Christian Lorentzen

Christian Lorentzen will soon be appearing in a play, Dimes Square, in New York.

The Family Biden

Christian Lorentzen, 6 January 2022

Sofar Joe Biden has fulfilled the promise of his campaign. His administration has been mostly dull, and nothing has radically changed. Towards the end of the summer, after the US evacuation from Kabul, his approval rating dipped below 50 per cent and over the autumn it sank into the low 40s. In the media he’s widely seen as a lame duck, as columnists speculate about whether he will...

I was invisible: Viet Thanh Nguyen

Christian Lorentzen, 18 November 2021

The narrator​ of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s pair of novels, The Sympathiser (2015) and The Committed, is one of the more irresistible characters in recent American fiction. He smokes, he drinks, he sniffs powders. He’s a playboy who sometimes can’t get it up. He’s a lowlife, a drug dealer, a street fighter. He’s an intellectual with a graduate degree and he’s a...

I love grass: ‘Bewilderment’

Christian Lorentzen, 21 October 2021

Of all​ the novels responding to the Trump presidency, Richard Powers’s Bewilderment may come closest to pure propaganda. Set in a slightly worse and slightly more technologically advanced version of the present – popular adjustments in recent fiction – Bewilderment takes aim at the administration’s xenophobia and persecution of foreigners, its anti-science and...

I couldn’t live normally: What Sally did next

Christian Lorentzen, 23 September 2021

SallyRooney’s emergence in recent years as the avatar of literary success and its online scapegoat is not unrelated to the content of her novels. Normal People begins with its protagonists, Marianne and Connell, comparing their grades at secondary school and ends with Connell getting onto a graduate creative writing programme. In the first pages of Conversations with Friends, the...

I grew a beard: Biden on Crack

Christian Lorentzen, 3 June 2021

To cook crack​ you need cocaine, water, baking soda, a heat source (microwave, stove, torch, cigarette lighter) and a spoon or a jar of the right thickness. Disregard the occasional splintered jar or finger burn, and the advantages of cooking for yourself are mostly to do with customer service. You’re less likely to get ripped off or have a gun pointed at your head: powder cocaine...

Saint Agnes’s Lament: ‘Shuggie Bain’

Christian Lorentzen, 3 December 2020

‘Above all,’ Douglas Stuart writes in the acknowledgments to Shuggie Bain, his first novel, ‘I owe everything to memories of my mother and her struggle.’ The American cover has a black and white photograph of a boy and a woman in bed, their foreheads touching in a maternal embrace. (On the British cover, a boy sits on a post that looks not unlike a cross.)...

Most Famous Person in History

Christian Lorentzen, 19 November 2020

It’s fitting for the Trump presidency to end under a cloud of lawsuits, recount requests and accusations of ballot dumping. The spectre of illegitimacy has defined the last decade of American politics. Birtherism and Russiagate have now yielded to the notion that votes can’t properly be counted, that the election system is corrupt, that whoever becomes president may be a thief. As its avatar and publicist, Trump is responsible for this disorder, and the fever is worse on the right, but only a few months ago liberals were pointing to the apparently routine removal and rearrangement of mailboxes as a sign of chicanery afoot. Trump has a way of infecting his opponents with his vices, but they are never as potent secondhand. ‘Lock them up’ is frighteningly rousing when the crowd takes it up at a rally. It doesn’t have such a galvanising effect in the form of a lengthy piece about Trump’s post-presidential legal prospects in the New Yorker.

From The Blog
24 October 2020

This autumn was always going to be a tawdry season in America. The past couple of weeks have been a jubilee of below-the-belt viral content: a photograph of the former vice-president’s son leaning down apparently to snort powder off a woman’s bare buttock; a still from the new Borat movie of the former New York mayor in a hotel room with a young woman, leaning back on the bed with his hands in his pants; a story of a journalist pleasuring himself during a Zoom conference in the sight of his colleagues (he said he thought he’d turned the camera off). Sleaze and perversion are now the permanent backdrop of US politics. The world turns its eyes away from a hegemon whose henchmen can’t stop pulling their dicks out. By contrast, the final debate between Trump and Biden was almost decorous.

From The Blog
8 October 2020

It’s easy to forget about Mike Pence. Trump seems to have hired him in part because he wouldn’t have to think about him, and has kept him busy ‘reaching out’ to potentially disaffected evangelicals with repeated assurances that they are the ones who constitute ‘the American people’. His persona – that of a reanimated fossil from a 1950s that never actually happened – is innocuous enough that a fly could sit unperturbed on his skull for two minutes while he insisted the government has done well by African Americans. Much of last night’s vice presidential debate amounted to counterfactual historical fiction or speculative fiction. How would a Biden administration have handled the pandemic? Had the debaters discussed with their elderly running mates the possibility that they might turn into corpses while on the job?

