Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
Laurence Maslon looks back to musical theater’s lurid past:
Coded references to risqué and sexual matters were catnip to the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. In the case of Pal Joey, Hart found a soulmate (and drinking buddy) in the book’s writer, the equally louche John O’Hara. Within the first 15 lines of the show, during which an aspiring nightclub singer is quizzed by a prospective manager, there are references to cocaine, alcohol, pederasty, and one-night stands. In this show, which Richard Rodgers wrote was the first musical “to deal with the facts of life,” the eponymous nightclub singer becomes the kept man of a wealthy socialite, while cheating on his more innocent girlfriend. The singer and the socialite rhapsodize about their affair in a song called “Den of Iniquity,” where they brag about the power of a radio broadcast of Tschaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” to heighten their sexual activity.
When Porter came to Kiss Me, Kate in 1948, the newer brand of musical, with its stricter narrative form, gave fewer opportunities for the naughty one-off numbers that made his reputation in the late 1920s, but with songs such as “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” he gets away with murder (or “murther,” if you are Shakespearean purist): “When your baby is pleading for pleasure/Let her sample your Measure for Measure” and “If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right in theCoriolanus.” (Shockingly, this last couplet made it into the 1953 film version; someone was napping over at MGM.)
If Dan Savage gets to repeat his claim that women fantasize about rose petals, I’ll allow myself to reiterate my bafflement. From that recent interview:
PLAYBOY: What if someone asks what their partner wants and doesn’t like the answer?
SAVAGE: It happens all the time. Young women write me that they pressed and pressed their boyfriends to share their secret fantasies with them and then were terrified when they found out what those fantasies were—when it’s not “I want to fill the bed with rose petals and light a thousand tea candles in the bedroom.” That’s not a male fantasy. Girls tell me about Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and romantic comedies and all that bullshit. I always tell my female young-adult readers, “Careful. If you press him about his fantasy, you’re much likelier to hear ‘a three-way with you and your sister’ than ‘a trip to Paris.’ ” Male sexuality is crazy, perverse. Men are testosterone-pickled dick monsters. We just are.
Now, I don’t have access to the skewed but substantial data set that is Dan Savage’s inbox. I do, however, have access to a sum total of one female brain, as well as female friends, as well as the sitcom-tame but getting-somewhere take on female sexuality that is “The Mindy Project.”
I was checking out The Millions’ Year in Reading again this morning and came across the entry of one William Giraldi. Giraldi is a critic I’ve run into a few times before. He once wrote a weirdly angry review of two books by an acquaintance of mine. This got him pilloried all over the internet. It was really more of a reap-what-you-sow moment than an outrage moment. I think if you write something angry, you should probably be prepared for people to respond in kind.
What I am about to describe is not something angry he wrote though. It’s just something that made me stop short, before I’d even looked at the byline in my RSS feeder:
Imagine the irredeemably WASPish, cloistered Connecticut world of John Cheever if rendered by James Thurber, or John Updike’s suburban New England strivers and cheaters delivered by Oscar Wilde, or, better yet, imagine if you could make an alloy of H.L. Mencken’s irreligious perceptions and Dorothy Parker’s cagey sapience, and you might come close to beholding the vibrant abilities of Peter De Vries.
I’ve never read Peter De Vries. Let’s stipulate that he’s probably wonderful in all the ways described. I suspect, though, that this sentence would have benefited from about four fewer names included in it. The adjectives could have left too. I am no stranger to long, looping, complicated sentences, and in fact it annoys me that in my own work I have to use the shorter ones so often. The windup here simply goes on too long.
None of these are what bother me, though. What bothers me is this reference to Dorothy Parker’s “cagey sapience.” It’s so totally wrong it took my breath away. An insane overreaction, I know. This is the problem with writing a book about dead writers: you sometimes find yourself with highly developed opinions about other people’s tossed-off remarks about them.
So, caveat emptor, this is a nitpick. But I’m going to unpack it anyway in the interest of intellectualism and all that.
Photographer Shelley Calton grew up in Houston, Texas and was raised by a father who owned guns for both hunting and self-defense. She and her two sisters all learned to shoot firearms from a young age.
This background is something Calton shares with the subjects of her project “Concealed.” It’s a series of portraits that looks into the lives of women who arm themselves. Calton writes that, in doing this project from 2011 through 2014, she “sought to more deeply understand [the women’s] collective experiences as concealed carriers.”
Most of these women grew up with guns, Calton says, so they didn’t have an aversion to them. Some women had a traumatic incident in their past that lead them to always have a handgun nearby. One was briefly kidnapped. Others were sick of feeling vulnerable and threatened. Some carry now because their significant others wanted them to be able to protect themselves and their children if needed.
“Some carry on their bodies everywhere they go, some in their purses, and some just in their cars and homes,” says Calton. One woman carries her concealed piece in a small Coach purse, with the pistol taking up most of the space.
This weekend’s short story is Tim Parks’ “Reverend,” just published in The New Yorker. You can surmise the subject matter from its title, which has autobiographical significance for Parks. In an interview, he had this to say about the story’s relationship to his own life:
Reams could be written about the autobiographical links, of one kind or another, in pretty much all of the fiction I have written. If anyone were interested, that is. Let’s say that the distance fiction allows—talking in the third person, declaring from the start, “This is not me, these are not people I know”—enables me to meditate on experiences close to home, on characters like myself, like my father, without being swept away by them. There is also a constant and, I hope, exciting tension between memory and invention, an awareness that, even when you try to say exactly how something was, it is still largely reconstructed through memory and language; it is still a “creative” act.
How the story begins:
After his mother died, Thomas started thinking about his father. All too frequently, while she was dying, there had been talk of her going to meet him in Paradise, returning to the arms of her husband of thirty-two years, who had died thirty-two years before she did. This would be bliss.
Thomas did not believe in such things, of course, though it was hard not to try to imagine them, if only to savor the impossibility of the idea: the two insubstantial souls greeting each other in the ether, the airy embrace. She had been ninety at death, he sixty. There would be some adjustment for that, presumably, in Heaven. The madness of it confirmed one’s skepticism.
Keep reading here. Read the rest of the interview with Parks about the story here, and peruse previous SSFSs here.
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book, a new Dish mug, or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
Last week’s contest results are here. Browse a gallery of all our previous contests here.
I want to second Michelle’s endorsement of the outrage year-in-review over at Slate. The item there that jumped out at me was Jordan Weissmann’s account of having played a large part in sparking a “cycle of viral outrage” against a Harvard professor who had “raged [in email] at a local Chinese restaurant that had overcharged him a mere $4 on a takeout order.”
Weissmann cops to a history of producing clickbait outrage journalism, but explains, “It’s something I feel ambivalent about as a writer.” He makes the case for what is, after all, his livelihood. Shaming bad behavior is maybe a good deed? Plus, these pieces apparently function for a place like Slate the way lose-weight-and-get-a-man ones do for women’s mags – they pay for the serious but tough-to-monetize pieces. He also insists that, in this case at least, his target is unlikely to suffer financially. (“And I doubt his $800-per-hour corporate consulting business is going anywhere.”) These are all fair points. But I came away from the essay unsure whether Weissmann had succeeded in convincing himself that viral outrage – that is, of the sort sparked by the ostensibly private slip-up of someone who isn’t in the public eye – is defensible.