)

Wilderness
Following up on Basetrack Live, the 2014 multimedia production that marked its re-formation,
the company En Garde Arts presents another
projection-heavy documentary show, this one exploring the experiences of six deeply troubled teenagers whose parents have enrolled them, in most
cases against their will, in a months-long outdoor
therapy program in the Utah desert. All six characters are based on actual participants in such a program, and, while their scenes are dramatized, the
show makes frequent use of real Skype calls with the
kids parents, which weave fluidly into the action.
The result will be particularly meaningful, and possibly revelatory, to parents who have struggled with
a child in crisis. But as theatre it feels too smoothed
over, too uncritical of the program it describes, and
too suffused with therapy talk to convey these kids
awful inner battles in their full rawness and pain.
(Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St. 212-352-3101.)

1
ALSO NOTABLE
Chris Gethard: Career Suicide Lynn Redgrave. Coriolanus Barrow Street Theatre. Duat

Connelly. (Reviewed in this issue.) Through


Nov. 6. The Encounter Golden. Falsettos Walter Kerr. (Reviewed in this issue.) The Front Page
Broadhurst. (Reviewed in this issue.) Heisenberg
Samuel J. Friedman. Holiday Inn Studio 54. Les
Liaisons Dangereuses Booth. A Life Playwrights
Horizons. (Reviewed in this issue.) Love, Love,
Love Laura Pels. Miles for Mary The Bushwick
Starr. Oh, Hello on Broadway Lyceum. Othello: The Remix Westside. The Roads to Home
Cherry Lane. Sell / Buy / Date City Center Stage
II. She Stoops to Conquer Clurman. Through
Nov. 6. Stuffed McGinn/Cazale. Terms of Endearment 59E59. Tick, Tick . . . Boom! Acorn. Underground Railroad Game Ars Nova. Verso New
World Stages.
from this weeks program; Manfred Honeck, the
admired music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, replaces him. The program still
features a work close to Mehtas heart, however:
Rg-Ml (Garland of Ragas), the Concerto
No. 2 for Sitar and Orchestra (1981), by Ravi
Shankar, the player who did more than anyone else
to bring his instrument to Western consciousness.
(The soloist this time is no less than Anoushka
Shankar, one of the Masters children.) The program continues with an all too rare performance
of a Haydn symphony (No. 93 in D Major) and
concludes with Schuberts Symphony No. 8, Unfinished. Nov. 3 at 7:30 and Nov. 4-5 at 8. (David
Geffen Hall. 212-875-5656.)

Its A Wonderful Life


Jake Heggie, arguably operas most popular living
composer, is adapting one of Hollywoods most
beloved holiday films for Houston Grand Opera,
and the Guggenheims Works & Process series
offers an hour-long preview. The evening includes
conversations with the operas creators and a handful of excerpts performed by Ailyn Prez, Jonathan
Blalock, and others, with the composer at the piano.
Nov. 6 at 7:30. (Fifth Ave. at 89th St. 212-423-3575.)

Oratorio Society of New York


Kent Tritle leads his impressive avocational chorus, a big group in the old tradition, in two masterworks at Carnegie Hall: Mozarts Great Mass in
C Minor and Bruckners Te Deum. Jennifer Zetlan,
Helen Karloski, Alex Richardson, and Philip Cutlip are the vocal soloists. Nov. 3 at 8. (212-247-7800.)

New York Festival of Song


The citys indefatigable art-song devotees start the
season with consecutive concerts. On Tuesday and
Thursday, the program Rodgers, Rodgers, and Guettel honors one of the American musicals most influential families, highlighting Richard Rodgerss

ORCHESTRAS AND CHORUSES


New York Philharmonic
Illness has forced Zubin Mehta, the Philharmonics only living former music director, to withdraw

1
RECITALS

CLASSICAL MUSIC
timeless melodies (from South Pacific, Oklahoma!,
and other works), his daughter Marys exuberant irreverence (Once Upon a Mattress), and his grandson Adam Guettels sensitive, searching style (The
Light in the Piazza). Nov. 1 and Nov. 3 at 8. (Merkin Concert Hall, 129 W. 67th St. 212-501-3330.) On
Wednesday evening, the noted composer Gabriela
Lena Frank curates a globally inflected program for
the companys contemporary-music series, NYFOS
Next, which also features pieces by Avner Dorman
and Derek Bermel. Nov. 2 at 7. (National Sawdust, 80
N. 6th St., Brooklyn. nationalsawdust.org.)

MOVIES

Joshua Bell and Alessio Bax


Bell, one of those rare classical artists who can guarantee a sold-out hall, picks up his violin for an evening with his fine pianist friend which, once more,
goes over very familiar territory: sonatas by Beethoven, Brahms (No. 3 in D Minor), Ysae, and Debussy,
with Sarasates Carmen Fantasy as a chaser.
Nov. 2 at 7:30. (Alice Tully Hall. 212-721-6500.)
Jerusalem Quartet
The fantastic young Israeli group comes to the
92nd Street Y to offer a concert of canonical string
quartets by Haydn (the Lark) and Dvok (in
G Major, Op. 106), with a slightly out-of-the-way
item in between (Prokofievs Quartet No. 1 in
B Minor). Nov. 2 at 7:30. (Lexington Ave. at 92nd
St. 212-415-5500.)
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
The Societys mini-series of artist recitals opens
with a cello-and-piano programincluding two
duets and a solo work for each instrumentcentered on two intrepid British composers: Benjamin Britten, whose intricate cello works can stand
alongside Bachs, and Thomas Ads, whose imaginative work beguiles audiences and critics alike.
Performing them are the renowned Oxford-based
cellist Colin Carr and the deft New York pianist
Thomas Sauer. Nov. 3 at 7:30. (Rose Studio, Rose
Bldg., Lincoln Center. chambermusicsociety.org.)
New York Baroque Incorporated:
Sarah Cunningham and Richard Egarr
Two stars of the period-performance community,
on gamba and harpsichord, respectively, make a
guest appearance in this up-and-coming series
with a program offering two sonatas by Bach along
with music by Couperin, Forqueray, Froberger,
and a little Cage (4'33" ). The gambist Wen Yang
joins them. Nov. 3 at 7:30. (House of the Redeemer, 7
E. 95th St. nybaroque.org.)

COURTESY MUNICH FILM MUSEUM

Eric Owens and Susanna Phillips


The two Met regulars, who pair up again next
month for the companys much anticipated production of Kaija Saariahos LAmour de Loin, prove
their art-song bona fides with an all-Schubert program of beloved staples as well as more elaborate,
operalike scenes (Hektors Abschied, Antigone
und Oedip, and Der Hirt auf dem Felsen).
Nov. 6 at 3. (Zankel Hall. 212-247-7800.)
Bresnick@70
The widely admired composer and Yale pedagogue
Martin Bresnick is being fted in an important anniversary year. The ambience of National Sawdust
should provide a fine showcase for his workincluding Tent of Miracles (1984), Prayers Remain Forever (2012), and Everything Must Go
(2007)performed here by such superb musicians as the cellist Ashley Bathgate, the pianist
Lisa Moore, the flutist Margaret Lancaster, and
the Red Clay Saxophone Quartet. Nov. 6 at 7. (80
N. 6th St., Brooklyn. nationalsawdust.org.)

Hans-Jrgen Syberbergs portrait of Romy Schneider gives the actress the role of a lifetime: herself.

First Person Singular


Romy Schneider confesses to the camera.
The modern cinema, born in the
nineteen-sixties, gave rise to a new
genre, the portrait lm, such as the
Maysles brothers Meet Marlon
Brando and Shirley Clarkes Portrait
of Jason. Another key work in that
form, Romy: Anatomy of a Face, from
1967, is among the newly restored rare
masterworks presented in this years
edition of MOMAs essential annual series To Save and Project (Nov. 2-23).
Romy: Anatomy of a Face,
Hans-Jrgen Syberbergs second feature, made for German television, ofers
an intimate view of the actress Romy
Schneider, revealing crucial conicts
behind the image of a public gure who
loomed large in the German national
imaginationand within the art of
movies itself. The Austrian-born
Schneider, then twenty-seven, had been
an international star for more than a
decade, largely thanks to such frothy
costume dramas as Sissi. Filming
Schneider during her skiing vacation
at Kitzbhel in early 1966, Syberberg
catches her at a moment of crisis in her
career, which she discusses with embittered and self-deprecating candor.
A target of the gossip press, Schneider expresses frank disgust for the star
system that places her personal life on
the same plane as her acting. Proud of
her success, she also sees its limits,

speaking with exasperation of her work


in lms that, she says, made her the
princess, not only in front of the camera but all the time. Now she admits
that she didnt want to be her anymore
and hopes to nd a more artistically
satisfying way of actingand of living.
To that end, she was starring in a
low-budget and small-scale French
drama with dialogue by Marguerite
Duras; Syberberg visits the set and
lms her there, nding that shes nonetheless surrounded on location by fans.
Bringing subtly bold methods to
bear on the talking-head documentary,
Syberberg detaches images of Schneider from her voice, showing clinically
tight closeups of her in the semipublic
setting of a ski lift while hearing her
speak in voice-over, and relying on double exposures to evoke her recollections
of her adopted city of Paris. In an
on-camera interview in the luxurious
connes of a princes villa, Schneider
plunges ever deeper into the pathos of
her conict-riddled confessions, delivering a performance unlike any that she
gave in dramas.
Syberberg was a key innovator of
new cinematic modes that also created
a new kind of performance, one that
both ofered actors a far more engaged
form of artistic commitment and, paradoxically, went even further than the
popular press in blurring the lines between acting and life.
Richard Brody
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

MOVIES

1
OPENING
Doctor Strange Reviewed in Now Playing. Opening Nov. 4. (In wide release.) Hacksaw Ridge Re-

viewed this week in The Current Cinema. Opening Nov. 2. (In wide release.) Loving Reviewed
this week in The Current Cinema. Opening Nov. 4.
(In limited release.) Peter and the Farm A documentary, directed by Tony Stone, about Peter
Dunning, a farmer in Vermont. Opening Nov. 4.
(In limited release.)

1
NOW PLAYING
American Pastoral
In his directorial dbut, Ewan McGregor catches
the elegiac grandeur of Philip Roths 1997 novel
but filters out its bitter irony, historical sweep,
and psychological complexity. He also miscasts
himself in the lead role of Seymour (the Swede)
Levov, a successful businessman living comfortably in a rustic corner of New Jersey, whose settled existence is overturned by the nineteensixties. The Swedeso nicknamed, as a star
athlete in high school, for his pale skin and blond
hair, rare in his milieu of Newark Jewsis married to Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), a Catholic of
Irish descent. Their teen-age daughter, Merry
(Hannah Nordberg), consumed by political activism during the Vietnam War, bombs a local post
office, killing the postmaster, and vanishes from
home. The earnest modesty of McGregors direction keeps the capable cast (including Dakota
Fanning, Uzo Aduba, and Peter Riegert) in restrained balance, but McGregor himself doesnt
capture the Swedes heroism; rather, he reduces
the drama from tragedy to misfortune.Richard Brody (In wide release.)
Certain Women
The three sections of Kelly Reichardts new
filmset in Montana and adapted from stories by Maile Meloyare consistent in their
restrained tone but divergent in their impact.
The first two episodes offer little besides moderately engaging plots, but the third packs an
overwhelming power of mood, observation, and
longing. In the first, Laura Dern plays Laura, a
lawyer whose affair with a married man named
Ryan (James Le Gros) is ending just as a client
(Jared Harris), a disabled construction worker,
comes unhinged. In the second, Ryan and his
wife, Gina (Michelle Williams), who is also
his boss, visit an elderly acquaintance, Albert
(Ren Auberjonois), to buy stone for their country house. The third story features Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a young caretaker at a horse farm
who drops in on an adult-education class and
strikes up a tense and tenuous friendship with
the teacher, a young lawyer named Beth (Kristen Stewart). Here, Reichardt infuses slender
details with breathtaking emotion. The fervent
attention to light and movementas in a scene
of a quietly frenzied nocturnal pursuitseems
to expand cinematic time and fill it with inner
life.R.B. (In limited release.)
Doctor Strange
Scott Derricksons adaptation of this exotic entry
in the Marvel canon lives up to its title, in mostly
good ways. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a deft, brilliant, and ambitious New
York neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands
in a car accident. When medical science gives
up on him, he seeks occult help, travelling to a
compound in Nepal thats run by the Ancient
10

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

One (Tilda Swinton) and her associates, Mordo


(Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong).
There, Strange is trained in metaphysical martial arts, which he deploys in battle against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a renegade mystic who
attacks the worlds three centers of supernatural powerNew York, London, and Hong Kong.
Derrickson realizes visions of paranormal cataclysm with vertiginous glee; sidewalks, buildings, whole cities rise up, turn sideways, and
churningly intertwine with an Escher-like intricacy. Stranges propulsion into transcendental realms plays like a comic-book caricature of
Terrence Malicks cosmological imagery, and
the movies high-stakes games with time reversal and out-of-body combat have a lighthearted
but grandly wondrous exhilaration that offers
sufficient distraction from the cardboard plot.
With Rachel McAdams, as a surgeon who repairs Stranges heart, literally and metaphorically.R.B. (In wide release.)

The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wooks new film is his most delectable to date. Illicitly suave, it takes pleasure, over
nearly two and a half hours, in fooling with the
intricate plans of the characters and, for good
measure, with the minds of the audience. The action is set in the nineteen-thirties, in Korea, and
liberally adapted from Sarah Waterss novel Fingersmith, a no less tasty tale of Victorian London. Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-Hee, a young woman
bred in the low niceties of crime, who becomes a
maidservant to the high-ranking Hideko (Kim
Min-hee), herself no stranger to stratagems.
Its hard to find a single person onscreen whose
title or demeanor is a reliable match for his or
her true nature; for instance, neither the youthful count who arrives to pay court to Hideko nor
her bibliomaniacal guardian is to be trusted an
inch. Just to ensnare us more tightly, Park replays some of the episodes with a twist, from a
different viewpoint, yet the marvel of the movie
is that, far from seeming like mere trickery, it
feels drenched in longing and desire. The cinematographer, gravely surveying these shenanigans, is Chung Chung-Hoon. In Korean and
Japanese.Anthony Lane (Reviewed in our issue
of 10/24/16.) (In limited release.)
Michael Moore in TrumpLand
Doing a one-man show on the stage of a vintage
theatre in a predominantly white and Republican
town in Ohio, Michael Moore converts his celebrity into a political weapon with robust humor and
rhetorical ingenuity on behalf of Hillary Clinton. His jibes at Donald Trump and his supporters are inevitable and obvious, but brief. Then,
Moore delivers an eloquently empathetic paean
to white working-class citizens who, raging at an
establishment that has shafted them, lend their
support to a rich demagogue who despises their
actual interests. Sketching the course of Clintons
career, from her college years as a young feminist
to a First Lady who stayed out of the kitchen and
fought for universal health care, Moore deflects
criticisms of her from right and left alike and
concludes that the lifetime of insults and humiliations shes endured has left her mad as hell and
ready to fight the establishment with efficacy
and fury. An extra twist, regarding the Rosie the
Riveter generation of independent women, posits Clintons ideals as deep American traditions.
Moores concluding showmanshipa promise to
run for President himself in 2020 if Clinton disappoints himdoesnt spoil his incisive and fervent preaching.R.B. (In wide release.)

Moonlight
Miami heat and light weigh heavily on the furious lives and moods realized by the director
Barry Jenkins. The grand yet finespun drama
depicts three eras in the life of a young black
man: as a bullied schoolboy called Little (Alex
Hibbert), who is neglected by his crack-addicted
mother (Naomie Harris) and sheltered and mentored by a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his
girlfriend (Janelle Mone); as a teen-ager with
his given name of Chiron (Ashton Sanders),
whose friendship with a classmate named Kevin
(Jharrel Jerome) veers toward romantic intimacy
and leads to violence; and as a grown man nicknamed Black (Trevante Rhodes), who faces adult
responsibilities with terse determination and reconnects with Kevin (Andr Holland). Adapting a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jenkins
burrows deep into his characters pain-seared
memories, creating ferociously restrained performances and confrontational yet tender images that seem wrenched from his very core.
Even the title is no mere nature reference but
an evocation of skin color; subtly alluding to
wider societal conflicts, Jenkins looks closely at
the hard intimacies of people whose very identities are forged under relentless pressure.R.B.
(In limited release.)
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper directed and stars in this raw and
vehement melodrama, from 1980, playing Don,
a truck driver who is awaiting his release from
prison, where he served time after drunkenly
smashing his rig into a school bus. But Hopper
yields the spotlight to Linda Manz, who plays
Cebe, Dons teen-age daughter, a punk rocker,
a social outcast, and an heir to his wild ways.
While Don is locked up, his wife (Sharon Farrell), a waitress at a diner, takes up with her boss
(Eric Allen) and, in the company of Dons best
friend (Don Gordon), starts shooting up. Cebe,
in despair, runs away from home and ends up on
probation under the care of a sympathetic psychiatrist (Raymond Burr), who can do little in
the face of her open revolt. Upon her fathers return, she joins in the familys degradation, torment, and guilt in scenes of derelict exaltation
and proud insolence. Hoppers characters are in
the realm of the irreparable; if the fervent acting occasionally overheats, the reckless emotions
nonetheless convey the authentic struggle of personal experience.R.B. (Metrograph; Nov. 5.)
Pickpocket
The nimble crime that the title suggests, perfected by a fiercely philosophical outlaw (Martin
LaSalle), is itself a work of art, and Robert Bresson, in his 1959 film, reveals it, in all of its varieties, to be a furtive street ballet. The story begins with money changing hands, and throughout
the film, Bresson burns into memory the clink
of coins and the crumple of billswhich comes
off as the damning sound of evil made matter.
The movie is modelled on Crime and Punishment: the criminal, Michel, jousts verbally (in
phrases borrowed from the novel) with a cagey
police inspector to assert his own superiority to
the law, and crosses paths with a drunkards toiling, spiritual daughter, Jeanne (Marika Green).
Bresson, filming nonactors in austerely precise
images, also evokes Dostoyevskian emotional extremes: torment and exaltation, nihilistic fury
and religious passion. But the movie is above all
a story about the miracle of redemptive love and
its price in humility and unconditional surrender.
In French.R.B. (BAM Cinmatek; Nov. 4-6.)

DANCE

The puppet-makers of War Horse take on Monteverdis opera Return of Ulysses, from 1640.

The Long Road

ILLUSTRATION BY ELENI KALORKOTI

William Kentridge and the Handspring


Puppeteers bring Ulysses home.
Next week, on Nov. 14-16, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, the White
Light Festival at Lincoln Center will
bring us an extremely valuable property, Monteverdis Return of Ulysses,
designed and directed by the South
African artist William Kentridge,
who, in recent years, has wowed New
Yorks opera audience with his versions of Shostakovichs The Nose
and Bergs Lulu. With him will
come Cape Towns Handspring Pup-

pet Company, makers of the towering


steeds for War Horse, and Brusselss
Ricercar Consort, with its passionate
singers and its gleaming theorbo (a
giant baroque lute) and viola da
gamba.
As bets an opera that is almost
three hundred years old, Kentridges
Ulysses has no truck with realism.
The characters are nearly life-sized
puppets, carved from wood. Standing
next to them, and fully visible, are
their singers and puppeteers. We see
Ulysses as an old man, in his bed,
dying. Behind him, we see what he is
remembering: his ten-year struggle to

get home from the Trojan War, while


his faithful queen, Penelope, goes on
trying to believe that he will return
and, with diiculty, keeping her suitors at bay. On a screen above them are
Kentridges trademark videos, with
things jumpily metamorphosing into
other things. For this show, Kentridge
has made heavy use of diagnostic imaging: X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs. Those
lms were hanging around the house,
he has said (his wife is a rheumatologist), and he became fascinated with
them and their story of human vulnerability: the lungs that could stop
pumping, the heart that could stop
beating, the sheer work that the body
has to do. So, however much this show
is a thing of art, it is also achingly
physical.
The puppetry is a big part of this.
Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the
founders and chief puppeteers of
Handspring, see breathing as a sort of
motor of theatrical presence. For their
puppets, they use the Japanese Bunraku technique. That is, they have their
hand, and much of their arm, inside
the puppets torso at all times, and always you see the puppets chest going
in and out, feeding the bodys life.
Above all, you see this in the old-man
Ulysses in the foreground. He is actually ghting for his life. He thrashes.
His breath halts and races, then pauses
again. (We had to be on the lookout
for irregular breaths in the singers,
Jones said to me. Breath expresses not
just emotion, but thought.) When,
behind him, the young Ulysses of his
memory at last strings his bow and
dispatches the suitorswhereupon
Penelope recognizes that this weary
man, whom she hasnt seen for twenty
years, is indeed her husband, and
moves to embrace himthe old mans
struggle ceases, and the puppeteer pulls
the bedsheet over his face. He has died,
and we feel like dying, too. This is an
absolutely thrilling show. How can
they have brought it to us for only
three performances?
Joan Acocella
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

11

DANCE

Gibney Dance Company


In the past few years, Gina Gibney has been very
busy, primarily running her two dance centers. The
downtown one, which opened in 2014, is already set
for a major expansion. But shes also reconstituted
her company, founded twenty-five years ago, and
carved out time to choreograph a new dance, Folding In. Its a cyclical work for five, with a score by
the cellist Hildur Guonadottir. (280 Broadway. 646837-6809. Nov. 2-5. Through Nov. 12.)
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion
Abrahams 2012 work Pavement is a good primer
in the qualities that have won the young choreographer many awards (including a MacArthur grant),
but also in his shortcomings. Set in the black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Abrahams home town, the
work conveys a street-corner combustibility and an
embattled tenderness, as the dancers cross hip-hop
posturing with modern-dance pliability. The images
are potent, yet they float underexploited in the works
flimsy and predictable structuring. (BAM Fisher,
321 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100. Nov. 2-5.)
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
At the Joyce, the company alternates between two
installments of Joness Analogy trilogy, and performs the New York premires of Dora: Tramontane and Lance: Pretty a.k.a. the Escape Artist.
(175 Eighth Ave., at 19th St. 212-242-0800. Nov. 2-6.)
Platform 2016: Lost and Found
The performances, conversations, and film screenings
in Danspace Projects series about the impact of AIDS
are split between looking backward and taking the
pulse of the present. This weeks event, Variations on
Themes from Lost and Found, might manage both. It
examines the influential but under-recognized work of
the performance artist and choreographer John Bernd,
who died of complications from AIDS in 1988. Directed
by Ishmael Houston-Jones, an original cast member in
many of Bernds pieces, this resurrection of the past is
performed (and informed) by young dancers, most of
whom were not yet alive when Bernd died. (St. Marks
Church In-the-Bowery, Second Ave. at 10th St. 866-8114111. Nov. 3-5. Through Nov. 19.)
Sounds of India / Mark Morris Dance Group
Mark Morriss ensemble performs a program that includes two early works by Morris set to Indian music,
the solo O Rangasayee (1984), danced by Dallas
McMurray, and the comic Tamil Film Songs in Stereo (1983). (Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, John Jay College, 524 W. 59th St. 212-721-6500. Nov. 3 and Nov. 5.)
Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC
The Rocky Mountain summer festival comes to New
York, bringing its happy, multi-genre family of dance
luminaries and the programming taste of its artistic director, Damian Woetzel. The selections on the
three programs include an intriguing mix of pieces
made for the festival, rarities (such as Balanchines
12

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Divertimento Brillante), unusual pairings (mingling the upper ranks of New York City Ballet and
American Ballet Theatre), and star turns (especially
by the Memphis jookin marvel Lil Buck). The best
and most distinctive program might be Up Close, on
Sunday afternoon, an informal lecture-demonstration
about footwork featuring some of the most eloquent
feet in the business. (City Center, 131 W. 55th St. 212581-1212. Nov. 3-6.)

Carefree: Dancin with Fred & Ginger


The dance numbers in the R.K.O. films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers have never been surpassed.
A live show in tribute to them faces unforgiving
comparisons, but this one has talent, starting with
the director-choreographer Warren Carlyle, whose
choreography for the Broadway revue After Midnight, set in a similar period, won a Tony Award.

Jared Grimes, who also appeared in that show, isnt


much like Fred Astaire, yet hes an astonishing hoofer
who has the potential to make the classic songs his
own. (New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center St.,
Newark, N.J. 888-466-5722. Nov. 4-5.)

Chotto Desh / Akram Khan Company


In Desh, Khan plumbed his own story, and the stories he was told by his Bangladeshi father, to tell a textured multicultural tale. Khan grew up in London and
studied both traditional Kathak (from India) and contemporary dance; his quick, fluid movement style combines features of both. Chotto Desh is a new childfriendly, hour-long version of this one-man show,
danced by two members of his company and complemented by nifty interactive animations of tigers and
butterflies and other characters. (New Victory, 209
W. 42nd St. 646-223-3010. Nov. 4-6. Through Nov. 13.)

ABOVE & BEYOND

Lincoln Centers White Light Festival


This year, the annual series asks participants to
turn their gaze inward and mull over the nature of
humanity. The WNYC producer John Schaefer, who
hosts Soundcheck and New Sounds, engages the
festivals theme the most explicitly, inviting prominent thinkers in the disciplines of evolution, psychology, religion, and art to find parallels that point to a
common human experience. At the Stanley Kaplan
Penthouse, guest speakers include the paleoanthropologist Alison S. Brooks and the theologian Pamela Cooper-White. (165 W. 65th St. whitelightfestival.
org. Nov. 5 at 4.)
New York Adventure Club
This group specializes in rare, intimate tours of
treasured city spaces, often at nontraditional hours:
past events have included a late-night walk through
Grants Tomb and a hard-hat tour of an abandoned
hospital on Ellis Island. This week, the club invites
guests into the bowels of Grand Central Terminal.
Attendees will have access to several walled-off
areas, including the Operations Control Center and
the Situation Room. Closed-toe shoes are required,
and participants should be prepared to scale eight
flights of steps in high temperatures. (89 E. 42nd
St. nyadventureclub.com. Nov. 2 at 10 A.M.)

1
AUCTIONS AND ANTIQUES
These are the quiet days before the avalanche of Impressionist and contemporary auctions comes down,
in mid-November. Christies is holding an offering
of prints and multiples (Nov. 1-2), led by a set of
Warhol screen prints of Mao and by a color lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec, of two women dancing together (La Danse au Moulin Rouge). (20
Rockefeller Plaza, at 49th St. 212-636-2000.) Swanns
sale of prints (Nov. 3) is weighted toward Old Masters and nineteenth-century works, such as a Drer

woodcut portrait of Ulrich Varnbler, a Swiss mayor,


and several etchings and drypoints of everyday subjects by Pissarro. (104 E. 25th St. 212-254-4710.) The
IFPDA Print Fair, run by the Fine Print Dealers Association, sets up shop at the Park Avenue Armory
through Nov. 6. More than eighty dealers, from the
U.S., Canada, and Europe, will take part, exhibiting everything from Bruegel engravings to conceptual art. (Park Avenue at 66th St. 212-674-6095.)

1
READINGS AND TALKS
#FerranteNightFever
This aptly titled series celebrates the publication of
the enigmatic Italian authors latest works, Frantumaglia and The Beach at Night, with five literary
events at bookstores throughout the New York City
area. The translator of the books, the New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein, and champions of Elena Ferrantes novels, including the actor John Turturro and
the novelists Roxana Robinson and Elissa Schappell, appear in conversation. (For venues and times,
visit europaeditions.com/event/2501/ferrantenightfeverin-new-york-city. Nov. 1-5.)
Albertine
As part of the 2016 Festival Albertine, a panel moderated by Ta-Nehisi Coates examines the varying
constructions of identity in the United States and
France, and how they may continue to be reflected
in political developments to come. This forwardlooking prompt asks whether a culturally transcendent election, such as Barack Obamas in 2008, is
possible in present-day France, and how a similar
campaign might unfold. Drawing on both U.S. and
French history, the journalists Iris Deroeux and Jelani
Cobb (a contributor to this magazine), as well as the
historians Pap Ndiaye and Benjamin Stora, parse how
minority representation in politics may manifest
worldwide. (972 Fifth Ave. 212-650-0070. Nov. 2.)

ILLUSTRATION BY PABLO AMARGO

Sounds of India / Nrityagram


The final dance event in the Sounds of India festival
is an evening featuring this extraordinary ensemble
of classical Indian dancers, based at a dance ashram
near Bangalore. The group specializes in the ancient
dance form Odissi, a vivid, rhythmically complex,
and highly sensual dance that originated as a form
of worship in the temples of Odisha. The troupes
leader, Surupa Sen, is both a fantastic dancerprecise and emotionally intenseand a notable choreographer. The evening, entitled Sriyah, includes group
dances, duets, and a solo for Sen. The music is played
live, onstage. (Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, John Jay College, 524 W. 59th St. 212-721-6500. Nov. 2 and Nov. 4.)

FD & DRINK

TABLES FOR TWO

Harolds Meat + Three

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WILLIAMS FOR THE NEW YORKER; ILLUSTRATION BY JOOST SWARTE

2 Renwick St. (212-390-8484)


This shiny new restaurant tucked into
the Arlo Hotel, in Hudson Square, takes
a charming Southern concept born of a
simpler time and revs it up for noveltycurious New Yorkers. In the mid-South,
especially around Nashville, meat and
three cafeteria-style joints ofer a choice
of protein, such as chicken-fried steak or
smothered pork chops, and three vegetable sides, often accompanied by cornbread
and sweet tea, all for one price. These are
casual, highly caloric afairs, whose names
might include country, kitchen, or kettle, and which combine the soul-satisfying
element of familiar home cooking with
the convenience of instant gratication.
In translating the idea for New York, the
chef, Harold Moore, has gone upscale
with cocktails and lobster alongside the
meatballs and mac and cheese, attempting
to please anyone and everyone willing to
pay his notably un-country prices.
Moore, who came up in the rareed
kitchens of Daniel Boulud and JeanGeorges Vongerichten, made his name at
Commerce, in the West Village, where he
won over locals with superb elevated comfort food. At Harolds Meat + Three, hes
having some fun, throwing lots of ideas onto
the menu and seeing what sticks. And good
news: theres an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
One night, next to the baby kale and shaved

fennel, there was beef carpaccio, chicken


ballotine, cold cooked salmon, shrimp cocktail (unlimited!), and small Mason jars of
chicken-liver mousse. When asked if there
was anything, like toast, to spread the
mousse on, the waitress, looking lost, shook
her head and scanned the table, eyes landing on the complimentary cheddar-chive
biscuits. It was better with croutons.
The revolving menu lists about twenty
mains, which have included Thai-inspired
pork ribs, whole dorade, limp seared scallops, and a questionable dish of sweetbreads. The best strategy is to stick with
whats popular: chicken or beef, any kind.
Fried chicken doused with hot sauce?
Delicious. Filet mignon au poivre? Extra
thick and perfectly cooked. Cheeseburger?
Classic, with two smashed patties and
American cheese. Among the twenty-two
sides (twenty-seven counting the upcharge specials, like foie gras or an egg),
anything green (asparagus, spinach, herb
salad) and all manner of potatoes (rsti,
wedges, pure) are the clear winners.
Its too bad that part of the meat and
three allure, the feeling that youre getting
a deal, does not factor into the Harolds
experience. But, hey, its New York. For
dessert, theres a gigantic slice of coconut
cake, for twelve bucks. Its moist and delicious and feeds four, and is followed by
pumpkin-cinnamon soft-serve cones for
everyone. Theyre two inches tall, and
theyre free. (Meat and three sides $19-$55.)
Shauna Lyon

1
BAR TAB

Belle Shoals
10 Hope St., Brooklyn (718-218-6027)
In Williamsburg, around the corner from a shop
selling Western Inspired Goods, there is a bar
that is set in the imaginary Southern town of
Belle Shoals. No further geographical specifics
are offeredcountry bacon is served alongside
mescal and aquavit. Embedded in a bookcase, in
pride of place, is a Wurlitzer jukebox, accepting
coins in exchange for the yearning voices of Ella
Fitzgerald and James Brown. Theres an antique
birdcage and a mellow oak bar, and cocktails like
the Sunday Tea (peach moonshine, bourbon,
sweet tea, lemon), which might lull you into a
generic dream of the South. Nonetheless, Belle
Shoals feels more Urban Outfitters flannel than
Flannery OConnor, who once wrote, Anything
that comes out of the South is going to be called
grotesque by the Northern reader. A man in
tortoiseshell specs plans out his next tattoo.
Self-deprecation is frustrating to me, a blonde
dressed head to toe in athleisure says. Out on
the veranda, there are basil plants in window
boxes whose leaves breathe scent through the
air, a faint echo of New Orleans jasmine, and the
tables are separated by elegant white trellises.
But the trailing wisteria strung up on wire is
made of plastic, and the October winds pull at
sleeves and napkins, signals of Northeastern
autumn. Back in the bar, under chandeliers, a
Ukrainian woman with black hair orders hush
puppies, flattening the vowels to hash pappies;
they are light and hot and threaded with jalapeo
and onion. Neat in a paper tray, like consolation
prizes, flaky biscuits come with bourbon butter
and a cup of honey, perfect to pair with a glass
of Cabernet.Talia Lavin
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

13

THE TALK OF THE TOWN


COMMENT
OCTOBER SURPRISES

ILLUSTRATIONS BY TOM BACHTELL

you have any idea of the depth of this story?