From The Blog
30 September 2020

On the question of whether Donald Trump is a sinister mastermind or an incompetent scumbag (not mutually exclusive), last night’s debate will have to register in the scumbag column. His constant interruptions, vanity, self-pity and frequent forays into lies and nonsense are all by this point wearyingly familiar. Of course, Trump has been consistently underestimated since he entered politics, and his supporters no doubt enjoyed the petulant way he dominated proceedings. But his abuse of Biden was a far cry from the humiliations to which he subjected his opponents in the 2016 GOP primary debates. The show has gotten old.

I need money: Biden Tries Again

Christian Lorentzen, 10 September 2020

Joe Biden seems to have got into politics simply because he could: for the fuck of it, not out of any ethical commitment or bracing ambition. Unlike most recent Democrat and Republican nominees for president he isn’t a meritocrat (Dukakis, the Clintons, Obama) or an aristocrat (the Bushes, Gore, Kerry), or the son of a powerful father (McCain, Romney, Trump). Not being an egghead is his biggest asset in the fight v. Trump. With his famous love for ‘the poorly educated’, Trump often seems to be campaigning on behalf of those Hillary Clinton called the ‘deplorables’ and against the figures of the teacher’s pet and the goody two shoes. (His Democratic rivals have embodied these types but in a way he sought to paint as phony: Clinton, Trump claimed, was secretly corrupt and deserved to be locked up; Obama, according to the birther libel he flogged, was an illegitimate president because secretly foreign.) Little in their actual political records differentiates Biden from Clinton, but he can more persuasively tell an autoworker that his industry will return to the glories of the 1940s.

Goldfinching: ‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen, 20 February 2020

Jeanine Cummins’s​ American Dirt (Tinder, £14.99) begins with a massacre. Fourteen people are killed at a birthday barbecue: the family – husband, mother, cousins etc – of Lydia Pérez and her eight-year-old son, Luca, who are hiding in the bathroom. One of the three assailants uses the toilet, unaware that mother and son, the actual targets of the...

I hate this place: ‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen, 6 February 2020

Deborah Eisenberg​ spent the summer of 1963 at a school for labour organisers and civil rights activists in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. She was 17. ‘It was a proudly Klan county,’ she told an interviewer, ‘and we all ended up briefly in jail.’ On her return to Chicago, she was surprised to find that nobody believed her stories of racist cops and police...

I wasn’t just a brain in a jar: Edward Snowden

Christian Lorentzen, 26 September 2019

Edward Snowden​ was born in the summer of 1983. Around this time, the US Defence Department split its computer network into MILNET, an internal military branch, and a public branch, which we now know as the internet. Home computers were becoming pervasive; the Commodore 64 was selling in the millions. One day Snowden’s father brought one home, connected it to the TV set, and the...

I did not pan out: Sam Lipsyte

Christian Lorentzen, 6 June 2019

The wild​, dark and very funny novels of Sam Lipsyte are governed by a certain fatalism: a nominal meritocracy produces a class of super-qualified and clever people who are nevertheless shut out of society’s higher-status zones. The world is split between sellouts and burnouts – guess who takes the lion’s share? ‘Let me stand on the rooftop of my reckoning,’...

I had no imagination: Gerald Murnane

Christian Lorentzen, 4 April 2019

Gerald Murnane​ was named after a racehorse. His father, Reginald, was a front man for Teddy Estershank, a professional punter who was banned from being a licensed trainer or registered owner of horses by racecourses around Melbourne. Estershank, an ‘evil genius’ according to Murnane, used friends like Reginald as dummy owners for the horses he bought, trained and bet on. The...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

How many​ living novelists does the FBI keep files on? Is there a filing cabinet in Washington that contains a rundown of Jonathan Franzen’s feud with Oprah Winfrey? Do the Feds keep track of how many words Joyce Carol Oates writes in a day? Do they monitor Karl Ove Knausgaard’s border crossings? Did they know who Elena Ferrante was before the editors of the New York Review of...

Torch the Getaway Car

Christian Lorentzen, 13 September 2018

Most​ bank robberies in the US are accomplished with a simple demand note. That was the way my great-uncle Bobby went about it when he robbed a Boston bank in 1952. He was wearing a mask but somebody saw the getaway car, and he was soon arrested because he’d parked it right outside his house. The $1200 in cash he’d stolen was stashed in the washing machine. He was 25 years old...

The Collage Police: Ali Smith

Christian Lorentzen, 8 March 2018

Several factors​ contribute to the innocuousness of Ali Smith’s current project. She’s now published two novels of her projected ‘Seasonal Quartet’: Autumn, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Winter. These books don’t share characters or continuity but constitute a rapid-response literary gloss on the Brexit crisis. Within the fictional United Kingdom of...

