More than a decade after her debut novel, “The Last Samurai,” impressed critics and readers alike, Helen DeWitt has returned with “Lightning Rods,” a funny, filthy volume that starts out innocently enough. Joe is a hapless hero, a failed salesman of encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners, who “had once sold a single Electrolux and eaten 126 pieces of homemade pie in a time frame where most salesmen would hope to reverse the ratio of vacuum cleaners to pie.” He spends his days entertaining himself in his rented trailer; he reads magazines, watches videos, and fantasizes about women and — wait for it — walls. By the third page of the novel, no matter how innocent we thought lonely, sad-sack Joe to be, we are swiftly and utterly disabused.Read more.
Recently I stumbled across a photo of Ryan Gosling. You know the one. “Hey girl.Read more.
My girlfriend got me an Eileen Myles t-shirt at this Sister Spit event in Oakland, it’s black with big purple letters reading “YOU’VE GOT THE STYLE EILEEN MYLES.” I wore it for the first time in Palm Springs to a Dinah Shore White Party which is a party where everyone wears white. And Dinah Shore is this gross annual lesbian “weekend” for girls who want to fingerfuck in swimming pools, oil wrestle in wet t-shirts, drink their faces off and scream at each other in public. All the lesbian websites send reps to Dinah Shore so we were there like a bunch of pasty nerds at a football game, and I was there in my black pants and black Eileen Myles t-shirt at The White Party and then suddenly everything turned black and then I wasn’t anywhere anymore.Read more.
Ellen Willis and her cohort struggled for their rights; our generation inherited them. The liberties that women devoted their lives to winning and protecting are now largely taken for granted – Roe v. Wade was decided more than a decade before I was born, no-fault divorces are a fact of life, and it’s unlikely that I’ll lose the right to vote.Read more.
Reading “Toward a Feminist Sexual Revolution” by Ellen Willis made me feel, for the first time in my life, that another writer understood and had articulated what I want – not just domestically, or politically, but sexually. Like: during actual sex. Other theorists I’ve encountered tend to encourage repression of some sort: either the repression of sexual urges themselves, or the repression of any emotion connected to sex. These ideas were so ingrained that I didn’t even realize I’d internalized them; reading this essay was like when you don’t realize you had a headache until the moment it disappears.Read more.
When people write about Ellen Willis, they tend to write in the first person. A friend pointed this out last week, after listening to me complain about trying to write about No More Nice Girls. It was so good, I told her, I felt like anything I wrote wouldn’t be on its level, wouldn’t capture the complexity of the arguments Willis—radical feminist, visionary cultural critic, revolutionary intellectual and intellectual revolutionary—makes so lucidly and hilariously and persuasively.Read more.
For many years I did not consider myself a feminist. If you had asked me I would have denied that I was one; I would have equivocated about “not being sure what that meant,” about equal rights vs. exceptionalism, about the various particular feminists I’d met or read and disagreed with.Read more.
That first line of “The Last Unmarried Person in America”—“The great marriage boom of ’84 began shortly after Congress passed the historic National Family Security Act”—is such good science fiction that it took me several beats to realize it was in fact made up. Then Ellen Willis expands on it, noting that the Act abolishes divorce, prosecutes single people as vagrants, requires applicants for civil service jobs to sign a monogamy oath, and my personal favorite, makes the interstate sale of quiche a federal offense. This America has finally made “a reality of what had then been an impossible dream: universal marriage.” Gays who take an oath for a sexless marriage can marry, and young couples insist that their marriage has nothing to do with the NFSA but is instead about their love; they assure the narrator that their desire to commit is spontaneous.Read more.
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead was the first book I read by British novelist Barbara Comyns. I knew nothing about Comyns at the time: I picked up the novel exclusively because of the title, which struck me as promising and intriguing. In fact, the book turned out to be a great deal more than that: it was downright astonishing.Read more.