D id
John Podesta, now the chairman of Hillary for America, wrote in an e-mail to Robby Mook, the campaigns managerto-be, on March 3, 2015. The Times had just reported that
Hillary Clinton had used a private e-mail address during her
time as Secretary of State, circumventing the government system. Nope, Mook replied. We brought up the existence of
emails . . . but were told that everything was taken care of. It
is now clear that this was far from the case. The additional
revelation of a private server led to a months-long F.B.I. investigation into Clintons e-mail arrangements, and into whether
she or her aides had mishandled classied information. That
probe ended, in July, with a recommendation that no criminal charges be led. Even then, the story did not go away, with
Donald Trump charging that the inquiry had been rigged.
Then, last Friday, James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, sent
a letter to congressional committee chairs saying that the bureau was back at it. A new cache of e-mails had been found,
and Comey did not know how long it would take to go
through them. This development was reportedly spurred by
material found on a device that Huma Abedin, one of Clintons closest aides, shared with her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, a disgraced former congressman. The F.B.I.
was looking at Weiners devices because he had allegedly had
inappropriate exchanges with a fteenyear-old girl.
So that is a big announcement,
Trump said on Friday, at a rally in
Manchester, New Hampshire, as the
crowd shouted, Lock her up! Perhaps, nally, justice will be done. Clinton, meanwhile, expressed surprise at
Comeys lack of clarity and at his timing, so soon before the election. She
called on him to explain the issue
Lets get it outand said she was
condent that the F.B.I.s conclusion
would be the same as in July.
Comeys letter came at the end of
what was already a bad week for Clin-

ton. The polls, which had shown her comfortably ahead,


were tightening. The missive from Podesta to Mook was one
of more than thirty-ve thousand e-mails stolen from Podestas accountU.S. intelligence agencies believe that the
culprits were hackers linked to Russiaand released by
WikiLeaks. The campaign has not conrmed the e-mails
authenticity, emphasizing instead that the Kremlin has weaponized WikiLeaks in an efort to inuence the U.S. election. But it has not pointed to any that it thinks are forgeries. The Podesta e-mails join the thousands that Clinton
delivered to the State Department after her server became
public. (She deleted thousands more.) We have by now read
so many e-mails from her and her aides that the provenance
can be confusing. WikiLeaks has doled out its haul in more
than twenty batches, and, as with the State Department
e-mails, Clintons defenders began by arguing that they revealed nothing more than the normal business of politics.
It is easy to dismiss a note in which Podesta, during the
primaries, calls Senator Bernie Sanders a doofus. (Sanders
shrugged it of, saying that there were some pretty unattering things about Clinton in his campaigns e-mail.) But the
accretion of details in the Podesta e-mails indicate, if not actual wrongdoing, an indiference to the distorting role that
money plays in the land of the Clintons. In a note from early
2015, Abedin explains why it would
be diicult to cancel a planned Hillary
Clinton appearance at a meeting of
the Clinton Global Initiative in Morocco: The King has personally committed approx $12 million both for the
endowment and to support the meeting. Backing out would be especially
awkward, Abedin said, since approaching the Moroccans was Clintons idea.
She created this mess and she knows
it.It certainly seems unwise for Clinton to have put herself in the position of owing a big favor to the King
of Morocco, a country with humanrights issues, while contemplating a
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

15

Presidential run. In the end, Hillary didnt go, but Bill and
Chelsea did, and stayed in one of the Kings palaces.
Similarly, its irrelevant that, in late 2011, Doug Band, who
for years was one of Bill Clintons closest aides, said that Chelsea acted like a spoiled brat. But it is relevant that he did so
in the context of a ght over what Chelsea saw as Bands eforts
to trade on her fathers name through his consulting company,
Teneo. She accused Band of hustling for business at foundation events. In a memo for lawyers brought in by Chelsea, Band
argues that any hustling was for the Clintons personal benet,
far more than for his own, garnering Bill Clinton alone some
fty million dollars. Band says that, for example, he leaned on
charitable donors to give the former President speaking engagements and consulting contracts, in a nexus that he refers
to as Bill Clinton, Inc. In other e-mails, Band complains that
he is the only one being asked to avoid conicts of interest, of
which, he says, Bill, Chelsea, and other senior gures at the
foundation have plenty: Everyone takes, everyone.The extent to which all of this is not normal can be measured by the
response of those charged with getting Clinton elected. We
really need to shut Morocco and these paid speeches down,
Mook writes to Podesta in February, 2015.
Nowhere is the dismay more evident than in the case of
Clintons e-mail setup.Neera Tanden, who runs the Center
BEDFELLOWS DEPT.
HINDUS FOR TRUMP

onald Trumps best Indian-

D American friend is a sixty-seven-

year-old billionaire from Chicago named


Shalabh Kumar. One recent Saturday, the
candidate accepted Kumars invitation to
speak at a fund-raiser in New Jersey, organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition, a group that Kumar founded last
year, with the blessing of Newt Gingrich.
In 2013, Kumar took American congressmen to India to meet Narendra Modi
(now the Prime Minister), a Hindu nationalist, who, at the time, had been
banned from the United States, owing
to allegations that hed played a role in
the killing of hundreds of Muslims in
Gujarat. Kumar donated almost a million dollars to Trumps campaign, after
the two bonded over Modis leadership
and the threat of Islamic terrorism.
A lot of people think that Trump
is somewhat of a racist, Kumar said.
His partnership with the Republican
Hindu Coalition will set that aside.
The event, held at a convention cen16

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

for American Progress, and was close to the campaign, writes,


Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?
Like whole thing is fucking insane. In other messages, Tanden rages about Clintons reluctance to apologize for her
choices, and about the tendency toward secrecy that she and
members of her innermost circle exhibit. Tanden refers to this
instinct as kryptonite.
Neither e-mail story is likely to dissipate before the election, in part because both reect what is, for all Clintons
strengths, one of her aws: her failure to draw boundaries
between the personal and the political, between her familys private interests and its public obligations. Both sets of
e-mails show the idealism and the inclusiveness that are
the true drivers of Hillary Clintons campaign. She is unquestionably the best candidate for President. And yet the
week ended with Trump glorying in the renewed F.B.I.
investigation and rallying crowds with tales of pay-to-play.
For Clintons defenders to say that all this is just politics as usual is to explain why so many Americans distrust
politiciansand why, perhaps, politics ought to change.
Clinton herself needs to make the case that she can bring
reform. And she has a week left to do it.
Amy Davidson

ter in Edison, raised money for Hindu


victims of terrorism. Indian movie stars
had been own in to entertain a crowd
of several thousandsome in glittering tunics, some in red Trump hats
many of whom were talking about terrorists coming in and jobs going out.
Im a fan of Mr. Trump, said Siddharth Thakkar, who moved from Gujarat to New Jersey in 1987 and now
runs a Red Mango. And also MalaikaMalaika Arora, the Indian supermodel-actress, who was the evenings headliner. Theyre both goodlooking. Trump, he said, would bring
law and order and x the inner cities.
Gary Weightman, a New Jersey native who wore an anti-Hillary T-shirt
that read Liar Liar, was thrilled to be
seeing Trump in the esh. This is the
third-biggest moment of my life, he
said. The rst two were marrying his
wife and visiting Israel (Even though
Im Christian).
Vijaya Aggarwal, an older woman
wearing heavy black eyeliner, said, Our
economy is draining. What will people do here without money? No refrigerators, no sofa sets.She went on,Trump
will make America great. Like our Modi
was given a chance to.
Raj Shah, who works in pharmaceuticals, once supported Bill Clinton

but became disillusioned by American


foreign policy. I want the C.I.A. to
stop funding terrorist groups in Pakistan, he said.
Inside the convention center, Trump
campaign signs promised Hindu Americans a bright future: Trump Against
Terror; Trump Great for India; Trump
for Faster Green Cards.
In a V.I.P. area, Kumar, anked by
Indian celebrities, began a press brieng.
He played an R.H.C. promotional
video: clips of Modi, images of Kumars mansion in Bangalore, and scenes
from his son Vikrams lavish wedding,
in New Zealand, to Miss India 2007,
who sat nearby in a sparkly gown.
Kumar opened the oor to questions,
warning that he would address only
those that were about the fund-raiser.
Whats your opinion on Donald
Trump? a journalist asked.
Only event-related questions! a
handler yelled from the sidelines.
Ignoring the warning, Akhil Akkineni, a young heartthrob standing near
Kumar, answered, Terrorism is disgusting, and Donald Trump is the only
one doing anything about it!
Kumar said,This is not about politics!
Malaika! one undeterred reporter
shouted. How do you feel about meeting a U.S. Presidential candidate?

Arora, wearing a skintight dress and


jewels, looked uncomfortable. Kumar
ended the press conference.
Back in the main hall, a Michael
Jackson impersonator was onstage,
doing a bhangra dance routine with a
heavyset Sikh man. Then six dancers
dressed as soldiers appeared, brandishing toy light sabres in a ght against
terrorists who had taken hostages
(Indian women in black minidresses).
The terrorists foiled, the performers
stood, hands on their hearts, before an
American ag, as The Star-Spangled
Banner played.
Al Pniewski, a truck driver from
Hazlet, New Jersey, waved his camouage Trump hat in the air. Ive never
been to a Hindu party before! he said.
He had learned about the event on
Facebook. Trump is a unier, do you
understand? Referring to Hindu Americans, he added, Theyre smart people.
Theyre small-business owners; they
assimilate with the culture. Obama and
Hillary want to bring in radicals!
Kumar reappeared and addressed
the crowd: Who truly represents you
in Washington? Is it someone who
celebrates Diwali one day and plans to
give F-16s to Pakistan the next? (Boo,
Pakistan! came from the back.) Or
someone who wants to declare Pakistan a terrorist state? (Loud cheers.)
The next century must be the IndoAmerican century!
Finally, Trump entered, waving, from
behind a curtain. The crowd rushed
forward, cheering. The candidate spoke
for almost fteen minutes, conating
two terrorist attacks in India, declaring that the U.S. will build a wall and
that Mexico will pay for it, promising
to end trade deals with China, and also
to have better trade deals with China,
Mexico, and India. He ended his speech,
and shook hands with Kumar before
returning to the mike. We love the
Hindus! We love India! he said, pointing an index nger at the audience.
In the foyer, guests posed for photos
in front of two giant posters. On one,
Trumps torso rose out of a red-whiteand-blue lotus. On the other, a horned
Hillary Clinton pointed menacingly at
a frightened Modi while masked terrorists marched in front of ames.
In the main room, a female v.j. was
addressing the crowd. Do we all want

peace? she asked. Cant hear you!


Music blared, and Arora nally took
the stage.
Rozina Ali

1
THE PICTURES
APOLOGIZER

t The Strand Bookstore, Laura

A Dern bent to caress a stack of cop-

ies of The Catcher in the Rye. Her davening torso and probing hands made her
resemble a praying mantis. This was the
book, when I was fourteen, that made me
love books, she said. Before that, I mostly
read scripts. The actress, the daughter of
Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, appeared
in Alice Doesnt Live Here Anymore at
the age of seven, rode her bike to acting
classes at nine, and, at fteen, sued her
parents for emancipation so that she could
continue acting. Her best teacher, she said,
was the director David Lynch: Without
him, I would not have made the acting
choices Ive made, because he required me
to play the girl next door (in Blue Velvet), to be completely untamed (in Wild
at Heart), and to have no narrative at
all (in Inland Empire).
In her bracing new lm, Certain
Women, written and directed by Kelly
Reichardt, Dern, now forty-nine, stars
with Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone as women living
in and around Livingston, Montana.
Theyre all ghting how the boys have
arranged the system, and are ill-tting
in their lives, Dern explained. Her character, Laura Wells, is a mopey lawyer
whose client, a carpenter, wont accept
that his workplace-accident lawsuit is
hopeless until he hears it from a man.
After the carpenter takes a hostage, the
cops ask Wells to put on a bulletproof
vest and go in. Her face, as she grasps
that her life has somehow been leading
to this, is a study in misgiving.
Dern canted herself over the counter
and waited to catch the attention of a
bearded clerk. She inquired about You
Will Not Have My Hate, a memoir by
Antoine Leiris, whose wife was killed in
the Paris attacks last fall. Not in stock,
he said. She apologetically withdrew.

Although she exudes a warm candor,


Dern said that it isnt hard for her to tap
into her characters sense of buried grievance. In Certain Women, she said, I
could relate to Lauras longing to nd a
place where she doesnt need to ght, a
place where she can say, This is my world,
I own it! Which is my daughters approach, whereas feminists of my generation still have the Im sorry! Is it O.K.?
approach. She laughed. I even apologize about making requests in restaurants, where Im paying for the food.
She went on, When I talk toI
dont want to say younger journalists,
but, basically, younger journalists
theyre excited by this lm, by seeing
women get to tell their stories. Thats
because they grew up in the nineties.
But in the seventies, when I was growing up, we had 3 Women and An Unmarried Woman and Klute. Her ngers
divvied up the generations. At her sons
elementary school, she was known as
the mom who talks with her hands.

Laura Dern
In the rare-book room, Dern picked
up a rst edition of Tennessee Williamss Camino Real. He was my
moms second cousin, she said. She did
his play Orpheus Descending in New
York, and the actor opposite her got strep
throat or something, and she had to go
on with his understudy. And that understudy was Bruce Dern. She smiled
down at the book, then noted that her
parents divorced when she was two. Dern
and the father of her children, the musician Ben Harper, are also divorced.
She roamed around, stroking books
by Arthur Rackham and Judy Blume. She
opened Langston Hughess Black Misery, vignettes about growing up black in
a white world. Oh, my God! she said,
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

17


turning the pages. Stricken, she read,
Misery is when you go / To the Department Store / Before Christmas and nd
out / That Santa is a white man. She almost ran to the register with the book.
On her way out, Dern trailed her ngers
over a Gabriel Garca Mrquez novel and
said, Now I just want to read everything
he ever wrote. But, as a child, instead of
trusting Mrquez and his ights of fancy
I trusted movie directors, who told me
that things would not be all that magical.
I watched A Clockwork Orange by myself at thirteen, I saw Raging Bull fourteen times, and The Omen and The Exorcist messed me up. Her hands framed
a huge screen. It started with Walt Disney, actually, with Dumbo and Bambi
somebodys going to die, innocence will
be taken, and you will be left alone.
Tad Friend

1
PARIS POSTCARD
SHELTERING

will not stand by and do


P aris
nothing while the Mediterranean

becomes a graveyard, Anne Hidalgo,


the mayor of Paris, said earlier this year,
announcing a plan to create the citys
18

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

rst oicial refugee shelter. With the destruction of the jungle camp at Calais
last week, this shelter is likely to become
even more vital. On July 15th, Julien Beller got a call from the Mayors oice.
Beller, an architect who has thrown festivals in brownelds and installed toilets
in shantytowns, seeks to work for a just
city, built with pleasure, where each person makes his place. His mission: to
turn a disused railroad depot in the Eighteenth Arrondissement into a habitat
for four hundred people, in short order.
He cancelled a vacation to Finland.
Beller had only a week to come up
with a design. One recent afternoon, he
was tramping around the grounds, overseeing some nishing toucheswhich
is to say, some fundamentals. Dressed in
black, with a glinting nose stud and a
terse yet thoughtful manner, he suggested less a Libeskind or a Piano than
someone who might chain himself to a
fence at a work site. The depot was covered in graiti and was missing windows. In front, a bulldozer buzzed back
and forth. Here were going to have a
huge inatable structure to serve as a
kind of information booth, Beller said.
Itll be yellow and white, a sort of art
work. The idea is to welcome people
generously.
Inspired by hotel lobbiesan imperfect model, he admittedhe had
decided to install a store just inside the

entrance. Everything in it would be


free: shoes, clothes, books, toiletries.
All the signs will be made with pictograms, so its easy for people who
dont speak the language, he said. Its
a bit like camping, or a little vacation
village. He pointed out the cafeteria,
which, like the external staircases,
had been fashioned from temporary
scafolding. It would remain in place
for the two years that the shelter is expected to operate, before being demolished to make way for a university. Everything we are doing is movable and
exible, Beller explained. The shelter
is, in a sense, a pop-up, coming to life
where it could. My philosophy has always been about ephemerality, he said.
Its interesting to apply that mentality to the real needs of the city.
The shelter is intended to serve as a
rest stopa rst point of contact with
the systemfor refugees who would otherwise nd themselves on the street. For
logistical reasons, it will accept only men,
who can stay for up to ten nights. Beller had divided the cavernous space into
eight neighborhoods, each of which
contained twelve cabins, housing four
men apiece, and eight communal bathrooms. Beller walked inside a cabin and
icked on the light. Four beds, four
trunks, a plug for each person, he said.
You can charge your phone and get in
touch with your family, or read with a
little light. He stepped outside. Here
we have benches, so people can chill out,
meet with their friends. They will be here
for just a short time, and we have to host
them correctly.
The tight deadline Beller was working against posed problemshe had to
change the cabin doors at the last minute, because they werent up to the re
code. Usually, the things Ive done have
been a bit hidden, he said. Here everything has to be perfectly within the
rules, because this project is so seen, so
in the news. He walked back into the
dusty yard and lit a cigarette. Things
have to be fast and cheap, but we are
bringing a kind of soul, and perhaps
also this link with the artistic world. Its
a story, and the story is that we can adapt,
we can be exible, the public can organize to answer these contemporary diiculties like people living outside. Its
possible to do something.
Lauren Collins

THE FINANCIAL PAGE


UNEASY LIES THE HEAD

n 1960, the Department of Justice indicted executives from

CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

I several companies for involvement in a huge price-xing

scheme across much of the electrical industry. The story was


like a bad spy novelsecret hotel-room meetings, conversations in codeand its chief villain was General Electric, which
was then the worlds biggest company. Sixteen G.E. executives were convicted of violating antitrust laws, and the afair
is still known as the Great Electrical Price Conspiracy. It was
never proved that G.E.s top brass knew what was going on,
but, even if you give them the benet of the doubt, it was a
profound management failure. Yet Ralph Cordiner, G.E.s
chairman and C.E.O., not only escaped
prosecution; he even got to keep his job.
John Stumpf should have been so
lucky. The other week, Stumpf lost his
job as C.E.O. of Wells Fargo, after a bizarre corporate scandal: thousands of the
banks employees used customer data to
open more than two million fake bank
accounts, including more than ve hundred thousand credit-card accounts. The
total cost to consumers was less than you
might suppose ($2.5 million), because
the employees were just trying to meet
sales and bonus targets, and typically
closed the accounts quickly. But the egregious fraud indicated a corporate culture
gone badly awry, and, when Stumpf
appeared in front of Congress, Senator Elizabeth Warren demolished him.
In Cordiners era, Stumpf, who had been in his job since
2007, might have managed to hang on, but in todays corporate climate he had almost no chance. One recent study
of C.E.O. tenure found that the percentage of forced turnover tripled between 1970 and 2006, and another study concluded that boards of directors now aggressively re C.E.O.s
for poor industry-adjusted performance. In addition, the
average duration of a C.E.O.s tenure has fallen. In 1984,
thirty-ve per cent of C.E.O.s had been in the job for ten
years or more; in 2000, only fteen per cent had. By 2009,
according to one study, average tenure at the worlds biggest companies had fallen to around six years. (It has rebounded some since, because C.E.O.s are, naturally, less
likely to be red when corporate prots are healthy.)
Business professors once talked about the imperial C.E.O.,
but, increasingly, were in the era of what Marcel Kahan, a law
professor at N.Y.U., calls the embattled C.E.O. He told me,
Big shareholders and boards of directors have more power,
and are more willing to use it. And C.E.O.s have been the
net losers. The breakdown of the old order began more than

thirty years ago, but things have accelerated since the turn of
the century. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002, required
greater disclosure to investors, and increased the independence
of corporate boards. In the old days, boards were often loyal
to the C.E.O., Charles Elson, a corporate-governance expert at the University of Delaware, told me. Today, theyre
more loyal to the company. The rise of activist investors
who campaign aggressively for change when theyre not satised
with performancehas exacerbated the trend. One study
found that when activist investors succeed in winning seats
on the board of directors the probability that the C.E.O. will
be gone within a year doubles.
The information revolution has created other dangers for
C.E.O.s. In the social-media era, damaging stories travel fast,
and boards take public relations very seriously. P.R. disasters
have sealed the fate of top executives at no fewer than ve advertising companies this year. (The most notorious debacle
was at Saatchi & Saatchi: the chairman resigned after telling
a reporter that he didnt think gender inequality in the industry was a problem.)
The predicament of modern C.E.O.s
may seem surprising, given their prominence and lavish compensation. Top executives everywhere are paid more than
they used to be, and the U.S. has led the
way; American C.E.O.s earn, on average, two to four times as much as European ones and ve times as much as Japanese ones. Yet its precisely these factors
that make C.E.O.s vulnerable, because
the expectations for their performance
are higher. If youre paid tremendous
amounts of money to make things go
right, people naturally feel that you should
be held accountable when things go
wrong, Elson says. In that sense, the increasing willingness of boards to re the
C.E.O. is actually the ip side of a fetishization of the position that began in the eighties. In Ralph Cordiners day (and
in Japan maybe still), belief in a C.E.O.s power to transform
a company was limited. But todays cult of the C.E.O. is
founded on the belief that having the right person at the top
is the key to successfrom which it follows that a failing
company should show its boss the door.
C.E.O.s themselves dont seem to have fully internalized
this new regime. Some C.E.O.s have a very lofty opinion
of themselves, and when theyre told they have to go theyre
almost always shocked, Elson says. (Americas most famous
corporate executive may learn this lesson on Election Day.)
But this is really poetic justice at work. In the past thirty
years, C.E.O.s have remade American companies as lean,
mean machines that put shareholder value above all else. To
do that, theyve insisted on greater accountability for performance and have broken implicit social contracts, such as the
promise of lifetime employment. Its only tting that theyre
victims of the same logic.
James Surowiecki
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

19

PERSONAL HISTORY

ADRIFT
How I lost my way in love.
BY DIANNE BELFREY

very love story has to start some-

E where, and Im blaming this one on

a boat. My husband, Mark, was looking


for an art studio to rent, and a building
in Park Slope a block from our apartment had a space available. He was going
to look at it, and Id been asked to come
along, on a summer evening, to weigh
in with a wifes opinion. I liked the building from the moment the man who
owned it swung open a barn-style garage door to let us in. From the outside,
it looked like a normal, if dilapidated,
red brick town house, but, inside, the
studios were of a passageway that was
so labyrinthine and long that there was
20

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

no imagining where it might lead. Tools


and welding equipment and hunks of
stone leaned against the walls, along with
stretched canvases and sheets of metal.
There was a smell of turpentine.
Whats under here? I asked, poking a booted toe at a large shape beneath a tarp. The man, a sculptor and
painter, who was covered in white dust
later identied as marble, glanced at
his feet and said that it was a boat hed
built. He pulled of the tarp to reveal
a beautiful wooden sailboat. I said he
must be a sailor, and he replied that,
no, hed never been on a boat before
hed made this one, adding that hed

found a book at a stoop sale which had


instructions for how to build a model
boat, and thought that it would be fun
to try to build a full-sized boat using
it as a guide. I didnt especially care
about boats, or about sailing, but I did
like stories such as this one. When I
asked him whether it worked, he
laughed and looked down and said that
he supposed it did, as hed sailed it on
the Hudson. I blame everything on the
boat. If it hadnt been there, none of
the rest would have happened. I
wouldnt have left my husband and run
away with the manIll call him Williamwho had built it.
Mark rented the studio, and shortly
afterward we began to see William trying to teach himself how to rollerblade
in the playground across the street from
our apartment. Hed be there for hours,
night after night. He was tall, with a
large and unusually shaped head, and
he always wore the same tattered yellow polo shirt. William had told Mark
that he was going through a rough divorce, involving two boys near the age
of our son, then twelve, and Mark suggested that we have him to dinner.
The next time I saw William in the
playground, I went over and rattled the
chain-link fence to get his attention,
and said that he needed to come have
dinner with us. You mean right now?
he asked. I mean in thirty minutes, I
replied, and then, because I sometimes
hide my shyness behind an abrupt manner, I headed back across the street,
turning to announce that we were having spaghetti carbonara. I had a red
dishtowel draped over my arm. Like a
matador, he later said.
In the kitchen, William apologized
for not removing his skates, but he hadnt
anticipated the pleasure of being in feminine company and wasnt condent as
to the state of his socks. I gestured to
his shirt with the knife I was using to
chop shallots and said that I could believe it. He skated over to where I stood
at a butcher block. Might I be of assistance? he asked. No, Im good, I
said without looking up, self-conscious
about my proximity to so massive a man.
When we sat down to eat, I asked if he
was originally from Wales. There was
a foreignness to him, something craggy
and lonesome, and a trace of an accent
in his voice. No, D.C., he said, which
CONSTRUCTION BY STEPHEN DOYLE

was the last place I expected to hear.


Feminine company. Might I be
of assistance? He had a formality, but
it was surprisingly winning, and the
stories he told that night were charming, like the one about how, years earlier, he had teamed up with another artist and a housepainter to buy his building. It had been cheap, because that part
of Brooklyn was squalid then, and the
buildings condition was laughable.
Theyd made some improvements, including a cobbled-together loft, above
the studios, which connected the town
house to two carriage houses behind it,
and which the artist, whose name was
Anne, still shared with William. Recently, she had mixed a bag of cement
to pour under the buildings stoop, because the food she liked to leave out for
stray cats had attracted rats. Before the
cement had dried, both cats and rats had
trekked across it, one set of paw prints
following another, creating what William called an enchanting little fossil.
He became the new family friend
who would sit at our table a few nights
a week and talk brilliantly, and I attered myself with the notion that I was
talking brilliantly back. Id later fall into
bed feeling improved but also depleted,
as if wed been conversing at a higher
altitude, where the air was thin. About

a month into this routine, William arrived not from the playground but from
his oice, on Wall Street; when he
wasnt sculpting or painting, he wrote
code for an international bank. He was
wearing a good shirt and jacket and a
long, black cashmere coat. A man
dressed for the business of adult life.
Like a conqueror, I thought.
He carried an elegant shopping bag,
and pulled from it a box containing a
set of Wsthof knives. He said that he
could no longer stand by and watch me
try to cut shallots with what amounted
to a butter knife. I insisted that I couldnt
accept so extravagant a gift. He frowned
and said that he believed in the right
tool for the task. He added that, if the
knives ever got dull, he could sharpen
them in his studio. Hey, by the way, he
asked, whats your e-mail address?
The rst e-mail he sent, the following morning, lled the computer screen.
During the next few days, he wrote, in
dense but eloquent sentences, that it had
been years since hed met someone he
so much wanted to know. I read the
e-mails at the oice, whispering Im in
such trouble so loudly that a colleague
later asked what I was in trouble about.
William and I began writing to each
other daily. Once, after I had mentioned
that the weight of quarters made me feel

And this is an exact re-creation of how an owl would


have looked in the thirteenth century.

rich, he gave me a Morton salt container


lled with quarters. He had removed
the top to get the coins in and then reattached it so that you couldnt tell it
had been altered. The spout that had
been designed to pour salt now poured
quarters. Not long afterward, I brought
the knives to his studio to have them
sharpened, even though they werent
dull. Actually, I didnt bring them.
Williams unconventional looks
worked to our advantage, as Mark, a
former model who had once played the
romantic lead in an Italian movie, was
handsome in a way that the world could
agree on. No one would easily believe
that Id chosen William over him. But
I hadnt chosen. And I didnt intend to
keep up this arrangement, which was
exhausting. I thought that things would
just sort themselves out.
ne day, they did. My mother, after

O a lifetime of robust health, was sud-

denly dying, in California, and I was rushing to get out the door to catch a plane.
An e-mail to William was open on an
ancient desktop computer that I shared
with Mark. He happened to be at home,
and saw it. He was still staring at it when
the car-service driver honked outside.
See you later, I murmured, although I
didnt, because, after I left for the airport,
Mark read dozens of our messages. A
few days later, I sat on a corner of my
mothers hospital bed, speaking to him
on the phone. He said that the e-mails
were well written, even beautiful, in parts.
I thanked him.Dont push it, he said.
You and I will be great friends one day,
I replied. Not just yet, he said. I suggested that, no matter what, he should
keep the studio. Wives had a tendency
to come and go; cheap studios in Park
Slope did not. Mark said that, in the end,
he supposed I hadnt been all that great
a wife. Keep the studio, I said.
I moved to an apartment at the other
end of Park Slope, and William, according to my wishes, kept a discreet
distance. I had upended all of our lives,
and my main concern then was for my
son. But, after a year, William stepped
back in, renewing his courtship with an
emphasis on gifts. I needed a new dining table, and he built me one that could
seat twelve, out of maple salvaged from
a horse barn in Maine. There were more
Wsthof knives and, when my speakers

began to fail, a Bose sound system. He


surprised me with an expensive baseball mitt, because we liked throwing a
ball to each other from impressive distances in Prospect Park. What an arm,
he marvelled. There were Persian rugs,
laptops, and tickets to skydive, because
he suspected that I was the kind of
woman who would enjoy jumping out
of a plane.
At times, William was didactic to
the point where it felt as if he were
talking at me, rather than with me, but
Id never known a man who went so far
out of his way to ll my needs long before I knew that I had them. I was uncomfortable, though, when he began
buying me art. He had become an unsalaried partner in a nancial startup,
the unsalaried part being, he assured
me, a non-problem. A number of venture capitalists were approaching them.
Were going to have millions, he said.
If I want to buy you art, I get to buy
you art.
Finally, on a night in mid-November,
as we sat on my couch, and I rested my
head against his shoulder, he said, All
right, my darling dear, Im buying Anne
out, and moving you in, along with our
boys. Enough with this dating format.
Were too old for this. We were too
old for it. And it should have been me,
I thought, to come up with this idea.
We would be living in a town house
that had a loft and a parking space.
Here was yet another gift, and it was a
big one. I agreed to move in sometime
after the holidays. Then, on Christmas
Eve, there was a re.

There was some, it turned outthe


bare-bones type that youd expect artists to have, which was worrisome, considering that we didnt have much money
set aside for renovation, and almost
nothing in the building was up to code:
the electrical wiring was precarious;
there was no heating system. When I
dropped by a week later, to help haul
away debris, I found that William had
set up an encampment at one end of
the loft. He sat at a table, clad in blankets that hed converted into ponchos
by slicing openings in them, and typed
intently at his computer, wearing ngerless mittens. As far as I could tell,
nothing had been cleared or patched
or xed. He waved away my questions
about an insurance claim; his work took
precedence, he said. A few minutes later,
he got up and made a snowball from a
drift that had accumulated beneath a
broken skylight, and threw it at me
playfully.
I was beginning to have doubts about
the move, but I kept thinking about
how the boys were depending on this

homeWilliams sons were arriving in


the springand about how Mark was
still living in our old apartment, now
with a woman he had recently met. I
wanted to return to the neighborhood,
to build a new life on top of the one
Id wrecked, without letting go of any
of the old participants. But I couldnt
do it. The fallout from the re had been
too bewildering, and, a month later, as
we sat in my car in front of the Park
Slope Food Co-op, I told William that
I couldnt live with him.
There was something wrong with
the words that came out of his mouth
in response. They were jumbled together, too high, too loud, too shrill. I
caught a glimpse of his face, then
opened the door, jumped from the car,
and ran into the co-op, where I called
my sister in California, my hands shaking so badly that it took me three tries
to get the number right. When she
picked up, I told her that I thought
William might be a psychopath. My
sister, who is a judge, started asking
questions, which I couldnt answer. His

assumed, based on Williams good

I cheer when he called me in the morn-

ing, that the situation wasnt serious.


But, when I got there, the block was
overrun with emergency vehicles. Firemen had broken down the front door
and smashed the windows; an acrid
smoke still drifted from the lower ones.
When I asked William what had happened, he said that a candle had been
left burning in one of the studios. He
added that people had been in the carriage houses, and that it had been a close
call for them. The neutrality with which
he said this made me wonder whether
he was in shock. Theres some insurance, right? I asked. Yeah, I think, he
replied, with a shrug.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

23

eyes went of was the best explanation I could ofer her. She said that she
had no idea what that meant. She
needed specics, because William was
the most adult man Id ever been involved with. He was an extremely good
person, she reminded me.
My sister was right, so I calmed
down. Later that night, I went to see
William, to tell him that I thought we
could work past the thing that had happened earlier. The thing? he asked.
The way you yelled, I replied. The way
I ran. He said that we both knew the
degree to which I panicked at change,
and kissed my head.
Later, I would return to this moment again and again in my mind.
When a man devotes a lot of time to
wooing a woman and she tells him that
she might be leaving, its reasonable
that some outsized emotions might be
expressed. Still, I couldnt get the episode to t with the gentle person who
could charm any group of guests at a
dinner table, someone so erudite and
original that friends of mine (and all
the friends I introduced William to
were impressed) had called him a Renaissance man. Is there anything he
cant do? they asked.
e moved in, and when I brought

W people by the building to check

out my new life theyd comment on the


dazzling square footage, then ask if I
knew that it smelled like gas. I did
knowold gas heaters had been damaged in the re.
William responded to this issue with
the same lack of urgency that hed displayed toward the insurance claim. This
was also true of the wood stove Id found
and brought home. He had designed
an elaborate system of pulleys and
ramps to coax the stove upstairs, but
then lost interest; six months later, it
still sat unused in a corner. His suggested solution to our wiring problems
was to run long extension cords from
his studio and set up construction oodlights. There were so many holes in the
oorboards that it would be easy to do,
he pointed out, seemingly unaware that
the holes in themselves were a problem, as rats were coming through them,
making their way to where we lived
and slept and ate. He didnt seem to
experience such problems the way other
24

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016


people did. It was Dickensian, to live
with rats and without heat, in the heart
of Park Slope. I found an electrician
on Craigslist and asked him to stop by
when William was at work. He appeared slightly stunned by the situation, and said there wasnt much he
could do without an extensive renovation. As he left, he told me to be sure
to take care.
Whether William was in the loft,
writing code, or downstairs, making
art, he was always happy to see me and
to talk, as long as we stayed on subjects
that interested him. But household concerns, bills, furniture soaked by the re
hoses, which now sat swollen behind
the house, so that the neighbors young
children could no longer play in the
yard: none of that could be addressed
without risk of inciting Williams anger,
which I still didnt understand and had
a stake in pretending wasnt there.
hen I encountered other people,

T mainly women and mostly online,

who were in situations that eerily paralleled my own. The women were as
disoriented as I was, as oddly alone in
their eforts at home. Once theyd ceased
being objects of obsession, their lives
had sailed of the gridsomething that
they were unable to easily explain to

other people, or even to themselves.


They, too, were reluctant to approach
their partners for the most basic needs,
for fear of being met with frightening
outbursts that came from unexpected
angles and with little provocation. Over
time, I read many descriptions of what
these could look and feel like, but none
was as good as this one:
The old man was trying to behave, but he
kept going of into these bizarre rages at the
drop of a hat. The rages would be almost incomprehensible to an outsiderIm hard pressed
to explain them to myself. . . . The tiniest provocations start these escalating jags that run away
on their own steam. . . . Its like the small sound
that can set of a landslide.

It was in an e-mail that William wrote


to me when he was visiting his father,
not long before our lives were overcome
by a similar phenomenon.
I asked William, as delicately as I
knew how, if he would consider getting
professional help. As an adult, Id been
given a diagnosis of attention-decit
hyperactivity disorder, and it had come
as a relief, as it explained things that I
had never understood about myself. But
not everyone welcomes speculation about
the way his brain is built. William said
that he had always known that he was
diferent, but he had never seen any reason to seek a diagnosis. He had gured
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

25

people out at the age of ten, and couldnt


get over how simple it was.
All he needed to do was watch TV
shows and movies, and take from them
performances he likedmemorizing
the lines, studying the body language,
the facial expressions. He then practiced making the expressions in front
of a mirror. He gave his voice a makeover, read up on etiquette in books by
Miss Manners. I said, Your voice? You
made up your voice? He had. A modulation here, a baritone note there.
Amazing, I said. Women went crazy for
his speaking voice. (The same for his
sexy saunter, which he had also manufactured.) One day, when I had stayed
home from work and been too sick to
call my department head, he had made
the call for me, and, I told him, she still
occasionally mentioned it. He laughed.
He also said that, more often than
not, when he drove he would confuse
a stop sign with a stoplight, and patiently wait for it to turn green. Objects on the periphery of his vision ew
in and out too fast; all those cyclists
and pedestrians, all those other cars.
Better not to drive at all. He preferred
to walk, anyway, plucking art from
dumpsters, rescuing it from curbs. People often had no idea what they were
throwing away. What else? I asked.
Navigating social situations was, he
said, like trying to speak Mandarin
when youd taken only a semester of it
in high school, and unked. There
wasnt any language in his mind, either,
just images and equations and grids
and maps. He didnt know what he
would say until he heard himself say
it. What he did know for sure was that
people hardly saw anything. Youre
not even looking, he said.
ertain words, phrases, the chaos

C of family life: eventually, these, too,

started to y in too fast at William. Id


become frantic to never say the wrong
words with the wrong inection at the
wrong time, such as this corkscrew you
bought is a piece of crap, in case he
thought Id said youre a piece of crap,
leading to backpedalling on my part:
No, see, its just that the cork got stuck
in the bottle againtheres no leverage.
I moved to the top oor, so that I
could think about what to do. William
couldnt comprehend that decision,
26

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

which is why I sat with him outside his


bedroom a few weeks later, holding his
hands, trying to explain. I thought that
the talk had gone well. Or, at least, well
enough for me to go downstairs, a little before dawn, as I sometimes did, to
watch him sleep. Except that this time
he wasnt there. On my way back upstairs, I took a detour to the middle of
the loft and tipped the sofa and the
chairs onto their sides, like cows. It wasnt
much by way of a response, but it was
something.
I later learned that, for the rst time
since we had been together, William
had stayed with another woman, whom
he had met on the subway. He had decided, after our talk, that it no longer
mattered what he did, now that everything between us had been lost.
d been living upstairs for months,

Itrying to stay out of Williams way,

while also trying to get the boys


through the school year. By then,
his volatility had become more pronounced, but one day he knocks on
my door, to ask if I would go with him
to a wedding on the coast of Northern California that wed arranged to
attend a while back. I say that it would
be better if he took one of his new
girlfriends. There had been a few, and,
I point out, new girlfriends love being
given the opportunity to prove how
game they are.
William says that he doesnt want
to take any of themhe wants to take
me. He isnt ready to go public with
the news of our failed relationship. I
should say no. Instead, I say yes. But
two hotel rooms, and no lectures about
the species of birds or the variety of
fauna in Point Reyes. No data at all, I
insist. No data, he agrees.
The wedding takes place on a clif
overlooking Hearts Desire Beach. The
water in the bay is so blue and so calm
that its as if it exists to provide maximal heartache to anyone whose love is
ending rather than beginning. As soon
as the simple ceremony is over, I change
into a bathing suit and swim out, trying to gauge how long it might take to
get to where the waves are, water being
the element in which Ive always felt
most at home. Explaining to people
that William and I are no longer a couple had been harder than Id thought.

You live in the same building, though,


everyone kept saying. And you guys
are so great together, so hilarious.
I ip onto my back, to look at the
sunset, and I see William walking slowly
on the beachso funereal in his black
suit, so absurd a vision in a beach settingholding the hand of a young boy.
Hes pointing out trees and rocks, stooping to collect shells, so that the boy can
examine them.
O.K., thats it, I decide. In all the
years Ive spent with this man, Ive
never seen him in the water, and today
hes getting in. I swim back to shore
and tell him so. William makes his
usual ustered excuses. Get in, I demand. Swim trunks are procured from
somewhere, and he does, although he
eyes the water anxiously. He says that
he doesnt really know how to swim.
Ill be right here, I say, as I backstroke to a nearby buoy. And then he
goes for it.
I yell at him to stop trying to hold
his head up so high. Level with the
water, I tell him, making pancaking
gestures with my hands. Youve got to
economize the motion of breathing!
His arms are everywhere, hes practically ailing. He doesnt know the way
this is supposed to go at all. And yet
his efort is so determinedso guileless and unguardedthat I stop shouting and just watch.
When William nally reaches me,
he holds on, and starts chatting excitedly about what a great swimmer he
could be if I gave him lessons. I know
this would involve a shared future we
arent going to have. I untangle his limbs
from mine and guide him onto his
back. Everyone starts this way, I say.
The boys and I once made William
stretch out on the bathroom oor so
that we could weigh his head on a scale,
an act that had been followed by talk
of donating it to the Smithsonian. Now,
with just two of my ngers supporting
his neck, his head is almost weightless.
He doesnt like the idea of his ears being
submerged, but, with encouragement,
he allows it to happen. He lets me
stretch out his arms, then his legs. He
oats beautifully. But what matters is
how at ease he is, how at peace. We
should have been working in water all
along, I think, but right here, under a
tangerine-colored sky, we are.