Short Cuts: The Trump Regime

Christian Lorentzen, 1 December 2016

The polls had it that Trump would only be able to wreck one party. Now he has wrecked both of them.

Diary: Homo Trumpiens

Christian Lorentzen, 3 November 2016

‘Hey, everybody,​ how about it, huh?’ Paul Ryan said, coming onto a stage decorated with hay bales and pumpkins in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on the afternoon of 9 October. ‘Man, good day! Good to see you, what a beautiful day, huh? Welcome to Fall Fest, you guys! Welcome to Fall Fest! Look, let me just start off by saying, there is a bit of an elephant in the room. And it is a...

Diary: The Democratic Convention

Christian Lorentzen, 11 August 2016

My father voted for Bernie Sanders in the spring and says he’ll vote for Donald Trump in November. This places him in a magical category of voters who some believe will determine the election, but because he lives in Massachusetts his vote is unlikely to put Trump in the White House. He thinks of Hillary Clinton as a corporate shill, a politician ‘who’s never had a job in her life’.

Driving through a Postcard: In New Hampshire

Christian Lorentzen, 3 March 2016

The​ Whitestone Bridge crosses the East River, connecting Queens to the south-eastern tip of the Bronx. To the west are the ten jails of Rikers Island and to the east are the 18 holes of the Trump Links golf course, the name spelled out in giant letters of grey bricks set into the brown grass. It was a Tuesday morning, and we were on the way to see Donald Trump address an arena full of New...

Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss: Bond

Christian Lorentzen, 3 December 2015

About​ two thirds of the way into Spectre, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is tied to a chair in the desert crater headquarters of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the head of Spectre and by coincidence both the son and the murderer of a man who took the young Bond under his wing. Oberhauser is operating a contraption that threatens to deprive Bond of his facial recognition abilities by...

Sessions with a Poker: Sessions with a Poker

Christian Lorentzen, 24 September 2015

It’s useful to know on opening Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life – currently, a month before the winner is announced, the 3/1 favourite to win the Man Booker Prize – just how much research she did into the experiences and psychological background of Jude St Francis, the book’s central character: ‘No,’ she told an interviewer, ‘I didn’t do any research; Jude came to me fully formed.’

Short Cuts: Tom Cotton

Christian Lorentzen, 9 April 2015

Into​ the doldrums of Obama’s second term, freshman Senator Tom Cotton has trotted forward as the GOP’s new mascot of ostentatious warmongering. He’s the author of the letter signed by 46 Republican senators and sent to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they negotiate with Obama will be overturned when he leaves office. Cotton’s letter was...

In​ the autumn of 2001 Mohamedou Ould Slahi was working in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, setting up computer networks. He was born in the hinterlands, son of a nomadic camel trader, and had picked up the trade in Germany; he went to the University of Duisberg on a scholarship in 1988, at the age of 17. He’d long been a fan of the German national football team. He was also...

Dad & Jr: Bushes Jr & Sr

Christian Lorentzen, 4 December 2014

It’s been​ five years and ten months. I confess to a bit of nostalgia for the nihilism that came with being governed by George W. Bush. For all the continuities, Obama arouses more earnest responses: apologetics, disappointment, head-shaking, Occupy, Edward Snowden. Bush’s arrogance has turned out to be that of a man destined to spend his golden years painting portraits of...

What’s wrong with that man? Donald Antrim

Christian Lorentzen, 20 November 2014

In August​ a man in the Bronx tied a chain to a pole, wrapped it around his neck, got behind the wheel of his Honda and stepped on the accelerator. The chain severed his head from his body, which crashed through the windscreen and landed on the street when the Honda slammed into a parked car. I can’t remember whether the story flashed across the computer screen or I heard it late at...

All he does is write his novel: Updike

Christian Lorentzen, 5 June 2014

‘I had​ this foresight,’ John Updike’s mother, Linda, once told a journalist, ‘that if I married his father the results would be amazing.’ Was Updike amazing? In the most simple terms, which were the ones he favoured, he was an exemplary American success story: a child of the Depression who passed from a hardscrabble youth through the halls of the...

Tang of Blood: Something to Do with Capitalism

Christian Lorentzen, 5 June 2014

How​ should a biographer describe the subject’s birth? A simple way is to note the time and place, the state of the family and any complications. In Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury, £25), Rachel Holmes tries for something more vivid; ‘was born’ won’t do. She uses the present tense, and an active verb: ‘Eleanor Marx tumbles prematurely into the world in...

