On Optimism and Despair

A talk given in Berlin on November 10th, two days after the American presidential election:

'Sometimes it is put far more explicitly, like so: “You were such a champion of ‘multiculturalism.’ Can you admit now that it has failed?” When I hear these questions I am reminded that to have grown up in a homogeneous culture in a corner of rural England, say, or France, or Poland, during the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, is to think of oneself as having been simply alive in the world, untroubled by history, whereas to have been raised in London during the same period, with, say, Pakistani Muslims in the house next door, Indian Hindus downstairs, and Latvian Jews across the street, is thought of, by others, as evidence of a specific historical social experiment, now discredited.'

Fiction Pick of the Week: "A Friendly Game"

A story of growth, regression, and divergent paths.

"But mostly, Joan sat for hours in her favorite spot of their old living room couch where she breastfed Phil. It felt sometimes like he was resting in the crook of her arm. And other times, her breasts would drip milk and she’d sit with a throbbing ache in her chest. Her husband returned twice a week, a different person each time as if trying on new identities: laughing, angry, sedate, stoic. Sometimes he brought the rocks with him. Sometimes Joan would have to go out on her own looking for them."

I Can See Right Through You

Vampire movies, sex tapes, aging, and complicated relationships: new fiction from the great Kelly Link.

"It’s not much fun, telling a ghost story while you’re naked. Telling the parts of the ghost story that you’re supposed to tell. Not telling other parts. While the woman you love stands there with the person you used to be."

Fragmented Instructions for Half-Formed Girls

A series of instructions for a woman in a small town.

"Purport, coyly, that you are dating a tall pile of driftwood arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, and let’s say this wooden statue’s name is Chad and that he is generally a little slow on the uptake. Say Chad is like a Nordic carving of a real person in that he is extremely beige, even his hair, and he can go for a long time without blinking or saying anything of substance. Say you might as well be dating a Hummel, except Chad is more durable."