SHOUTS & MURMURS

TRUMPS AMERICAN
GIRL DOLLS
BY MEGAN AMRAM

t Trump American Girl, we cel-

LUCI GUTIRREZ

A ebrate girls and all that they can

be. Get inspired by our new line of


Donald J. Trump-approved dolls and
their timeless stories.
Meet ANGELA! Angela is a real
American girl from the nineteen-fties,
a time when America was truly great.
Shes an energetic and optimistic girl
who follows her heart instead of the
crowd, and also she has huge breasts
and a tight little ass. Shes a beautiful
girl who knows what she wants: blond
hair, blond skin, and separate water fountains for white people! Angela is Miss
Teen U.S.A. 1953 and a solid 7, who will
be downgraded to a 6 as soon as she
turns twenty and will eventually be retired at age twenty-six. Her special talent is keeping her mouth shut while
you watch her undress. She dreams of
someday marrying a much older man
whom she can cook for and call Daddy!
Meet BETSY! Betsy is a perky girl
during the American Revolution. She
enjoys speaking her mind but also loves
her perfect hourglass gure and large

breasts! Betsy wants to ght in the


American Revolution, just like her
brothers, and tries to disguise herself
as a boy but cant because her breasts
are too large to tape down, and plus
shes not a lesbo. Instead, she learns to
sew and designs the rst American ag,
which she then tattoos on her lower
back!
Meet ALICIA! A quiet Mexican
girl whose large heart is outshone only
by her even larger breasts! Alicia has
just illegally arrived in America. While
her brothers are all of raping and murdering white women and small dogs,
Alicia learns how to whip up a delicious taco bowl (Hispanic for sandwich bowl) and goes to work at the
Trump Tower Grill. The best taco bowls
are made in the Trump Tower Grill.
Meet ROSIE! Rosie is a spirited
girl in the Second World War. She gets
a job at a factory but has to leave after
shes sexually harassed because of her
large breasts. This teaches Rosie a lessonthat she was asking for it by wearing such large breasts to work. She in-

stead becomes a kindergarten teacher


and then a feminist because shes a fat
lesbian. Later, she dies of menopause!
Meet NELLIE! Nellie is a largebreasted, plucky daughter of a sharecropper, living during the Reconstruction era. She is so grateful not to be
living as a black person in 2016, when
all black people are living in hell. In
2016, you can get shot in the inner cities when youre walking to the store to
buy a loaf of bread! She agrees that
Donald Trump is the least racist person
shes met and that he has a great relationship with the African-Americans.
Meet ELIZABETH! Elizabeth is
a goofy Pocahontas who eats . . . beans?
Corn? I forgot what Pocahontas is
(are?). Which browns are they? Are
they the taco-bowl browns?
Meet HILLARY! Hillary is a butch
lesbian in 1969 who, because she is so
sickly and handicapped, is forced to
use two wheelchairs, one for each
droopy old-lady breast! She is secretly
a black man but lies so she can steal
taxpayer dollars to go be an abortionist at Wellesley College. For fun, she
killed a Vietnam War vet named Pepe,
who came back to haunt her and all
the other liberal media homos. Comes
with fun ip-ops for her to ip-op
in and one Benghazi. I dont know
what that is but I hear its bad and
Jewish.
Meet IVANKA! This American
Girls got everythinga tight little gure, an ass you could bounce a milliondollar bill of of, not to mention shes
my daughter! If Ivanka werent my
daughter, perhaps Id be dating her.
Even if she were my daughter, Id probably date her. Im gonna date her. Im
dating her!
Meet ALINA! Alina is a fourteenyear-old girl from Moldova! I purchased her from a farmer for six beads
and a taco bowl from the Trump Tower
Grill! Blink twice for I love you, Alina!
Meet MELISSA! She is a monster
that I engineered in my private genetics lab at Mar-a-Lago. Her body is just
two huge breasts, genitals, and a head
with no mouth! She is the Platonic
ideal of a girl. Now that Melissa exists,
you will never be able to look at a regular girl again!
Meet TIFFANY! Who is Tifany
again? I forget who Tifany is!
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

27

LETTER FROM SHANGHAI

THE EMPERORS NEW MUSEUM


An ostentatious billionaire is using art to put China on the cultural map.
BY JIAYANG FAN

Liu Yiqians museums house the largest private art collection in the country.
nice to come home to ShangI ts
hai, the Chinese billionaire Liu

Yiqian told me one day in February, four


months after gaining worldwide notoriety by spending a hundred and seventy
million dollars on a painting by Amedeo
Modigliani. We had just sat down in his
oice at the Long Museum West, one
of two privately run art museums that
he has opened in the city, when his face
contorted and a sneeze of atomic force
burst out, unhindered by tissue or hand.
Liu unself-consciously wiped himself
down with a Kleenex, cleared his sinuses
copiously, and balled up the tissue, placing it on a glass cofee table between us.
Then he returned to the subject of his
home town: It might not have a long
history, this city, but it is a place made
28

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

by immigrants, for immigrants. We are


exposed to so much from everywhere
that people here have to adapt.
Lius oice is modest. Cold winter
light entered through a window that
looked onto a shabby courtyard. The
room was sparsely decorated, and the
most personal touch was a framed calligraphy scroll whose characters read Patience, perseverance. Liu had just got
back from Wuhan, where he is building
another branch of the museum, and he
seemed tired. Wearing clothes that were
quietly expensivea black linen jacket,
black pants, and black, woven slip-ons
he slumped on a black leather couch.
His face showed a days worth of stubble and he smoked continually
Chunghwa, the cigarettes that Chair-

man Mao favored. Its a Shanghai brand,


so Im used to it, he said, adding that
he had smoked since boyhood: When
I was very young, I used to roll up toilet
paper and copy the adults by sticking
that in my mouth.
The Long Museum West (long means
dragon in Chinese) opened in 2014, on
a scenic stretch of land on the western
shore of the Huangpu River. The Shanghai government had ofered a generous
discount on the property, in an area that
was once a manufacturing hub but is being
transformed into a cultural corridor intended to rival New Yorks Museum Mile
and Londons South Bank. The building is impressive, designed, in an industrial international style, by the young
Chinese rm Atelier Deshaus. Inside, a
series of colossal half-arches in rough
concrete interlock, as if in an M. C. Escher
print, giving the space an unxed, exploratory feel. The Modigliania darkhaired reclining nude seen against a
ame-colored background, nished in
1918will be the museums centerpiece,
but the bulk of its collection is contemporary art from around the world. The
museum is Lius second; the rst, the Long
Museum East, a ten-thousand-squaremetre granite monolith east of the river,
opened in 2012 and contains Chinese
antiquities and works by prominent contemporary Chinese artists. A third location opened in Chongqing earlier this
year, and the Wuhan branch will open
in 2018. Together, the museums, which
are run by Lius wife, Wang Wei, house
Chinas largest private art collection.
Liu is the forty-seventh-richest person in China, with an estimated fortune
of $1.35 billion. An early investor in Chinas nascent stock market, in the early
nineties, he has since diversied into
construction, real estate, and pharmaceuticals. He is fty-three and has bristly, slightly graying hair, watchful eyes,
and a paunch that suggests the banquet
diet of beer and grain liquor that is an
inextricable part of Chinese business
culture. Liu speaks in a raspy voice, and
his demeanor is brusque. He almost never
makes eye contact. Often, he seems barely
to hear questions, and his answers, when
they come, are less like responses than
like peepholes into some eeting train
of thought. Occasionally, when an idea
interests him, he cocks his head, and his
mouth forms a lopsided grin.
ILLUSTRATION BY JUN CEN

Powerful Chinese businessmen tend


to be circumspect and wary of attention,
because their success depends on not attracting government disfavor. Liu, however, is known for a brash, amboyant
style. After the Modigliani purchase
which exceeded by a hundred million
dollars the record paid for a work by the
artistthere was a urry of international
news stories in which Liu, who was little known outside China, spoke with outrageous casualness about the painting,
noting that it was relatively nice, at least
compared with other Modiglianis. Now,
however, he talked as if hed found the
attention unsettling, and seemed unsure
whether Western fascination with his
humble originshe started out as a market vender, and later drove a taxiconnoted respect or something else. Before
our meeting, his assistant warned me on
no account to mention an article in which
Liu called himself a tuhao, a term meaning uncouth and wealthy, and applied
derisively to those who have risen from
nothing in Chinas hyperkinetic economy. But among Chinese Liu takes a
certain pride in playing the equivalent
of the Beverly Hillbilliesan Everyman
who has suddenly got wise to the cultural cachet of art.
Liu began collecting as early as 1993,
but he rst drew notice in 2009, when
he paid more than eleven million dollars for a wooden Qing-dynasty throne
carved with dragons. Since then, he has
acquired a reputation for paying recordbreaking amountsforty-ve million
dollars for a six-hundred-year-old Tibetan silk tapestry, nearly fteen million
for a Song-dynasty vase, and thirty-ve
million for an ink landscape by the
twentieth-century artist Zhang Daqian.
When I mentioned the Modigliani,
Liu let out a dry laugh. Heres the deal
with the Mudi, he said, using an abbreviated Chinese approximation of
Modiglianis name. Its not just his art
but his life. Every object has its story.
Maybe if he hadnt ung himself out of
a window at thirty-six, his work wouldnt
be anywhere in the millions. Among
Western dealers, Chinese buyers are
known for being more interested in an
art works associations than in its aesthetic properties. But Liu had his facts
tangled: Modigliani died at thirty-ve,
from tuberculosis; it was his mistress
who committed suicide.

Lius extravagant hobby is the subject of considerable fascination in China,


and is interpreted variously as a nancial investment, a publicity stunt, a patriotic bid for the worlds attention, and
an act of pure ostentation, such as one
might expect from a tuhao. Liu told me
that he thinks the museum lls a gap
in Chinas cultural life. Until recently, the
country had few museums, and most of
them were barely worthy of the name.
The mission of the Long Museum is
to educate the Chinese public, and to
present quality work that is on a par
with other state-of-the-art museums
around the world, he said. He spoke of
giving China a cultural prestige commensurate with its wealth: Western museums are full of Chinese art, but China
has few Western art works of the calibre of the Modigliani.
Lius buying spree is one of many
developments that are turning Shanghai, Chinas most Westernized city, into
a global center for art. But it is also a
demonstration of Chinas brute purchasing power. If a Westerner bought
these Western masterpieces, people
would think it was very normal, he told
me. But, because they were bought by
an Asian, and not just a Japanese but a
Chinese person He looked up, his
eyes full of impish pride. After all, isnt
that why you are here?
iu Yiqian was born in 1963, to

L Shanghai factory workers who had

the good fortune, in the view of Chinese


society, of having three sons and the misfortune of having little to give them in
the way of material comfort. Lius role
model was his maternal grandfather, a
schoolteacher from an adjacent province
who later became a lawyer. He was my
rst teacher, the person who instilled in
me a rudimentary sense of the world,
Liu has written, in a kind of diary-blog
that he keeps on the Chinese socialmedia app WeChat. Lius fondest childhood memories are of sitting on his
grandfathers lap as the old man told him
ancient fables or read to him from the
cheaply produced, garishly illustrated
Maoist storybooks of the time.
These books, part of a canon of Communist art works known as red classics,
have recently become collectors items,
and the Long Museum West has the largest private collection of them, assembled

by Wang Wei. Lius favorite story was


The Cock Crows at Midnight, about a
greedy landowner who tricks his farmhands into rising early by crowing like a
rooster at midnight. Eventually, one of
them gures out the ruse, and, pretending to mistake the errant cock for a thief,
gives him a good beating. A year ago, the
museum mounted an exhibition on the
story, and Liu wrote about it on WeChat:
When I read this story as a kid, everyone knew the farmhand was the hero and
the landowner the villain. But now, thinking it over, I wonder, Didnt the landowner have to wake up even earlier than
the farmhands to pretend to crow like a
cock? So I have to ask myself, Am I now
the landowner or the farmhand?
In 1966, when Liu was two years
old, the Cultural Revolution began,
plunging the nation into chaos. A band
of teen-age Red Guards stormed the
family home, searching for anything
that could be deemed counter-revolutionary. They found a broken uorescent light xture in a battered armoire,
and Lius grandfather was accused of
hiding a bomb. He was arraigned at
one of the infamous struggle sessions,
in which counter-revolutionaries were
forced to admit their wrongdoing. His
punishment was to perform three days
of public contrition, standing in a
ninety-degree-angle bow.
When I asked Liu about the efect of
the Cultural Revolution on his childhood, he claimed not to remember much.
Whats the use of thinking about that
stuf ? he said. But on WeChat he is less
guarded. I dont have many happy childhood memories, but that particular incident is etched into me, he wrote. Even
as a toddler, I knew it wasnt a bomb.
Watching my grandfather humiliated
and led away by a bunch of children
lled my young heart with enduring hate,
vengefulnessthat and the desire to permanently play hooky. Liu made a habit
of running away from home.
In 1977, when he was fourteen, Liu
dropped out of school. You guys continue reading your books, he told his
classmates. Im going of to make
money. His timing was perfect. The next
year, Deng Xiaoping took over as the
countrys leader, and instituted a marketbased overhaul of Chinas moribund economic system. Liu went to work for his
parents, who had opened a market stall
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

29

selling leather bags in Yuyuan Gardens,


the most popular tourist destination in
Shanghai. Such an accessory would have
been denounced as bourgeois frivolity
only a few years before, but now fashion
merchandise signied status.
Liu remembers cutting up sheets of
leather with huge shears to make pants,
shoes, and bags, an activity that has left
him with a pinched nerve in his right
thumb. There was never a day we didnt
work, he recalled. Even on all the
days of the Chinese New Year, from
morning until night. He was a fast
worker, and made more than a hundred
yuan dailyat a time when that was the
monthly budget of the average family.
In three years, he entered the ranks of
ten-thousand-yuan earners, as the
young winners in Dengs economic system were known.
One day, Liu found himself waiting
two hours for a taxi at the Shanghai
train station. This gave him an idea, and,
at the age of twenty-one, he started a
taxi business, buying two cabs and driving one of them himself. I knew I
couldnt be the only one wasting this
much time on the curb, he told me,
hunching forward in a gesture of impatience. It wasnt even a decision.
Lius entrepreneurial instinct served
him well in the volatile economic climate of the early nineties. On a trip to
Shenzhen, where the government had
established a so-called Special Economic
Zone to test market-oriented policies,
Liu ran into a former classmate who explained a edgling concept called the
stock market. For the rst time, Chinas
state-owned companies were issuing
shares, but these were little understood
by the general public. For a hundred yuan
each, Liu bought a hundred shares of
the company that owned the market
where his parents rented their stall.
Within two years, each share was worth
ten thousand yuan. Liu had become a
millionaire, one of the few in China, at
a time when the concept struck ordinary
citizens as an inconceivable novelty.
Today, almost all of Chinas mega-rich
enjoy some relationship with the government, and Chinese bloggers speculate endlessly about Lius ties to the political lite. Perhaps because of this, Liu,
like many Chinese tycoons, is careful to
seem modest when speaking about his
success. When I asked him what tal30

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

ents had enabled him to rise, he waved


the question away. My business career
must be looked at against the background of Chinas economic growth,
he said matter-of-factly. China experienced a lot of change and generated
a lot of wealth. Theres luck there and,
of course, some diligence. Thats how
my generation was created.
Lius WeChat posts, though, reveal
how the vertiginous trajectory of his life
continues to preoccupy him. I spent my
youth betting on tomorrows, one entry
reads. But if I had nished school how
diferently would my life have turned
out? The irony of his life now is that
he is frequently mistaken for someone
unimportant. Forgot the security code
to my own apartmenthe owns hundreds of apartments in Shanghai. Security guard thought I was a random
loiterer and asks suspiciously who I am
here to see. When his Shanghai museums were being built, he liked to sit outside eating lunch with the construction
workers, and friends of his told me that
he goes unrecognized at museum openings. Squatting by the entrance, smoking, he is taken to be a janitor.
ius generation grew up in what

L he refers to as Old Shanghai. In the

days before economic liberalization


brought some measure of prosperity to
Chinas big cities, Shanghai was a sleepier, more insular town, where everyone
spoke Shanghainese, rather than Mandarin. The city of Lius youth had its origins in the eighteen-thirties, when the
British East India Company tried to establish a trading post on the banks of the
Huangpu River. Resistance led to the
rst Opium War, which the British won,
and Western powers set up a series of
concessions, districts that were not governed by Chinese law. Hotels, villas, cathedrals, racecourses, and theatres quickly
sprang up, and the city was alternately
hailed as the Paris of the East and lambasted as the Whore of the Orient.
The very qualities of adaptability and
openness that allowed Shanghai to ourish also madeand still makethe city
the focal point of Chinas uneasy encounter with the West. Today, more than
a quarter of the foreign nationals in China
live there, and Shanghai natives like to
think of themselves as more sophisticated than their compatriots in other cit-

ies. As the mid-century novelist Eileen


Changthe citys most famous writer
once put it, The people of Shanghai
have been distilled out of Chinese tradition by the pressures of modern life.
They are a deformed mix of old and new.
Though the result may not be healthy,
there is a curious wisdom to it.
If you wander through central Shanghai, this mixed heritage is manifest on
every street corner. The old trading
houses and apartment buildings of the
Bund, an iconic riverfront promenade,
wouldnt look out of place in a Western
capital. Elsewhere, you can still nd narrow brick alleys of shikumena hybrid
of traditional courtyard dwellings and
Western town houseswhich were built
in the eighteen-sixties to house a booming population of Chinese workers.
Early in my visit to Shanghai, I met
Leo Xu, a young gallerist, who took me
to the Jin Jiang Hotel, in the heart of
the old French Concession. Like many
businesses in the neighborhood, the
Jin Jiang, which was established in the
nineteen-thirties, operates as a pastiche
of the citys cosmopolitan heyday. We
walked down a wood-panelled corridor,
lined with photographs of svelte, cheongsam-clad movie and cabaret stars, to the
hotels ornate dining room. Service was
old-fashioned and deferential, and swing
music drifted from hidden speakers.
Without glancing at the menu, Xu ordered braised duck and pickled beets,
classic dishes that typify the sweet, subtle avors of the citys cuisine.
As we ate, Xu told me about Shanghais gallery scene and its collectors. Francis Bacon, for instance, doesnt sell. The
Chinese dont see themselves in the work,
he said. Chinese collectors need to be
able to relate to it and to feel that it has
at least a little relevance to how they live
or what they know. They prefer either
traditional Chinese ink paintings or works
by current art-world stars such as Antony
Gormley, Damien Hirst, and Olafur Eliasson. Name recognition is paramount.
If buyers are putting down such a large
sum, they want blue-chip artists, someone everyone knows, Xu said.
Xu was eager to talk up the citys artistic importance. He claimed that it had
surpassed Beijing, which is generally held
to be the center of the Chinese art world,
and that its immigrant history made it
more open than other Chinese cities.

Beijing has traditionally focussed on art


that is state-sanctioned, he said. Shanghai, on the other hand, and especially in
recent years, is about culture and the varieties of individual experience.
Chinas earliest museums were established in Shanghai, by Europeans, to
serve European ends. The rst of them,
the Xujiahui Museum, was founded in
1868, by a French Jesuit priest and zoologist who combined his missionary
work with collecting animal and plant
specimens from the Yangtze Delta. Once
missionaries realized that exhibiting the
wonders of the natural world made the
local population more enthusiastic about
Christianity, similar museums followed.
It was in such museums that the Chinese public rst encountered maps, and
saw China as a physically demarcated
territory, rather than as the entire world,
as many had supposed it to be.
Yet the Chinese lite, traditionally
the patrons and collectors of art, had no
interest in entertaining or educating the
masses. After the Communists came to
power, the arts were repurposed as a political tool and subsumed into the Department of Propaganda. But in the
early nineteen-eighties the government
began to see museums as a way of advertising the vitality of Chinese culture,
and they spread across the country. The
trend has intensied since 2012, when
Hu Jintao, then Chinas President, announced a strategy to build a great nation of culture. In 1949, China had only
twenty-one museums. There are now
more than four thousand.
One afternoon, I met Li Xiangyang,
who was the head of the Shanghai Art
Museum from 1993 to 2005, and has
been a close observer of the citys evolving relationship with art. Now in his sixties and semi-retired, he does traditional
ink paintings, and has published a memoir recounting his life in the museum
world. During the Cultural Revolution, when Li was in his late teens, he
got a job as a propaganda illustrator,
churning out pictures of factory workers and of farmers toiling in wheat elds.
I wasnt an artist, he said. Nobody
called himself that in those days. There
wasnt even regular school, never mind
art school. His curatorial career began
by chance, when a local Party oicial,
with no training in art, decided that Li
should run the museum. The project had

Could you not do that? Keeping babies alive


in public makes me uncomfortable.

few resources and no dened mission.


When I started, we knew very little
about Chinese art history and almost
nothing about Western art, he said.
Despite the museums impressivesounding name, it was comically ramshackle, with no permanent collection.
Do you know what our museum space
was? Li said. The second oor of a
bank, which local hobbyists rented occasionally in order to exhibit their drawings to one another. Few members of
the public ever visited. The worst part
was that I was in charge of earning my
own salary, and also maintenance fees
for the museum, he said, with a snort
of laughter. So if I didnt rent out the
space enough times a month I didnt get
paid, and neither did my staf!
Li learned on the job. He managed
to make fact-nding trips to Japan, Singapore, and Europe. In Germany, he was
astonished to see volunteer docents: the
idea that anyone would work in a museum for nothing seemed fantastical. He
recalled the thrill of visiting the Louvre
for the rst time: There were so many
things I wanted to bring back to this city,
like a farmer who wants to bring back
as many seeds as possible to his own
eld. For Li, the audio guides were as
exciting as the masterpieces on display.
In a culture with no tradition of mu-

seums, the governments sudden demand


for many more of them was hard to satisfy. Modernization! Soft power! Li
said, in a singsong voicecatchphrases,
respectively, of the Deng and Hu Jintao
administrations. But when I was in the
job few people even knew the word museology. Another Shanghai museum
director used an analogy to describe the
predicament. A tuxedo, like a museum,
is expensive and has many pieces, he
said. You have the shirt, the bow tie, the
vest, the jacket, and more. But so few
Chinese have even seen a tux that the
leaders are just trying to familiarize the
people with the garment. And, rather
than buying every single piece, maybe
we conserve some fabric and sew shirt
collars onto the vest instead.
visited the Long Museum West

I early one Sunday morning. A pair of

Japanese tourists and some Danes holding guidebooks waited uncertainly in


the entrance lobby. From the exhibition
space beyond, a woman in jeans peered
out and yelled at a security guard, Why
did you open the door? The museum
wasnt open yet.
Fifteen minutes later, I stood in the
main hall. The vaulted ceilings rose
so high above the gallery walls that
the whole oor had the feel of a single

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

31

palatial room. The galleries were devoted to contemporary artChinese


antiquities are in darkened rooms in the
basementand the rst piece that
caught my eye was a cartoonishly sculpted
bright-yellow dog with neon-green polka
dots. His name was Chan-Chan, and he
was the creation of Yayoi Kusama, the
Japanese conceptual artist. A few feet
away was a large robot constructed entirely from vintage television sets, by the
Korean-American video artist Nam June
Paik, and The Embodiment of Tree,
by the Japanese sculptor Ikki Miyakea
wooden gure of a woman with her hands
stretched upward above her head. Individually, the pieces were interesting
enough, but their placement seemed haphazard, as if movers had plunked them
down in a warehouse. Along the walls,
paintings of various sizes jostled one another, like certicates in a dentists oice.
Liu, in his WeChat diary, loves to
post photographs of his museums when
they are packed, with a line snaking out
the entrance, like, as he puts it, a great
big dragon. He sees the museums as a
means not only of educating the public but also of tempering materialism.
Since the standard of living has improved, more people are concerned about
spiritual satisfaction, he said. Culture,
which we neglected for a while, we are
now picking up again as a people.
Theres no model for the kind of
museum hes buildingnothing of its
scale and ambition, the New York gallerist David Zwirner told me. He is a

trailblazer, which is probably as daunting as it is exhilarating.Marion Maneker,


an art-market analyst, compared Lius
undertaking with current attempts to
assemble world-class collections in the
United Arab Emirates. In both cases,
funds are practically limitless, but there
is not yet a xed sense of art history or
of the role of museums. Copying Western models, Maneker suggested, could
take one only so far. There is no such
thing as the platonic ideal of a great,
encyclopedic museum, he said. Even
the Louvre and the Met were products
of their time and a certain amount of
luck. If Lius museum empire is to become great, he said, it needs to draw
connections, be greater than the sum of
its parts, tell a story.
Lius museums face other challenges,
too. Everyone I spoke to mentioned
nancial sustainability. Philanthropy is
not well-established in Chinauntil
recently, there was no tax incentive to
donate to nonprot institutionsand
though the government sometimes provides funds for construction, it contributes nothing to operating expenses. Liu
had told me he hoped that the Long
Museums would be a lasting feature of
the Chinese cultural landscape, but the
volatility of the domestic stock market
casts doubt on the permanence of anything built on a private fortune.
A large number of wealthy Chinese,
Liu among them, have recently come
to dominate the market for Asian art
much of which was plundered by the

West. (UNESCO estimates that 1.6 million Chinese artifacts left the country
illegally in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.) The government has become active in petitioning for restitution, and many Chinese collectors regard
it as their patriotic duty to bring back
important items. Lius purchases t this
trend, but, as on other subjects, he is
careful not to express resentment about
the loss of heritage. When we are
young, we are indoctrinated to believe
that the foreigners stole from us, but
maybe its out of context, he told me.
Whatever of ours they stole, we can
always snatch it back one day. The laws
of the market always rule.
Many collectors keep their purchases
anonymous, but Liu broadcasts his acquisitions, something that even some of
his close friends initially found ofputting. Zhu Shaoliang, a prominent collector of Chinese antiquities, told me
that when he met Liu, in 2009, at an
auction, he thought he was aggressively
boastful. Zhu went on, He was making these wild claims about ancient
Chinese art, and it made me so angry. I
thought, This person is just so uneducated! But Zhu and Liu eventually became friends, and, over the years, Zhu
has advised Liu on purchases; in 2014,
he vouched for the authenticity of an
ancient scroll in Lius collection that was
suspected of being a forgery. It takes a
while to get to know him, but Liu learns
fast, and he is both decisive and bold,
Zhu told me. In some ways, he buys art
the way he conducts business.
Lius attitude toward running a museum is unconventional, and it troubles
many people in the art world. The security arrangements are widely held to
be inadequate for such a valuable collection, and other operations that are
vital in most museums, such as P.R., are
all but nonexistent. They dont spring
for that kind of thing, because they think
its unnecessary, Jia Wei, a former auctioneer, who used to work with Wang
Wei, Lius wife, told me. They both
want to do everything themselves.
Alexandra Munroe, the head of Asian
Art at the Guggenheim Museum, has
visited the Long Museum on a number
of occasions and has been shocked by
what she sees as insuicient professionalism. They are lacking in the absolute
fundamentals of how to handle art, she

told me. Walking through the antiquities section of the Long Museum West,
she noted, with dismay, that fabric cords,
which are attached to scrolls for the purpose of tying them when they are rolled
up for storage, were left dangling in front
of the art. Its the equivalent of walking
into a museum here and seeing a van
Gogh hung upside down, she said. Its
about custodianship. Just because you
own the art and the museum doesnt
mean that you get to disrespect it.
Lius treatment of some of his most
precious art works has enhanced an impression of cavalier ignorance. In 2014,
he spent more than thirty-six million
dollars on a fteenth-century porcelain
cup decorated with a chicken motif,
which had been owned, in the eighteenth century, by the famous Qingdynasty emperor Qianlong. Liu publicly
sipped tea from the artifactscandalizing the art world and cementing his
reputation as a cheeky eccentric. Emperor Qianlong has used it; now Ive
used it, he explained afterward. I
wanted to channel his spirit. The next
year, in a hotel suite in New York, he
celebrated the purchase, for ve million
dollars, of a twelfth-century Tibetan
bronze of a seated yogi by stripping down
to his underwear, mimicking the statues lotus pose, and circulating pictures
of the yogi and himself on social media.
n my last night in Shanghai, I

O accompanied Leo Xu and a few of

his friends to what they described as the


hottest art opening of the season. We
got in an Uber and drove toward the
neon of the citys commercial center.
The car pulled up in front of a crescentshaped courtyard full of signs that did
not immediately suggest artistic endeavor: Burberry, Bally, Dolce & Gabbana. Around the perimeter of the courtyard were upscale gift shops, stafed by
tuxedoed salesmen. In a central atrium,
open to the sky, complicated-looking
pieces of jewelry lay on silver platters
beneath glass domes. It was unclear if
they were on display or for sale.
The venue, which opened in 2013, is
called K11, and its aim is to combine the
functions of art museum and shopping
mall. In the art space, which is downstairs from the courtyard, I wandered
through galleries of paintings, performances, and installations by fty-ve

young artists. Next to each work was a


QR code, which you could scan with
your phone to get a statement by the artist. Attendants glided around, silently distributing and collecting audio guides. The
galleries were much more crowded than
the ones Id seen at the Long Museum.
In one room, people clustered around a
gure in a red basketball jersey. It turned
out to be a statue of the Shanghaiborn basketball star Yao
Ming, shrunk to about
ve feet. (Yao is seven
and a half feet tall.) I
scanned the QR code and
learned that the artist had
hoped that shrinking
Chinas most famous
giant would ridicule
reality and authority.
A young man in sweatpants and a
camel-hair coat sauntered in, surrounded
by assistants holding clipboards and
iPads. Leo Xu nudged me: Thats
Adrian Cheng, the owner. Cheng is
thirty-seven and comes from a Hong
Kong real-estate family with vast holdings throughout China. Educated at
Taft and at Harvard, Cheng spends his
time shuttling between Hong Kong and
the mainland, visiting Europe every
month and New York twice a year. He
described the idea of K11 to me with
smooth, practiced uency. In China,
people dont go to museums, he said.
They go shopping. The Chinese love
luxury. But the concept of luxury is evolving here on the mainland. It used to be
fast cars and designer clothes. Now the
focus is shifting to culture. As a business strategy, the use of art to lure curious customers seemed to be working.
Philip Tinari, an American curator who
directs a contemporary art center in Beijing, told me about a K11 Monet show
in 2014. The lines looped around the
block, because Monet is one of the ve
Western artists Chinese people have
heard of, he said. When people are
bored in line, what do they do? They
shop. Its brilliant.
In the middle of one room at K11,
there was a plain white wall, guarded by
a uniformed attendant. Next to a slit in
the wall was a label that said Please insert one yuan coin. On the other side
of the wall was a dispenser with instructions to withdraw a one-yuan note. A
line of visitors pushed coins in and ex-

claimed as bills came out. The piece,


Past Opportunity, was by Liu Chuang,
a young artist represented by Leo Xus
gallery. Xu explained that Shanghais
many vending machines dispense coins
but that taxi-drivers and other venders
prefer bills: They cuss you out whenever you give them a coin. The symbolism was unavoidable. In the middle of
K11s fusion of culture and commerce
was an art work that
changed money into
money, leaving no one
richer but everyone feeling better of.
It was getting late,
and the crowd had
thinned. I started talking to the attendant, who
told me that she and her
husband had moved to Shanghai six years
earlier, in search of work. Shed never
been in a museum until she started working in one. Ive been standing here handing out coins for three hours and I still
dont get this thing! she said, laughing.
Xu took a coin from his pocket and said,
This tiny gesture, to which most people attribute absolutely no signicance,
says something about Chinese economic
trends over the past few decades. It shows
how in the course of change there are
these opportunities, big and small. And,
once you convert something to something else, you usually cant go back.
Xu inserted his coin into the slot and
when a yuan bill emerged he motioned
to the woman to keep it.
Xu and his friends hoped that Liu
and his wife, who know Cheng and
are regulars at Shanghai art openings,
might make an appearance. But they
were in Hong Kong. Later, Liu posted
on WeChat a picture of a stock certi cate from the early days of the
Shanghai stock market. Underneath, he
wrote that he had mislaid a box of these
certicates when moving house. Someone must have found them worth keeping, because an auction house here in
Shanghai just began selling them this
year, he wrote. I can still see my address, my own handwriting, and the
places where I blotted out a misspelling. In another post, he noted with
satisfaction, Today, several boxes worth
of them will fetch quite a price. In the
art market, the relics of Lius rise were
becoming a commodity.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

33

ANNALS OF RELIGION

THE MORAL MINORITY


If the Southern Baptist church cant be bigger, Russell Moore wants it to be better.
BY KELEFA SANNEH

n 2009, Russell Moore was a


young theologian who occasionally
served as the host of a Christian
radio show. He liked to let callers have
their say, drawing them out with friendly
questioning before gently acknowledging, when necessary, that he rmly disagreed. One day in July, he found himself leading a discussion of Sarah Palin,
who had recently called a surprise backyard press conference to announce that
she was resigning the governorship of
Alaska. (She blamed silly ethics charges
and serious lawyers fees.) Moores guest
was Richard Land, who had been praising Palin before most of the country
knew her name. Land was the president
of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-engagement arm of
the Southern Baptist Convention, which
made him the loudest voice of the biggest group of Protestants in the countrythe evangelical Pope, some people
called him. He had urged John McCain
to choose Palin as his running mate,
and had pronounced himself ecstatic
when McCain followed his advice. Addressing the audience via telephone,
Land called the resignation a very
shrewd move, suggested that Palin remained an existential threat to liberal
feminism, and compared her favorably
to Justice Clarence Thomas. Clarence
Thomas dared to get of the liberal plantation, he said. Sarah Palin refused to
buy into liberal leftist feminism.
Moore was respectful, but he seemed
puzzled by Lands eagerness to defend
Palin. Dr. Land thinks that Governor
Palins resignation was a shrewd move,
he said. I dont. I dont understand it
at all. Later in the show, after Land
had hung up, Moore ofered a broader
critique. We, as evangelical Christians,
are really, really prone, it seems to me,
to become so enthused with political
gures that we just automatically impute to them almost superheroic status, he said. Put not your trust in

34

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

princes, he addedPsalm 146:3. Or


in princesses, either.
During the previous two decades,
Land had proved an efective wrangler
of the historically unwrangleable Southern Baptists, mobilizing the denominations tens of millions of believers on behalf of the conservative movement and
the Republican Party. For a long time,
Southern Baptists had not only a faith
but a cause. They saw Gods greatness
reected in the inherent goodness of the
American Southand, more recently,
in America itself. Jerry Falwell, a Baptist and a Southerner (although not, until
late in his life, a member of the S.B.C.),
created the Moral Majority to propound
the idea that most Americans believed
as he did. Evangelicals became a potent
political force: in 2004, they helped
relect George W. Bush. Hes going to
dance with the one who brung him,
Land told one newspaper.
In fact, that election may have marked
the beginning of evangelicals political
decline. Land had predicted that the
President would act on issues important to the church, such as a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But, after Lands followers helped
return Bush to oice, he never pushed
for one. And in the Obama era Lands
status as an old-fashioned culture warrior came to seem, to some members of
the church, like a liability. In 2012, after
George Zimmerman, a neighborhoodwatch volunteer, fatally shot Trayvon
Martin, a seventeen-year-old AfricanAmerican, Land said on his own radio
show that activists were seizing on the
case to gin up the black vote for an
African-American President. When
he was criticized, he suggested that Zimmerman had behaved rationally; a black
man, he said, was statistically more likely
to do you harm than a white man. Land
eventually apologized, but, in the months
that followed, his radio show was cancelled, and, under pressure, he resigned

from the Ethics & Religious Liberty


Commission, which he had led since
1988. In the S.B.C., denominational
presidents come and goeach is elected
to a one-year term, with a maximum
one-year renewal. But the leader of the
E.R.L.C. is expected to stick around,
and to dene for the world what the
church stands for. For the rst time since
the Reagan era, the Southern Baptists
were looking for a new public face.
The face they eventually chose belonged to Russell Moore, who was fortyone when he assumed the presidency,
in 2013. Where Land was a stern gure, fearsomely jowled and sideburned,
Moore declines to play the heavy: he
once described himself as a little guy
who looks like a cricket, which suggests something about not just his appearance but also his sensibility. Land
often trained his re on homosexual
activists and other political enemies,
but Moore tends toward introspection,
admonishing Southern Baptists to think
rstand oftenabout their own sins.
The denomination was formed, in 1845,
by white Southerners who split of from
a national Baptist movement that was
growing increasingly intolerant of slavery. Moore sees in his theological ancestors a cowardly and catastrophic willingness to ignore the uncomfortable. If
you call people to repentance for drunkenness, or for adultery, or for any number of personal sins, but you dont say
anything about slaveholding or about
lynching, he says, youre just baptizing the status quo. In May, he published an Op-Ed in the Times called A
White Church No More, in which he
suggested that white, suburban, institutional evangelicalism was cloistered,
too separate from the forms of Christianity thriving in nonwhite America.
Moore agrees with Land on most
theological matters: both believe, as all
Southern Baptists are supposed to, that
the Bible contains truth, without any

Moore says Christians must accept that they are a marginalized community, in an increasingly hostile secular culture.
ILLUSTRATION BY BEN WISEMAN

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

35

mixture of error. And both view abortion as the dening atrocity of our age.
Although Moore strains to avoid partisan appeals, his political views are
generally conservative, which is to say,
generally in harmony with those of the
mainly white and thoroughly evangelical worshippers whom he servesand
who, through donations to their local
churches, pay his salary. But this year
Moore has found himself at odds with
his ock over the candidacy of Donald Trump. Moore has been relentless
in his criticism: in June, on CBSs Face
the Nation, he said that Trump, no
less than Hillary Clinton, represented
the very kind of moral and cultural
decadence that conservatives have been
saying, for a long time, is the problem.
Trump responded, inevitably, on
Twitter, calling Moore a nasty guy with
no heart! On CNN, hours later, Anderson Cooper asked Moore to continue the dialogue, and Moore ashed
a crickety smile. Its one of the few
things that I can agree with Donald
Trump on, he said. I am a nasty guy
with no heartwe sing worse things
about ourselves in our hymns, on Sunday mornings. He added, Thats the
reason why I need forgiveness from God,
through Jesus Christ. He had found a
way to mock an insult with a prayer.
There were signs, during the primary
season, that Trumps crude manner, ad-

mittedly chaotic personal life, and shrugging indiference to questions of religious faithall unprecedented traits
among modern major Presidential candidateswere repelling many of the
Christians who typically vote Republican. But more recent polls suggest that
white evangelicals overwhelmingly support Trump, and that they have grown
more tolerant of politicians who behave
badly. One measure of the so-called
Trump efect: in October, seventy-two
per cent of white evangelicals agreed
that an elected oicial who commits
an immoral act in private could nevertheless behave ethically in public; ve
years earlier, only thirty per cent agreed
with the statement. Robert Jefress, the
pastor of First Baptist Church, in Dallas, a agship S.B.C. congregation, was
probably speaking for many if not most
Southern Baptists when he suggested
that Trump was justied in responding
to Moores vitriolic attacks. In Jefresss
view, Trump is precisely the kind of protector whom Christians should support;
he has said that, when it comes to defending America from Islamic terrorism and other threats, I want the meanest, toughest son-of-a-you-know-what
I can nd.
Moore is allergic to this kind of talk.
The Babylon Bee, which is essentially
the Onion for evangelicals, ran a headline mocking Moores perceived dis-

taste for political combat: SOUTHERN


BAPTISTS ANNOUNCE PLAN TO SILENTLY
JUDGE DONALD TRUMP. The accompanying article went on:
The strategy, which Moore described as
time-honored, will eschew clearly-audible political activity in favor of tactics like tight-lipped
and/or high-eyebrowed looks of concerned disapproval at the mention of Trumps name, knowing glances to fellow Southern Baptists, and
muled discussions behind closed doors.