Short Cuts: Not a Little Kafkaesque

Christian Lorentzen, 20 March 2014

The salad​ was on expenses, the water was sparkling and the literary agent across the table was disappointed that I wasn’t a parent, I didn’t do yoga, I wasn’t a former cult member or an addict in recovery.

‘You seem to like reading a lot,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you write a bibliomemoir?’

I knew just what she meant.

‘You’re an...

Short Cuts: L is Lorentzen

Christian Lorentzen, 23 January 2014

I didn’t see much of my parents during Obama’s first term, and now that I answer their emails and visit them at Christmas, I deflect their scrutiny from my bank account (near nil), my wardrobe (fraying), the state of my teeth (in decay), by turning the collective attention to family history. On my mother’s side the past is let be in favour of photographs of far-flung infant...

It started with the jitterbug, or with a ketchup bottle. Kathleen Maddox couldn’t get away with dancing in her hometown. Ashland, Kentucky in 1934 was too small, and if she let a boy hold her hand word would always get back to her mother Nancy, a strict Christian widow. But across the river was Ironton, Ohio, and there she could dance at a club called Ritzy Ray’s. That might have been the place she met Colonel Scott, a small-time local con artist who made his dimes collecting tolls from drivers crossing a free bridge. When Kathleen got pregnant, Scott told her he’d been summoned away on military business.

In the Cybersweatshop: Pynchon Dotcom

Christian Lorentzen, 26 September 2013

Silicon Alley was a name given around 1996 to the cluster of internet companies in Manhattan. The phrase is mostly in disuse now: it connotes boosterism, puffery, and a lot of money lost on ventures that had little chance of turning a profit. It was a silly name in an era of silly names. I worked in Silicon Alley for a few months in the spring of 2000, first at an unnamed travel website where...

Short Cuts: The Weiner Trilogy

Christian Lorentzen, 29 August 2013

In 1969 Norman Mailer ran for mayor of New York. He called for the city’s secession from the State of New York to become the 51st state; a ban on private cars in Manhattan; free public bicycles; devolution of powers over policing, education, housing and welfare to neighbourhood authorities; a casino on Coney Island or Roosevelt Island to generate tax revenue; and something called...

Poor Rose: Against Alice Munro

Christian Lorentzen, 6 June 2013

There’s something confusing about the consensus around Alice Munro. It has to do with the way her critics begin by asserting her goodness, her greatness, her majorness or her bestness, and then quickly adopt a defensive tone, instructing us in ways of seeing as virtues the many things about her writing that might be considered shortcomings. So she writes only short stories, but the stories are richer than most novels. Over a career now in its sixth decade, she’s rehearsed the same themes again and again, but that’s because she’s a master of variation.

Short Cuts: Snotty American Brat

Christian Lorentzen, 9 May 2013

I was walking down Great Russell Street a few weeks ago when a young man emerged from a house wearing sandals, khaki trousers, a backwards University of Tennessee baseball cap, and a yellow T-shirt that had FUTURE WORLD LEADERS CONFERENCE emblazoned on it. This, I thought, is why they dislike us: sockless boys from Knoxville asserting their place in the hegemonic order a block from where Marx...

Rescue us, writer: George Saunders

Christian Lorentzen, 7 February 2013

A father is in despair about his daughter’s unhappiness. All Lilly’s friends at school are richer than she is, and one lives in a mansion, with a pet horse, a llama, a luxurious treehouse and an antique merry-go-round. Her own family’s backyard is a mess, and her father knows it. Her birthday request is more than he can afford; his three credit cards are nearly maxed out....

In the Land of the Free

Christian Lorentzen, 22 November 2012

Mitt Romney has now joined Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale in the political void that awaits any rejected American presidential nominee who doesn’t care to linger into senatorial senescence. Dole appeared in adverts for Viagra. Dukakis has been a public transport activist. Mondale, in 2002, at the age of 74, ran an 11-day campaign for his old Minnesota Senate seat after...

Why am I so fucked up? 37 Shades of Zadie

Christian Lorentzen, 8 November 2012

Zadie Smith’s career has been a 15-year psychodrama. An advance of hundreds of thousands of pounds on a few dozen manuscript pages when she was still at Cambridge made her a celebrity before she was 25. I read White Teeth while working on the copy desk at Us Weekly; I remember having to check her birthday for a profile and thinking I’d already wasted my life. And she was more...

God wielded the buzzer: The Sorrows of DFW

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2012

David Foster Wallace’s parents, Sally and Jim, were the sort of couple who read each other Ulysses in bed while holding hands. Jim read David and his younger sister Amy Moby-Dick as a bedtime story. It wasn’t inevitable that the boy would grow up to write an epic novel, but it wasn’t accidental. Jim was a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois; Sally taught English at a community college, and at home with her children was what her son in his fiction would term a ‘militant grammarian’, constantly monitoring their usage and syntax, turning it into a game.

