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Editorial

Ocean Vuong Makes His Fiction Debut, in the Form of a Letter

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ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS
By Ocean Vuong

“On Earth We’re Briefly Beautiful” is Ocean Vuong’s second debut. His first, as poet, was spectacular and met with huge reward, even garnering comparisons to Emily Dickinson. The expertise on show in that ebook, “Evening Sky With Exit Wounds,” is simple, and if you happen to haven’t but learn his poetry, I’d suggest beginning there earlier than venturing on to Vuong’s debut as a novelist. Most of the identical themes and obsessions hang-out each books: Violence is one, whether or not from the American conflict in Vietnam (Vuong himself is Vietnamese-American), or from inside the household; queerness is one other; the physique itself; race; ecstasy and pleasure. In truth, the novel is titled after one in every of Vuong’s poems, and in a approach you possibly can consider this second ebook as one thing like a slicing from the primary, planted in new soil and morphed into some new genus.

All to say, it’s an experimental, extremely poetic novel, and due to this fact tough to explain. The structural conceit of the ebook is ostensibly a letter written from a son, Little Canine, to his mom, Ma. However this letter is almost 250 pages (with poemlike sections within the second half), containing a prolonged essayistic meditation on Tiger Woods’s Asian heritage, his ideas on Duchamp’s “Fountain,” and loads of literary musings on figures like Roland Barthes. Most essential, Ma, or Rose, can not learn, so the protracted dedication is known as inside.

The vanity could make for some pretty strains, as when Little Canine falls for an additional boy: “There have been colours, Ma. Sure, there have been colours I felt once I was with him.” Studying that line, I used to be reminded of Melanie’s well-known B-side, “Look What They’ve Carried out to My Track, Ma”; there in addition to right here, the ability lies within the intimacy of that “Ma” on the finish of the chorus, in capturing the will to take the ache of the world residence to mom and maintain it as much as her like a damage she would possibly kiss. That act is a type of talismanic seal, a spell, a gesture that transforms damage into therapeutic by way of the shared perception in its energy.

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The truth is that Little Canine has been kissing Ma’s bruises his entire life. Ma emerges as troubled, troubling and enchanting. Her personal mom, Lan, survived the conflict by doing intercourse work, and Ma’s father, whom she by no means knew, was one in every of Lan’s American soldier purchasers. Throughout the postwar years, Rose suffered the brutal bullying penalties of being a mixed-race baby. Little Canine was born in Vietnam, however his household flees as refugees to Hartford when he’s only a toddler. He’s raised by his uneducated mom (who works at a nail salon) and grandmother in 1990s America.

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Editorial

Drawn From Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t.

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“When I think about living how our grandparents did, it seems exhausting,” said Ms. Saila, heading to the freezer, where plastic bags of “country food” — caribou, seal, beluga — bumped up against frozen waffles and Cool Whip.

Ms. Saila comes from a line of artists. Her great-grandfather, Pauta Saila, was an acclaimed carver, and her grandfather, Mikisiti Saila, followed his footsteps.

Mikisiti made enough money to buy a snowmobile, and on spring evenings he would hook it up to a qamutik — a homemade sled — and take his family to nearby lakes to ice-fish. In the summer, they would set out in his boat for weeks and pitch canvas tents on a rocky island, where Ms. Saila learned to pluck sea gull eggs, pick orange cloudberries and hunt.

The Inuit call this being “on the land.” Hunting and foraging are an essential part of their identity, even for those to whom it’s a distant memory.

“It was family time,” Ms. Saila said. “When you are out on the land, it’s peaceful.”

In 2008, her grandfather died of tuberculosis, leaving no savings for his family. (There are no banks in Cape Dorset.) Every one of his valuable carvings had been sold. His boat went to an uncle, Ms. Saila said. The snowmobile broke down, then disappeared.

The trips on the land became more infrequent.

When Ms. Saila was in the 11th grade, she became pregnant. She dropped out of school and got a job working at the co-op’s late-night convenience store. Residents still recount her confrontation with a drunk customer.

“I got mad — I head-butted her,” she said, giggling at the memory. She says she quit.

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Editorial

J.D. Salinger, Unbound

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When J.D. Salinger was 18, unpublished and spending long hours at his typewriter, he received an encouraging letter from an admirer.