During this election season, Moore


has sometimes appeared out of place
in his own denominationa Trump
detractor leading a church largely peopled by Trump supporters. But he
seemed comfortable in this uncomfortable position, perhaps because he has
learned to accept the limits of his ability to change the world, or even to understand it. Moore thinks that the idea
of a moral majority is wrong, and was
probably wrong when it was created:
he suspects that earnest, orthodox
Christians have always been outnumbered. Like any believer, he wants his
church to grow, but he doesnt seem
particularly threatened by the thought
that it might not. He says that Christians in America must learn to think
of themselves as a marginal community, struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile secular culture. In such a
context, Muslims might seem less like
enemies and more like allies in the ght
for religious freedom.
This transition might be especially
wrenching for Southern Baptists. After
centuries of regional dominance, the denomination has been shrinking: last year,
the church reported fewer than three
hundred thousand baptisms, the lowest
number in more than half a century, and
a decline of about a third since the peak,
in 1972. Moores critique of Christian
triumphalism seems well suited to this
not very triumphant time for his church.
His promise is that the Southern Baptists can grow better, even if they are
not growing bigger: he would like to be
the leader of a moral minority.
he Southern Baptist Convention

T occupies an impressive cluster of

Its so hard to settle on an oice temperature that everybody likes.

buildings in downtown Nashville. The


centerpiece is Draper Tower, a twelvestory structure emblazoned with enormous crosses and the word LifeWay,

which is the name of the S.B.C.s publishing arm. But LifeWay takes up less
than half the oor space, and last year
the building was sold to a California
real-estate company. Moores oice is
across the street, in the sleek S.B.C. headquarters, where the E.R.L.C. occupies
the fth oor. A couple of key staf members came with Moore from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in
Louisville; Moore was a popular professor there and the dean of the theology school. Members of his Kentucky
crew can be identied by the personalized Louisville Slugger baseball bats in
their oices, which underscore the impression that they arrived in Nashville
to clean house.
In person, Moore is a cheerful but
self-commanded presence, with big
brown eyes and a radio-ready tenor
that always sounds slightly hoarse, possibly because he has been talking about
Christianity, more or less nonstop, since
the nineteen-eighties. In his oice, an
American ag and a Christian ag are
prominently displayed, and so is his
collection of bobblehead dolls: Thomas
Jeferson and Teddy Roosevelt and
Harry Truman, along with the preacher
Charles Spurgeon, the evangelist Billy
Graham, and the country singer Hank
Williams. Friends sometimes mention
Moores passion for country music as
if it were a quirk, which may reveal
less about him than about the buttoned-down culture of the S.B.C.
there may be no other oice building
in Nashville where such a predilection
would be considered noteworthy.
At eight oclock on a recent morning, Moore was on his second cup of
cofee, preparing for a full day of talking
to young Southern Baptist pastors, none
of whom would be under any obligation to listen to him. The S.B.C. is devoted to the principle of congregational
autonomy, which means that churches
can choose (and dismiss) their own pastors, and can decide how much money
to send to the national Cooperative Program, which funds most S.B.C. activities. There is an eighteen-part statement
of belief, the Baptist Faith & Message,
but for Southern Baptists the only words
that bind are those in the Bible. Jefress,
the Dallas pastor, says that he doesnt
spend much time worrying about his
denominational identity. The national

S.B.C. leadership, with all due respect,


has no sway over our people, he says.
Our people dont even know who the
national leaders are.
Moore headed downstairs to an inhouse radio studio, where he was holding a conference call with pastors, who
are encouraged to view him as both a
wise teacher and a practical resource,
available to give them clear answers to
their congregants complicated questions. Although Moore cant do
anything about skeptical leaders like Jefress,
he holds sway over a
large (if self-selected)
group of pastors who
are inspired by his twin
commitments to theological orthodoxy and cultural change.
He was accompanied by Phillip Bethancourt, his chief lieutenant, who asked,
Did you see what happened with this
French priest and ISIS? In Northern
France, an eighty-ve-year-old Catholic priest had been killed by two men
who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Its horrible, Moore said, quietly.
Mass-going Catholicism in France is
not that common, so it is sending a
chilling efect.
Many in Moores denomination
would like him to adopt a more confrontational position toward Islam. At
the annual S.B.C. meeting, held this
June in St. Louis, a pastor from a small
church in Arkansas asked Moore, How
in the world can someone within the
Southern Baptist Convention support
the defending of rights for Muslims to
construct mosques in the United States,
when these people threaten our way
of existence? Soon after the conference call began, someone asked Moore
about a controversy in Farmersville,
Texas, where local residents were opposing plans for a Muslim cemetery.
Moore urged the pastors to stand
rm in defense of religious freedom,
arguing that Baptists should reclaim
the language of separation of church
and state, which many evangelicals
consider a euphemism for secularization. Moore likes to cite the centuries-old Baptist tradition of soul freedomthe right to resist what Roger
Williams, a Baptist and the founder of

Rhode Island, called enforced uniformity of religion. (Williams had been


expelled from Massachusetts after agitating for greater separation from the
Church of England.) Moore sometimes adds that this principle has a
practical value for members of his
tribe. At the annual meeting, he said,
Brothers and sisters, when you have
a government that says we can decide
whether or not a house
of worship can be constructed based upon the
theological beliefs of
that house of worship,
then there are going to
be Southern Baptist
churches in San Francisco and New York and
throughout this country
who are not going to be able to build.
On the conference call, there were
also more mundane queries: one pastor
was counselling a father whose son refused to stop smoking marijuana; another wondered about two twenty-yearolds who wanted to get married but
delay having children; a third was thinking of adopting the model known as
covenant membership, which tightens membership requirements and
strengthens the authority of church leaders, in the hope of building a more enduring congregation. Responding to this
last caller, Moore strove to sound evenhanded: he said that some churches were
indeed bedevilled by lax membership
policies, but he warned against authoritarianism. Remember, in the New Testament its the church that has accountability over the membersnot the pastors, he said. And he gave the caller a
homework assignment: visit all the absentee members at home, to nd out
why they had stopped going to church.
When the phone call was over, the
fth-oor lobby began to ll up with
middle-aged guys: Moore had invited
local pastors to come over for lunch, catered by a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant.
(Baptists like to eat well, one of his assistants explained.) There were almost no
women there. Southern Baptists are complementarians, which means they believe that men and women have distinct
roles. At home, a wife must submit herself graciously to the servant leadership
of her husband, following Pauls instructions in Ephesians 5:22-23. And,
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

37

in church, only men are eligible to serve


as pastors, as Paul decreed in I Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to
teach or to exercise authority over a man;
rather, she is to remain quiet.
In defending these guidelines, Moore
sometimes uses the word patriarchy,
which he believes might, properly
dened, help evangelicals explain their
opposition to feminism. For many secular audiences, patriarchy is a slur, not
a cultural ideal. But Moore points out
that in the evangelical world complementarianism is more widely accepted
now than it was a decade or two ago,
when a cohort of scholars were arguing
in favor of gender equality. In 2016, it
is clearer than ever that American evangelical Christianity is a counterculture,
which may mean that the church is freer
to espouse ideas at odds with the egalitarianism that the secular mainstream
preaches (and sometimes practices).This,
then, is part of what Moore has in mind
when he urges believers to rediscover
the strangeness of Christianity: a
roomful of servant-leader men, sitting
around eating steak fajitas.
When the plates were empty, Moore
delivered an informal sermon inspired
by Jesus warning, in the Sermon on the
Mount, that no one can serve two masters. He elded questions, on topics
ranging from Pokmon Go (it seemed
harmless, he said) to Black Lives Matter (he urged the pastors to think harder
about perspectives that were invisible
to them). Then he sent everyone away
with a nal prayer and a parting gift: a
mug bearing the E.R.L.C. logo, which
is a crown resting on a Bible, haloed by
three stars. Enjoy your favorite beverage in it, Bethancourt said.
Moore bit his lip. Your favorite nonalcoholic beverage, he said, with exaggerated solemnity.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission is descended from an
agency that was known, in the nineteenth century, as the Committee on
Temperance; in those days, one of the
Southern Baptists chief political goals
was the prohibition of alcohol. But over
the years this imperative has largely disappeared from the S.B.C. agenda, which
shows how quickly a dening issue can
become a relatively minor concern. The
denomination remains opposed to drinking; there are still Southern Baptists
38

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

who regard Biblical warnings against


drunkenness as proof that consuming
alcohol is a sin, and who insist that,
when John writes of Jesus turning water
into wine, he is referring to unfermented
grape juice. But Moore, a teetotaller, regards moderate drinking as merely unwise, not sinful. He and his wife, Maria,
have ve sons, and not long ago one of
them was scandalized when he discovered that the father of one of his friends
enjoyed an occasional beer. Moore took
his son out to the back yard, where he
tried to explain that this did not constitute rebellion against God. He says,
I must be the rst Baptist-entity president in history whos having to talk his
ten-year-old into seeing that people
who drink alcohol are not bad people.
ost Baptists agree that the

M rst modern church was estab-

lished in Amsterdam, in the early seventeenth century, by two English expatriates, John Smyth and Thomas
Helwys. They believed, as Baptists do
today, that baptism was properly accomplished only by immersing a mindful believer in water, in accordance with
the Gospel of Mark, which records
John the Baptist immersing Jesus in
the River Jordan. For Baptists, the act
of baptism by sprinkling water on a
babys head is so far removed from the
Biblical model as to be undeserving
of the term. Over time, the upstart
movement formed a religious establishment of its own, and in the South
the S.B.C. became a permanent feature of the landscape, known less for
its baptism practices than for its downhome culturesweet tea and Southern accents. Generations of the faithful grew up absorbed in church life,
spending summers at Baptist camps
and pleasant evenings at Baptist suppers. The denomination was sometimes
described as Southern culture at
prayer.
Moore was reared in Biloxi, on the
Gulf Coast, a part of Mississippi that
can feel like part of greater New Orleans. Half the people in his area were
Catholic, and so was his mother, until
she married into a Southern Baptist
family: her new father-in-law was the
pastor of the local church. Moore was
a sociable but serious boy, and today
he remembers the decadence of Mardi

Gras less vividly than the disapproval


of some of his fellow-Baptists, to whom
the debauchery seemed like proof that
Catholics didnt take their Bible seriously enough. He was reborn in Christ
not long after his twelfth birthday, when
he was walking home from a revival
meeting and was overcome by a certainty that the Bibles message was
meant for him. Soon afterward, he mentioned to his pastor that he might be
destined for the ministry. The pastor
assigned him to preach his rst sermon, two weeks later, and Moore managed to do it, although his performance
was bookended by bouts of nervous
vomiting behind the baptistery.
One morning in Sunday school, the
teacher admonished him for putting a
coin in his mouthsuggesting, with
revulsion, that a colored man might
have touched it. In Moores telling, the
exchange sparked an interest in race
and injustice, which helped lead him,
briey, into electoral politics. In college, at the University of Southern Mississippi, he worked for the congressman Gene Taylor, a pro-life Democrat
who represented the Biloxi area. But,
after a few years, Moore surprised Taylor with the news that he was quitting
to go to seminary. He has been ensconced ever since within the S.B.C.,
a church whose history is inseparable
from the history of race in America.
Whats most disquieting about the
Southern Baptists historic support of
slavery is that the church leaders werent
lacking in Scriptural support. In 1822,
a prominent South Carolina pastor
named Richard Furman published his
Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States, in which he
argued that immediate emancipation
would be extremely injurious to the
community at large, and would interfere with the religious improvement
of the people currently enslaved. He
referred to I Timothy 6:1, in which
Paul writes, Let as many servants as
are under the yoke count their own
masters worthy of all honour, that the
name of God and his doctrine be not
blasphemed. Moore, like generations
of Southern Baptists before him, hastens to explain that this nineteenthcentury interpretation is specious and
ofensive, not least because American

slavery was markedly diferent from


Biblical slavery. And yet this misreading, if that is what it was, casts a long
shadow over the Southern Baptists.
Even after the Civil War, the S.B.C.
remained deantly Southern and purposively white. (Its black counterpart
is the National Baptist Convention,
U.S.A., which today also has its headquarters in Nashville, a few miles north
of the S.B.C. buildings.) Most Southern Baptist churches were segregated,
by custom or by rule, and church leaders who tried to change that often faced
resistance, or removal. Brooks Hays, a
congressman from Arkansas, served as
the president of the S.B.C. in the late
fties. After the Brown v. Board of Education decision banned public-school
segregation, he led an S.B.C. commission that asserted, equivocally, that
laws of segregation or non-segregation
were equally unlikely to bring peace.
A pastor in Dallas responded with an
angry letter, accompanied by a pamphlet titled God: The Original Segregationist. The church likes to present Hays as a racial-justice pioneer. In
A Matter of Conviction, a 2008 history commissioned by the E.R.L.C.,
the author, a pastor named Jerry Sutton, introduces Hays as a supporter of
Brown. The real story is less attering:
In 1956, Hays was one of nearly a hundred members of Congress who signed
the Southern Manifesto on Integration, which decried the Brown decision and expressed support for states
seeking to resist forced integration.
The leader who did the most to separate the S.B.C. from its racist heritage is Foy Valentine, an ethicist from
Texas. Valentine was intensely devoted
to his denomination, but he was also
something of a liberal (he belonged to
the American Civil Liberties Union),
and he was determined to save his
church by modernizing it. In 1960, he
was appointed to lead the Christian
Life Commissiona predecessor of
the E.R.L.C.and, at the 1963 annual
meeting, he declared, We need to abolish racial discrimination in our country and in our churches. In time, most
Southern Baptist leaders came to agree
with him. In 1968, the S.B.C. elected
as its president W. A. Criswell, a ery
pastor who was the leader of First Baptist Dallas, the church that Robert

See how virtual reality makes it feel like youre actually falling.

Jefress leads today. Criswell had begun


as an unapologetic segregationist; a decade earlier, he had denounced government-mandated integration as a
denial of all that we believe in. But he
used the occasion of his election to announce that he had been blind to the
true message of the Bible, and that
First Dallas would start welcoming
black worshippers.
The term that Southern Baptists
often use, in discussions of race, is racial reconciliation, a formulation that
can suggest an unwillingness to assign
blame. (In 1965, Valentine called, rather
incoherently, for reconciliation between
segregationists and integrationists.) In
the years after Criswells conversion, the
S.B.C. joined a political ght over integration at Bob Jones University, a nondenominational Christian college in
South Carolina which for decades barred
black students, and, after it began admitting them, banned interracial dating. In 1970, the I.R.S. moved to revoke
the universitys tax-exempt status, on
the ground that its policies were discriminatory, and the S.B.C. subsequently
passed a resolution arguing that the action violated churches constitutional
right to operate without government
interference. The case was decided in
favor of the I.R.S. in 1983; seventeen

years later, the school rescinded the dating ban.


The ght over Bob Jones was the
precursor of many of todays arguments over religious liberty, a topic
that is one of Moores central concerns. In his view, defending religious
liberty means, among other things, defending the rights of believers to refuse to recognize or participate in
same-sex weddings. And, despite his
eagerness to help his church transcend
its segregated history, Moore believes,
as his predecessors did, that the government was wrong to force Bob Jones
to abandon segregation on campus.
Bob Jones, as a private institution
with repugnant theology, in the nineteen-seventies, should have been dealt
with at the level of moral denunciation, he says. Not at the level of using
the levers of government in order to
move it out of existence.
picture of Foy Valentine, dar-

A ingly attired in a turquoise leisure

suit, hangs on the wall outside Moores


oice, and his complicated legacy informs everything that the E.R.L.C.
does today. Courageous is not even a
strong enough word for himwhen it
applies to civil rights, Moore says. The
caveat is important, because Valentines
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

39

political liberalism was not limited to


matters of race. He was equally resolute in defense of abortion rights, even
as most members of his church were
starting to regard abortion as a national
atrocity. In 1971, Valentine backed the
denominations rst resolution on abortion, which called upon Southern Baptists to support legislation that will
allow the possibility of abortion in a
number of situations, as when the
mothers physical or emotional health
was at risk.
Valentine was not as anomalous as
he might now seem: Southern Baptists
had always tolerated a surprising degree of heterogeneity. In an old PBS
news special, Bill Moyers, a former
Southern Baptist pastor, fondly remembered the open-minded atmosphere at
his childhood congregation, in Texas.
There was no creed, and no coercion,
he said. We chose our leaders, developed our own programs, without interference from any ecclesiastical organization. By the nineteen-sixties, S.B.C.
seminaries were starting to embrace the
kind of liberal theology that was ascen-

dant in mainline Protestant denominations. One graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reported
hearing his professor begin class with
an anti-patriarchal prayer: Our Mother,
who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy
name. Land remembers studying under
professors who rejected central tenets
of Christian faith, like the existence of
Hell, or the reality of Christs resurrection. Youd have preachers who wouldnt
talk about homosexuality, Land says.
Said that Jesus never mentioned it, so
it couldnt be that important. Americas rst Southern Baptist President
Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976was a
liberal.
Even as many S.B.C. leaders celebrated Carters election, a backlash was
growing among everyday Southern
Baptistswho also happened to be the
people whose tithes funded the seminaries. Land was one of the leaders of
the movement: a conservative resurgence, he called it, although its opponents preferred the term fundamentalist takeover. The movement had the
feeling of a populist revolt, aimed at

Hulk no can be mad at Mr. Puppy Face.

toppling a clerical lite that presumed


to understand Scripture better than the
unlettered believers in the pews. As a
boy, Moore knew little of this clash,
but he remembers being startled when
a pastor he knew referred to theological conservatives as pinheads, which
sounded like an insult aimed at many
of the believers he knew.
In 1979, the S.B.C. elected the rst
conservative president in a lineage that
remains unbroken: Adrian Rogers, who
began installing fellow-conservatives
in the S.B.C. leadership. Valentine had
wanted the church to keep its distance
from the evangelical movement, which
encouraged political engagement.
Southern Baptists are not evangelicals, Valentine told Newsweek, in 1976.
Thats a Yankee word. But Land and
his allies were happy to be counted as
evangelicals, and as political partisans.
It wasnt stupid for conservative Christians to believe, in the nineteen-eighties, that there was a major realignment
in this culture, exactly along the lines
that we had hoped and prayed for,
Land says. In 1980, Southern Baptists
voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan, partly because he was rmly prolife. I know a lot of Southern Baptists who voted for Jimmy Carter the
rst time but did not vote for him the
second time, Land says. At the 1984
Republican Convention, in Dallas, the
benediction was delivered by a favorite son: Criswell, the ery conservative. Bless us as we march to victory,
he roared, while confetti fell from the
ceiling on Reagan and an arena full of
true believers. Valentine hung on until
1986, and when Land was appointed
to the job, in 1988, it was clear that
the conservative resurgence would be
unstoppable.
Land promised to continue Valentines eforts to combat racism. In 1995,
to commemorate the hundred-and-ftieth birthday of the S.B.C., he led the
drafting of a resolution that acknowledged the role that slavery played in
the formation of the Southern Baptist
Convention, and begged forgiveness
from our African-American brothers
and sisters. But, in other ways, Land
reversed his predecessors policies, aligning himself with the religious right: he
considered Jerry Falwell an ally, and he
often spoke out against Bill Clinton,

notwithstanding his status as Americas second Southern Baptist President.


During the Bush Presidency, Land
emerged as a forceful political advocate. In 2002, he wrote what became
known as the Land Letter, airming
that Bushs plan to invade Iraq was
consistent with the time-honored criteria of just war theory as developed
by Christian theologians in the late
fourth and early fth centuries A.D.
And, in 2008, he suggested that if John
Kerry had won the 2004 election Hillary Clinton might be parking her
broom at the Supreme Court.
One need not be a believer, or a partisan, to conclude that the outcome of
the ght for the S.B.C. was preordained;
given what we know about demographics, it seems inevitable that a mainly
white, largely Southern church would
eventually embrace conservatism. But
the battle was acrimonious in the seminaries, where the faculty had grown
used to a measure of academic freedom. In churches, as elsewhere, the relationship between freedom and democracy is a vexed one: the liberal
seminarians wanted the freedom to
teach what they wished, while the conservative church members wanted the
ability to choose the teachers who
trained their leaders.
A decisive blow came in 1993, when
a rigorous young conservative named
Albert Mohler was elected the president of Southern Seminary. He moved
to dismiss faculty members whose orthodoxy had been questioned, including Molly T. Marshall, who was the
rst woman to teach theology there.
Marshall had been accused, among
other things, of defending inclusivism,
the doctrine that non-Christians might
be able to attain salvation. She resigned,
under threat of a heresy investigation,
and today there are no women on the
theology faculty at Southern.
Marshall is now the president of
Central Baptist Theological Seminary,
a school unailiated with the S.B.C.,
and like many who left the denomination she has fond memories of its warm,
open-hearted ethos. For decades, this
shared culture helped unite Southern
Baptists who disagreed about politics
and theology, but the conservative resurgence changed that. Moore often
criticizes the cultural Christianity that

once prevailed in the South, because it


promoted a kind of easy, unthinking
Christian identity. The new S.B.C. is
probably less culturally distinctive than
its precursor, and certainly more theologically unied; it is a church designed
for people who truly believe.
These days, Moore is sometimes portrayed as an antidote to old-fashioned
S.B.C. leaders like Land, but in fact he
is entirely a product of
the slow-motion revolution that Land helped
lead. His class was one
of the rst to arrive after Mohler reoriented
Southern Seminary, and
Moore was drawn there
in part by the opportunity to study with Mohler, whom a classmate remembers as the
leader of the thoughtful wing of the
conservative resurgence. Mohler belonged to a subset of Baptists inspired
by Calvinisman intellectually rigorous tradition, named for the sixteenthcentury French theologian John Calvin,
that emphasized the awesome and essentially mysterious grace of God and
the utter unworthiness of humans to
receive it. Moore, who had also embraced Calvinism, adopted Mohler as a
mentor and served as his assistant; he
spent weekends as a pastor at a nearby
church, and weekdays working on a doctoral dissertation based on the writing
of Carl F. H. Henry, who argued that
evangelicals could embrace social reform while holding fast to the literal
truth of the Bible. After earning his
Ph.D., he became a professor and dean.
At Southern, Moores oice served as a
reminder of how much the institution
had changed: it was the same oice that
had been occupied, a decade before, by
Molly Marshall.
very year, the E.R.L.C. sum-

E mons Baptists from around the

country to Opryland, a hotel complex


enclosed in an enormous greenhouse,
just up the highway from the Nashville airport. This years theme was Onward: Engaging the Culture Without
Losing the Gospel, which happens to
be the title of Moores most recent book.
Almost a thousand people attended,
many of them pastors, there to be
equipped, in church parlance, to re-

turn home and help churchgoers make


sense of their lives. A deft praise-andworship band from Austin found some
middle ground between gospel and
Coldplay, and then Moore delivered
his opening remarks, urging his congregation to urge their congregations
not to buy into moral defeatism. We
have some American Christians, he
said, who are almost free-basing a sense
of fear. Even before
Trump came along,
Moore was skeptical of
the idea that there was
a period of American
greatness to which we
might return, especially
if that meant the segregated nineteen-fties,
much less the slaverystained eighteen-fties. We cant get
back to where we were before everything fell apart, because thats Genesis 3, he said. As most of the people
in attendance surely knew, the third
chapter of Genesis contains the rst
Biblical instance of the Hebrew word
nachash: serpent.
This was a Russell Moore kind of
crowd, which means that it was notably unrepresentative of the denomination: the average age of an S.B.C. worshipper is fty-four and rising, but
most of the people at Opryland were
younger than that, with a number of
nonwhite men onstage. (No women
delivered presentations, although there
were some mixed-gender panel discussions.) The S.B.C. has been working
to increase its nonwhite membership,
sometimes by arranging ailiations
with black churches, and it says that it
now has about a million African-American members, out of a total membership of fteen million. In 2012, the
S.B.C. elected its rst African-American president, Fred Luter, who leads
a church in New Orleans that had once
been all-white and then, as the surrounding neighborhood changed, was
resurrected as a predominantly black
congregation. Luters election came,
awkwardly but providentially, a few
months after Lands incendiary remarks about the Trayvon Martin shooting, and Land says that he stepped
down partly out of respect for Luters
historic election. He says, I wasnt
going to do anything that would in
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

41

any way, shape, or form take away from


the depth of that accomplishment.
Moore wants to increase these eforts.
He has broadened the focus of the
E.R.L.C. to include some types of
criminal-justice reform. And, after
the recent police shootings of Alton
Sterling and Philando Castile, Moore
told his followers that for AfricanAmericans such incidents reverberate with a history of state-sanctioned
violence, in a way that many white
Americansincluding white evangelicalsoften dont understand. One
of the speakers at the Opryland conference was Bryan Loritts, a self-proclaimed chocolate preacher, who explained to the audience that homogeneous churches actually promote an
entrenched racism.
Most of the speakers avoided mentioning the Republican candidate by
name, although many of them alluded
to him. With the exception of one conspicuous man in a red hat, this was an
anti-Trump crowd. As Moore led the
assembly in prayer, an older man in a
plaid seersucker sports coat shuled
into the hall and lowered himself onto
a solitary seat in the back, just in front
of the video cameras. It was Land, who
looked as if he had been beamed in
from a diferent dimension, or at any
rate a diferent denomination. Moore
and Land take pains not to criticize
each other, even though they disagree
on political strategy. Moore insists that
his allergy to partisan politics, and to
ery denunciation, does not represent
an unwillingness to deliver hard Gospel truths. Though he does not talk, as
his mentor Mohler once did, about the
homosexualization of America, he does
believe that churches should guide gay
members to repentance, and that the
government should stop recognizing
same-sex marriages. In 2014, after an
S.B.C. church in California announced
that its pastor had oiciated at a samesex wedding, the church was disfellowshipped from the S.B.C., a move
that Moore called sad but necessary.
One of the highlights of the conference was a friendly debate between
Moore and Andy Stanley, an S.B.C.
refugee: his father is Charles Stanley,
a blunt-spoken leader of the conservative resurgence, but the son ed to start
a nondenominational mega-church
42

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

called North Point, outside Atlanta.


Moore likes Stanley, but he is plainly
disturbed by what he sees as deviations
from Biblical orthodoxy. Stanley scandalized the audience by telling them
that he avoids appealing to the authority of the Bible when he preaches, focussing instead on what Jesus did, or
what the disciples saw. And he confessed, too, that he never preaches about
abortion, judging the topic too divisive
to be discussed in such a public forum.
Would you have the same reticence,
Moore wanted to know, if youre in
eighteenth-century Burma, and you have
issues of widows being burned on their
husbands funeral pyres?
Well, I dont know too much about
that,Stanley said.Is that a trick question?
One thing that Moore and Stanley
could agree on is that churches would
do well to follow Pauls admonition, in
I Corinthians 5, to judge those inside
the church, instead of looking for enemies outside it. Moore has spoken out
about the Christian duty to be compassionate toward immigrants, including refugees from Syria, who are viewed
by some church leaders with alarm and
suspicion. But he sometimes seems
more comfortable asking churches to
change (by confronting pornography
addiction among their members, for
instance) than calling on the secular
world to change. A lead sponsor of the
conference was Alliance Defending
Freedom, a religious-liberty group,
which distributed a handsome brochure arguing that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional; the amendment prevents tax-exempt nonprot
organizations, including churches, from
supporting or opposing political candidates. During an early-morning press
breakfast, Moore made it clear that he
does not entirely share Alliances priorities. Of the very real religious-freedom issues that we face, he said, the
Johnson Amendment is nowhere near
the top.
One of the ironies of Moores predicament this year is that it bears a
faint resemblance to the predicament
faced by old liberals like Valentine, intellectuals who found themselves fatally out of step with a populist movement they didnt take seriously. Jefress,
the Dallas pastor, goes so far as to suggest that Moores refusal to support

Trump might be disqualifying, because


the result of the election will likely decide the balance of the Supreme Court.
Any conservative Christian who stays
at home in November and allows Hillary Clinton to become the next President has forever forfeited his right to
speak out about the sanctity of life, the
sanctity of marriage, or religious freedom, Jefress says, mustering a preacherly combination of sorrow and wrath.
The good news for Moore is that
election season will be over soon and,
perhaps more important, that younger
Southern Baptists seem more likely
to agree with him. Pioneers like Land,
who fought so hard to gain control of
the church, emerged with great appreciation for the benets of political
power. Moores generation, having come
of age when the religious right was triumphant, is more attuned to the corrosive efects of politics. Erick Erickson, the conservative pundit, rose to
prominence in the aughts, and he remembers Land as a brusquely efective
motivator of elected oicials. Richard
would tell a politician, You need to do
x, y, and z, or else were going to ratchet
up the rhetoric against you, Erickson
says. Moore is less likely to issue threats
and, for that matter, is less interested
in politicians altogether. Everyone
knows that Russell isnt going to ratchet
up the rhetoric, Erickson, who now
counts Moore as a close friend, says.
But he can inuence young pastors
coming out of seminary. This is, of
necessity, a long-term project, and it
may also be an admission that, in a
shrinking church and an increasingly
secular culture, shorter-term projects
are unlikely to succeed.
cross the highway from Opry-

A land sits a modern, low-slung build-

ing with a cross on the side and not


much activity in its sprawling parking
lotson one recent afternoon, a family of deer was grazing on the grass near
the main entrance. This is the former
site of Two Rivers Baptist Church, a
once prominent S.B.C. congregation
that was led by Jerry Sutton, the pastor
who wrote the oicial E.R.L.C. history.
Sutton left the church after an ugly dispute, in which more than fty church
members sued him over alleged nancial impropriety. (The case was later

dismissed.) Attendance plummeted,


and eventually the church sold the building to the local Catholic diocese. Last
year, on Easter weekend, the old Baptist stronghold became the new home
of a fast-growing congregation called
Iglesia Sagrado Corazn de Jess.
No pastor, and no denomination,
can aford to ignore attendance numbers: churches need worshippers, not
only because they want to stay in business but because getting people to come
to church is the business that they are
in. One reason that the leaders of the
conservative resurgence were alarmed
by the drift toward the liberalism of
mainline Protestant churches is that
those churches numbers were shrinking. In 1988, in a famous sermon called
The Curse of Liberalism, Criswell,
the reformed segregationist, ticked of
a list of denominations in decline. All
of them, he howled, shaking his sts
in frustration. Downward! Downward!
Downward! He was sure that only a
return to the truth of the Bible could
rescue the Southern Baptists. That year,
the S.B.C. reported 14.8 million members and 346,320 baptisms. The equivalent gures for last year were nearly
unchanged, even though the countrys
population has increased by more than
twenty-ve per cent. The churchs current push for diversity is in large part
a push for new members, and an acknowledgment that the white share of
the countrys population is declining.
Moore never promises that broader
cultural engagement will make his
church more popular. On the contrary,
he often speaks as if increasing marginalization were the most likely outcome. And yet, unlike Criswell, Moore
frames this decline as an opportunity,
not just because it may represent the
falling away of cultural Christians
who were not truly faithful but also
because it allows Southern Baptists to
renounce the kind of cultural and political power that ought to make Christians skeptical. It is no longer possible to pretend that we represent the
real America, he wrote, in Onward.
The key is not to simply accept this
state of afairs but to nd a way to
celebrate it.
Some of Moores critics in the S.B.C.
think that part of his problem is his
Calvinism. The doctrine holds that

We cant dispense with the formalities, Georgethered be nothing left.