Diary: At the Conventions

Christian Lorentzen, 27 September 2012

The carpenter Miles Archibald Romney converted to Mormonism in Lower Penwortham in 1837. Four years later he and his wife Elizabeth left England for Nauvoo, Illinois. There he built Joseph Smith a temple that was not quite completed when the prophet was shot dead by a mob. Another mob burned down Miles’s temple, and he fled Nauvoo with his family. Hounded by animals, Indians and more mobs, they made their way to Salt Lake City, where he helped Brigham Young build a temple that still stands.

Diary: Are books like nappies?

Christian Lorentzen, 2 August 2012

I was feeling lonely and somewhat deracinated so the first week of June I flew from London to New York. I bought new shoes and walked around like a tourist: on the High Line, over the Brooklyn Bridge, back and forth between Park Slope and Williamsburg, up and down from Midtown to SoHo. The shoes didn’t quite fit, so when I resumed my old habit of crashing publishers’ parties, I...

Short Cuts: Paul Krugman

Christian Lorentzen, 19 July 2012

No one here expects Americans who have anything to do with politics to be mild-mannered and level-headed, so when Paul Krugman came to London in May to promote his book End This Depression Now! (Norton, £14.99), even my landlord was impressed. Becoming a political pundit was never Krugman’s aspiration. You can tell he considers it slumming. His technocratic style suits American...

Short Cuts: ‘Head Shot’

Christian Lorentzen, 24 May 2012

Either the bullet hit the president in the back, came out of his neck, then struck the governor in the armpit, came out below his right nipple, went through his wrist, lodged in his thigh, and then turned up with a perfect nose and a slightly compressed tail on the governor’s stretcher; or else there were two assassins. For the former scenario – the single-bullet theory posited in...

Short Cuts: Fact-checking

Christian Lorentzen, 5 April 2012

A few weeks ago I found myself at a party talking to a woman with whom I seemed to have nothing in common. But it turned out she wrote for a New York fashion magazine, and although I never shop, am at best a threadbare ragamuffin and it wouldn’t be unfair to call me a slob, I knew we had one thing in common: we’d both dealt with fact-checkers.

‘Oh, they’re just so...

Turtle upon Turtle: Nathan Englander

Christian Lorentzen, 22 March 2012

In 1941 the American journalist Dorothy Thompson published an essay called ‘Who Goes Nazi?’ She proposed ‘an interesting and somewhat macabre parlour game’ to be played at dinner parties. The concept is in the name: look around the room and everybody swings one way or the other. She runs through various guests: the sportsman bank vice-president (Nazi); the threadbare editor (not a Nazi); the scientist’s masochist wife (Nazi); the chauffeur’s grandson serving drinks (not a Nazi); the Jewish speculator who doesn’t like Jews (Nazi); the quiet Jewish man from the South (not a Nazi).

Short Cuts: ‘Anyone but Romney’

Christian Lorentzen, 23 February 2012

I don’t bother to vote anymore, but the first vote I ever cast was against Mitt Romney. It was 1994, I’d turned 18 two weeks before, and Romney was challenging Ted Kennedy for the Massachusetts Senate, a seat he’d held since 1962. I lived in Hopkinton, a small town that over the course of my childhood was turned into a bedroom community for lawyers, bankers and software...

Her face was avant-garde: DeLillo’s Stories

Christian Lorentzen, 9 February 2012

In its winter issue of 1960, Epoch, a quarterly published at Cornell, carried ‘The River Jordan’, a story by ‘Donald R. DeLillo’. It tells of a day in the life of Emil Burke, a mad Manhattan septuagenarian who leads a storefront chapel called the Psychic Church of the Crucified Christ, with a congregation of four. In the morning he descends to the Times Square subway...

Shave for them: ‘The Submission’

Christian Lorentzen, 22 September 2011

Amy Waldman proceeds from a simple counterfactual premise: what if the memorial for the attacks of 11 September 2001 set off something like the 1981 controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? The now famous design for the angled black granite walls, carved with the names of the 58,000 US war dead and cut into the ground on the Mall in Washington DC, was selected through a blind...

From The Blog
27 July 2016

At its most rabid, the Republican National Convention resembled a witch burning. The Democrats in Philadelphia, when they take aim at Donald Trump, do so in the form of a sanctimonious anti-bullying public service announcement. This didn’t work for his Republican rivals during the primaries, but they were talking to Republicans, who may see bullying as a fact of life, feel a bit bullied themselves, and indeed nominated the candidate who sold himself as a national bully. The Democrats ask, do you want your children looking up to a president who’s a bully? Children are ever part of the equation in Philadelphia.

