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Criticism

Recent Issue

<i>I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé</i>. By Michael Arceneaux. Atria, 2018. 256p. PB, $17.

Killing Ourselves Softly

At a writing conference several years ago, I had gone straight from the airport to a reception held by an organization that had given me a prize the previous year. The event was in the side room of a restaurant and there was cake. I love cake, so I grabbed one of the slices that everyone seemed to be enjoying so much. I was perhaps two bites in when a man approached me as if he knew me. The writing world is a small one, and it is possible to run into someone you met briefly at an earlier conference but who failed to make an impression. This was not the case. I knew I didn’t know him, and he didn’t ask any questions. He did, however, make a statement, which I’ll paraphrase: I’m sorry. You can finish that, but then you’ll have to leave because this is a private event.

<b><i>The Tale</i></b><br><b>Directed by Jennifer Fox</b><br>Gamechanger Films, 2018<br>114 minutes

Cruelty With a Point

In life and in depictions of life, when is it better to look directly at instances of suffering, and when to turn away? When is looking a form of violation, and when is it a moral imperative? As the documentary image proliferates, so, too, does a discussion that has preoccupied feature storytelling: When it comes to images of violence and brutality, what needs to be seen to be believed, and which representations can’t be justified? Major news outlets now air images of death and suffering as matters of course; in a culture of mass documentation and dissemination, images that exist exist to be seen. Social-media platforms put kitten frolics and beheading videos on an equal footing. “Viewer discretion” and trigger warnings only grow more elaborate, even as they become superfluous: Who now sits down in front of any sort of screen, at any time and with even the most benign intentions, unprepared for some form of visual assault?

<em>Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion</em>. By Michelle Dean. Grove Press, 2018. 384p. HB, $26.</p>

A Girl Like You

In his introduction to the first New Journalism collection, published in 1973, Tom Wolfe lists a handful of reporters from the 1930s and ’40s as “Not Half-Bad Candidates” for the title of progenitors of the form, including John Hersey, A. J. Liebling, and George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway’s reportage from Europe. Subsequent anthologies and textbooks on twentieth-century literary journalism mostly agree—including, from the stacks I’d been browsing, The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, a family tree sort of account of “the new journalism revolution; the herculean anthology The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism; and True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism, which essentially unpacks the historical context for this writing.

VQR Online

Making Sausages: Images of Governance

March 14, 2014

During recent snowbound days, I indulged in a bout of binging the second season of House of Cards, the celebrated political drama starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and a brilliantly cast supporting ensemble. Actually, I did the same binge with the [...]

A Gun and a Girl: The Case for Hard Case Crime

October 4, 2013

Any scan of the bestseller lists shows a national book culture awash in pulp. But all those hungry zombies, vengeful angels, vampire lovers, scrappy postapocalyptic teens, and fairy princess-warriors with wicked blades and toned physiques bear litt [...]

An Open Letter to Jonathan Franzen

September 20, 2013

  Jonathan Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala / by David Shankbone   Hi, Jonathan, I read your essay in the Guardian, and, I have to say, I’m worried about your professional legacy. I agree with some of what you had to say, disagre [...]