Gods grace can work only on those


who have been elected to receive it; it
is God who decides who is saved. Gospel witness, missionary work, conversion, rebirth in Christ: all can be meaningful signs of membership in the elect,
and yet none can change Gods will.
Calvinists have long been the minority
among Southern Baptists, but Moore
is part of a generational shift. This year,
J. D. Greear, a young, hip pastor from
North Carolina who is sympathetic to
Calvinism, nearly won the election for
president of the S.B.C. Land nds this
worrisome: he notes that Calvinists are
sometimes tempted by fatalism, which
saps the urgency that helps churches
grow and thrive. Moore concedes that
some Calvinists might sufer a deadening of the missionary impulse, if
they conclude that missionary work is
extraneous to Gods plans. (Of course,
the whole point of Calvinism is that
no human action can be extraneous to
Gods plans.) But he values the doctrines essential humility, which reminds
us how little we can controleven, or
maybe especially, in an election year
like this one.
The Opryland conference ended on
a Saturday afternoon, and the next morning Moore awoke seeming slightly more

adrenalized than usualhis wife, Maria,


says he still gets nervous before he has
to preach, although he has learned to
contain himself. He drove with his family half an hour south of Nashville to
Franklin, where he had agreed to appear at Redemption City Church, a congregation started, by his friend Jed Coppenger, as a church plantthat is, a
church planted by a local pastor, with
assistance from the national denomination. Redemption City is small but slick:
the churchs punky logo was imprinted
on the cardboard cup sleeves at the cofee
station. Moores young sons discovered
the cofee before he could stop them,
but they remained unwriggly while their
father preached. Moore spends his life
talking about churches, and now that
he was actually in one he seemed happy
to indulge in some extended Biblical
exegesis. From the lectern, he told the
congregation about all the ways that
Jesus calls us away from the life we think
we want. He mentioned a study he had
seen, which purported to prove that
Facebook posts about politics never
change anyones mind. The way of
the Kingdom is not a way of strength
and power, he said, practicing as he
preacheda small guy in a small church
with an impossibly big job to do.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

43

SKETCHBOOK BY BARRY BLITT

44

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

45

ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS

LOST TIME
After years spent battling Hollywood producers, Kenneth Lonergan returns with Manchester by the Sea.
BY REBECCA MEAD

enneth Lonergan, the screenwriter, director, and playwright,


wears a wristwatch that is set
fteen minutes fastan efort, he told
me when we rst met, to correct a
stubborn habit of lateness. The trick
doesnt fool him into thinking that its
the wrong time, but it is mysteriously
efective at keeping him on schedule.
Compensating for an undesirable behavior, he acknowledged, is not the
same as understanding why it occurs
in the rst place. Its a hard habit to
break, he said. I think it is partly
gluttony for wanting to keep doing
what I am doing, and also a lunatic
resentment at being expected to do
anything. But I dont like being late.
So I am trying.
Much of Lonergans work is driven
by the idea that the conscious and the
unconscious mind are often at odds
that a large part of yourself is hidden
from yourself, and comes out in all sorts
of strange and interesting ways. He
once stumbled into a late-night conversation with the journalist Christopher
Hitchens at Caf Loup, in the West
Village. At one point, Hitchens declared,
Im an orthodox Freudian, by the way.
Lonergan considers himself one, too.
He has dabbled in pop psychology:
many years ago, he read Getting to
Yes, the best-selling self-help book from
1981, in an efort to improve his negotiating skills in Hollywood. It worked,
up to a point. But he is still drawn to
the darker insights of psychoanalysis.
Lonergan, who is fty-four, likes to
joke that he was raised by the New
York Psychoanalytic Society. His
mother and his stepfather were both
psychiatrists and practicing analysts.
My mom and stepfather would talk
about their patients anonymouslythey
would disguise the details, but they
would say, I have a patient, its really
interesting, he did the following, Lonergan said. Talking about peoples per-

46

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

sonalities, and why people do things, is


a big part of my life, and has been since
I was little. A dinner-table anecdote
from his stepfather, about a colleague
who was approached for treatment by
a member of the Maa, provided the
cute premise for Lonergans rst successful screenplay, Analyze This, which
he wrote when he was in his early thirties, largely to support his less lucrative
vocation as a playwright of tight-focus
character dramas, including Lobby
Hero and This Is Our Youth. In 1999,
the Analyze This script became a hit
movie starring Robert De Niro, as a
troubled mobster, and Billy Crystal, as
his therapist.
Analyze This made a hundred
million dollars, and Lonergan found
himself in considerable demand in
Hollywood. Martin Scorsese, who was
working on Gangs of New York at
Cinecitt Studios, in Rome, drafted
him to deepen the complexity of the
characters. (In 2003, the lm received
an Academy Award nomination for
Best Picture.) Scorsese says of Lonergan, He had a real brilliance for understanding peoplehe is able to create the heart of the character, and the
heart of the situation. The emotion is
there, plus an extraordinary intellectual view. All of this went back and
forthline by line, word by word, action by action. Meaning. Behavior.
Lonergans subtle command of characterof how people metabolize an experience in diferent wayswas central
to his dbut as a screenwriter-director,
the delicate chamber piece You Can
Count on Me (2000). The lm, a
low-budget independent production
starring Laura Linney and a then unknown Mark Rufalo, is about the relationship between two grown siblings
who had been orphaned as children.
Rufalo, who is a close friend of Lonergans, told me, You feel the inner processes of his characters. The viewer,

Rufalo said, is often in the position of


watching an actor think, which we
rarely get to see in lm. He went on,
Everyone wants to rush to the words,
but under the words there are another
ten thousand wordswe only see one
pop up to the surface. That is how he
approaches his work.
In one scene, Rufalo and Linney are
talking outside in the evening while a
moth utters around them. Like a conductor, Rufalo guides the moth onto
his handa gesture that underscores
his characters gentleness and vulnerability. He explained to me that the moth
ew into the frame by accident: Ive
been in scenes with actors on other movies. If a moth ies into the scene, they
kill the mothits a nuisance, its not
acceptable. But in this lm we continue
the scene, because we know that we are
living, moment to moment, with the
kind of openness that Kenny wants us
to have with each other, listening and
responding. We say yes to it. It lands
on my hand, and we just continue talking
as its walking on my hand, and then it
ies away again. It was probably one of
the most profound moments I have had
as an actorwhere the world collided
with the work, and it was seamless. Afterward, Kenny came running over, and
he said, Oh, my Godthe moth! And
he was so happy.
You Can Count on Me won the
Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Lonergan received an Academy Award nomination, for the screenplay, as did Linney, for her performance. Earlier this
year, Lonergan returned to Sundance
to attend the premire of his new lm,
Manchester by the Sea, which stars
Casey Aleck as Lee Chandler, a
janitor who, in the aftermath of personal tragedies, becomes responsible
for his teen-age nephew. It is set in the
small Massachusetts shing town that
gives the movie its name. The scenario
originated in a conversation between

Lonergans new lm challenges the notion that personal growth can be wrested from even the most terrible sufering.
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF STBERG

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

47

the actors Matt Damon and John


Krasinski, both Massachusetts natives.
Damon commissioned a script from
Lonergan, intending to direct it himself, but after reading it he urged Lonergan to make the project entirely his
own. Manchester by the Sea was
praised at Sundance, and the domestic rights were acquired by Amazon
Studios, for nearly ten million dollars.
Since then, it has been gathering Oscar
buzz at festival screenings in advance of its release, on November 18th.
Despite the bleakness
of the movies themes,
it has a tender strain of
humor. Ive never seen
there being a tremendous dividing line between comedy and tragedy, Lonergan said at a question-andanswer session after Manchester was
presented at the New York Film Festival, in October. Even if its the worst
of the worst, its not happening to everyone. It might just be happening to
you, or to someone you know, while the
rest of the world is going on doing things
that are beautiful, or funny, or material, or practical.
Aleck, another of Lonergans longtime friends and collaborators, says that
he and Lonergan spent hours discussing how Lee Chandlers character is
revealed not just in his words but also
by his unthinking actions. In one harrowing scene, Chandler is shown
clutching a bag of groceries. That was
written into the scriptthat he is holding this bag. It was one of the few scenes
where, when I read it, I thought, What
is going on here? Aleck told me. I
thought, Well, if I have to get upset, I
can get myself to feeling upset. But why
does he want me holding a bag? Then,
when we came to do the scene, it made
perfect sense. The characterhe doesnt
scream and gnash his teeth and pull
out his hair. He is just clamped down
on himself. From that moment, he
tightens up. So once I just held on to
the bag I thought, This is how the rest
of the moment ought to play out. He
is just trying to hold on, and that ends
up carrying over to so much more. He
never lets himself have any sort of catharsis or release in any way. It was,
Aleck said, an example where I
48

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

learned to have faith in the writing, and


in Kenny. It seemed like a little detail,
but it made so many other things work.
In the fteen-odd years between
You Can Count on Me and Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan wrote
and directed only one other lm: Margaret. It was shot in the fall of 2005,
but was not released until six years
later, and disappeared from theatres almost immediately. Fox Searchlight, the
studio that had greenlighted the movie, issued two DVDs of it:
the theatrical release,
and an extended version, which Lonergan
was legally prohibited
from calling a directors cut.
Margaret centers
on a teen-ager, Lisa Cohen, played
with remarkable range by Anna Paquin, whose life is upended when she
is partly culpable in the death of a
pedestrian near her home, on Manhattans Upper West Side. The contours of Lisas life are exquisitely rendered: the cramped apartment that she
shares with her mother, an actress,
played by J. Smith-Cameron, Lonergans wife; the pathetic urgency of
the transcontinental telephone conversations that she has with her wellintentioned but useless father, a struggling writer of commercials, who lives
in Santa Monica. (He is played by Lonergan, who has taken small roles in all
three of his movies.) But Margaret
has a much larger canvas. Through sustained shots of streets and skies, and
through the layering of anonymous
voicesreal dialogue from New Yorkers that Lonergan overheard and wrote
down in notebooksit seeks to capture the city in the rst years after the
terrorist attacks of September 11th. The
lm is epic in its length as well as its
aspirations: three hours and eight minutes, in the extended version. Although
Margaret is little known to moviegoers, many cinastes regard it as a
masterpiece.
But the story of making Margaret
has become a cautionary tale among
writers and lmmakers about the hazards lying at the intersection of art and
commerce, and about the ways an artist can become derailed in the pursuit

of his vision. After shooting ended, the


movie did not emerge from the editing room for yearsat least, not in a
state that Lonergan, his producers, and
the studio could agree to release. The
process became acrimonious; eventually, one of the producers, Gary Gilbert, sued Lonergan for breach of contract, asking for more than eight million
dollars in damages. The case was resolved, in Lonergans favor, in 2013,
two years after the movie was released.
But by the time the lawsuit ended
both Lonergans psyche and his art had
sufered considerably. He now disavows
the 2011 theatrical version of Margaret, which he was contractually bound
to support when it was released.
The story of Margaret is also the
story of a decade of Lonergans life,
during which he was beset by self-doubt
and had to reckon with the possibility
of nancial as well as artistic ruin. He
was obliged to master a forced humility thatdespite a well-developed
strain of self-deprecationis at odds
with his inward convictions about his
own abilities, and with the scale of his
ambitions. Manchester, which will
inevitably be seen as his comeback lm,
does not have the sweep of Margaret. Its scope is narrower, and its concentration on a few characters evokes
You Can Count on Me. It is also a
gloomier work; one late scene, an encounter between Lee Chandler and his
ex-wife, played by Michelle Williams,
provides a shattering emotional apex.
Manchester by the Sea burrows into
the mind of a man who experiences a
trauma that neither kills him nor makes
him stronger. Rather, it leaves him
maimed.
In his depiction of Chandler, Lonergan challenges a bromide that is often
invoked in the face of depression or
sorrow: that personal growth can be
wrested from even the most terrible
sufering. I have seen a lot of moviesand they are really great movies
about people who come back from bad
things and are redeemed, Lonergan
told me this summer. And in real life
people do it all the time. We were at
a restaurant on Nantucket, where he
was being honored by the Screenwriters Colony, an artists retreat. We sat
on a veranda overlooking a lawn, with
a view of the water, and ordered oysters.

We were a hundred miles from the


piers of Manchester-by-the-Sea, and
a world away. And some people dont
come back, he continued. I dont see
how you come back from some things.
I dont see how people get through
what they get through. Describing
Chandler, he said, The character
doesnt learn to live with and move on
from what happened. Its part of him
for the rest of his life.
Lonergans brow was furrowed, and
he was speaking, as he often does, in a
low, growling mumble. Friends, and
even people who know him only slightly,
cannot resist imitating his voice and
manner. Among his theatre and movieindustry peers, he is famous for being
famously cantankerous.
He went on, Its good to have a
forward-thinking attitudeand I wish
I had more of onebut I dont think
its so bad that some people cant. Oh,
well, my moms dead. She was nice,
thats O.K.it just makes me sick.
Lonergans tone turned acid. Its ne,
Im dying. Its ne, your mothers
dying, its no problem, its just life. Its
just a circle of life. What fucking circle of life? It all goes in one direction
toward death.
Manchester by the Sea does not
present a blunt parallel with Lonergans period of prolonged professional
anguish, and its safe to say that anyone would gladly take even the most
devastating career setback over the loss
that Chandler goes through. But the
movie does, in some sense, pose the
same question that Lonergan faced in
the aftermath of Margaret: When is
a lossthe loss of time, of joy, of energy, of work, of potentialabsolute,
with nothing to be gained from the
devastation?

West, in the Nineties, was Lonergans


home through much of his youth.
I grew up in a traditional, nonreligious, Upper West Side, liberalDemocratic, intellectual apartment,
Lonergan told me. The younger of two
sons, he was born in the Bronx, but his
family soon moved to Manhattan. When
he was ve, his parents divorced. His
mother remarried a year or so later;
thereafter, Lonergans recongured family moved into the Central Park West
building. Although Lonergans father, a
doctor, was of Irish descent (he died
earlier this year), his mother and his
stepfather are Jewish, and Lonergan
grew up in a culturally homogeneous
environment. I always assumed everyone was Jewish, he said. I didnt know
it was unusual in any way. And then I
nally met some people who werent
Jewish, and I was, like, Oh, not every-

one is JewishO.K. But that took a


while to sink in. (In Margaret, one
character delivers to another some lines
that, one suspects, are lifted from Lonergans life: How come everything you
say always sounds so ironic? You dont
even have to do anything and it just
comes out sounding, like, totally ironic
and funny.) The milieu of Lonergans
childhood was privileged, but not exorbitantly so. There were a lot of doctors
and lawyers, and psychiatrists and social workers, and some show-biz people. But the really wealthy people, we
gured, lived on the Upper East Side,
he said.
The household was large and multifarious. I have ve or six brothers and
sisters, Lonergan told me, taking pleasure in the imprecision. His stepfather
had three children from an earlier marriage, and they sometimes lived with

n more than one occasion in

O Margaret, the camera shows the

exterior of a handsome Art Deco apartment building. In the movie, this is the
address of Emily Morrison, a woman
in her early fties who becomes Lisa
Cohens condante, and is played by
Jeannie Berlin. (The perpetually astonishing Emilya wholly original, unexpected, essential creation, Tony Kushner calls her, in his introduction to the
published edition of the screenplay.)
The building, which is on Central Park

Curiouser and curiouser.

him. Lonergans mother and stepfather eventually had a son together, and
they informally adopted a girl who
was a friend of the stepfathers children. Lonergan also had two stepsisters in California, from his fathers
second marriage, which ended in divorce. Stephen Porder, Lonergans half
brother, who is nine years his junior
and an environmental scientist at
Brown University, told me, There
were always people staying with us for
a few months at a timeso-and-sos
grandkid, looking for a job. The door
was also open to more eeting visitors. I dont remember a time in my
childhood when somebody or other
wasnt in our living room, pouring out
their heart to my parents and trying
to get help.
Lonergan was educated a few blocks
from his home, at the Walden School,
a private institution that has since
closed. In Margaret, Lisa Cohen
attends the ctional Ralph Waldo
Emerson School, which is based on
Walden. Matthew Broderick, who went
to high school with Lonergan and is
his closest friend, told me that the lms
classroom scenes, with their excruciatingly progressive exchanges between
students and teachers, are taken more

or less verbatim from their experience


at Walden. Broderick and Lonergan
met on a school production of A Midsummer Nights Dream, in which
Lonergan was cast as Demetrius and
Broderick played Tom Snout, one of
the rude mechanicals. Broderick said
of Lonergan, My rst memory of him
is waiting to go in and audition, and
he was telling everybody how to do
itthat youve got to seem natural.
He had a theory about auditioning.
Lonergan also became close to Brodericks mother, Patricia. She was a
painter and a writer, and she colored
the characterization of Emily Morrison in Margaret.
Lonergan started writing for pleasure in the fth grade, embarking on
the rst of several science-ction novels, which he completed during the
next few years. (The most ambitious
of these, The Wonderful World of
Pluto, was typed and illustrated. One
character says, It converts people into
electrical impulses? You cant be serious! His interlocutor replies, Look,
all I know is that it does it. So dont
even attempt to argue with someone
who doesnt know what hes talking
about!) But by high school Lonergan
had begun writing plays, with the en-

I had a balloon once, but with me it was real estate.

couragement of a drama teacher, Bruce


Cornwell. The highly sympathetic
drama teacher in Margaret, who leads
a tearful encounter session for the
participants in a school production of
The Pirates of Penzance, is loosely
based on Cornwell. Lonergan jokes
that the reason he switched from novels to plays is that there was less type
on the page, which made them less laborious to correct.
Lonergan met with early success: at
the age of eighteen, he was among ten
winners of a competition sponsored by
the Young Playwrights Festival. His
play, The Rennings Children, in
which a sister tries to get her brother
released from a mental hospital, was
produced at the Circle Repertory Company. That fall, he enrolled in N.Y.U.s
dramatic-writing program, and fell in
with a group of young actors and playwrights who went on to form Naked
Angels, the downtown theatre company. Pippin Parker, a playwright and
director who met Lonergan during that
period, recalls, We had a common notion about wanting to do our own kind
of work. It was around the same time
that Steppenwolf the Chicago companyhad emerged, very actor-driven
theatre. What was unusual about Kenny
is that he knew what he wanted to be
really young. Most people have a notion that they want to be writerly, and
go through several forms before they
land on the one that seems to be the
expression of their talent. Kenny knew
that he wanted to be a playwright, and
focussed on that.
Between the mid-eighties and the
mid-nineties, Naked Angels thrived,
and its members became very close.
We were reading plays, working on
plays, putting stuf up, throwing parties, playing poker, football, basketball, doing road trips, Parker says.
Much of the activity took place at
Lonergans apartment, which was in
a building that his maternal grandmother owned on Washington Place,
in the West Village. There were ceilings that were probably over twenty
feet high, with skylights facing north,
Parker recalls. For kids in their twenties, for someone to have an apartment like that was unusual, and spectacular. Lonergans grandmother still
lived in the building; during the years

to worry about why He allows things


to happen. But it must be nice to feel
taken care of like that.

SCAVENGERS

Your body wakes


into its quiet rattle.
Ropes & ropes . . .
How quickly the animal
empties.
Were alone again
with spent mouths.
Two trout gasping
on a June shore.
Side by side, I see
what I came for, behind
your iris: a tiny mirror.
I stare
into its silver syllable
where a sh with my face
twitches once
then gones.
The sherman
suddenly a boy
with too much to carry.
Ocean Vuong
of their shared residency, she developed Alzheimers disease, a decline
that Lonergan dramatized in The
Waverly Gallery, a frankly autobiographical play for which he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, in 2001.
The late Eileen Heckart gave an unsparing performance, repeatedly shuling
across the stage in a nightgown to ring
her sleeping grandsons doorbell. If
anyone should sue Kenny, its probably his grandmother, Matthew Broderick told me.
While he was a member of Naked
Angels, Lonergan worked on material
that eventually grew into plays and
screenplays. He began dating J. SmithCameron, an accomplished stage actress who currently stars on the TV series Rectify. Their rst encounter was
at an evening of one-scene plays; Lonergan was performing in another writers work. As Smith-Cameron recalls
it, He was this sad little grumpy character who was very outspoken. In 1989,
Naked Angels presented a series of
ten-minute scenes on various themes

hate, homelessness, women. You Can


Count on Me began as a scene illustrating faith, in which Terry, the brother,
meets Sammy, the sister, in a restaurant for lunch, after a long separation.
Even in this germinal state, the script
showed Lonergans ability to reveal
character through speech: Ive actually got to confess to you, Sammy . . .
that the reason you may not have heard
from me for a little while is that Ive
been kind of unable to write . . . on account of the fact that I was in jail for
a little while, Terry says. Lonergan is
an atheist, but his work frequently explores how religious faith might be sustaining, or shaken by lived experience.
Lonergan said of You Can Count on
Me, I like having those two characters having the same meaningless experience of losing their parents in an
accident very young, and then growing up with completely diferent ways
of coping with it and looking at it, and
neither of them feeling too secure about
the way they look at it. He went on,
I know there is no God, so I dont have

onergan had his rst theatrical

L success with This Is Our Youth.

In 1996, it had a very brief run Of


Broadway, but a production two years
later was a hit. The Times warmly characterized it as traicking in cocaine,
casual sex, and enough confused philosophical banter to shame any college
freshman. Set in the early eighties, it
centers on three dissolute, privileged
young people, and takes place in an
apartment precisely described in the
stage directions as being on the 2nd or
3rd oor of a somewhat rundown Postwar building on the Upper West Side
of Manhattan between Broadway and
West End. The play was revived in
2014, at the Cort Theatre, in a production that was the Broadway dbut of
the precocious Tavi Gevinson, who
founded the teen magazine Rookie while
in high school. Gevinson, who has since
become a close friend of Lonergans,
was cast soon after she nished high
school. She recalls that, during early
table reads, Kenny would share stories
that helped us to build backstoryabout
the friends the characters had been
loosely based on, what that kind of life
style was like, being a young adult from
a certain kind of family on the Upper
West Side.
Lonergans work often has at its center a vulnerable slackeror, as SmithCameron puts it, a character who is a
very appealing, funny, interesting, tortured fuckup who means well. (She
adds, Kenny is like that, without the
fucking up.) Lonergan does not focus
exclusively on the trials of metropolitan
youth. His most recent play, Hold On
to Me Darling, which ran at the Atlantic Theatre Company earlier this year,
is about a country singer whom Lonergan describes as someone in the middle of his life, wondering if he has taken
the right path. But hes fascinated by
the interior lives of teen-agers, and of
slightly older people who seem stuck in
a teen-age mode. I dont know why,
he told me, resorting unconsciously to
upspeak. Because I feel like one, sometimes, still? Much of Manchester by
the Sea concerns the interplay between
Lee Chandler, Casey Alecks wounded

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

51

character, and his sixteen-year-old


nephew, Patrick, played by Lucas
Hedges. Patrick has sufered his own
trauma, but he keeps it at bay with
age-appropriate pursuits: incessant
texting; debating the merits of Star
Trek with friends. (The shows title
sounds irresistibly comical when pronounced with a North Shore accent.)
In some way, a teen-ager can be
in a play or a movie, anywaya metaphor for a grownup, which is a halfformed person coping with the world,
Lonergan said when we met for lunch
this fall in SoHo, not far from where
he lives with Smith-Cameron and their
daughter, Nellie. They moved there
only recently, from the building on
Washington Place that his late grandmother had owned. When I visited
Lonergans new apartment, which occupies the upper half of a red brick row
house, many of his books and pictures
were still packed. The shelves in the
living room, however, were artfully
decked with miniature toys similar to
those collected by nineteen-year-old
Warren Straub, the appealing, funny,
interesting, tortured fuckup at the center of This Is Our Youth, who was
played by Mark Rufalo in the original production.
At the restaurant, Lonergan went
on, You can just see the framework a
little better with a teen-ager. Grownups
are more settled into who they are going
to be and what their place in the world
is. Teen-agers are kind of poking around
and trying diferent ways of being, ways
of acting. There is something about it
that I nd very interesting and touching, and also funny. Lonergans most
highly developed portrait of a teenager is Lisa Cohen, the girl in Margaret. As played by Paquin, Lisa is, at
diferent points, self-assured, vulnerable, furious, arch, questing, cynical. She
adopts diferent emotional costumes,
for fun and for efect, but at any given
moment she is behaving with complete
sincerity.
The title of Margaret comes from
an 1880 poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall, which is addressed to a child who cannot explain
the cause of the tears she sheds at the
sight of dying leaves in autumn. It concludes with the lines It is the blight
man was born for / It is Margaret you
52

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

mourn for. Halfway through the movie,


the entire poem is read aloud by Lisas
English teacher, played by Matthew
Broderick. It was Patricia Broderick
who introduced Lonergan to Hopkinss poetry.
Lonergan conceived of Margaret
many years before he started writing
it. Its precipitating tragedya woman
is struck and killed by a bus on Broadway when its driver is distracted by
Lisais based on something that happened to a girl he knew. He wrote down
the story in a notebook and led it
away. I wrote a lot of notes in my notebook about the movieabout being a
kid and caring that much but also putting on a little performance at the same
time, Lonergan told me. This is why
teen-agers are so annoying to older
people, but also why older peopleor
most of usseem so tame in our passions and our desires and our generosity. Teen-agers have that kind of freshness to the world. They just want to
wipe out racism, for example. And you
are just, like, You are never going to
do that. Just go to a restaurant instead.
Who is right in that conversation?
In the summer of 2001, he sat down
to write the script. We had just had
Nellieshe was an infantand it was
just, like, automatic writing, SmithCameron told me. He didnt stop. We
were renting a house in the Hamptons,
and his oice was upstairs, and it was

just, like, click-click-click. I used to tease


him that he was just pretending to type,
because it was so fast. Finishing the
rst draft, however, took three years. It
was three hundred and seventy-ve
pagesthree times the length of a typical Hollywood script. Lonergan recalls, I cut a hundred pages out of it
without turning a hair, and then I cut
another hundred pages of it without
much diiculty, and then I stopped,
because I wasnt sure if I was making

cuts that were good, or because I was


trying to get it to a normal length. I
thought I had better wait and gure it
out in the editing room.
The rst cut of the movie, which Lonergan showed to an audience of friends
in 2006, was three hours and eighteen
minutes long. Rufalo, who plays the
bus driver, was in attendance. He told
me, There were maybe twenty people
in that room, and, I have to say, I was
literally weeping through three-quarters
of the lm, because of what Kenny was
going for about humanity, and art, and
whatever grace we have in the face of
the struggle. Both Lonergan and his
producers hoped that Margaret could
be reduced to two and a half hours. He
was granted a series of extensions, and
delivered several provisional cuts of the
movie, including one, in the summer of
2008, that was within the desired limit.
Eventually, though, he decided that
Margaret required more space. I always thought of it as a large story, he
told me. We did one cut where we just
shortened all the scenes, and it fell apart,
completely and obviously. The whole
only seemed to work when it slowed
down enough for you to enter it as if it
were real life.
The situation was at an impasse. Fox
Searchlight would not look at any version longer than two and a half hours;
Lonergan was not satised with any
version that met this requirement. I
kept saying, Leave me alone, it will
turn out O.K., and that was the one
thing they didnt want to hear, Lonergan recalls. In 2009, at an appearance
at the 92nd Street Y, Lonergan, employing sarcasm worthy of a character
from This Is Our Youth, acknowledged the battle over Margaret:
There have just been a lot of political diiculties with the studio. They
kept insisting that I have creative autonomy, and I wanted a lot of notes
and help from them. And they wanted
it to be longer, and I wanted it to be
shorter, and they kept saying, You must
do what you want, and I said, No, I
want to do what you want. The howto-succeed lessons of Getting to Yes
were long forgotten.
After some prodding, Lonergan recounted episodes from this period. He
told me that he spent months in an editing suite that he paid for, at a cost of

several hundred thousand dollars, by


borrowing money from Broderick and
other friends. After a veteran editor,
Dylan Tichenor, was hired to make a
new cut, Lonergan refused to get on
board. (I said I watched it, but I didnt,
Lonergan told me.) Eventually, Lonergan enlisted Martin Scorsese to work
on an alternative version; by that time,
however, Gary Gilbert, one of the producers, was suing Lonergan, and Scorseses version never saw the light of day.
Telling these tales, Lonergan sounded
rather like an Ancient Mariner who has
no expectation that his listener will come
close to comprehending the entire story.
Scott Rudin, another of the lms
producers, recalls, It couldnt stop
no one could stop it. And Kenny
couldnt stop it, because he spent an
awful lot of time not changing the
movie very much. In an e-mail, Lonergan threatened to distance himself
from the lmremarks that were later
used against him in Gilberts lawsuit.
Kenny didnt help ithe got very obstinate, Rudin says. When I was getting deposed, I walked into the lawyers oice, and ten clerks started
walking in with these huge boxes. It
was like the end of Miracle on 34th
Street, with all the letters to Santa. I
said to the lawyer, What is in those
boxes?, and he said, Your e-mails with
Kenny. Gilbert says now that he resorted to the lawsuit because Lonergan
could not be persuaded to sign of on
any cut, undermining Gilberts nancial investment. Kenny never said,
Here is the movie, Gilbert told me.
People say, You cant take a lm away
from an auteur director. But how do
you take something from zero?
Scorsese told me it was always clear
to him that Margaret was a masterpiece. At the same time, he felt that
Lonergan had become lost in the process and needed to nd his own way
out. This happens sometimesthe
lm starts to talk to you, Scorsese,
who has had his own problems nishing movies, said. The footage says
something diferentyou are not sure
if it should be a tighter shot, or a closer
shot when the person goes through
the doorway. You have to make a decision about the icker of an eyelid, or
the turning of a headand they are
both valid, so what do you do? And,

in a funny way, this is when cinema


itself makes itself known to the lmmaker. This is the beast you are dealing with. Such insight provided only
limited comfort to Lonergan at the
time. He was right in the middle of
the foresthow could I tell him?
Scorsese said to me. All I know is that
its painful.
Friends testify to the toll that the
process, and the dispute over the process, took on Lonergan. The biggest
loss is the fricking years of lost time
whatever he could have been doing
during that time, Rufalo says. It hurt
his condence, it really did. He couldnt
write. He couldnt do anything. SmithCamerons eyes lled with tears when
she talked with me about Margaret,
one day over lunch. Its such a big,
profound concept, lled with tiny details that add up to this very rich tapestrythis idea that everyones life is
mundane, and petty, and all about getting to school on time, and all about
whether your best friends are talking
to you, all these tedious things, she
said. But, meanwhile, even the guy
next to you on the subway is living
through some big dramasome big

tragedy, some opera. Everyone s life is


an opera, even though its also about
paying the bills on time. For Lonergan, she said, there were some huge
disappointments along the way, and
frustrations that he had to swallow.
And thats sort of part of growing up
knowing that you cant get what you
want. Even if it might be the best thing
you ever wrote, you cant have it realized exactly as you wished.
hen Margaret was nally re-

W leased, in September, 2011, it was

the two-and-a-half-hour version that


Lonergan had delivered in 2008. It
opened in just two theatres, with little
publicity. The movie was dumped,
Mathew Rosengart, Lonergans lawyer,
says. Having gone through it, and him
really believing it was his masterpiece,
and having it be doomed, was devastating. It was only after some critics saw
the lm during its release, and heralded
it as one of the nest movies of recent
years, that Fox Searchlight granted Lonergan more time to go back in the studio and produce the extended cut. In
2013, Gilberts lawsuit went to trial; a
few days in, when it became clear that
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

53

Scorsese, Damon, Rudin, Rufalo, and


other high-prole gures were scheduled to testify, Gilbert dropped the case.
The extended cut of Margaret,
with its more rounded sequences and
restored explanatory scenes, was released
on DVD in 2012. Lonergan still would
like to make some color corrections to
this version, but it is close to what he
wanted the movie to be. I like to be
eighty-ve or ninety per cent happy
with something, and I would say that
with the extended version I am seventyve per cent happy, he told me. I
wouldnt mind getting up to eighty, but
I dont know if thats possible. Some
observers with greater emotional distance suggest that the diferences between the two cuts are negligible. They
point out that the theatrical version was,
after all, the cut that critics rst praised.
Lonergan acknowledges that he was
recalcitrant and diicult about Margaret. He regrets not how he acted,
exactly, but his actions inefectiveness.
I was pigheaded in my behavior, he
said. I dont think its pigheaded to try
to protect your workI am proud of
being stubborn about wanting complete control over the work, and wanting it to come out as well as it can. I
am not proud of being stupid enough
to arouse the wrath of a studio that is
much more powerful than I am. The

lesson that Lisa Cohen learns in the


course of the moviethat she cannot
bend intransigent forces to comply with
her own sense of personal justice
mirrors Lonergans struggle to see his
artistic vision realized.
Tony Kushner, who was among those
people who championed Margaret
upon its theatrical release, told me, Its
a movie about a young girland the
rst thing you notice is that the girl
you are watching is not named Margaret. You have to go back to Hopkins.
You have to think of the mysteries that
Hopkins is grappling with: that growth
and maturity is desirable, but it leaves
devastation in the wake of its progress.
It is not purely and simply the fulllment of a plan; it also leaves a path of
destruction, and it destroys the thing
that it transforms. So there is a great
deal of ambivalence in Kennys work
about human capacity and growth.
Matt Damon, who plays a geometry teacher in Margaret, is among
those friends who sought to remedy
Lonergans despairin Damons case,
by getting Lonergan to write Manchester by the Sea for him. It was,
Damon admits, partly a ruse. A lot of
his friends were, quite frankly, worried
about him. He needed money, but he
couldnt writeit was this horrible
limbo, Damon told me. We got Kenny

paid to write a draft. It took Lonergan more than two years to nish one,
but when he did, Damon says, It was
long, and it was meandering, and it was
fucking incredible. Lonergan revised
the script and showed it again to
Damon, who says, I called him and I
said, Kenny, you are the only person
who can direct thisthis is completely
a Kenny Lonergan movie. He put up
a little ght, but those characters really had their claws into him.
Damon promised Lonergan that he
would star in the movie. Scheduling
conicts ultimately prevented him from
doing so, but he remained involved as
a producer. Damon recalls, I told
Kenny, Look, its not going to be anything like Margaret. Its going to be
easy, and its going to be fun. Kenny
saidDamon switched to an impersonation I dont believe you can have
fun making movies.
onergans tendency to be late

L for appointments dates back de-

cades, he told me. But in recent years


it grew out of hand. I would be an
hour late, an hour and a half lateI
mean, very bad, he said. The severity
of the problem, he suspects, was linked
to his experience with Margaret. He
told me, I was feeling pushed around,
and bullied, and asked to do things I

didnt think I should be asked to do.


Whether or not that is a reasonable
view, that is how I felt about it. I think
I got a very irrational bee in my bonnet. Why it manifested itself in being
late, I dont know. Maybe because I was
accused so often of the movie being
latewhen it wasnt. Lonergan was
careful to meet all his contractual deadlines on Margaret, even as friends
and others were urging him to complete the picture and ofering their help.
I would sometimes say charming
things, like Well, why dont you get
someone whos on time to do this?
he told me. But that was a very arrogant, obnoxious point of viewand I
was just insulting my friends, and other
people who had nothing to do with it,
and who never did me any harm. But
thats what neurosis is.
On an afternoon in September, we
arranged to meet at the Frick Collection, one of Lonergans favorite places
in New York. He texted me to say that
he was running fteen minutes late,
but when I arrived, a few minutes after
the appointed time, he was already
there, tickets in hand. We walked from
room to room, looking at paintings and
recalling stories associated with them.
The museum had few visitors that day,
and Lonergans habitual mumble was,
for once, an appropriate register.
We stood before a Titian portrait
of a young man, richly dressed in a red
velvet cap and furs. Lonergan said,
This made Matthews mom want to
be a painter. She came here as a kid,
and she couldnt gure out how he made
the black fur fur, when its just black.
Lonergan turned to a Degas painting
of a ballet rehearsal. He marvelled at
the artists lifelong obsession with the
female form. All these shapes of ballerinas, he said. Woman in the tub
washing her hair. Woman getting out
of the tub. Woman tying up her hair.
Woman being given a bath. Woman
having a bath. Ballerinas, ballerinas,
ballerinas. He paused. If I could get
that interested in something, and stay
interested in it for my whole life, that
would be wonderful. I wouldnt have
to worry about being creative again.
In the East Gallery, we paused before a portrait of a young woman, by
Goya, with an air of worry around her
dark eyes, and a slump in her shoulders

and her belly. Shes so sweet, this girl,


Lonergan said. You can really see her
sitting for the portrait. He looked at a
showier portrait on the opposite wall,
of a man in a fantastically lavish silk
suit. That is just not very good, he
said. Technically it is, I am sure, but
you look at her the Goyaand she
is like a human being. You get a better
sense of her dress, too. You dont believe anyone wore what hes wearing
or, if they did, you dont understand
how they wore it. It doesnt put you
back with the person, the way good
painters do. We tried to guess the age
of the sitter in the Goyashe could
have been anywhere from her early teens
to her mid-twenties. They presented
older, Lonergan said. A young woman
of twenty-four would have had ten years
of experience, essentially, as an adult.
As opposed to a twenty-four-year-old
now, who has had zero.
A few days later, Lonergan was due
to make an appearance at the Metrograph, a new art-house cinema on the
Lower East Side which shows rst-run
movies and classics. Jake Perlin, the theatres artistic director, had recently asked
Lonergan if he would program an evening there; he was enthusiastic about
doing it, though he hadnt yet chosen
the lms. I want to show something I
have never seen on a big screen, he told
me at one point. Ive never seen Dr.
Zhivago on a big screen. Nellie is never
going to see Dr. Zhivago on a big screen
as long as she lives. She might see The
Godfather on a big screen one day, when
it has its millionth anniversary.
He was there for a screening of the
extended cut of Margaret. It was only
the third time that this version had
been shown on a big screen. The event
was sold out, and the audience, lled
with Lonergan acionados, was rapt
as the story unspooled. Until then, I
had seen Margaret only on a TV
screen. Seen at this scale, the verisimilitude of small details was easier to savor:
the posters of Broadway plays that line
the walls of Lisas apartment; the harshness of the uorescent light in the
kitchen where Lisa talks with a louche
schoolmate, played by Kieran Culkin,
whom she has invited over to take her
virginity. (The cinematographer initially established moodier lighting, but
Lonergan said no. When a boy or girl

comes to your house at night, and you


turn on the kitchen lights, its a harsh,
bright light, he told me. I always feel
the environment is often in contrast to
your mood.) A scene in which Matthew Broderick, as the English teacher,
catches Lisa and a friend smoking pot
in Central Park, and is humiliated when
the girls make fun of him, ended with
a rear view of Brodericka ush of
embarrassment sufusing the back of
his neck. It was a poignant shot, and
one that a more economical director
might have eliminated. The sweeping
vistas of the city felt more resonant on
a movie screen; you could feel the camera lingering anxiously on planes crossing the sky, just as, in the rst years
after the attacks of September 11th,
worried New Yorkers looked up and
watched whenever an aircraft seemed
to be coming too close.
Lonergan missed most of the screeninghe had to attend an event promoting Manchester by the Sea. But he arrived ten minutes before the end. A
question-and-answer session followed,
and he seemed relaxed and happy as he
elded inquiries from the audience,
pushing his glasses up on his head, then
lowering them again, and running his
hands through his hair. Broderick had
noted, He cuts his own hair. Did he
tell you that? Because he thinks he can
do everything better. He is right, in a
way. This is always what is irritating
about Kennyyou shouldnt be cutting
your own hair, but actually he can.
Many of the questions were technical. How did Lonergan work with
actors? What was his process with
sound design? After about half an hour,
a young man near the back of the theatre raised his hand, and posed a larger
question: Because Margaret took so
long to make and to nally get released,
what were the major lessons you took
in terms of making your next lm?
Im still trying to gure that out,
because they are all contradictory, Lonergan said, to laughter. One is: never
back down, and do what you think is
right, and dont listen to anyone. The
other is: listen to people. There was
more laughterhis comic timing was
excellent. So I have been wrestling
with that myself, he went on. I dont
know, exactly. I have not learned my
lesson yet. I dont know what it is.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

55

FICTION

56

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

ILLUSTRATION BY KRISTIAN HAMMERSTAD

he dog was the color of a maraschino cherry, and what it had


in its jaws I couldnt quite make
out at rst, not until it parked itself
under the hydrangeas and began throttling the thing. This little episode
would have played itself out without
my even noticing, except that Id gone
to the stove to put the kettle on for a
cup of tea and happened to glance out
the window at the front lawn. The
lawn, a lush blue-green that managed
to hint at both the turquoise of the
sea and the viridian of a Kentucky
meadow, was something I took special pride in, and any wandering dog,
no matter its chromatics, was an irritation to me. The seed had been
priceya blend of Chewings fescue,
Bahia, and zoysia incorporating a gene
from a species of algae that allowed it
to glow under the porch light at
nightand, while it was both diseaseand drought-resistant, it didnt take
well to foot traic, especially fourfooted traic.
I stepped out onto the porch and
clapped my hands, thinking to shoo
the dog away, but it didnt move. Actually, it did, but only to ex its shoulders and tighten its jaws around its
prey, which I now saw was my neighbor Allisons pet micropig. The pig
itselfdoe-eyed and no bigger than
a Pekinesedidnt seem to be struggling, or not any longer, and even as
I came down of the porch looking
for something I could brandish at the
dog I felt my heart thundering. Allison was one of those pet owners
who anthropomorphize their animals,
and that pig was the center of her unmarried and unboyfriended life. She
would be shattered, absolutely, and
who was going to break the news to
her? I felt a surge of anger. How had
the stupid thing got out of the house
anyway, and, for that matter, whose
dog was this? I didnt own a garden
rake, and there were no sticks on the
lawn (the street trees were an edited
variety that didnt drop anything, no
twigs, seeds, or leaves, no matter the
season), so I stormed across the grass
empty-handed, shouting the rst thing
that came to mind, which was Bad!
Bad dog!
I wasnt thinking. And the efect
wasnt what I would have hoped for

even if I had been: the dog dropped


the pig, all right, which was clearly beyond revivication at this point, but
in the same motion it lurched up and
clamped its jaws on my left forearm,
growling continuously, as if my forearm were a stick it had fetched in a
friendly game between us. Curiously,
there was no painand no blood, eitherjust a rm insistent pressure,
the saliva hot and wet on my skin as
I pulled in one direction and the dog,
all the while regarding me out of a pair
of dull, uniform eyes, pulled in the
other. Let go! I demanded, but the
dog didnt let go. I tugged. The dog
tugged back.
There was no one on the street,
no one in the next yard over, no one
in the house behind me to come to
my aid. I was dressed in the T-shirt,
shorts, and slippers Id pulled on not
ten minutes earlier, when Id got out
of bed, and here I was caught up in
this maddening interspecies pas de
deux at eight in the morning, already
exhausted. The dog, this cherry-red
hairless freak with the armored skull
and bulging musculature of a pit bull,
showed no sign of giving in: it had
got my arm and it meant to keep it.
After a minute of this, I went down
on one knee to ease the tension in
my back, a gesture that seemed only
to excite the animal all the more, its
nails tearing up divots as it fought
for purchase, trying, it occurred to
me now, to bring me down to its level.
Before I knew what I was doing, I
balled up my free hand and punched
the thing in the head three times in
quick succession.
The efect was instantaneous: the
dog dropped my arm and let out a yelp,
backing of to hover at the edge of the
lawn and eye me warily, as if now, all
at once, the rules of the game had
changed. In the next moment, just as
I realized that I was, in fact, bleeding,
a voice cried out behind me, Hey, I
saw that!
A girl was striding across the lawn
toward me, a preternaturally tall girl
whom I at rst took to be a teenager but who was actually a child of
eleven or twelve. She marched directly up to me, glaring, and said,
You hit my dog.
I was in no mood. Im bleeding, I

said, holding out my arm in evidence.