From The Blog
22 July 2016

America is a disastrous hellhole teeming with criminal non-citizens who steal jobs when they aren’t killing innocent young girls, but on 20 January 2017 it will transmogrify into a tranquil, terror and alien-free manufacturing dynamo, with assault rifles available to all, upon the inauguration of President Trump: that was the simple message delivered at great length on Thursday night. Trump confirmed that for all the cartoonish sideshows attending his campaign, he’s essentially a one-issue candidate, and that issue is immigration. ‘Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,’ he said, and you expected him to list every one. The crowd chanted ‘Build a wall!’ Ancillary issues were touched on — the murder of police, shabby schools, crumbling roads, taxes in need of cutting, even African-American youth unemployment and Latino poverty — but they all fed back somehow to an evil trinity of globalism, defined as mass immigration of criminals riding on the wings of terror and bad trade deals. ‘Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,’ he said, promising to repudiate something that all other national leaders of recent memory have treated as an inexorable and desirable force of history.

From The Blog
21 July 2016

It’s strange to be in a bar where the coolest guy is Newt Gingrich. The Westin Hotel is the headquarters of Team Trump, and its shock troops were outside smoking Cuban cigars and reminiscing about their efforts to win the Indiana primary, the contest that at last vanquished Ted Cruz. The delegates and GOP operatives at the bar not lining up for selfies with Newt felt the Tuesday proceedings had been an improvement on Monday in that none of the speakers seemed candidates for being sectioned. I was disappointed by the absence of Roger Stone, the former Nixon dirty trickster and longtime Trump confidant, who had been holding court the night before. Stone began his career at age 16 on Nixon’s 1968 campaign. He smeared the opponent, Hubert Humphrey, by making a donation to his campaign in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and giving the receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader. He is also a longtime business partner, in the international political consulting racket (speciality: Eurasian dictators and elected Putin clients), of Paul Manafort, who has emerged as the Cromwell to Trump’s Henry VIII.

From The Blog
20 July 2016

‘Fragments were used,’ Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said of Melania Trump’s plagiarised Monday night speech. It was a Tuesday morning press conference, and Manafort, chief bulldog of Trump’s vintage Nixonian thug braintrust, was ceding no ground. 'Obviously Michelle Obama feels similar things about her family. The American people focused on her message. You people are trying to distort that message. The plagiarism charge was first spread by the Clinton campaign. Whenever Hillary feels threatened by a woman she tries to destroy her.’ Melaniagate occupied the day’s news cycle even though no one would expect her to write her own speech or to say what she actually thinks. Whether anyone cares what she actually thinks is another question.

From The Blog
19 July 2016

I woke before dawn on Monday in Parma, a Ukrainian neighbourhood south of downtown Cleveland, and watched a lightning storm flash for half an hour over Lake Erie. In a world governed by the pathetic fallacy, the storm might have signalled that Donald Trump was angry or doomed or both, or that the Republican Party was angry or doomed or both. Trump has demonstrated that the GOP primary electorate can do without the three main planks of the conservative movement that’s had the party in its grip since Reagan. For a hawkish interventionist foreign policy, he has substituted a ban on Muslims entering the US. In place of globalised free-market fundamentalism, he has engaged in the rhetoric of nationalist protectionism and a xenophobic paranoia when it comes to the border with Mexico. Unschooled in the catechism of social conservatism, he has railed against the catch-all of political correctness. He made scorched earth of the party’s new policy of outreach to Hispanic Americans. Trump’s pick last week of the Indiana governor and former talk radio host Mike Pence as his vice-presidential candidate was seen as a sign of reconciliation with doctrinaire conservatives – at least until it was reported that Trump was making midnight calls to see if he could get away with ditching him.

From The Blog
20 May 2016

Acquiescence, co-option, appeasement? It’s hard to tell what’s been going on between Donald Trump and the American right since he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Tuesday saw Trump’s final Foxwashing, the end of the feud between the candidate and Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly.

From The Blog
22 July 2014

An old friend of mine told me that watching the first plane hit the World Trade Center from a commuter bus in Queens he assumed pilot error was to blame. (If only.) Like many editors, my friend saw the world as a conspiracy of errors and believed, despite my attempts to convince him otherwise, that emailing manuscripts resulted in digital corruption – the sort of thing where ‘too’ replaces ‘two’ or ‘to’. But mistakes do happen, sometimes with dire consequences, especially if they involve planes and missiles. The seventh deadliest aviation disaster in history – the tenth if you’re counting 9/11 – is the downing of Iranian Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.