“I accept your story. Consider it a masterpiece. Check for $1,000 in the mail. Curtis Publishing Co.”

It wasn’t really from a publisher — those notices wouldn’t arrive for years. It was from Salinger’s mother, who slipped it under his bedroom door one night when she heard him typing. He kept the note for 73 years, until his death in 2010.

The handwritten note is now on display at the New York Public Library, in the first public exhibition from Salinger’s personal archives.

The exhibit, which opened Friday and runs through Jan. 19, includes more than 200 items on loan from the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, including photographs from Salinger’s life; a meticulously hammered metal bowl he made when he was a boy; his correspondence with friends, family, fans and prominent writers and editors, including Ernest Hemingway and William Maxwell; and the original typescripts of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey,” with the author’s notes and revisions.

Some items give new insights into Salinger’s creative process. Others offer a rare window into his private life. There are notebooks where he jotted down passages from spiritual texts he was studying. There are shelves of books that he kept in his bedroom at the end of his life because he wanted them to be close at hand: titles about Eastern medicine and acupuncture; books by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Gilbert, Ivan Turgenev, Penelope Fitzgerald and Anton Chekhov; and spiritual tomes from Hindu, Taoist, Christian Science and Zen Buddhist traditions. There are photos of him beaming at his grandchildren, and heartfelt letters to his son Matt Salinger, who helped organize the exhibit.

J.D. Salinger, who was fiercely protective of his private life and abhorred the spotlight, would likely have objected to having aspects of personal life on display. But his son said he wanted to show sides of his father that have long been overlooked or misrepresented.

“It ended up being a little more personal than I thought it would be,” said Matt Salinger. During a tour, he explained what some of the items meant to his father and their family.

One of the items on display is an addendum for an affidavit from Salinger’s 1982 lawsuit against Steven Kunes, a con artist who attempted to sell People magazine a fake interview with Salinger. (It was never published.)

“It was important to me that I not only present the warm and fuzzy stuff,” his son said. “This shows his very principled, prickly nature. He could be prickly as hell with people, professionally. He was fiercely protective of his work. Having some letters like that was important, to have that balance.

“Each one of these entanglements took a toll on him. As much as spiritually he was detached from the world, these things would yank him back into it.”

Salinger detested representational cover art on his books and preferred plain, abstract designs. So he created his own minimalist one and sent it to his agent, Phyllis Westberg, and requested it be used for all four of his books.

“He sat down in his leather chair in the living room. I remember it was winter time. And he sketched it out. He was focused,” Matt Salinger said. “He writes about distrusting the word ‘creativity.’ He always thought it was a space you’re allowed to enter. You’re given things to share by whatever God you think is operative. There’s a release in that, and an ease. It’s not the tortured artist, pounding things out. That was not his affect at all when he was writing. There was joy in it.”

“I debated whether to include these for a while, just because it’s certainly something he would not have included,” Matt Salinger said. “But this exhibit is to show sides of him that have not been shown, or that have been misrepresented. I think the best way to do it was to present factual pieces. He was loving and humorous and thoughtful.”

“He always had a couple of these tucked away in his pocket. He kept passages from whatever spiritual text he was reading,” Matt Salinger said. “He’d write them in bed by hand and he’d then go back to them and highlight things that jumped out at him. He had about 20. I would love to do something with them one day. He thought they would be particularly useful in prisons where people can’t have a normal life, so where can they go, but inward.”

“One of the myths I read a lot is how he turned his back on his parents and wanted nothing to do with them,” Matt Salinger said. “This shows the feelings he had much later. It was in one of his notebooks.”

“This speaks volumes to me,” Matt Salinger said. “It says a lot about who he was as an artist, the meticulousness, and the care and the focus and the attention.”

“It’s not the image anyone has of my father,” Matt Salinger said. “It was the rare reader, the rare letter, that struck a chord. But if he felt their need, if he felt their authenticity, especially if he felt their distress, he would try to respond. It puts the lie to so much of what has been written about him. And look, he could be an S.O.B., but he more often than not he was not, and was a hugely thoughtful and sensitive and caring man.”

Produced by Erica Ackerberg.

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Editorial

A Young God Steps Into His Light

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Calvin Royal III takes on the lead role of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” at American Ballet Theater.

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