You see this? Your dog bit me. You
ought to keep him chained up.
Thats not trueRuby would never
bite anybody. She was just . . . playing,
is all.
I wasnt about to debate her. This
was my property, my arm, and that
lump of esh lying there bleeding into
the grass was Allisons dead pet. I
pointed to it.
Oh, she said, her voice dropping.
Im so sorry, I didnt . . . Is it yours?
My neighbors. I gestured to the
house just visible over the hedge. Shes
going to be devastated. This pigI
wanted to call it by name, personalize it, but couldnt for the life of me
summon up its nameis all she has.
And it wasnt cheap, either. I glanced
at the dog, its pinkish gaze and incarnadine anks. As Im sure you can
appreciate.
The girl, who stood three or four
inches taller than me and whose own
eyes were an almost iridescent shade
of violet that didnt exist in nature, or
at least hadnt until recently, gave me
an uninching look. Maybe she doesnt
have to know.
What do you mean she doesnt have
to know? The things deadlook at it.
Maybe it was run over by a car.
You want me to lie to her?
The girl shrugged. I already said
Im sorry. Ruby got out the front gate
when my mother went to work, and I
came right after her. You saw me
What about this? I demanded,
holding up my arm, which wasnt so
much punctured as abraded, since most
of the new breeds had had their canines and carnassials genetically modied to prevent any real damage in
situations like this. It has its shots,
right?
Shes a Cherry Pit, the girl said,
giving me a look of disgust. Germline
immunity comes with the package. I
mean, everybody knows that.
t was a Tuesday and I was work-

I ing from home, as I did every Tues-

day and Thursday. I worked in I.T.,


like practically everybody else on the
planet, and I found I actually got
more done at home than when I went
into the oice. My co-workers were
a trial, what with their moods, opinions,

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

57


facial tics, and all the rest. Not that I
didnt like themit was just that they
always seemed to manage to get in
the way at crunch time. Or maybe I
didnt like themmaybe that was it.
At any rate, after the little contretemps with the girl and her dog, I
went back in the house, smeared an
antibiotic ointment on my forearm,
took my tea and a handful of protein
wafers to my desk, and sat down at
the computer. If I gave the dead pig
a thought, it was only in relation to
Allison, whod want to see the corpse,
I supposed, which brought up the
question of what to do with itlet it
lie where it was or stuf it in a trash
bag and refrigerate it till she got home
from the oice? I thought of calling
my wifeConnie was regional manager of Bank U.S.A., by necessity a
master of interpersonal relations, and
she would know what to dobut in
the end I did nothing.
It was past three by the time I
thought to take a lunch break, and,
because it was such a ne day, I took
my sandwich and a glass of iced tea
out onto the front porch. By this juncture, Id forgotten all about the pig,
the dog, and the grief that was brewing for Allison, but as soon as I stepped
out the door it all came back to me:
the trees were alive with crowparrots
58

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

variously screeching, cawing, and chattering among themselves, and they


were there for a very specic reason.
(I dont know if you have crowparrots
in your neighborhood yet, but, believe
me, theyre coming. They were the inspiration of one of the molecular embryologists at the university here, who
thought that inserting genes from the
common crow into the invasive parrot population would put an end to
the parrots raids on our orchards and
vineyards, by giving them a taste for
garbage and carrion instead of fruit on
the vine. The only problem was the
noise factorsomething in the mix
seemed to have redoubled not only the
volume but the fury of the birds calls,
so that you needed earplugs if you
wanted to enjoy pretty much any outdoor activity.)
Which was the case now. The birds
were everywhere, cursing uidly (Bad
bird! Fuck, fuck, fuck! ) and apping
their spangled wings in one anothers
faces. Alarmed, I came down of the
porch and for the second time that day
scrambled across the lawn to the ower
bed, where a scrum of birds had settled on the remains of Allisons pet. I
ailed my arms, and they lifted of reluctantly into the sky, screeching, Turdbird! and the fractured call that awakened me practically every morning:

Cock-k-k-k-sucker! As for the pig


(which I should have dragged into the
garage, I realized that now), its eyes
were gone and its faintly bluish hide
was striped with bright-red gashes.
Truthfully? I didnt want to touch the
thing. It was lthy. The birds were lthy.
Who knew what zoonoses they were
carrying? So I was just standing there,
in a quandary, when Allisons car pulled
into the driveway next door.
Allison was in her early thirties,
with a top-heavy gure and a barely
tamed kink of ginger hair she kept
wrapped up in various scarves, which
gave her an exotic look, as if she were
displaced here in the suburbs. She was
sad-faced and sweet, the victim of one
catastrophic relationship after another,
and I couldnt help feeling protective
toward her, a single woman alone in
the big house her mother had left her
when she died. So when she came
across the lawn, already tearing up, I
felt Id somehow let her down and,
before I could think, I stripped of my
shirt and draped it over the corpse.
Is that her? she asked, looking
down at the hastily covered bundle
at my feet. No, she said, dont tell
me, and then her eyes jumped to
mine and she was repeating my name,
Roy, Roy, Roy, as if wringing it in
her throat. Fuck you! the crowparrots cried from the trees. Fuck, fuck,
fuck! In the next moment Allison
ung herself into my arms, clutching
me to her so desperately I could hardly
breathe.
I dont want to see, she said in a
small voice, each syllable a hot puf of
breath on the bare skin of my chest. I
could smell her hair, the shampoo she
used, the taint of sweat under her arms.
The poor thing, she murmured, and
lifted her face so I could see the tears
blurring her eyes. I loved her, Roy. I
really loved her.
This called up a scene from the past,
a dinner party at AllisonsConnie
and me, another couple, and Allison
and her last inamorato, a big-headed
boor who worked for Animal Control,
incinerating strays and transgenic
mists. Allison had kept the pig in her
lap throughout the meal, feeding it
from her plate, and afterward, while
we sat around the living room cradling
brandies and Bndictine, she propped

the thing up at the piano, where it


picked out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little
Star with its modied hooves.
It was a dog, right? Thats what
and here she had to break of a moment to gather herself. Thats what
Terry Wolfson said when she called
me at work
I was going to ofer up some platitude about how the animal hadnt
sufered, though for all I knew the dog
had gummed it relentlessly, the way it
had gummed my arm, when a voice
called Hello? from the street behind
us and we broke awkwardly apart.
Coming up the walk was the tall girl,
tottering on a pair of platform heels,
and she had the dog with her, this time
on a leash. I felt a stab of annoyance
hadnt she caused enough trouble already?and embarrassment, too. It
wasnt like me to go shirtless in publicor to be caught in a full-body embrace with my unmarried next-door
neighbor, either, for that matter.
If the girl could read my face, she
gave no indication of it. She came right
up to us, the dog trotting along docilely at her side. Her violet gaze swept
from me to the lump on the ground
beneath the bloodied T-shirt and nally
to Allison. Je suis dsole, Madame, she
said. Pardonnez-moi. Mon chien ne
savait pas ce quil faisaitil est un bon
chien, vraiment.
This girl, this child, loomed over us,
her features animated. She was wearing eyeliner, lipstick, and blush, as if
she were ten years older and on her
way to a night club, and her hair
blond, with a natural curlspread
like a tent over her shoulders and dangled all the way down to the small
of her back. What are you saying? I
demanded. And why are you speaking French?
Because I can. My I.Q. is 162 and
I can run the hundred metres in 9.58
seconds.
Wonderful, I said, exchanging a
look with Allison. Terric. Really. But
what are you doing here, what do you
want?
Your mother! the birds cried. Up
yours!
The girl shifted from one foot to
the other, suddenly looking awkward,
like the child she was. I just wanted
to please, please beg you not to report

Ruby to Animal Control, because my


father says theyll come and put her
down. Shes a good dog, she really is,
and she never did anything like this
before. It was just a
Freak occurrence? I said.
Right, she said. An anomaly. An
accident.
Allisons jaw tightened. The dog
looked tranquilly up at us out of its
pink eyes, as if none of this were its
concern. A bugless breeze rustled the
trees along the street. And what am I
supposed to say? Allison put in. How
am I supposed to feel? What do you
want, forgiveness? She gave the girl a
erce look. You love your dog?
The girl nodded.
Well, I lovelovedShushawna,
too. She choked up. More than anything in the world.
We all took a minute to gaze down
on the carcass, and then the girl lifted
her eyes. My father says well pay all
damages. Here, she said, digging into
her purse and producing a pair of business cards, one of which she handed
to me and the other to Allison. Any
medical treatment you may need, well
take care of, one hundred per cent,
she assured me, eying my arm doubtfully before turning to Allison. And
replace your pet, too, if you want, Madame. It was a micropig, right, from
Recombicorp?
It was a painful moment. I could
feel for Allison and for the girl, too,

though Connie and I didnt have any


pets, not even one of the new hypoallergenic breeds. There was a larger sadness at play here, the sadness of attachment and loss and the way the world
wreaks its changes whether were ready
for them or not. We would have got
through the moment, I think, coming
to some sort of understandingAllison wasnt vindictive, and I wasnt about
to raise a fussbut that same breeze
swept across the lawn to ip back the

edge of the T-shirt and expose the eyeless head of the pig, and that was all it
took. Allison let out a gasp, and the
dogthat crimson freakjerked the
leash out of the girls hand and went
right for it.
hen Connie came home, I was

W in the kitchen mixing a drink.

The front door slammed. (Connie was


always in a hurry, no wasted motion,
and though Id asked her a hundred
times not to slam the door she was
constitutionally incapable of taking
the extra two seconds to ease it shut.)
An instant later, her briefcase slapped
down on the hallway table with the
force of a thunderclap, her heels drilled
the parquet oortat-tat-tat-tat
and then she was there in the kitchen,
saying, Make me one, too, would you,
honey? Or no: wine. Do we have any
wine?
I didnt ask her how her day had
goneall her days were the same,
pedal to the metal, one situation after
another, all of which she dealt with
like a ve-star general driving the
enemy into the sea. I didnt give her
a hug or blow her a kiss, either. We
werent that sort of coupleto her
mind (and mine, too, to be honest), it
would have been just more wasted
motion. Wordlessly, I poured her a
glass of the Sancerre she liked and
handed it to her.
Allisons pet pig was killed today,
I said. Right out on our front lawn.
By one of those transgenic pit bulls,
one of the crimson ones theyre always
pushing on TV?
Her eyebrows lifted. She swirled the
wine in her glass, took a sip.
And I got bit, I added, holding up
my arm, where a deep-purplish bruise
had wrapped itself around the skin just
below the elbow.
What she said next didnt follow,
but then we often talked in non sequiturs, she conducting a kind of call-andresponse conversation in her head and
I in mine, the responses never quite
matching up. She didnt comment on
my injury or the dog or Allison or the
turmoil Id gone through. She just set
her glass down on the counter, patted
her lips where the wine had moistened
them, and said, I want a baby.
I suppose I should back up here a
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

59

moment to give you an idea of where


this was coming from. Wed been
married twelve years now, and wed
agreed that at some point wed like
to start a family, but we kept putting
it of for one reason or anotherour
careers, nances, fear of the way a
child would impact our life style, the
usual kind of thing. But with a twist.
What sort of childthat was the
question. Previous generations had
only to fret over whether the expectant mother would bear a boy or a girl
or if the child would inherit Aunt
Bethanys nose or Uncle Yuris unibrow, but that wasnt the case anymore, not since CRISPR gene-editing
technology had hit the ground running twenty years back. Now not only
could you choose the sex of the child
at conception; you could chose its
other features, too, as if having a child
were like going to the car dealership
and picking which options to add
onto the basic model. The sole function of sex these days was recreational;
babies were conceived in the laboratory. That was the way it was and that
was the way it would be, until, as a
species, we evolved into something else.
The result was a nationa world
of children like the tall girl with the
bright-red dog.
To my way of thinking, this was intrusive and unnatural, but to Connies
it was a no-brainer. Are you out of
your mind? shed say. You really want
your kidour kidto be the bonehead of the class? Or what, take career
training, cosmetology, auto mechanics,
for Christs sake?
Now, tipping back her glass and
downing the wine in a single belligerent gulp, she announced, Im thirtyeight years old and Im putting my foot
down. Ive made an appointment at
GenLab for 10 A.M. Thursday. Either
you come with meshe was glaring
at me nowor I swear Im going to
go out and get a sperm donor.
obody likes an ultimatum. Es-

N pecially when youre talking about

a major life-changing event, the kind


of thing both people involved have to
enter into in absolute harmony. It
didnt go well. She thought she could
bully me as if I were one of her underlings at work; I thought she couldnt.

60

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

She thought shed had the nal word


on the subject; I thought diferent. I
said some things I wound up regretting later, snatched up my drink, and
slammed through the kitchen door
and out into the back yard, where for
once no birds were cursing from the
trees and even the bees seemed muted
as they went about their business. If
it werent for that silence, I never would
have heard the soft heartsick keening
of Allison working through the stations of her grief. The sound was low
and intermittent, a stunted release of
air followed by a sodden gargling that
might have been the wheeze and rattle of the sprinklers starting up, and
it took me a minute to realize what it
was. In the instant, I forgot all about
what had just transpired in my own
kitchen and thought of Allison, struck
all over again by the intensity of her
emotion.
Wed managed to get the dog of
the carcass, all three of us shouting at
once while the girl grabbed for the
leash and I delivered two or three sharp
kicks to the animals hindquarters, but
Allisons dead pig was none the better for it. The girl, red-faced and embarrassed despite her I.Q. and whatever other attributes she might have
possessed, slouched across the lawn
and down the street, the dog mincing
beside her, while I ofered to do the
only sensible thing and bury what was
left of the remains. I dug a hole out
back of Allisons potting shed, Allison
read a passage I vaguely remembered
from school (The stars are not wanted
now: put out every one; / Pack up the
moon and dismantle the sun), I held
her in my arms for the second time
that day, then lled the hole and went
home to make my drink and have Connie slam the front door and lay her demands on me.
Now, as if I were being tugged on
invisible wires, I moved toward the low
hedge that separated our properties
and stepped across it. Allison was
hunched over the picnic table on her
patio. She was still dressed in the taupe
blouse and black skirt shed worn to
work, and she had her head down, her
scarf bunched under one cheek, and
that got to me in a way I cant explain,
so that before I knew what I was doing
Id fallen down a long dark tunnel and

found myself consoling her in a way


that seemedhow can I put this?so
very natural at the time.
t was dark when I got home. Con-

I nie was sitting on the couch in the

living room, watching TV with the


sound muted. Hi, I said, feeling
sheepish, feeling guilty (Id never
strayed before and didnt know why
Id done it now, except that Id been
so furious with my wife and so strangely
moved by Allison in her grief, though
I know thats no excuse), but trying,
like all amateurs, to act as if nothing
were out of the ordinary. Connie
looked up. I couldnt read her face, but
I thought, at least by the ickering
light of the TV, that she looked softer,
contrite even, as if shed reconsidered
her position, or at least the way shed
laid it on me.
Im sorry, I said, but I was upset,
O.K.? I just went for a walk. To clear
my head.
She had nothing to say to this.
You eat yet? I asked, to change the
subject.
She shook her head.
Me, either, I said, feeling the
weight lift, as if ritual could get us
through this. You want to go out?
No, I dont want to go out, she
said. I want a baby.
And what did I say, from the shallow grave of my guilt, which was no
deeper than the layer of earth Id ung
over the shrunken and lacerated corpse
of Allisons pet? I said, O.K., well talk
about it.
Talk about it? The appointment is
Thursday, 10 A.M. Thats nonnegotiable.
She was rightit was time to start
a familyand she was right, too, about
cosmetology and auto mechanics. What
responsible parent wouldnt want the
best for his child, whether that meant
a stable home, top-ight nutrition, and
the best private-school education money
could buy, or tweaking the chromosomes in a test tube in a lab somewhere?
Understand me: I was under duress. I
could smell Allison on me still. I could
smell my own fear. I didnt want to lose
my wifeI loved her. I was used to her.
She was the only woman Id known
these past twelve years and more, my
familiar. And there she was, poised on
the edge of the couch, watching me,

THE LAZY SUSAN

The lazy Susan, in antiquity, would have been a re.


Drinking all night, the parents never get drunk.
This is an ancient brew, with nuts, seeds, fruit
to fuel the hours, to light a center.
The tea dispensers orange light reminds us:
theyre in the dining room, laughing in Chinese
while we play Scrabble or Monopoly out here.
Theyre telling stories we dont bother to record
because the nights are long. Weve heard them before.
We dont comprehend the punch lines. Theyre tired.
They live this way because of us.
We live this way because of them.
We dont comprehend the punch lines. Theyre tired
because the nights are long. Weve heard them before,
telling stories we dont bother to record.
While we play Scrabble or Monopoly out here,
theyre in the dining room, laughing in Chinese.
The tea dispensers orange light reminds us
to fuel the hours, to light a center.
This is an ancient brew, with nuts, seeds, fruit.
Drinking all night, the parents never get drunk.
The lazy Susan, in antiquity, would have been a re.
Adrienne Su

her will like some miasma seeping in


under the door and through the cracks
around the windows until the room
was choked with it. O.K., I said.
hich is not to say that I gave

W in without a ght. The next

dayWednesdayI had to go into


the oice and endure the usual banalities of my co-workers till I wanted
to beat the walls of my cubicle in frustration, but on the way home I stopped
at a pet store and picked up an eightweek-old dogcat. (People still arent
quite sure what to call the young, even
now, fteen years after they were rst
created. Kitpups? Pupkits? The sign
in the window read simply Baby Dogcats on Special.) I chose a squirming little furball with a doggish face
and tabby stripes and brought it home
as a surprise for Connie, hoping it
would distract her long enough for
her to revaluate the decision she was
committing us to.
I tucked the thing inside my shirt
for the drive home, since the minute
the girl behind the counter put it in

its cardboard carrier it began alternately mewing and yipping in a tragic


way, and it nestled there against my
chest, warm and content, until Id
parked the car and gone up the steps
and into the house. Connie was already home, moving briskly about the
kitchen. There were owers on the
table next to an ice bucket with the
neck of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot protruding from it, and the room was redolent of the scent of my favorite meal
piprade, Basque style, topped with
poached eggsand I realized that she
must have made a special stop at Maison Claude on her way home. This was
a celebration and no two ways about
it. In the morning, we would procreateor take our rst steps in that direction, which on my part would involve producing a sperm sample under
duress (unlike, I couldnt help thinking, the way it had been with Allison).
We didnt hug. We didnt kiss. I
just said Hey, and she said Hey
back. Smells great, I said, trying to
gauge her expression as we both hovered over the table.

Perfect timing, she said, leaning


in to adjust the napkin beside her
plate, though it was already precisely
aligned. I got there the minute they
took it out of the oven. Claude himself brought it out to mealong with
a fresh loaf of that crusty sourdough
you like. Just baked this morning.
I was grinning at her. Great, I
said. Really great.
Into the silence that followed
neither of us was ready yet to address
the issue hanging over usI said, Ive
got a surprise for you.
How sweet. What is it?
W ith a magicians ourish, I
whipped the new pet from the folds
of my shirt and held it out triumphantly
for her. Unfortunately, I startled the
thing in the process, and it reacted by
digging its claws into my wrist, letting
out a string of rapid-re barks, and
dropping a glistening turd on the tiles
of the kitchen oor. For you, I said.
Her face fell. Youve got to be kidding me. You really think Im that
easy to buy of ? She made no efort
to take the thing from mein fact,
she clenched her hands behind her.
Take it back where you got it.
The pupkit had softened now, retracting its claws and settling into the
crook of my arm as if it recognized
me, as if in the process of selecting it
and secreting it in my shirt Id imparted something essential to itlove,
that isand it was content to exist
in this new world on a new basis altogether. Its purring, I said.
What do you want me to say
hallelujah? The things a freak, youre
always saying so yourself every time
one of those stupid commercials comes
on
No more a freak than that girl
with the dog, I said.
What girl? What are you talking
about?
The one with the dog that bit me.
She must have been six-four. She had
an I.Q. of 162. And still she let her
dog out, and still it bit me.
What are you saying? Youre not
trying to back out on me, are you?
We had a deal, Roy, and you know
how I feel about people who renege
on a deal
O.K., O.K., calm down. All Im
saying is maybe we ought to have a
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

61

kind of trial or something before weI


mean, weve never even had a pet.
A pet is not a child, Roy.
No, I said, thats not what I
meant. It was just, Im just The
crowparrots started up then with one
of their raucous dinnertime chants,
squawking so piercingly you could
hear them even with the windows
shutBig Mac, Big Mac, they called.
Fries! and I lost my train of thought.
Are we going to eat? Connie said
in a fragile voice, tearing up. Because
I went out of my way. Because I
wanted this night to be special, O.K.?
So now we did hug, though the
pupkit got between us, and, coward
that I am, I told her everything was
going to be all right. Later, after shed
gone to bed, I took the pupkit in my
arms, went next door, and rang the
bell. Allison answered in her nightgown, a smile creeping across her lips.
Here, I said, handing her the animal. I got this for you.
ast-forward seven and a half

F months. I am living in a house with

a pregnant woman next door to a house


in which there is another pregnant
woman. Connie seems to nd this
amusing, never suspecting the truth
of the matter. Well glance up from
the porch and see Allison emerging
heavily from her car with an armload
of groceries, and Connie will say things
like I hope she doesnt have to pee
every ve minutes the way I do and
She wont say who the father isI
just hope its not that a-hole from Animal Control, what was his name?
This is problematic on a number
of levels. I play dumb, of course
what else can I do? Maybe she went
to GenLab, I say.
Her? Youre kidding me, right? I
mean, look at that string of jerks she
keeps dating. If you want to know the
truth, shes lower-class, Roy, and Im
sorry to have to say it
Im not about to argue the point.
The fact is I tried everything I could
to talk Allison out of going through
with thisnally, to my shame, falling back on the same argument about
the whole bermensch-Untermensch
dynamic that Connie used on me
but Allison merely gave me a bitter
smile and said, I trust your genes,
62

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Roy. You dont have to be involved. I


just want to do this, thats all. For myself. And for nature. You believe in
nature, dont you?
You dont have to be involved. But I
was involved, though wed had sex
only the one time (or two, actually,
counting the night I brought her the
pupkit), and if she had a boy and he
looked like me and grew up right next
door playing with our daughter, how
involved would that be?
So there comes a day, sometime
during that eighth month, a Tuesday,
when Im working at home and Connies at the oice, and Im so focussed
on the problem at hand that I keep
putting of my bathroom break until
the mornings nearly gone. Thats the
way it always is when Im deeply engaged with a problem, a kind of mindbody separation, but nally the bodys
needs prevail and I push myself up
from my desk to go down the hall to
the bathroom. Im standing there, in
mid-ow, when I become aware of
the sound of a dog barking on the
front lawn and I shift my torso ever
so slightly so that I can glance out the
window and see what the ruckus is
all about. Its the red dog, the Cherry
Pit that set all this in motion, and its
tearing around on my hybrid lawn,
chasing something. My rst reaction
is angeranger at the tall girl and her
xer father and all the other idiots of
the worldbut by the time I get down
the stairs and out the front door the
anger dissipates, because I see that the
dog isnt there to kill anything but to
play, and that what its chasing is being
chased willingly: Allisons dogcat, now
a rangy adolescent and perhaps a third
the size of the dog.
For all my fretting over the lawn,
I have to say that in that moment,
with the light making a cathedral of
the street trees and the neighborhood
suspended in the grip of a lazy, warm
autumn afternoon, I nd something
wonderfully liberating in the play of
those two animals, the dogcat especially. Allison named him Tiger because of his colorationdark feral
stripes against a kind of Pomeranian
orangeand he lives up to his name,
absolutely fearless and with an athleticism and elasticity that combines
the best of both species that went into

making him. He runs rings around


the pit bull, actually, feinting one
way, dodging the next, racing up the
trunk of a tree and out onto a branch
before leaping to the next tree and
springing back down to charge, doglike, across the yard. Go, Tiger! I call
out. Good boy. Go get him!
Thats when I become aware of Allison, in a pair of maternity shorts and
an enormous top, crossing from her front
lawn to ours. Shes put on a lot of weight
(but not as much as Connie, because we
opted for a big baby, in the eleven-pound
range, wanting itherto have that
advantage right from the start). I havent spoken with Allison much these
past months, but I still have feelings for
her, of coursebeyond resentment, that
is. So I lift a hand and wave and she
waves back and I watch her come barefoot through the glowing grass while
the animals frolic around her.
Im down of the porch now, and
I cant help but smile at the sight of
her. She comes up to me, moving with
a kind of clumsy grace, if that makes
any sense, and I want to take her in
my arms but cant really do that, not
under these conditions, so I take both
her hands and peck a neighborly kiss
to her cheek. For a minute, neither of
us says anything, then, shading her
eyes with the at of one hand to better see the animals at play, she says,
Pretty cute, huh?
I nod.
You see how Tigers grown?
Yes, of course, Ive been watching
him all along. . . . Is that as big as hes
going to get?
The sun catches her eyes, which
are a shade of plain everyday brown.
Nobodys sure, but the vet thinks he
wont get much bigger. Maybe a pound
or two.
And you? I venture. How are you
feeling?
Never better. Youre going to be
seeing more of medont look scared,
thats not what I mean, just Im taking my maternity leave, though Im
not due for, like, six weeks. Both her
hands, pretty hands, shapely, come to
rest on the bulge beneath her oversized blouse. Theyre really being
nice about it at work.
Connies not planning on taking
of till the minute her water breaks,

because thats the way Connie is, and


I want to tell Allison that by way of
contrast, just to say something, but I
notice that shes looking over my
shoulder and I turn my head to see
the tall girl coming up the walk, leash
in hand. Sorry, the girl calls out.
She got loose again. Sorry, sorry.
I dont know what it is, but Im feeling generous, expansive. No problem,
I call out. Shes just having a little fun.
Thats when Connies car slashes into
the driveway, going too fast, and all I
can think is shes going to hit one of
the animals, but she brakes at the last
minute and they ow like water around
the tires to chase back across the lawn
again. Its hard to gauge the look on my
wifes face as she swings open the car
door, pushes herself laboriously from
behind the wheel, then starts up the
walk as if she hasnt seen us. Just as she
reaches the front steps, she swivels
around. I can see shes considering
whether its worth the efort to come
and greet our neighbor and get a closer
look at the tall girl who hovers behind
us like the avatar she is, but she decides
against it. She just stops a moment, staring, and though shes thirty feet away I
can see a kind of recognition settle into
her features, and it has to do with the
way Allison is standing there beside me,
as if for a portrait or an illustration in
a book on family planning, the XY chromosomes and the XX. Its just a moment, and I cant say for certain, but her
face goes rigid and she turns her back
on us, mounts the steps, and slams the
door behind her.
When the CRISPR technology rst
came to light, governments and scientists everywhere assured the public that
it would be employed only selectively,
to ght disease and to rectify congenital deformities, editing out the mutated BRCA1 gene that predisposes
women to breast cancer, for instance,
or eliminating the ability of the Anopheles mosquito to carry the parasite that
transmits malaria. Who could argue
with that? Genome-editing kits (Knock
Out Any Gene!) were sold to home
hobbyists, who could create their own
anomalous forms of yeast and bacteria
in their kitchens, and it was revolutionaryand, beyond that, fun. Fun to tinker. Fun to create. The pet and meat
industries gave us rainbow-colored

I developed my sense of humor as a defense mechanism


and turned it into a lethal ofensive weapon.

aquarium sh, seahorses that incorporated gold dust in their cells, rabbits
that glowed green under a black light,
the beefed-up supercow, the micropig,
the dogcat, and all the rest. The Chinese were the rst to renounce any sort
of regulatory control and upgrade the
human genome, and, as if they werent
brilliant enough already, they became
still more brilliant as the rst edited
children began to appear, and of course
we had to keep up. . . .
In a room at GenLab, Connie and
I were presented with an exhaustive
menu of just how our chromosomes
could be made to match up. We chose
to have a daughter. We selected emerald eyes for hernot iridescent,
not freakishly bright, but enhanced
for color so that she could grow up
wearing mint, olive, Kelly green, and
let her eyes talk for her. We chose
height, too, as just about everybody
does. And musical abilitywe both
love music. Intellect, of course. And
ner features, like a subtly cleft chin
and breasts that were not too big but
not as small as Connies, either. It

was a menu, and we placed an order.


The tall girl is right beside us now,
smiling like the heroine of a Norse
saga, her eyes sweeping over us like
searchlights. She looks to Allison, takes
in her condition. Boy or girl? she asks.
The softest smile plays over Allisons lips. She ducks her head, shrugs.
The girlthe geniuslooks confused for a moment. But, but, she
stammers, how can that be? You dont
mean you?
But before Allison can answer, a
crowparrot sweeps out of the nearest
tree, winging low to screech Fuck
you! in our faces, and the smallest
miracle occurs. Tiger, as casual in his
own skin as anything there is or ever
was, erupts from the ground in a rocketing whirl of fur to catch the thing
in his jaws. As quick as that, its over,
and the feathers, the prettiest feathers youll ever see, lift and dance and
oat away on the breeze.
NEWYORKER.COM

T. Coraghessan Boyle on the perils of genetic


manipulation.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

63

THE CRITICS
ON TELEVISION

FOX EATS CROW


The crisis of Fox News and the rise of Megyn Kelly.
BY EMILY NUSSBAUM

nated two hundred and fty dollars to


Hillary Clintons campaign. My husband is Canadian. Im Jewish. In the
early nineties, my dad worked in the
Clinton White House, but although
I love him we are not political clones.
My bias, in sum, is as blatant as a
Celtic arm tattoo. My rst real encounter with Fox News came during the
second Bush Administration, when my
nearly blind grandmother listened to
Bill OReilly at high volume. An immigrant garment worker widowed by a
union organizer, she slowly tipped from
left to neocon, which happens a lot
among your elderly New York Jews who
watch Fox. We had a few arguments,
over the years, about whether anti-Semitism persisted in America or whether
my grandmother was being paranoid.
Were she still around, shed win that one.
But, these days, its me watching Fox.
Ive got the iPhone app; I like to watch
the eerie border crossing, late in the evening, from Megyn Kelly to Sean Hannity. During previous elections, I never
watched cable news, left or right, or the
Sunday shouting showsalthough I
knew that, for many people, they were
TV. In 2016, I watched them all. Fox
became my chief vice, less for the news
than for the melodramathere was no
better view of the meteor hitting the
Republican Party in real time.
Its hard to believe that it was a mere
three months ago, in July, that Foxs
founding C.E.O., Roger Ailes, who
had run the network since 1996, was
ousted for sexual harassment on such
a baroque scale that Alfred Hitchcock
would be impressed. The investigative
journalist Gabriel Sherman exposed
64

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

him, but it was Ailess female anchors


who turned against him: rst, Gretchen
Carlson, then, more important, Megyn
Kelly, his most dazzling hire. With his
hefty payof, Ailes scurried to the Trump
campaign, where, for a while, he acted
as a shadow adviser. Now the survivors
of that scandal were forced to debate
Trumps alleged pussy-grabbing. Never
Trumpers and Always Trumpers were
seated side by side.
And Fox itself had quite suddenly
become the put-upon establishment,
needled by online punks like Breitbart
and Alex Jonesopen purveyors of
Trutherism and birtherism, uninterested
in even the icing of fair and balanced.
Trump, who retweeted white supremacists and hired Breitbarts Steve Bannon, was their pick. As his polls cratered,
rumors emerged that his endgame wasnt
the Presidency at all: it was Trump TV.
Which brings us to last week, when that
institution seemed to have a soft launch
on Facebook Live. The very next night,
Newt Gingrich growled at Megyn Kelly
that she was fascinated with sex and,
in a rage, compared the big three networks to Pravda and accused Kellys
own show of outrageous bias. The clip
went viraljust as Kelly began to renegotiate her contract, seeking more than
twenty million dollars a year.
Rarely does anybody on Fox address
these behind-the-scene tensions that directly, of coursethe closest anyone has
come was some sniping on Twitter between Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity,
in which he claimed that She was with
Her. On news panels, anchors focus primarily on WikiLeaks, each presented as
a shocking scoop but given little context.
To be fair, thats not solely Foxs problem but a larger issue on TV news, still

reliant as it is on what Neil Postman once


called simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical, and noncontextual visual techniques (and, these days, curated tweets).
Still, watching Fox did help me decode
Trumps debate tangents, since much of
what he says is shorthand, with code
wordsProject Veritas, Sidney Blumenthalused as hyperlinks to stories that
he assumes his audience has already absorbed. The TV critic Todd VanDerWerf
once compared the Fox format to ABCs
Lost: you need to immerse yourself entirely to grok the breadth of its worldbuilding paranoias and mythologies.
stensibly, there are two Fox

O divisions: news journalists, who ask

follow-up questions and include diverse


guests; and pure ideologues, like the mad
king Hannity. For a newbie, the border
can seem awfully porous, since everyone
uses the desk, the glasses, the head tilt
the ancient theatre of TV authority. In
the aftermath of the third debate, these
two types were united in genuine pride
at the well-reviewed performance of
Chris Wallace, the rst Fox anchor to
moderate a Presidential debate. Megyn
Kelly kvelled that it was a Fox News
fair-and-balanced debate, for our critics, adding, You should really tick of
both sidesthen you know youre doing
well. On Mediabuzz, Wallace called his
selection a statement by the Commission on Presidential Debatesa blue-ribbon panelthat they thought that Fox
was a legitimate news organization, that
I was a legitimate journalist.
It was impossible not to feel empathy
for Wallaceand, in fact, his show does
come closest to that model, with researchbased questions and an air of healthy skepticism. But, as Hannity argues, shows like

ABOVE: LUCI GUTIRREZ

ull disclosure: late one night,

F while watching Fox News, I do-

Ostensibly, there are two Fox divisions: news journalists and pure ideologues. For a viewer, the border can seem porous.
ILLUSTRATION BY BEN KIRCHNER

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

65

his pay the bills. And watching Hannity


and OReilly feels like being trapped in
a sauna with a bunch of alter kockers
smoking cigars, as Rudy Giuliani shouts
for ever hotter applications of steam. Hannitys buddies (primarily men, though
Laura Ingraham stops by occasionally)
resolutely insist that Trump has crushed
every debate; he wont ever have to concede, they say, because hes denitely, certainly winning. There is no breaking into
this mutually consoling bubble world,
fuelled by imaginary polls.
OReilly is a stranger and sloppier
forceand, of late, hes started tiptoeing
away from Trump, with an arrogant-uncle
I never said that! bluster. Someone has
clearly trolled the host by telling him
that he looks good against neon blue.
Half the screen is covered by maroonand-purple stripes, and, often, a neonyellow alert scrolls across the right-hand
corner, unconnected to any news.
Amid this cacophony, Geraldo Rivera
was recently the voice of reason. When
OReillys other guests crowed that Hillary was universally loathed, that Trump
would win a tight race, Rivera gingerly
suggested that female voters might be
swayed by the Access Hollywood tapes.
OReilly and Eric Bolling, a host of Foxs
The Five, shouted him down, calling it
this salacious business. Later, Lou Dobbs
arrived. The rigged thing is one of the
brightest things that he couldve done,
Dobbs insisted, calling Trumps refusal to
say that he would concede if he lost an
absolute stroke of genius. At rst, Trumps
reply at the debate had seemed shocking, even on Fox. By the end of the
week, it was normalized, a mere matter
of strategywould it win votes?