From The Blog
16 April 2013

I misaddressed an email yesterday. It was about meeting up on Kingly Street in Soho. It went not to Nick in London but to Nick in Boston. ‘Kingly St?’ Nick replied. ‘It’s motherfuckin’ Patriots’ Day, dude. Don’t forget the struggle, don’t forget the streets.’ I had forgotten all about it. Patriots’ Day is a holiday peculiar to Massachusetts (and its former disconnected appendage, Maine). It marks the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first shots fired on the morning of 19 April 1775, and it’s the start of a week of school holiday. But somehow everything in Boston must be defined in terms of sport, so it really only has one meaning: Marathon Day. I was on Kingly Street when I heard the Boston Marathon had been bombed.

From The Blog
29 December 2012

When I was a boy, a seagull once swooped out of the sky and stole a grilled cheese sandwich out of my hands and flew away. An hour later we saw a seagull with black spiky hairs growing out from under its feathers. I was certain the mutation was an instant result of its stealing my human food. Seagulls only terrorised me one week out of the year, on my summer visits to my cousins in Hull, a small town on the Nantasket Peninsula in Massachusetts. I was also bitten by a dog, very porous as a goalie at street hockey, basically a whiffer at backyard wiffleball – but a real whiz at remembering baseball statistics, and the accumulator of jars and jars of seaglass. Otherwise, growing up in Hopkinton, 26 miles west of Boston – site of the start of the Boston Marathon, the first tricklings of the Charles River and a reservoir with a rope swing not quite ready for TV – I was and am a land lover. My parents, who grew up in Hull and the neighbouring town of Scituate, left Hopkinton ten years ago to return to the sea, and settled in Fairhaven, on Buzzards Bay, in the armpit-like area between Cape Cod and Rhode Island. Last week I went back for a full dose of family gatherings, my first since the Bush administration. ‘Hey shitbag, try some of my moonshine,’ my uncle greeted me when I pulled up to my aunt’s house. In the back of his pickup truck he had two jars, one clear, one dark. That was the spirit.

From The Blog
9 September 2012

The fortress of Charlotte is by now dismantled. Concerns about the weather had moved Thursday night’s speeches from the Bank of America Stadium back to the Time Warner Cable Arena, a discrepancy of about 50,000 seats. It did rain on Thursday, but only a brief thundering downpour in the afternoon. After the skies cleared, I set off for the convention centre. I’d taken to stopping at the protest encampment at Marshall Park on the way in and on the way home. I’d heard a lot about Bradley Manning, about the iniquities of the old nativist AFL, and about the pro-war corporate pawn FDR. There was mention of the Rothschilds and even a bit of 9/11 ‘truth’.

From The Blog
6 September 2012

Mitt Romney said last week that his wife would have been successful at anything she might have done. Michelle Obama on Tuesday elided her actual success as a corporate lawyer to dwell on her role as ‘mom-in-chief’. And she converted her emotional life into a talking point attuned to the day’s news cycle. The headlines were covering the parties’ contest over whether Americans were or weren’t better off than four years ago. The first lady assured the convention that she loved her husband more now than she did four years ago. Despite the disagreements over whether or not to include God and Jerusalemin the party platform, the Time Warner Cable Arena is a house full of true believers this week. I heard a corporate lawyer in her mid-thirties say that she still thought Michelle Obama was a ‘ninja killer’, whatever her omissions. She was wearing a blue dress, like many of the young women at the DNC. I didn’t see an equivalent trend last week in Tampa. But then I didn’t see many young women there. Just as there weren’t many hipsters who weren’t in the media, or delegates who weren’t white, or people who were missing a limb.

From The Blog
5 September 2012

On the drive downtown from the Charlotte airport you ride the Billy Graham Parkway and are greeted by a billboard that says: ‘Don’t Believe the Liberal Media.’ I went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The TV was tuned to CNN. Aaron Black from Occupy Wall Street, who’d taken me to Romneyville in Tampa, was walking his bike down the street in Sunday’s March on Wall Street South. He said that some of the OWS protesters from Tampa hadn’t come north for the DNC: ‘A lot of our people are not interested in protesting Obama.’ Yestersday around noon I was walking to the Planned Parenthood rally at the Nascar Hall of Fame when I came across the tent encampment in Marshall Park. There were a couple of dozen tents and signs spread out across the ground: ‘Obama Is a Fucking Traitor!’; ‘Avoid Corptards’ with anarchy symbols for the As; Obama riding in a flying saucer, looking a bit like Mr Spock, launching drones from above a row of ‘sheeple’, one of whom had woken up to say ‘Holy crap’, only to have his ‘dissent’ float up to be stifled by ‘weapons of mass distraction’.

