Watch it with us: Netflix streaming
When I came across the plot summary for Zero Motivation on Netflix, I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. “As they serve out their required term, an all-female unit of the Israeli army battles boredom and personal frictions at a remote desert outpost.” Come again? Workplace comedies, at least of the big-screen variety, are historically the provenance of male characters. A handful of films in the ’80s and ’90s focused on women in the workplace: Working Girl, 9 to 5, Private Benjamin, and the often-overlooked Clockwatchers. But for these women, a job is a means to an end, and the end is always marriage.
I say this to highlight the miraculous oddity that is Zero Motivation. The fact that it’s a workplace comedy about women in the Israeli army is astonishing on its own. But the comedic elements have more in common with Clerks and Office Space than with Private Benjamin, the only other comedy I could come up with that focused on a woman in the military. That film is a classic fish-out-of-water story and it is pleasant enough, but Zero Motivation takes the fact that women serve in the military for granted and instead focuses on the mind-numbing ennui that sets in when you’re assigned a boring and seemingly pointless task and simply told to obey or else.
Nearby there’s a house half standing. Most of the roof is gone, there are no front stairs. The windows are smashed and ivy has claimed a wall. When I drive by, I always slow down. Last time I saw among the weathered gray planks specks of bright yellow—the color that the house used to be.
The half-existing house captivates me. I’m reminded of Louise Gluck’s essay, “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence,” in which she talks about the power of the unsaid in poetry. “The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied.”
New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!
Like many Americanz this summer, I went on a great road trip. Mine led me through a stormy Nevada Desert, giant sand dunes in Idaho (we’re talking 10,000 acres of dunes up to 400 feet high), the wide open spaces of Wyoming, Vegas, Death Valley, and Tioga pass (not to mention the many fine truck stops throughout Utah). With so many hours there was ample time to sink into new and old music, books, podcasts, etc. I kept coming back to this track over and over as the perfect accompaniment to those long, hot days. The whole experience was so steeped in Americana that several times I felt like I was in my own personal Tarantino movie.
Gill Landry is part of the Old Crow Medicine Show. This track is off his new solo album.
– Brook Reeder
Just when you think you know what a novel is, Rebecca L. Walkowitz comes along and screws it all up.
In Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, Walkowitz argues that it is becoming impossible to say what the original version of a novel is. That’s because many novels–like those by Junot Diaz, Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, and others–are being released in multiple languages at once. So, as far as readers and the marketplace are concerned, the translations are just as valid as the “native” language version. There are even cases, like with J.M. Coetzee’s Childhood, where a translation (Dutch) gets published before the “original” (English).
In this globalized age, where multiple editions of each novel proliferate, Walkowitz says we have to revise our understanding of what the novel is. The novelist’s work is becoming detached from its native language and turning into something multifaceted and polyvocal, something that nobody, unless they speak countless languages, will ever fully apprehend.
I almost didn’t read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman because of what the reviews said about Atticus, who transforms from an ACLU-ish lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird to a Klan meeting attender in Watchman. But when I read to the very end of page 278, it wasn’t the proto-Tea Party Atticus that irritated me. What bothered me was that early reviews of Watchman allowed Jean Louise to be eclipsed by her father, as if Atticus were the whole point of this story.
I don’t disagree that Watchman is an inferior literary work. How can it not be? It’s possibly a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was among a handful of books that re-defined female possibility for me when I was growing up poor, white, and in perpetual fear of losing my mother to an illness that eventually killed her. Scout Finch showed me what it meant to be brave and to thrive in absence of a mother. In my sometimes-bleak girlhood, Scout was both who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become: independent and able to transcend the limitations that life handed me.
Guy in Your MFA may be all the rage on Twitter these days but he first made an appearance in Straight Man, the 1997 novel by Richard Russo. The book is the story of William Henry Devereaux, Jr.—Hank, for short—a professor in the English Department at the Railton Campus of West Central Pennsylvania University. In Hank’s workshop, his student Leo is unshakably confident despite his mediocre writing skills. Like Guy in Your MFA, he thinks that he and Hank are “after a fashion, team-teaching the course.”
From the author interviews Leo devours, he has learned that the worst thing that can happen to a talented young writer is to be given too much praise, so Leo is grateful to me for protecting him. I don’t know whether he’s grateful to the other students in the workshop, who have been even more determined than their instructor not to ruin him with too much praise. Or any praise.
This novel is like a masterclass in itself. Other peripheral characters, much like Leo, are given such concrete characteristics that it remains easy to keep track of all of them as the English Department, which Hank chairs, faces the threat of impending budget and faculty cuts. Right at the start of the book, we meet Teddy, one of Hank’s colleagues. Continue reading
Watch it with us: Netflix streaming
Headhunters (2012) has been on my radar for a while now, partly because it’s a slick, stylish foreign thriller and that’s kind of my jam, and partly because it involves a few people who went on to achieve much greater notoriety. These include the director, Morten Tyldum, who also helmed last year’s The Imitation Game, and costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones.
It begins as an art-heist movie: Roger (Aksel Hennie) uses his position as a headhunter for a large corporation to scout his potential targets: wealthy executives with expensive art lying around. There’s a humorous sequence at the beginning in which Roger brags about the expensive piece of art on the wall behind him and challenges the worth of his client’s art collection. When the client retorts that he owns an even more valuable piece, all Roger has to do is ask a few follow-up questions about the client’s personal life to find out if anyone’s likely to be at his home during the day.
Last Friday, the New York Times Sunday Styles page published “A Brief History of the Tough Star Profile,” reviewing notable celebrity press takedowns from Lillian Ross’ 1950 New Yorker piece on Ernest Hemingway, to Tiger Woods telling “puerile and sexist jokes” in GQ in 1997, to the most recent (and orders of magnitude less interesting) Esquire piece on Miles Teller. I don’t know who Teller is or why he’s famous, but he was quoted this month comparing his penis to a highball glass and being generally dickish. He’s probably more famous now because of it.
These kinds of profiles represent the extreme version of what David Foster Wallace was fixated on and deeply fearful of during five days he spent with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky in 1996. The possibility that Lipsky could pick and choose from hours of conversation to portray pretty much any Dave Wallace Rolling Stone wanted came up again and again while the two men were together. We know because, while Lipsky never ended up writing a profile, he ultimately chose to publish the vast majority of the conversation as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The book has since been made into the movie The End of the Tour, which I had a chance to see this weekend. Rather than add to the many straightforward reviews done by people who do that better than I can, here’s what I want you to know:
The movie is really good. It’s especially good if Continue reading