For a long time, however, it was Kelly


at the center of the restorm, as her
predatory boss negotiated with the misogynist Trumpwho had called her a
bimbo with blood coming out of her
whereverover what role she might
play in the election coverage. You dont
have to like or agree with Kelly to imagine what that experience might have been
like: maybe only Hillary could imagine
the professional ordeal, or the compromises that survival requires.
Either way, Kelly has emerged as an
unlikely feminist warrior puried by her
struggle to say things that no one else
will. Shes always had a sense of humor
and a native feeling for drama: among
liberals, shes most famous for her hilarious strut into the Fox decision room
on Election Night in 2012, when she had
the nerve to ask Karl Rove, Is this just
math that you do as a Republican to
make yourself feel better, or is this real?
These days, shes the networks resident
expert on Trumps sexual-assault accusations, conversant with each development. It makes sense: in college, she
helped investigate faculty sexual-harassment cases; later, she made her name debunking the Duke lacrosse case. Although
she never mentions her own experience,
a sense of legitimacy hovers over her:
shes the sole female anchor, during an
election haunted by the gender gap, free
to admit that misogyny exists. One night,
she did a sweet homage to her recently
deceased nana, a montage that included
the line She came into this world when
women couldnt voteand went out as
the country considers electing its rst female President. Then her prime-time
hour ended and Hannitys began.
In one of my favorite showdowns,
or Megyn Kelly, however, the shack- Kelly faced of against Katrina Pierles are of. Shes an astounding gure sonone of the legion of female Trump
these days, a happy Valkyrie with amused surrogates, from the mercenary Kellyeyes and a stiletto tucked into her rhetor- anne Conway to the pinwheel-eyed
ical boot. Her blond hair is slicked to the Scottie Nell Hughes. The two women
side, cyborg style, every dress she wears discussed the aftermath of Trumps
looks like a ruby shield, and shes got the Access Hollywood tape, which Kelly,
advantage of the ultra-beautiful: she is unlike other anchors, continues to regorgeous enough so that sexist insults re- play. Both stayed calm, as if in a surreal
bound of her as envy. Its Kelly who pulled chill-of. Will you tell me, why would
the sword from the stone in this election, this woman, at great harm to herself,
with that question in the rst Republican come out eleven years later and make
primary debate, when she wondered how an accusation like this, and make it up
Donald Trump would react to criticism out of whole cloth? Kelly began, layof his sexist insults, then listed them. We ing out the People reporters accusations.
know the answer to that question now. Pierson did her thing, giving denials,

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THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

but Kelly cut in, reading damning excerpts. Mr. Trump has denied this,
Pierson said. I take him at his word for
this. Well, why dont you take him at
his word on the bus, where he said he
does do this? Kelly asked.
But, really, the segment was about
Kellys face, and her brutal serenity, as
Pierson attempted to switch the topic to
Hurricane Matthew. When interviewees go loud, Kelly goes soft. She never
made a face at Piersononly Anderson
Cooper, on CNN, rivals her arctic deadpanbut her eyes lowered slightly, the
corners of her mouth rose, and her suspicion became visible, glimmering under
the surface. It was hard even to remember to look at Pierson.
Yes, I know. Kelly has her own record.
A colleague begged me, Please dont let
her of the hookand I do realize that
Im hardly the rst nave liberal to make
Kelly into the Lucy Van Pelt to our Charlie Brown, holding out the football of fair
journalism. Kelly was behind the New
Black Panthers nonsense; she touted the
War on Christmas. She employs the
same gotchas as her peers: one night, she
framed a WikiLeaks exchange about Catholicism, in which Catholic Democrats
talked critically about the faith, as a primo
scandal, then shouted down a liberal
talking head who tried to point out that
their skeptical perspective was shared by
many American Catholics. But Kellys air
of mischief is disarming. She ended that
ugly segment, sorority style, with a shouted
goodbye to her guest: Love ya! Mean it.
The night of the third debate, Kelly
was aglow. Like her colleagues, she suggested that Trump hadnt done too badly.
But then she destroyed his weakling advocate Jason Miller. She pivoted left and
surgically interrogated Donna Brazile
about WikiLeaks, leaving even this
biased liberal wanting an actual answer.
I looked into Kellys eyes and tried to
read them like tarot cards, discerning her
contractual options. Would she hop to
CNN? Or was she the future of Fox?
Could Hannity follow Trump into the
upside-down and leave Kelly as the dominant cable force, rewriting Ailess legacy in her feminine imagethe ultimate
revenge? Maybe its karma that President Hillary Clinton might yet be savaged by a female Fox journalist who survived a boss battle with Donald Trump.
Sisterhood is powerful.

Voter ignorance has worried political philosophers since Plato.

have been serious; Hobbes, for one, called


the idea useless.
A more practical suggestion came
from J. S. Mill, in the nineteenth century: give extra votes to citizens with university degrees or intellectually demanding jobs. (In fact, in Mills day, select
universities had had their own constituencies for centuries, allowing someone
with a degree from, say, Oxford to vote
both in his university constituency and
wherever he lived. The system wasnt
abolished until 1950.) Mills larger projectat a time when no more than nine
per cent of British adults could vote
was for the franchise to expand and to
include women. But he worried that new
voters would lack knowledge and judgment, and xed on supplementary votes
as a defense against ignorance.
In the United States, lites who feared
the ignorance of poor immigrants tried
to restrict ballots. In 1855, Connecticut
introduced the rst literacy test for American voters. Although a New York Democrat protested, in 1868, that if a man
is ignorant, he needs the ballot for his
protection all the more, in the next half
century the tests spread to almost all
parts of the country. They helped racists
in the South circumvent the Fifteenth
Amendment and disenfranchise blacks,
and even in immigrant-rich New York
a 1921 law required new voters to take a
test if they couldnt prove that they had
an eighth-grade education. About fteen
per cent unked. Voter literacy tests
werent permanently outlawed by Congress until 1975, years after the civil-rights
movement had discredited them.
Worry about voters intelligence lingers, however. Mills proposal, in particular, remains actually fairly formidable,
according to David Estlund, a political
philosopher at Brown. His 2008 book,
Democratic Authority, tried to construct a philosophical justication for
democracy, a feat that he thought could
be achieved only by balancing two propositions: democratic procedures tend to
make correct policy decisions, and democratic procedures are fair in the eyes of
reasonable observers. Fairness alone
didnt seem to be enough. If it were, Estlund wrote, why not ip a coin? It must
be that we value democracy for tending
to get things right more often than
not, which democracy seems to do by
making use of the information in our

ILLUSTRATION BY YAREK WASZUL

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

BOOKS

NONE OF THE ABOVE


The case against democracy.
BY CALEB CRAIN

oughly a third of American vot-

R ers think that the Marxist slogan

From each according to his ability to


each according to his need appears in
the Constitution. About as many are
incapable of naming even one of the
three branches of the United States government. Fewer than a quarter know
who their senators are, and only half are
aware that their state has two of them.
Democracy is other people, and the ignorance of the many has long galled the
few, especially the few who consider themselves intellectuals. Plato, one of the earliest to see democracy as a problem, saw
its typical citizen as shiftless and ighty:

Sometimes he drinks heavily while listening


to the lute; at other times, he drinks only water

and is on a diet; sometimes he goes in for physical training; at other times, hes idle and neglects
everything; and sometimes he even occupies himself with what he takes to be philosophy.

It would be much safer, Plato thought,


to entrust power to carefully educated
guardians. To keep their minds pure of
distractionssuch as family, money, and
the inherent pleasures of naughtiness
he proposed housing them in a eugenically supervised free-love compound
where they could be taught to fear the
touch of gold and prevented from reading any literature in which the characters have speaking parts, which might
lead them to forget themselves. The
scheme was so byzantine and cockamamie that many suspect Plato couldnt

67

votes. Indeed, although this year we seem


to be living through a rough patch, democracy does have a fairly good track
record. The economist and philosopher
Amartya Sen has made the case that democracies never have famines, and other
scholars believe that they almost never
go to war with one another, rarely murder their own populations, nearly always
have peaceful transitions of government,
and respect human rights more consistently than other regimes do.
Still, democracy is far from perfectthe worst form of government
except all those other forms that have
been tried from time to time, as Churchill famously said. So, if we value its
power to make good decisions, why not
try a system thats a little less fair but
makes good decisions even more often?
Jamming the stub of the Greek word
for knowledge into the Greek word
for rule, Estlund coined the word epistocracy, meaning government by the
knowledgeable. Its an idea that advocates of democracy, and other enemies
of despotism, will want to resist, he
wrote, and he counted himself among
the resisters. As a purely philosophical
matter, however, he saw only three valid
objections.
First, one could deny that truth was
a suitable standard for measuring political judgment. This sounds extreme, but
its a fairly common move in political
philosophy. After all, in debates over
contentious issues, such as when human
life begins or whether human activity
is warming the planet, appeals to the
truth tend to be incendiary. Truth peremptorily claims to be acknowledged
and precludes debate, Hannah Arendt
pointed out in this magazine, in 1967,
and debate constitutes the very essence
of political life. Estlund wasnt a relativist, however; he agreed that politicians should refrain from appealing to
absolute truth, but he didnt think a political theorist could avoid doing so.
The second argument against epistocracy would be to deny that some citizens know more about good government than others. Estlund simply didnt
nd this plausible (maybe a political
philosopher is professionally disinclined
to). The third and nal option: deny
that knowing more imparts political authority. As Estlund put it, You might
be right, but who made you boss?
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THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Its a very good question, and Estlund


rested his defense of democracy on it,
but he felt obliged to look for holes in
his argument. He had a sneaking suspicion that a polity ruled by educated voters probably would perform better than
a democracy, and he thought that some
of the resulting inequities could be remedied. If historically disadvantaged
groups, such as African-Americans or
women, turned out to be underrepresented in an epistocratic system, those
who made the grade could be given additional votes, in compensation.
By the end of Estlunds analysis, there
were only two practical arguments
against epistocracy left standing. The
rst was the possibility that an epistocracys method of screening voters might
be biased in a way that couldnt readily
be identied and therefore couldnt be
corrected for. The second was that universal sufrage is so established in our
minds as a default that giving the knowledgeable power over the ignorant will
always feel more unjust than giving those
in the majority power over those in the
minority. As defenses of democracy go,
these are even less rousing than Churchills shruggie.
n a new book, Against Democracy

I (Princeton), Jason Brennan, a politi-

cal philosopher at Georgetown, has


turned Estlunds hedging inside out
to create an uninhibited argument for

epistocracy. Against Estlunds claim that


universal sufrage is the default, Brennan argues that its entirely justiable
to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others. To counter Estlunds concern for fairness, Brennan
asserts that the publics welfare is more
important than anyones hurt feelings;
after all, he writes, few would consider
it unfair to disqualify jurors who are
morally or cognitively incompetent. As

for Estlunds worry about demographic


bias, Brennan waves it of. Empirical research shows that people rarely vote for
their narrow self-interest; seniors favor
Social Security no more strongly than
the young do. Brennan suggests that
since voters in an epistocracy would be
more enlightened about crime and policing, excluding the bottom 80 percent of white voters from voting might
be just what poor blacks need.
Brennan has a bright, pugilistic style,
and he takes a sportsmans pleasure in
upsetting pieties and demolishing weak
logic. Voting rights may happen to signify human dignity to us, he writes, but
corpse-eating once signied respect for
the dead among the Fore tribe of Papua
New Guinea. To him, our faith in the ennobling power of political debate is no
more well grounded than the supposition
that college fraternities build character.
Brennan draws ample evidence of the
average American voters cluelessness
from the legal scholar Ilya Somins Democracy and Political Ignorance (2013),
which shows that American voters have
remained ignorant despite decades of
rising education levels. Some economists
have argued that ill-informed voters, far
from being lazy or self-sabotaging, should
be seen as rational actors. If the odds
that your vote will be decisive are minusculeBrennan writes that you are
more likely to win Powerball a few times
in a rowthen learning about politics
isnt worth even a few minutes of your
time. In The Myth of the Rational
Voter (2007), the economist Bryan Caplan suggested that ignorance may even
be gratifying to voters. Some beliefs are
more emotionally appealing, Caplan
observed, so if your vote isnt likely to
do anything why not indulge yourself in
what you want to believe, whether or
not its true? Caplan argues that its only
because of the worthlessness of an individual vote that so many voters look
beyond their narrow self-interest: in the
polling booth, the warm, fuzzy feeling
of altruism can be had cheap.
Viewed that way, voting might seem
like a form of pure self-expression. Not
even, says Brennan: its multiple choice,
so hardly expressive. If youre upset,
write a poem, Brennan counselled in
an earlier book, The Ethics of Voting
(2011). He was equally unimpressed by
the argument that its ones duty to vote.

It would be bad if no one farmed, he


wrote, but that does not imply that everyone should farm. In fact, he suspected, the imperative to vote might be
even weaker than the imperative to farm.
After all, by not voting you do your
neighbor a good turn. If I do not vote,
your vote counts more, Brennan wrote.
Brennan calls people who dont bother
to learn about politics hobbits, and he
thinks it for the best if they stay home
on Election Day. A second group of people enjoy political news as a recreation,
following it with the partisan devotion
of sports fans, and Brennan calls them
hooligans. Third in his bestiary are vulcans, who investigate politics with scientic objectivity, respect opposing points
of view, and carefully adjust their opinions to the facts, which they seek out
diligently. Its vulcans, presumably, who
Brennan hopes will someday rule over
us, but he doesnt present compelling evidence that they really exist. In fact, one
study he cites shows that even people
with excellent math skills tend not to
draw on them if doing so risks undermining a cherished political belief. This
shouldnt come as a surprise. In recent
memory, sophisticated experts have been
condent about many proposals that
turned out to be disastrousinvading
Iraq, having a single European currency,
grinding subprime mortgages into the
sausage known as collateralized debt obligations, and so on.
How would an epistocracy actually
work? Brennan is reluctant to get specic,
which is understandable. It was the details of utopia that gave Plato so much
trouble, and by not going into them
Brennan avoids stepping on the rake
that thwacked Plato between the eyes.
He sketches some optionsextra votes
for degree holders, a council of epistocrats with veto power, a qualifying exam
for votersbut he doesnt spend much
time considering what could go wrong.
The idea of a voter exam, for example,
was dismissed by Brennan himself in
The Ethics of Voting as ripe for abuse
and institutional capture. Theres no
mention in his new book of any measures that he would put in place to prevent such dangers.
Without more details, its diicult to
assess Brennans proposal. Suppose I
claim that pixies always make seless,
enlightened political decisions and that

Yours was the blue Prius with the two


stoners passed out in back, right?

therefore we should entrust our government to pixies. If I cant really say how
well identify the pixies or harness their
sagacity, and if I also disclose evidence
that pixies may be just as error-prone as
hobbits and hooligans, youd be justied
in having doubts.
While were on the subject of vulcans and pixies, we might as well mention that theres an elephant in the room.
Knowledge about politics, Brennan reports, is higher in people who have more
education and higher income, live in the
West, belong to the Republican Party,
and are middle-aged; its lower among
blacks and women. Most poor black
women, as of right now at least, would
fail even a mild voter qualication exam,
he admits, but hes undeterred, insisting that their disenfranchisement would
be merely incidental to his epistocratic
plana completely diferent matter, he
maintains, from the literacy tests of
Americas past, which were administered with the intention of disenfranchising blacks and ethnic whites.
Thats an awfully ne distinction. Bear
in mind that, during the current Presidential race, it looks as though the votes
of blacks and women will serve as a bulwark against the most reckless demagogue in living memory, whom white
men with a college degree have been fa-

voring by a margin of forty-seven per


cent to thirty-ve per cent. Moreover,
though political scientists mostly agree
that voters are altruistic, something
doesnt tally: Brennan concedes that historically disadvantaged groups such as
blacks and women seem to gain political leverage once they get the franchise.
ike many people I know, Ive spent

L recent months staying up late, read-

ing polls in terror. The awed and faulty


nature of democracy has become a vivid
companion. But is democracy really failing, or is it just trying to say something?
Political scientists have long hoped
to nd an invisible hand in politics
comparable to the one that Adam Smith
described in economics. Voter ignorance
wouldnt matter much if a democracy
were able to weave individual votes into
collective political wisdom, the way a
market weaves the self-interested buyand-sell decisions of individual actors
into a prudent collective allocation of
resources. But, as Brennan reports, the
mathematical models that have been
proposed work only if voter ignorance
has no shape of its ownif, for example, voters err on the side of liberalism
as often as they err on the side of conservatism, leaving decisions in the hands
of a politically knowledgeable minority

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

69

in the center. Unfortunately, voter ignorance does seem to have a shape. The political scientist Scott Althaus has calculated that a voter with more knowledge
of politics will, on balance, be less eager
to go to war, less punitive about crime,
more tolerant on social issues, less accepting of government control of the
economy, and more willing to accept
taxes in order to reduce the federal decit.
And Caplan calculates that a voter ignorant of economics will tend to be more
pessimistic, more suspicious of market
competition and of rises in productivity, and more wary of foreign trade and
immigration.
Its possible, though, that democracy
works even though political scientists
have failed to nd a tidy equation to explain it. It could be that voters take a
cognitive shortcut, letting broad-brush
markers like party ailiation stand in for
a close study of candidates qualications
and policy stances. Brennan doubts that
voters understand party stereotypes well
enough to do even this, but surely a shortcut neednt be perfect to be helpful. Voters may also rely on the simple heuristic of throwing out incumbents who
have made them unhappy, a technique
that in political science goes by the polite name of retrospective voting. Brennan argues that voters dont know enough
to do this, either. To impose full accountability, he writes, voters would need to

know who the incumbent bastards are,


what they did, what they could have
done, what happened when the bastards
did what they did, and whether the challengers are likely to be any better than
the incumbent bastards. Most dont
know all this, of course. Somin points
out that voters have punished incumbents for droughts and shark attacks and
rewarded them for recent sports victories. Caplan dismisses retrospective voting, quoting a pair of scholars who call
it no more rational than killing the pharaoh when the Nile does not ood.
But even if retrospective voting is
sloppy, and works to the chagrin of the
occasional pharaoh, that doesnt necessarily make it valueless. It might, for instance, tend to improve elected oicials
policy decisions. Maybe all it takes is
for a politician to worry that she could
be the unlucky chump who gets punished for something she actually did.
Caplan notes that a politician clever
enough to worry about his constituents
future happiness as well as their present gratication might be motivated to
give them better policies than they know
to ask for. In such a case, he predicts,
voters will feel a perennial dissatisfaction, stemming from the tendency of
their canniest and most long-lasting
politicians to be cavalier about campaign promises. Sound familiar?
When the Founding Fathers de-

signed the federal system, not paying


too much attention to voters was a feature, not a bug. There are particular
moments in public afairs, Madison
warned, when the people, stimulated
by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful
misrepresentations of interested men,
may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready
to lament and condemn. Brennan, for
all his cleverness, sometimes seems to
be struggling to reinvent the representative part of representative democracy, writing as if voters need to know
enough about policy to be able to make
intelligent decisions themselves, when,
in most modern democracies, voters
usually delegate that task. Its when they
dont, as in Californias ballot initiatives
or the recent British referendum on
whether to leave the European Union,
that disaster is especially likely to strike.
The economist Joseph Schumpeter
didnt think democracy could even function if voters paid too much attention
to what their representatives did between elections. Electorates normally
do not control their political leaders in
any way except by refusing to reelect
them, he wrote, in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942). The rest
of the time, he thought, they should refrain from political back-seat driving.
Why do we vote, and is there a reason to do it or a duty to do it well? Its
been said that voting enables one to take
an equal part in the building of ones political habitat. Brennan thinks that such
participation is worthless if what you
value about participation is the chance
to inuence an elections outcome; odds
are, you wont. Yet he has previously written that participation can be meaningful even when its practical efect is nil,
as when a parent whose spouse willingly
handles all child care still feels compelled
to help out. Brennan claims that no comparable duty to take part exists with voting, because other kinds of good actions
can take votings place. He believes, in
other words, that voting is part of a larger
market in civic virtue, the way that farming is part of a larger market in food, and
he goes so far as to suggest that a businessman who sells food and clothing to
Martin Luther King, Jr., is making a genuine contribution to civic virtue, even
though he makes it indirectly.This doesnt

seem persuasive, in part because it dilutes the meaning of civic virtue too much,
and in part because it implies that a businessman who sells a cheeseburger to J. Edgar Hoover is committing civic evil.
More than once, Brennan compares
uninformed voting to air pollution. Its
a compelling analogy: in both cases, the
conscientiousness of the enlightened few
is no match for the negligence of the
many, and the cost of shirking duty is
spread too widely to keep any one malefactor in line. Your commute by bicycle probably isnt going to make the citys
air any cleaner, and even if you read up
on candidates for civil-court judge on
Patch.com, it may still be the crook who
gets elected. But though the incentive
for duty may be weakened, its not clear
that the duty itself is lightened.The whole
point of democracy is that the number
of people who participate in an election
is proportional to the number of people
who will have to live intimately with an
elections outcome. Its worth noting, too,
that if judicious voting is like clean air
then it cant also be like farming. Clean
air is a commons, an instance of market
failure, dependent on government protection for its existence; farming is part
of a market.
But maybe voting is neither commons
nor market. Perhaps, instead, its combat. Relatively gentle, of course. Rather
than ries and bayonets, essentially theres
just a show of hands. But the nature of
the duty may be similar, because what
Brennans model omits is that sometimes,
in an election, democracy itself is in danger. If a soldier were to calculate his personal value to the campaign that his army
is engaged in, he could easily conclude
that the cost of showing up at the front
isnt worth it, even if he factors in the
chance of being caught and punished for
desertion. The trouble is that its impossible to know in advance of a battle which
side will prevail, let alone by how great
a margin, especially if morale itself is a
variable. The lack of certainty about the
future makes a hash of merely prudential calculation. Its said that most soldiers worry more about letting down the
fellow-soldiers in their unit than about
allegiance to an entity as abstract as the
nation, and maybe voters, too, feel their
duty most acutely toward friends and
family who share their idea of where the
country needs to go.

BRIEFLY NOTED
Substitute, by Nicholson Baker (Blue Rider). In 2014, the au-

thor spent four weeks as a substitute teacher in his Maine


school districtin an efort, at a time of fraught debates about
education policy, to know what life in classrooms was really
like. In his nely detailed chronicle, each day becomes a chapter. Baker is genial and patient, doling out compliments to his
endearing, snarky, overmedicated, and underengaged charges,
who range in age from kindergarten to high school. Over
time, he grows irritated with teachers methods of crowd control and with the diabolical worksheets of a one-size-ts-all
educational philosophy. His ideas are provocativehe proposes slashing the school day to two hoursand his general
view is unenchanted: School isnt actually about eicient
teaching, its about free all-day babysitting while parents work.
Genghis Khan and the Quest for God, by Jack Weatherford
(Viking). Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior who conquered
swaths of Central and Eastern Asia in the early thirteenth
century, is not commonly considered a paragon of tolerance.
But this account of the laws and customs of his court presents a gure who not only believed in freedom of religion
but pioneered its implementation. Faced with unifying an
empire that encompassed numerous warring religions, the
Mongols crafted policies that, Weatherford argues, inuenced
the architects of the U.S. Constitution. ( Jeferson and Franklin admired a French biography of the leader.) Analysis of
Khans thought bolsters the claim, and adds a welcome dimension to a misunderstood gure.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien (Norton).
This powerful novel, which was shortlisted for the Man
Booker Prize, deals with the aftermath of the Tiananmen
Square massacre. Two Chinese women who grew up during
the Cultural Revolution meet in Vancouver, where one, exiled after her role in the protests, lives in the others home.
The novel moves back and forth across decades, from the
nineteen-forties to the present, as the women piece together
the violent story of their interconnected families. The crux
of the connection is the friendship between their fathers, who
were eminent composers. Both music and storytelling, the
novel implies, have, and impart, the power to endure.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (Viking). The protagonist of this novel is a Russian count who, after the Revolution, is imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in the luxurious
Hotel Metropol and remains there for the next three decades.
The counts sedate life provides an ironic counterpoint to the
grim doings of Bolshevik and Stalinist Russia, most of which
occur out of sight. The count, made to take a job as a waiter,
uncovers various mysteries of the hotel, while friendships
with foreign diplomats and a close association with a Party
member keep him somewhat abreast of outside events.The
novel would be more compelling if these terrors intruded
more, but Towles gets good mileage from the considerable
charm of his protagonist and the peculiar world he inhabits.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

71

BOOKS

THE ENEMY NEXT DOOR


Do good neighbors make good citizens?
BY JOSHUA ROTHMAN

arlier this year, the small Long

E Island town where I livea seaside

village of a few thousand peopleheld


its municipal election. The choice was
between a party that favored development and another that opposed it, and
the lead-up to the vote was tense.
Leaets ooded mailboxes. Signs, bigger each week, sprouted on lawns. On
Facebook, voters insulted the candidates
and one another with frank exuberance;
around dinner tables, talk was of the irreparable damage one party or the other
would inict on village life. It really is
a shame that every four years the Village has to deal with the smut and name
calling that has seemingly become a tradition, one party spokesperson lamented
on Facebook. Perhaps, the spokesper-

son continued, this was symptomatic of


a broader condition: elections across the
country appeared to have degenerated
and become hate lled.
As election day approached, life in
the village seemed to have divided into
two streamsa neighborly stream,
which ran pure and clear, and a political stream, which was muddied and
turbulent. When you met a neighbor
in line at the pharmacy, it was easy to
get along. But at home, contemplating
his political positionor, worse, reading about it onlineyou were lled
with contempt and disbelief. People
were friendly on the street but angry
in their heads; they chatted amiably in
person but waged war online. They
liked and loathed one another simul-

As Election Day looms, were enraged by neighbors weve grown to like and trust.
72

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

taneously, becoming polarized not just


politically but emotionally. As the weeks
passed, we were doubly in suspense.
We wanted to know which party would
win, but also whether our town could
return to normal. Feelings had been
aroused that seemed incompatible with
neighborly life. Where would they go?
Our local political spokesman was
right, of course, to say that our towns
experience was typical. Across America, at moments of extreme political polarization, it is as though a veil had been
lifted. Walking the dog one morning,
you notice a Trump sign planted in the
yard across the street. Youve known that
family for yearsbut now, you feel, some
fundamental fact about them has been
revealed. Later, when you run into them
at the park, you nd yourself talking
about the Giants, the weather, or the
kids, as usual. Your neighbors dont seem
any more evil than they did last year.
Questions cluster. If Trump werent
running for Presidentif the Republican nominee had been Ted Cruzwould
that sign have been as revelatory? When
your neighbors see your Hillary sign, do
they, too, have an Invasion of the Body
Snatchers moment? And what about
when the election is over? What should
you do with all the anger and disdain
you feel for neighbors who are, in your
view, poised to destroy America?
At the heart of these questions is the
relationship between politics and everyday life. Politics matters enormously;
its right to care, to feel alarmed, and to
argue. At times, it seems frivolous to
look at life through any other lens. And
yet politics can become a poisonous inuence in our lives. Like a tacky lter
on Instagram, it can color our perceptions too radically; it can play too large
a role in the construction of our identities and social lives. It lls us with unwanted passionate intensity. Perhaps,
somewhere in the territory of the self,
a border marks the place where our lives
as citizens end and our sovereignty as
individuals begins. If such a border exists, though, it doesnt feel very secure.
he search for a division between

T civic life and neighborly life is the

subject of Nancy Rosenblums Good


Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America (Princeton). Rosenblum, a political scientist at Harvard,
ILLUSTRATION BY NISHANT CHOKSI

has spent her career investigating how


political and social life intersect. In
Good Neighbors, she draws on a wide
range of historical, literary, and sociological sourcesfrom the stories of
Raymond Carver to an ethnography
of Crown Heights, Brooklynto produce a kaleidoscopic picture of American neighborliness. She concludes that
we live in two democracies: a political
democracy, in which we function as citizens, and a democracy of everyday
life, in which we function as neighbors.
These two democracies operate separately, and often at cross-purposes.
Politics, Rosenblum points out,
hinges on abstractions. To participate
in political life, one must adopt an abstract identity (progressive, conservative) and stand up for abstract ideas
(equality, liberty, American exceptionalism). We tend to justify our political positions by citing airy principles: the separation of church and state,
the eiciency of the market. Neighborhood life, by contrast, is practical
and concrete. When our neighbors approach us on the sidewalk, they do so
as idiosyncratic individuals, rather than
as embodiments of sociopolitical categories. The quality of neighborly life
hinges not on abstractions but on actions. Do her Friday-night dance parties disturb your sleep? Does his leaf
blower gust upon your yard? Its on this
plane of repeated mundane encounters, Rosenblum writes, that neighborly relationships succeed or fail.
The essence of neighborliness, she
nds, is reciprocity: one good turn for
another. And yet neighbors, unlike
friends, dont always share tastes and
interests, and so end up trading unlike
goods. (He is all pine and I am apple
orchard, as Robert Frost puts it, in
Mending Wall.) You give me vegetables from your garden and, in exchange, I make you kimchi; in return
for your babysitting, I shovel your driveway; I compliment your outts and you
ignore my Airbnb. Are we even? Its
hard to say, not least because neighbors so often exchange goods unintentionally. You enjoy my wily cat and my
well-tended lawn; I delight in the antics of your eccentric family. These unacknowledged and perhaps unconscious
exchanges contribute to our neighborly
concord. In To Kill a Mockingbird,

Scouts reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, leaves gifts for herchewing gum,
twine, Indian-head penniesin the
hollow of a tree; she feels guilty for
never giving him anything in return.
But Scouts regular presence, Rosenblum writes, was itself a gift: she and
her friends made Boos life more interesting just by being kids.
This nebulous give-and-take contributes to the delicacy of neighbor
relations. So does the fact that neighbors stick around. We may encounter
our neighbors in spontaneous situations, but we cant react to them spontaneously. Instead, we have to consider the long-term consequences of
our actions. If a couple ghting in the
next apartment is keeping us awake,
we might want to bang on the wall.
But, because they are neighbors, we
think about the future. We wonder if
it will be awkward to run into them
in the elevator tomorrow. In the face
of too much information, we cultivate
a studied ignorance. Throughout
American history, Rosenblum nds,
the word we have used to describe our
neighbors is decent: good neighbors
are decent folk. Decency, here, is a
circumspect sort of virtue. Being decent doesnt necessarily mean being
good. It means accepting the aws in
others and returning, despite disruptions and disappointments, to the predictable rhythms of reciprocity. And
that often requires the setting aside
of principlesthe adoption of an attitude of live and let live. When we
praise the decency of our neighbors,
Rosenblum writes, we are making a
moral judgmentbut a limited one.

T neighborly life becomes more eth-

here are times, of course, when

ically demanding. Many of the stories


in Good Neighbors are about bad
neighbors. Years ago, Rosenblum found
herself in a war with a noise bully in
her building whose air-conditioning
unit was so loud that it tormented the
family who lived next to him. Rosenblum and her neighbors banded together to try to force him to remove
it. The noise bully, Rosenblum writes,
motivated this project, and he is a recurring character in Good Neighborsa cross between Dr. Moriarty
and Newman, from Seinfeld.

But bad neighbors dont always


mean to be bad. In Willa Cathers My
ntonia, two families, the Burdens
and the Shimerdas, nd themselves
living near one another on the Nebraska frontier. Although the Burdens
are relatively well-of Virginians and
the Shimerdas are impoverished immigrants, they put aside their diferences to exchange companionship, supplies, and advice. But the relationship
doesnt last. The Shimerdas receive
gifts from the Burdens but are too isolated and disorganized to reciprocate,
and the Burdens come to think of the
Shimerdas as incompetent freeloaders. Neighborliness, Rosenblum notes,
is often portrayed sentimentallyLittle House on the Prairie, Home Improvementbut its rules are brutally
practical. Charity cases like the Shimerdas are denied the moral identity
of being good neighbors.
When society is pushed to the
brinkby war, violence, or disaster
some neighbors renounce that identity, while others embrace it. Rosenblum tells the story of James Cameron,
an African-American teen-ager who,
in 1930, was charged, along with two
friends, with murder and rape. Around
ten thousand people gathered outside
the jail where Cameron was being held,
demanding that he and his friends be
hanged. Camerons friends were dragged
out and killed; when he was led through
the crowd, he recognized people I had
grown to love and respect as friends
and neighbors . . . neighbors whose
lawns I had mowed and whose cars I
had washed and polished. Cameron
found this neighborly betrayal impossible to explain.
Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during the nineteenforties felt a similar horror when, after
waving goodbye to their neighbors,
they received no recognition in return. The sharp pain of these betrayals, Rosenblum argues, derives from
the faith we place in neighborliness.
When politics turns against uswhen
we cant trust Congress, the courts, or
the policewe still look to neighborliness as a source of democratic hope
untethered to public political institutions. We pray that our neighbors will
remember how well they know us and,
restrained by the pull of quotidian life
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

73

at home, nd themselves unable to


treat us like bogeymen.
That hope isnt entirely unfounded.
Rosenblum tells of a group of families
who, appalled by the idea of internment, threw a surprise party for their
Japanese-American neighbors, giving
them gifts of heavy pants and nightgowns to wear in the camps. In another town, a man worked his Japanese neighbors orchards, saving the
proceeds and handing them over upon
their return. In many rsthand accounts
of communal viciousness, participants
recover their better selves when confronted with a reminder of everyday
lifea memory, a familiar gesture in
the present, the appearance of a person they know from home. Moments
before James Cameron was to be
killedhe survived and went on to become a civil-rights activisthe heard
a womans voice pleading for his life.
Cameron thought she was the Virgin
Mary, but Rosenblum suggests that she
might have been a neighbor. In another
account of Camerons near-lynching,
Rosenblum learns of a thirteen-yearold African-American girl who happened to be walking toward the courthouse. In the street, she encountered a
familiar mana Klansmanwho lived
near her house and knew her parents.
He drove her home.
osenblum is careful to point out

R that these moments of neighborly

kindness arent, strictly speaking, political. In fact, they are anti-political. They
come about because neighbors insist
on relating to one another as individuals, rather than as members of parties
or groups; they ow from the neighborly principle of one good turn for another, rather than from a political principle such as the universal rights of man.
All the same, its tempting to see this
kind of neighborliness as a potential
cure for our political ills. Call it the
unied theory of democratic life: good
neighbors make for good citizens, and
vice versa. A version of this popular notion lies behind the town hall meetings staged by campaigns and news
networks, which aim to smooth the
rough edges of political disagreement
by invoking a mood of open-minded
neighborliness. It also serves as a consoling touchstone in political speeches.