From The Blog
31 August 2012

If you sit long enough in the company of jolly Republicans, you will hear that the president’s problem is that he’s a ‘pansy-ass’, that he wouldn’t come to Israel’s aid against Iran because he’s ‘too Muslim himself’, that he’s trying to hide his family from the country because he’s ‘not a real American’, that it would be easy for him to prove everything with some ‘microfiche’ from the hospital where he was born, that the best thing about America is our defence, and that Obamacare is ‘full of terrible, terrible things’ called ‘entitlements’. I have heard this stuff in Tampa, not, it should be said, from delegates or officials, but from nice people who believe things if they hear them repeated enough times. I’ve also heard that the best years ever were the ones between 1983 and 1987, that no one ever did as much for American women as the dynamic duo of Ronald Reagan and the personal computer, that the parties at the RNC have never been as good as they were for Goldwater in San Francisco in 1964, that New York is a bad place to live because of rapists, and that the hottest guys at the convention are the officers of the Secret Service. I saw a woman swoon as she said the words ‘tax cut’.

From The Blog
30 August 2012

‘Don’t look at me, you might catch poverty.’ We were on Ashley Drive, where the Tuesday night convention crowd was being funnelled out through a hole in the fence. There were five men holding ‘Mr 1%’ signs and calling at the delegates. ‘How’s the middle class doing?’ The occasional delegate answered either ‘just fine’ or ‘terribly because of Obama’. Obama’s ‘all-out assault on free enterprise’ had been the evening’s relentlessly hammered theme. The assault had two elements: ‘an environment of regulatory uncertainty’ and his remark in July at Roanoke, Virginia, ‘If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.’ This was evidence of his scorn for the American Dream. The Dream, which can usually be reduced to home ownership, was in the hall reduced to being ‘a small business owner’. Trotted out on stage were a metal worker, a designer of trade show exhibits, and a sign maker. The metal worker doubted Obama’s ability to maintain an adequate supply chain, and the sign maker was bitter that Obama altered federal procurement policies for signage. (He still makes signs for the Forest Service and the State of New Mexico ‘thanks to Governor Susana Martinez’.)

From The Blog
29 August 2012

The Republican National Convention’s first day was cancelled out of deference to tropical storm Isaac, but for most of Monday Tampa was rainless. At around 4 p.m. I was standing a block from the convention centre, next to Charles O. Perry’s 1985 sculpture Solstice, which looks a bit like a space age Christmas tree ornament, or a pair of Slinkys copulating, beneath the Bank of America Tower. On a Saturday in January 2002 a 15-year-old-boy called Charles Bishop crashed a stolen Cessna into the tower, killing himself and nobody else, because, as on Monday because of the storm scare, there were few people downtown. ‘Osama bin Laden is absolutely justified in the terror he has caused on 9-11,’ Bishop wrote in his suicide note. He has brought a mighty nation to its knees! God blesses him and the others who helped make September 11th happen. The US will have to face the consequences for its horrific actions against the Palestinian people and [illegible] by its allegiance with the monstrous Israelis who want nothing short of world domination! You will pay – God help you – and I will make you pay! His parents at first blamed the incident on acne medicine-induced psychosis but before long dropped their $70 million lawsuit against its manufacturers. On Monday the skies were protected by helicopters. ‘Here comes a mob,’ a pedestrian said. At the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Tampa Street beige-clad policemen in riot gear formed a line to meet a protest march. The ‘mob’ turned out to be the Poor Man’s March, a permitless echo of a demonstration earlier in the day that had resulted in one protester being arrested after getting tackled by a cop for wearing a mask. Leading the crowd was a man on a bike pulling a trailer with an upside-down Stars and Stripes waving on a pole. Several marchers were carrying pizza boxes. ‘I don’t know about the pizza theme,’ one said. A man with a megaphone addressed the cops: ‘I’m an anarchist. I hope you’re not scared of me because I’m not scary. They’ve got you dressed up like turtles.’ He was wearing a black plastic boot on his head, had a rat-face toy gas mask dangling from his neck, and is apparently called Vermin Supreme. ‘Read my op-ed, it’s an open letter to the city to provide you with corn starch to prevent chafing in your riot gear.’ The signs – ‘Capitalism Is Cannibalism’, ‘Dump Both Parties of Wall Street’, ‘Food Not Bombs’ – were more standard-issue than the chants. ‘We are the proletariat, we are the pizza resistance!’ ‘The pizza ignited will never be reheated!’ ‘Fuck Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney is a fuckin’ asshole!’ ‘What does $50 billion look like? This is what $50 billion looks like’ – i.e., like a bunch of turtles in beige.


In the Bank

5 June 2014

Christian Lorentzen writes: In his biography Adam Begley discusses the New Yorker’s bank, but also mentions that there was a ‘shadow bank’ for stories of Updike’s that veered too close to recent personal events. At the LRB, we have a ‘box’. I’m not aware of a ‘shadow box’.

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