Briefly Noted Book Reviews | the new yorker
The last resortby Sarah Stodola (Ecco). Delving into the histories of more than twenty seaside towns from the Jersey coast to Indonesia, this chronicle of corrosive tourism describes a pattern of overdevelopment which, in our current ecological age, “implies the end of vacations to the beach as we know it”. The “nautical playgrounds” that Stodola studies face coastal erosion, rising sea levels, sewage leaks, and even Atlantis-style submergence. They also tend to separate tourists from locals. Remedial measures such as taxing long-haul flights and transplanting artificial corals onto endangered reefs can help, but Stodola thinks the resorts of the future will be “prohibitively expensive” and pushed from shore: the “paradise fantasy” must be reinvented, with the beach in a less central role.
brown neonby Raquel Gutierrez (Coffee House). In these essays by a poet, art writer and self-identified “queer brown butch”, encounters in Los Angeles and the Southwest with aging punks, frontier activists, lesbian legends and others give rise to explorations of Latinx identity, cultural resistance, and the role of art. In one essay, Gutiérrez recounts a foray into the desert with a group of aid workers providing water to migrants, and reflects on the “deep and complex matrices” that connect her to immigrants, including her Mexican father and Salvadoran mother. “I was spared the experience of crossing the desert,” she writes. Yet the landscape cannot be separated from its history of violence, and there is no view of the desert “that does not have the strangeness attached to it”.
The girls they write songs aboutby Carlene Bauer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This timid and thorny novel centers on two women who moved to New York in the 1990s to become writers – or, as one of them, the narrator puts it, “to be seen as an extremely singular example of end of the twentieth century”. the femininity of the century. The women meet and become friends while working at a music magazine, but the narrator opens her story by telling us that she and the other woman no longer talk to each other. What broke the friendship? Bauer is a crackerjack chronicler of the slide into humility that follows the onset of ravenous adulthood, when “we felt we owed the books we had read proof that we were as open and free as they made us believe. ‘had ordered’.
an honest lifeby Dwyer Murphy (Viking). Set in the heart of New York’s rare book trade, this slow-burning first detective story is also an atmospheric homage to the movie “Chinatown.” The narrator, a former corporate lawyer now taking up quasi-legal freelance work, is hired by a woman to investigate her husband’s plans to sell a collection of old books owned by his family. The case leads him to A. M. Byrne, “America’s finest novelist under fifty”, and Byrne’s father, a wealthy businessman who has a plan to redevelop Brooklyn’s waterfront. The book is driven less by its plot than by a conflict between nostalgia and resignation. “Sometimes a conspiracy is just another word for life going on without you realizing it,” the narrator says.