74

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

For all our blind spots and shortcomings, President Obama said, in last
years State of the Union address, we
are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to
unite in common efort, to help our
neighbors, whether down the street or
on the other side of the world. This
summer, speaking about the ve police
oicers slain by a gunman in Dallas,
Obama said that America is not as divided as some have suggested. He cited
Americans unity in recognizing that
this is not how we want our communities to operate. In both cases, the implication was that, by tapping into a reservoir of neighborly good will, we might
arrest the slide into polarized dysfunction. This is a comforting idea. As individual voters, we can do very little to
reform our broken political system, or
to change the apocalyptic tenor of todays political campaigns. But, as neighbors and friends, we can redeem politics through ordinary human decency.
Rosenblum is skeptical of this theory. She describes it as a species of
social and political holism. Instead,
she argues, American life is characterized by pluralism. That word usually
connotes something like multiculturalisme pluribus unumbut Rosenblum uses it to describe individuals,
rather than society as a whole. As individuals, she writes, we are manysided, if not protean, personalities, and
we each inhabit many diferentiated
spheres with their own identiable norms
and institutions. We are, simultaneously, citizens, workers, neighbors, parents, lovers, and souls; in each of these
spheres, we observe and uphold diferent rules and values. Sometimes these
values are in conict with one another.
But preservation of multiple spheres
is the great promise and charge of liberal democracy, Rosenblum maintains.
Good Neighbors is one of several
recent books that, at a moment when
politics feels all-pervasive, aim to reclaim some space for apolitical life. Earlier this year, in On Friendship (Basic),
the philosopher Alexander Nehamas
traced a route similar to Rosenblums:
quoting C. S. Lewis, he argued that
friendship is a sort of secession, even
a rebellion, from our lives as citizens.
Civic and professional life force us into
socioeconomic, racial, and political cat-

egories. In many cases, Nehamas writes,


it is through our friends and through
them only that we nd the space, the
means, and the strength to refuse to
become what the world around us would
have us be. In another recent book,
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Twelve), the journalist Sebastian
Junger examines the enduring appeal
of life in small groups, hived of from
mass society. Soldiers in combat, Junger
writes, all but ignore diferences of race,
religion, and politics within their platoons; in such environments, individuals are assessed simply by what they
are willing to do for the group. This
is what they miss when they return
from deployment.
Pluralism feels good in practice. Its
in theory that its hard to accept. In
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,
published in 1989, the philosopher Richard Rorty placed the yearning for ethical consistency at the root of Western
thought. From Plato onward, Rorty
wrote, moral philosophers have attempted to bring together the public
and the private, the parts of the state
and the parts of the soul, the search for
social justice and the search for individual perfection. The goal was, in efect,
to create a universal list of virtues, which
applied equally to children, parents,
spouses, citizens, and generals. No such
list exists. The qualities that make you
a good boss wont necessarily make
you a good parent; the qualities we value
in a romantic partner may not be the
ones we value in a friend. The word
good means diferent things in diferent spheres. Our values arent conveniently unied. Theyre discontinuous.
And yet a variety of forces push us
toward holism. Transparency is one of
them: when your e-mails are leaked, or
your hot-mike blunders are unearthed,
your protean personality becomes a
vulnerability. Social media, too, tend to
make us more holistic, because they
construe the airing of political views
as an act of friendship. And the moral
arguments in favor of holism are powerful. Activists seek to live holistic lives,
and we often admire them for it. On
college campuses, meanwhile, an intersectional approach to identity promises to make it impossible to ignore
diferences of race, religion, and politics; by bringing every aspect of ones

identity to bear on every situation,


moral consistency might be achieved.
Its the opposite of life in a platoon.
The intensity of this years Presidential campaign has made the allure of
holism particularly potent. Four years
ago, Obama voters and Romney voters
may have thought each other deeply
misguided. But this year many Trump
supporters believe that Hillary Clinton
is a corrupt liar who ought to be in jail,
while many Clinton supporters believe
that Trump is an American Mussolini.
We look at each other with a new level
of horror. Its tempting to commit a kind
of moral synecdocheto take a part
(e.g., voting for Trump) for a whole
(being a bad person). To the extent that
we avoid this, its by adopting a pluralistic view of the people around us. We
recognize that, with one part of themselves, they may sincerely hold views
that we abhor, while, with another, they
may exercise virtues that we admire.
This position represents more than a
pragmatic shrug. In its strongest form,
pluralism is a theory of selfhood. American democracy, Rosenblum thinks, is
founded on this theory. We have in common the understanding that we contain
multitudes. Reconciling ourselves to the
contradictions of pluralism is what makes
it possible for us to unite as a people.
By contrast, truly holistic societies
those committed to the cordinated enforcement of normstend to be repressive. Totalitarian regimes, Rosenblum
writes, enforce holism through informants, housing committees, and other
forms of neighborly surveillance, at the
cost of the political derangement of the
lives of people living side by side. And
yet neighbors living in democracies can
derange themselves, too. They use political rhetoric to intensify everyday tensions; they judge one another by abstract
political standards. Rosenblum quotes
from Jonathan Franzens Freedom, in
which, driven by ordinary envy and jealousy, neighbors turn on one of their
owna kind, attractive, and well-liked
woman who bakes cookies for the neighborhood kids and babysits for free. They
dismiss these good turns by charging
her with the political crime of being a
faux-progressive gentrier. There was
no larger consciousness, no solidarity, no
political substance, no fungible structure,
no true communitarianism to [her] sup-

posed neighborliness, it was all just regressive housewifely bullshit, one neighbor complains. In short, the unied
theory of democratic life can be applied
in reverse. If someones a bad citizen,
then she must be a bad neighbor, too.
Its easy to apply this logic in 2016.
Pluralism provides a bulwark against
it. It urges us to remember that our
neighbors arent bad people all the
timejust when they think about politics. The reverse is true, too, of course.
Our good political beliefs dont make
us good people all the time. Some of
us could probably stand to be a little
more pluralist about ourselves.
his summer, after our village

T held its election, we stopped car-

ing what our neighbors thought about


zoning; we returned to seeing one another as regular people who might
watch our kids or borrow our kayaks.
That state of afairs lasted for about a
month, until the Presidential election
gained steam. Thankfully, given Rosenblums analysis, it seems likely to return when the election is over.
And yet it can also be alarming to
think that neighborly and political life
are entirely diferent streams. Their separation makes it possible for neighborliness to survive alongside political disharmonybut it also means that we
cant rely on neighborliness to save us
from political dysfunction. Just as lecturing the noise bully about the Constitution wouldnt have persuaded him
to move his air-conditioner, so a surge
in neighborly decency wont solve political polarization. The only way to redeem our politics is with better politics.
We already know how to become a
less polarized country. Redistricting reform would help. So would more political participation in local and midterm elections among centrist voters.
(Right now, those elections are skewed
by voters with more partisan views.) A
little less Facebook wouldnt hurt, either. But pluralism may protect neighborly life a little too well. Much of the
time, our own neighborly decency deceives us; it insulates us from the true
craziness of political life. After the election, the return of neighborliness will
be reassuring. It shouldnt be. The political stream is still tumbling along out
there, as turbulent as ever.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

75

MUSICAL EVENTS

A SUDDEN SHADOW
The Met highlights the darkness in Rossinis William Tell.
BY ALEX ROSS

with a phrase that climbs the notes of


a triad and turns grandly at the top.
(This is based on a traditional Alpine
melody, which Rousseau had notated
in his Dictionary of Music.) These
phrases move across an ever-expanding
spectrum of major and minor chords,
in a sonic impression of innity.
Something even more tremendous
happens ten bars before the end. The
chorus and the soloists have joined in
a collective prayer: Liberty, descend
again from the skies / And let your reign
begin anew! The high winds and strings
perform the Alpine turn. Just as we are
on the verge of a nal C-major triumph, with a line ascending stepwise
from G to B, the harmony swerves
down into A minor. Mozart loved this
sort of deceptive cadence, using it to
bittersweet efect. Amid the roar of
Rossinis massed forces, it casts a sudden, chill-inducing shadow. C major is
quickly reasserted, but a cosmic message has been sent: there is no freedom
without loss, no utopia outside of
Heaven. At the same time, the composer might be delivering a conscious
and faintly chastening farewell. He
seems to say, You thought of me as a
mere entertainer, a bon vivant, but I
had other worlds in me, and you will
see them for only an instant.
is playing at the Metropol T ell
itan Opera for the rst time in

othing in the brilliant operatic

N career of Gioachino Rossini be-

came him like the leaving it. When,


in 1829, Guillaume Tell had its
premire, at the Paris Opra, the composer was thirty-seven; he had written some forty operas and attained
wealth and fame. Although he went
on composing for decadeshis Stabat Mater, completed in 1841, and
Petite Messe Solennelle, from 1863,
showed how much music remained in
himTell was his nal opera. Biographers have long debated the reasons
for Rossinis withdrawal, failing to
reach consensus. We are left with a
gnomic remark that he reportedly made
in 1860, eight years before his death:

I decided that I had something better to do, which was to remain silent.
The last scene of Tell is, not by accident, colossal and sublime. The titular hero has helped the cantons of
Switzerland rise up against Hapsburg
oppression and, in the process, won the
famous archery contest involving an
apple balanced on his sons head. As the
sun breaks through the clouds, revealing ice-capped peaks, Tell exclaims,
Everything here changes and grows in
grandeur! His son, Jemmy, adds, In
the distance, what an immense horizon! The change of weather is mirrored in the music. Over glistening harp
arpeggios, other instruments enter one
by onehorns, clarinets, oboes, utes

Gerald Finley gave a masterpiece of a performance in the title role.


76

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

eighty-ve years. Its long absence was


lamentable but not entirely inexplicable. It is a score of forbidding dimensions: even though the Met has made
various cuts, the production still clocks
in at more than four and a half hours.
And the lead-tenor rolethat of Arnold, a conicted Swiss in love with a
Hapsburg princess, Mathildeis punishing. At the end of a long evening,
the singer is required to peal out a string
of high Cs against chorus and orchestra. Yet the ongoing Rossini revival has
brought forth tenors equal to the challenge. In 2011, when Tell was revived
at Caramoor, Michael Spyres made a
strong stab at Arnold. Two seasons ago,
when Gianandrea Noseda brought the
members of the Teatro Regio di Torino
to Carnegie Hall for a concert performance of Tell, John Osborn dispatched
the part with practiced elegance. In a
video from the Rossini Opera Festival,
ILLUSTRATION BY GOLDEN COSMOS

in Pesaro, Italy, Juan Diego Flrez sings


it with alarming ease. Bryan Hymel,
who sang Arnold at the Met, had the
necessary stamina, cleanly hitting his
high notes, although his tone was at rst
narrow and pinched. He also brought
to bear a sinewy lyricism that is essential for grand opera in the French mode.
Gerald Finley gave a masterpiece of
a performance in the title role. The Canadian baritone has lately made a move
into Wagner, singing Hans Sachs and
Amfortas; the resultant darkening of
his voice lent gravity and psychological complexity to the part of Tell, who
makes his presence felt more through
asides and responses than with bravura
arias. From the start, with a muscular
lament over the Swiss peoples lack of
freedom (How burdensome is life! / We
no longer have a fatherland!), Finley
established character through urgent
shaping of phrases and minute variations of timbre. Signicantly, his Tell
never shakes of a vaguely troubled air.
In his central aria, Sois immobile
(Remain motionless), not only does
he seem to be imploring Jemmy to stay
in place; he also seems to be trying to
halt the passage of time. All of this
conrms what has long been obvious:
that Finley is one of the supreme singeractors of our day.
At Nosedas Tell, Angela Meade
sang Mathilde with blazing accuracy
and force. Marina Rebeka, at the Met,
lacked Meades imperious agility in
rapid-re oritura, although her rich,
chiaroscuro tone and her erce dramatic
commitment provided ample compensation. There was much ne singing in
the supporting roles; in particular, Sean
Panikkar, as the Austrian captain Rodolphe, showed a degree of power and
weight that I hadnt heard in his previous outings at the Met. He seems ready
for bigger assignments at the house.
Fabio Luisi, in the pit, fell short of the
transcendent atmosphere that Noseda
summoned at Carnegie, but he led with
authority and passion nonetheless.
The production, by Pierre Audi, unfolds in a dreamlike version of the late
nineteenth century. The Austrians are
black-clad gures out of a Victorian
gothic chiller; the Swiss tend toward
beatic white. The sets, by George Tsypin,
try for a middle ground between the
pictorial and the surreal, with A-frame

structures suggesting chalets and boulders hovering, Magritte-like, above the


stage. Many ideas swirled about; few
cohered, yet the sombre strangeness of
the concept somehow hit the mark.
At the end, Audi has the chorus
gazing out at the audience, aglow with
hope. Bands of yellow evoke beams of
sunlight. In the nal moments, though,
Tell rushes of to the side, as if eeing
a resolution in which he does not believe. That gesture registers the tremor
of unease that passes through Rossinis score as the curtain falls.
he White Light Festival, Lin-

T coln Centers annual exploration

of musical spirituality, opened with a


production entitled Human Requiem,
in which the Rundfunkchor Berlin,
under the direction of Simon Halsey,
sang Brahmss A German Requiemwith
piano accompaniment. The Berliners,
so transxing two seasons ago in Peter
Sellarss staging of the St. Matthew
Passion, have specialized in unconventional approaches to familiar scores,
converting them into quasi-theatrical
pieces.The Human RequiemBrahms
once ofered that phrase as an alternative title for his worktook place in
the great hall of the Synod House, at
the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
The beginning was a gorgeous shock:
members of the chorus had inltrated
the audience, disguised in annel shirts
and the like, and, when they began to
sing, the divide between performer and
listener dissolved. During the second
movement, I found myself scurrying
out of the way of a phalanx of basses
bellowing Denn alles Fleisch es ist
wie Gras (All esh is grass): the
power of that moment was redoubled.
At times, the staging bordered on the
twee, as when the soprano soloist, Marlis Petersen, sang Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit while oating on a swing suspended from the ceiling. For me, it was
enough to be swept up in the sounding throng, experiencing music as a
purely physical sensation.

1
Social Notes from All Over
From the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune.
Havre, July 21: A woman wanted to speak
to an officer about another woman who was
badmouthing her.
THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

77

THE BETTER LIFE


A Kerry James Marshall retrospective.
BY PETER SCHJELDAHL

Marshalls Bang (1994): an embrace of paintings age-old narrative function.


an exhilarating Kerry
M astry,
James Marshall retrospective at

the Met Breuer, is a big deal for three


reasons: it marks the museums blessing of Marshall and, in turn, Marshalls
benediction of the museum, and it
airms a revival of grandly scaled, thematic gurative painting. Marshall,
now sixty-one and based in Chicago,
has achieved prominence as an artist
of universal appealhe won a MacArthur genius grant in 1997with a
particular focus. He has strictly depicted African-American life and experience since 1980, when he made A
Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of
His Former Self. Executed in the antique medium of egg tempera, the
painting is in blacks and grays, save for
the whites of the eyes, a shirt collar,
and a gap-toothed grin. Small in size
but jolting in impact, the portrait bears

78

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

hints of ghastly blackface caricature,


but turns them around into astute ironies of a self-aware, unconquerable
characternot an identity, a term
that is as reductive in art as it is in politics, and which Marshall bursts beyond.
He doesnt argue. He tells.
Most of Marshalls imagery is celebratory, and often at mural scale. His
keynote is a commitment to blackness
both represented and literal, modelling
esh in pigments of acrylic carbon, ivory,
and Mars Black. School of Beauty,
School of Culture (2012) convenes
eight women, two men, two toddlers,
and the artist, who is seen in a mirror,
his face obscured by a camera ash. The
adults sport smart styles of dress, hair,
and posture, in luscious colors pegged
to a dominant coral and blue-green.
Background details done in gold glitter pop forward from the wonderfully

handled deep space. Floating free, and


noticed only by the children, is a distorted image of Walt Disneys blond
Sleeping Beauty: an ideal that is implicitly, and decisively, shrugged of by
the kids glamorous mothers and aunts.
Other of Marshalls subjects include
lovers in intimate interiors or lyrical
landscapes; artists at work on paint-bynumbers self-portraits; people relishing, or enduring, life in public housing
and inhabiting utopian suburbs; and
upper-middle-class matrons in living
rooms lled with civil-rights-era memorabilia. There are also enlarged panels
from Marshalls raucously Expressionist comic strip about a black superhero,
Rythm Mastr. A rare Caucasian gure
in a show of some eighty works is that
of a head severed by an axe-wielding
Nat Turner, in a history painting redolent of baroque gore (all those postmortems of David and Goliath) and ambiguously pitched between menace and
dread. But the shows cumulative, epic
efect is neither political protest nor an
appeal for progress in race relations. Its
a ratication of advances already made.
Marshalls compliment to the Met
is expressed by a show within the show,
of works from the museums collection
that he particularly values. He selected
paintings by four modern AfricanAmerican artistsHorace Pippin,
Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and
Charles Wilbert White (a W.P.A. muralist who was an inspirational teacher
of Marshalls in college)and three
African sculptures: a Dan mask, a Senufo oracle gure, and a Bamana Boli
(a featureless animal encrusted with
sacricial matter, including blood).
But most of the works are by dead
white men, from Veronese and Holbein
through Ingres and Seurat to Balthus
and de Kooning, with surprising nods
to George Tooker, Paul Cadmus, and
Andrew Wyeth. In each case, an intellectual spark leaps to some aspect of
Marshalls art: eloquent gurative distortion, from Ingres and de Kooning;
dark tonality, from Seurat and Ad Reinhardt; and theatrical violence, from
nineteenth-century Japanese prints.
Only one choice baled me: a blushy
Bonnard nude, which feels antithetical to Marshalls manner. (Is that the
ironic point of its inclusion?)
Kerry James Marshall Selects, as

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE PROGRESSIVE CORPORATION

THE ART WORLD

the sub-show is titled, amounts to a visual manifesto, with which Marshall


pays homage to a personal pantheon of
forebears even as he shoulders in among
them. The gesture conrms him as the
chief aesthetic conservative in the company of such other contemporary black
artists as David Hammons, Kara Walker,
and Fred Wilson, who are given to conceptual and pointedly social-critical
strategies. Marshalls untroubled embrace of paintings age-old narrative
and decorative functions projects a degree of condence that is backed both
by his passion for the medium and by
the authenticity of his lived experience.
Marshall has said, You cant be born
in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and
grow up in South Central near the
Black Panthers headquarters, and not
feel like youve got some kind of social
responsibility. You cant move to Watts
in 1963 and not speak about it. (The
artists father, a postal worker, took Marshall and his mother and his two siblings to Watts for a year before settling
in South Central.) Marshalls childhood was marred by violencefriends
and neighbors were stabbed or shot
with awful frequencyand enriched
by a budding enthusiasm for art. His
rst visit to the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art, in 1965, stunned him.
I went from oor to oor looking at
everything, in the same way that in the
library I went down the stacks and
looked at every art book, without discrimination, he later wrote.
In 1968, when he was thirteen, a
teachers nomination won him placement in a summer drawing course at
the Otis Art Institute, a school dedicated to relatively traditional training.
He set his heart on attending that college upon graduation, but it took him
four more years to qualify for admission, two of them spent working odd
jobs to save enough money to enter
Los Angeles City College, and two acquiring suicient academic credits there.
His already active bent for AfricanAmerican subjects was conrmed and
amplied at Otis, where he took a
course in collage with the prominent
artist Betye Saar, and was galvanized
by reading Ralph Ellisons Invisible
Man, which directly inspired his Portrait of the Artist. The painting, he
has said, is, like Ellisons novel, about

the simultaneity of presence and absenceabout being real but unseen.


A residency at the Studio Museum
in Harlem brought Marshall to New
York, in 1985. There he encountered
the inuence of painting-averse postminimalist and conceptual artists. In
2000, he recalled his renegade response,
and what it led to, this way: I gave up
on the idea of making Art a long time
ago, because I wanted to know how to
make paintings; but once I came to
know that, reconsidering the question
of what Art is returned as a critical
issue. The reconsideration landed in
an improbable place: lessons from the
Old Masters applied to the modern
American experience. At rst, Marshall availed himself of stylistic ideas
that had marked the rise of neo-expressionist painting in the early eighties, with coarse gurative images and
paint built up in rough marks and patterns that recall the muscular temerity
of Julian Schnabel, among others. From
Leon Golub, a too little regarded master of violent themes, Marshall adopted
the format of unstretched canvas fastened at to a wall.
His growing ease with rendering
space came to fruition in the midnineties, with vast paintings of housing projects, such as Nickerson Gardens, in Watts, which had been his
familys home for a time and which he
recalls fondly. My favorite work in the
show is the Fragonardesque Untitled
(Vignette) (2012), in which a loving
couple lounges in parkland made piquant by a pink ground, a dangling cartire swing, and an undulating musical
staf in silver glitter, with hearts for
notes. Marshalls formal command lets
him get away with any extreme of
sweetness or direness, exercising a painterly voice that spans octaves, from soprano trills to guttural roars.
There have been other signicant
African-American painters in recent
years, including Robert Colescott,
whose somewhat similar engagement
with art history ran to fantasias of interracial romance, and Jean-Michel
Basquiat, whose linear panache qualied him as the greatest of American
neo-expressionists. But Marshalls
Mastry has a breakthrough feel: the
suggestion of a new normal, in art and
in the national consciousness.

THE THEATRE

SHOWOFFS
Gay relections on the stage.
BY HILTON ALS

ontemporary performers who

C write their own material seldom

escape the trap of having written their


own material. The impulse to performto write with your body in front
of othersis diferent from the push
it takes to author a script, which requires that you dream alone. A number of monologuists, including Wallace
Shawn, Spalding Gray, Karen Finley,
and Anna Deavere Smith, started producing diverse, substantial work decades ago, but many of the younger
performers whove tried to follow suit
have failed to understand that ones
I is rarely enoughor, in some cases,
can be entirely too much. Often, writerperformers confuse the actors desire
to be seen, to be exposed before an

audience, with expository writing thats


shapeless because it insists on telling
all. This is solipsism, not theatre (or, at
least, not interesting theatre).
The gay performer Daniel Alexander
Jones is lled with good will and charm.
Tall, honey-colored, and intelligent, he is
best known for his drag alter ego Jomama
Jones, a black American singer who left
racism behindor so she thoughtto
live in Europe, where she acquired a new
accent and a siddity way of thinking and
moving. Watching Jomama, one is reminded of Josephine Baker in Le Vsinet or Tina Turner post-Nutbush, living
in Swiss comfort. Shes a construction
with ashes of realnessin her soothing
but powerful voice, we hear the girl she
once was and the star she always longed

Adam Bocks A Life, with David Hyde Pierce, looks at the loneliness of lost love.
80

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

to be. Jomama is just one of the performers in Duat (a Soho Rep production, at
the Connelly), a play that tries to show
us who Daniel Alexander Jones is behind
the wigs and the makeup, by telling
the story of his youth in Massachusetts
in the eighties and how culturein the
form of Zora Neale Hurston, Diana
Ross, and othershelped shape him.
Duat is a complicated piece whose
ideas are too big to work onstage. One
gets the sense that Jones and his director, Will Davis, didnt want to leave anything out of this overstufed production,
for fear that Jones would never have another chance to recount his past. First,
were in Daniels bedroom, with the performer and two versions of his younger
self, played especially well by Jacques
Colimon (a sexy, knowing scamp) and
Tenzin Gund-Morrow. We hear about
Joness multiracial background, his rst
gay love afair, and how he started to
make art. Thats all ne, but when Jones
stages a pageant of his favorite Egyptian deitiesas a way of illustrating the
inspiration for his spangled diva, Jomama?
I couldnt saythe piece derails. Jones
calls his work Afromysticism, and he
has a scholars love of black art, but everything gets further confused in the
second part of the show, where Jomama
appears as a version of a schoolteacher
who was nice to Jones when he was a
boy. Now his two younger selves will be
part of a talent show at, I believe, the
school Jones attended, where Colimons
character falls in love with a man who
looks not unlike the man with whom
Jones had his rst sexual experience,
andwell, on and on. In a program note,
Jones writes that Duat marks the rst
time that the two halves of his performing selfDaniel and Jomamahave
come together, but wouldnt the nearly
two-and-a-half-hour spectacle have been
more accessible if hed limited his story
to one person? In Duat, Jones is dramaturgically at war with his most inspired creation, one that benets from
the freedom of his imagination, not from
the limitations of his truth.
he fifty-four-year-old play-

T wright Adam Bock says that hes

proud to be identied as gay; it describes who he is. Weve come a long


way since Tennessee Williams and
Edward Albee had to dance around the
ILLUSTRATION BY MIKKEL SOMMER

question, both in their lives and in their


work, where they used increasingly
strained metaphors to describe their
inner queerness.Theres nothing strained
about Bocks new play, A Life (at Playwrights Horizons); it has the rightness
and the nality of a poem by the gay
Alexandria-born master C. P. Cavafy.
Like Cavafy, Bock is interested in loneliness, and how it lls up the room after
love is gone.
The fortyish Nate Martin (David
Hyde Pierce, giving one of those performances that take you over, moment
by sensitively explicated moment) lives
in a small New York City apartment.
Theres a sofa, a desk, some books on a
shelfRichard Sewalls The Life of
Emily Dickinson, for one. No clutter.
And theres nothing cluttered about
Nate, either; he has a boys agility, and,
like a boy, hes charming (and occasionally tiresome) in his needhis desire
to tell us about himself. Nate does this
by recounting his many love afairs.
Using astrology as a tool, he tries to
gure out why none of them worked
out, why he was dumped or did the
dumping. As he talks, his voice hovers
somewhere between hope and despair,
self-assertion and doubt. Whatever it
takes to liveego? determination? blind
faith?Nate doesnt have it. Hes the
kind of guy people strain to remember
over late-night drinks, long after hes
gone; hes a faded sketch even before he
dies. That he does die comes as a surprise, but not as big a surprise as the
loss we feel when this genial fellow is
silenced. Bock builds on that silence in
the scenes that followfrom the discovery of the body by Nates friend Curtis (the nuanced Brad Heberlee) to the
funeral parlorwith sounds, words, and
movements that seem strange, as if perceived from underwater.
The director, Anne Kaufman, doesnt
try to make the script more than it is;
she helps to reveal the subtleties and
the weirdness at its heart. Hyde Pierce
and the rest of the cast are ideal collaborators for what Bock and Kaufman
want to convey, which includes the
feeling one gleans from these lines in
Cavafys Remember, Body:
Body, remember not just how much you
were loved,
not just the beds where you have lain,
but also those longings that so openly

glistened for you in the eyes,


and trembled in the voiceand some
chance obstacle arose and thwarted them.

ates sister, Lori (Lynne McCol-

N lough, who plays multiple roles),

says at Nates funeral that one reason


he wanted to move to New York was
that he loved the theatre. Then she
makes a lame sort of jazz-hands gesture, and you laugh, because it brings
to mind all those guys who love Liza
and Meryl and Patti LuPone. I dont
know if Sherie Rene Scott, who plays
Mollie Malloy in the outstanding revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthurs 1928 comedy, The Front Page
(at the Broadhurst), is a gay icon yet,
but I doubt shell escape being one
after this show, which has a surfeit of
fantastic actors, who give the production everything theyve got. The director, Jack OBrien, who utilizes the best
of what Broadway has to ofera big
stage, a solid budget, slick production
valueshas not only created a milieu
in which the performers can shine; he
allows them the space to establish their
characterizations. (The set designer,
Douglas W. Schmidt, working with
Ann Roth on costumes and Brian MacDevitt on lights, has created a hyperstylized and yet still believable world.)
The cast is large, and it takes a director of OBriens skill to keep all those
hoops in the air without losing sight
of the story, or of the internal lives of
the characterswho are newspapermen, for the most part.
Hildy Johnson ( John Slattery) is trying to get out of the game, despite the
pressure from his boss, Walter Burns
(Nathan Lane), who wants to keep Hildy
on the job, because Hildys the best.
Hildy is drawn back into journalism,
against his better judgment, when a beleaguered worker named Earl Williams
( John Magaro) escapes from prison on
the eve of his execution. Williams had
one friend in this world, Mollie, a casual acquaintance who earns her living
walking the streets. One gets the feeling that Mollies hair, under her cloche
hat, is always damp with perspiration;
shes anxious, a doll melting in the rain
of her own sadness and hysteria. When
the newspapermen twist her concern
for Earl into something from Page Six,
her wordsI never said I loved Earl

Williams and was willing to marry him


on the gallowsresonate both as a plot
point and as a portrait of innocence;
Mollies a literalist, because she has so
little to hang on to, except the truth of
her feelings.
Although Scott has relatively few
scenes, she does a lot to make the play
were watching credible, with her perfectly tuned but not overwhelming theatricalism. She believes in Mollie, believes in the machine-clatter of her voice
and her tendency to look away, like a
hurt dog waiting to be struck again, as
she hopes for love among writers who
are less interested in the truth than in
their own cynicism.
wonder what Scott would have

I done with the hideously cheap sen-

timent that makes Falsettos (at the


Walter Kerr) one of the most dishonest musicals I have ever seen. Originally
produced on Broadway in 1992, the piece
is made up of two one-acts, which were
rst given life Of Broadway a few years
earlier. Directed by the frequent Stephen Sondheim collaborator James Lapine (he co-wrote the book with William Finn, who is responsible for the
music and lyrics), this more than twoand-a-half-hour show begins in 1979:
Marvin (Christian Borle) is leaving Trina
(Stephanie J. Block), with whom he has
a son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal), because hes gay, and in love with Whizzer
(the always attractive Andrew Rannells).
Trina goes to a shrink named Mendel
(Brandon Uranowitz)whom Marvin
also sees at the beginning of the play
and falls in love with and eventually
marries him. The second part of the
show is set in 1981; Marvin and Whizzer
broke up, but are now back together,
still family, of a sort. When Whizzer
contracts AIDS and lies dying, Trina,
Mendel, and Jason realize that theyre
part of the family, too. What can you
do with a show that opens with a song
called Four Jews in a Room Bitching,
and uses AIDS to endow it with seriousness? The rot at the center of Falsettos is slathered in self-congratulation.
Finn and Lapine use Jews, AIDS, and so
on to rope in a particular audience, which
is then held captive to their seemingly
endless array of self-referential songs
and weak humor. They queer the complications in diference.

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

81

THE CURRENT CINEMA

GOOD FIGHTS
Hacksaw Ridge and Loving.
BY ANTHONY LANE

Mel Gibsons new film tells of a conscientious objector in the Second World War.
rom the Blue Ridge Mountains

F of Virginia, on the trail of the di-

vine, comes Desmond Doss. We see


him as a child, played by Darcy Bryce,
scrapping with his brother and clouting him with a brickthe sole occasion, in Hacksaw Ridge, on which
the hero harms another person. Quaking with guilt, and awaiting a whipping from his drunken father (Hugo
Weaving), Desmond stares at a picture
on the wall and reads the inscription:
Thou shalt not kill.
Easier said than done, in a time of
war. Yet such was the mission of Doss,
a Seventh-Day Adventist, who was
drafted in 1942 and joined the military
as a conscientious objector. He served
as a medic with the 307th Regiment,
77th Infantry Division, and was awarded
the Medal of Honor for what the citation called conspicuous gallantry and
intrepidity in action, at Okinawa. Conspicuous is right; after the bulk of the
regiment was forced to retreat, Doss,
alone and exposed to continual enemy
re, went to the aid of some seventyve injured comrades, lowering them,
one by one, over an escarpment to safety.
82

THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Only when there was no one else to


rescue did he descend. No wonder he
became a talisman to the troops; in
Hacksaw Ridge, preparing for a renewed assault, they calmly delay until
Doss has nished his prayers.
All this is a far cry from Dosss rural
home, where he and his brother are
seen climbing a ridge not for combat
but for fun and for the beautiful view.
As a lanky youth, now played by Andrew Gareld, Desmond falls in love
with a nurse (Teresa Palmer). He woos
her with a gee-whiz grin and, in a benign foreshadowing of the horrors to
come, donates blood. She, in turn, gives
him a Bible before he goes of to basic
training, at Fort Jackson. There a problem arises, for Doss refuses to hold a
rie: a stance that not even Gary Cooper, as the devout pacist of Sergeant
York (1941), could match. Such mulishness puts Doss at odds with the
other recruits, like the strapping Smitty
(Luke Bracey), and with their drill sergeant, played by Vince Vaughn, who
equips the character not just with the
standard snarl and bark but also with
a twinge of genuine curiosity. What is

driving Doss, this goofy kid, whose


principles are as upstanding as his quif?
Only through the intervention of a
loved one does he survive a courtmartial, earning the right to enter the
battleeld unarmed. He does use a rie,
but only once, as the handle for a homemade stretcher.
Courage of this order reaches beyond recklessness, and during the Okinawa scenes, which consume the nal
hour of the movie, Garelds boyish
features are racked and seized in a kind
of trance; the agonized efort to save
others, we realize, entails a near-ecstasy
of sufering. Here, in other words, is a
movie directed by Mel Gibson. It has
less in common with Clint Eastwoods
Flags of Our Fathers and Letters
from Iwo Jima (2006), say, than with
Gibsons own The Passion of the
Christ (2004), in which the scourging of Jesus goes on and on, until you
can scarcely look, and then goes on
again. Is this in line with traditional,
if extreme, strains of Christian iconographywith the contorted limbs and
the scaried skin of Grnewalds Crucixion, from the early sixteenth century? Or was the lmmaker at the mercy
of a thoroughly modern xation? More
than any other living director, even a
fellow-Catholic such as Martin Scorsese, Gibson seems to be gripped by
the spiritual repercussions of pain.
Within the bounds of his vision, it is
quite natural to cut from Doss inside
a church, polishing the stained-glass
windows, to a nasty accident on the
road outside and the impaling of a victims leg.
Hacksaw Ridge is the strangest
release of the year: an implacably violent lm about a man who wants no
part of violence at all. Gibson asks us
to observe the spectacle of spilled viscera, limbs in ight, rats feasting on
mortal esh, and one soldier using the
sundered torso of another as a shield,
so that we may better comprehend the
faith that upholds Doss, inspiring him
to bind the wounds of his friends (and
even, in one stirring instance, his foe).
He burrows down a tunnel as if harrowing Hell, and when, at last, he escapes from Hacksaw Ridgethe site
of the climactic battle, its very name
designed to bite deephe is framed
against the sun, pouring water over his
ILLUSTRATION BY BILL BRAGG

half-naked gure to wash of the blood


of other men. We are meant to imagine someone being baptized and born
again. There are reasons to recoil from
all this, and what private furies Gibson may be confronting, at the cost of
more than forty million dollars, I hate
to think. Yet the result, though corny
at times, treads close to madness and
majesty alike, and nobody but Gibson
could have made it.
he title of the new Jef Nichols

T lm, Loving, is not just a pres-

ent participle, or even a sturdy gerund.


The heroes of the story, which is
grounded in a real-life case, truly were
named Mr. and Mrs. Loving. This is a
happy coincidence, and there is no denying that the movie would have lost
some of its impact if their name had
happened to be, for instance, Snodgrass.
Not that we watch them fall in love.
When the tale begins, the falling has
already occurred, and we see the two
of themRichard ( Joel Edgerton) and
Mildred (Ruth Negga)seated on a
porch after dark. Mildreds rst words
are Im pregnant. Richard, rarely a
man in haste, takes his time to savor
the information. Good, he says at last.
Such joy, however, is not universally
shared, because Mildred is black and
Richard is white. It is 1958, and we are
in Caroline County, Virginianeither
a time nor a place in which to lose your
heart to someone whose skin is a diferent color from your own.
Richard and Mildred cannot be lawfully wed in Virginia, so they go to
Washington, D.C., for the ceremony.
Once home, they are woken by the
local police, led by Sherif Brooks (Mar-

ton Csokas). Richard points to the marriage license on the wall. Thats no
good here, the sherif says. The Lovings are temporarily jailed, and are freed
on condition that they quit Virginia
and stay away for twenty-ve years. So
its back to Washington, and a cramped
existence that neither of them enjoys.
Indeed, the emotional undertow of the
lm suggests that the rift between town
and country folk runs as deep as any
racial segregation. That is why, in
deance of the ruling, the Lovings return to Caroline County, initially for
the birth of their rst child (Richards
mother is a midwife), and then permanently, because they cannot accept their
exile. And so the legal strife grinds on,
all the way to the Supreme Court, which
in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, nds
in their favor. The law of the land is
changed.
The quiet joke of the lm is that
you could scarcely meet two less revolutionary souls. You need to get you
some civil rights, Mildred is told, but
the only marching we see is on television, and her boldest act is to write to
Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, who passes her case on to the
A.C.L.U. The Lovings strength is that
of undemonstrative stoics; if they are
allowed back into the state, Richard
says, we wont bother anybody. In
tribute to that composure, the movie
is restrained to a degree that will strike
some viewers as exasperating, or even
perverse, and that others will deem
properly heroic. A drunken provocation in a bar stops before it can burst
into a brawl; Richards mother greets
him, when he comes home for the
childs birth, with nothing but an order

to put some oil on the stove; and the


Supreme Court hearing passes in a
brief blur, Richard having stated that
he and Mildred will not attend. Their
lawyer, amazed that anyone would
spurn so august an occasion, receives
only one command: Tell the judge I
love my wife.
The contrast with Hacksaw Ridge
could not be more extreme. Both lms,
rooted in Virginia, deal with moral
steadfastness, the cost of cleaving to it,
and the triumph of that tenacity, but
they might as well have been shot on
diferent planets. One is a howl and
the other an urgent whisper. One depends on bodies being tossed and torn,
whereas the most potent scenes in Loving consist of Mildred on the phone,
listening to news from the Court. Just
as she holds the family together, so
Negga possesses the lm, and you
cant stop looking at her eyes. Troubled yet tranquil, they gaze out from
the gloom of a jail cell, and theres a
wonderful moment when she closes
them, on returning to Virginia, and exults in the light; you can smell the grass
and the late-afternoon air. Admirers
of Nichols, whose nest lms, like
Take Shelter (2011) and Mud (2012),
are fraught with a foreboding more
mysterious than any law could cope
with, may be bemused that he has
turned to this ennobling saga, yet you
can still feel the dramatic pressure. After
all, what could be tenser than going to
bed, every night, half-waiting to be
rousted as a criminal, on a charge of
sleeping beside your spouse?
NEWYORKER.COM

Richard Brody blogs about movies.

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THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 7, 2016

83

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 weeks cartoon, by P. C. Vey, must be
received by Sunday, November 6th. The finalists in the October 24th contest appear below. We will announce the
winner, and the finalists in this weeks contest, in the November 21st issue. Anyone age thirteen or older can
enter or vote. To do so, and to read the complete rules, visit contest.newyorker.com.
THIS WEEKS CONTEST

..........................................................................................................................

THE FINALISTS

THE WINNING CAPTION

It deployed when her carriage rear-ended an oxcart.


Daniel Pi, Chandler, Ariz.
I know her, but we were never close.
William M. Williams, Benton, Pa.
Shes the only surviving wife of Henry the VIII.
Purnima Gauthron, Mountain View, Calif.

I know a specialist, but hes in prison.


Joey Narain, Bloomfield, N.J.