The Age of Adaline
No, she’s not a government agent or an international spy. Just a gentle, soft-spoken woman who every 10 years or so must uproot and retool her life, slipping into a different world and a different set of labels. Why? Well, if any curious sort ever caught a glimpse of all her passports and driver’s licenses the only sure thing they’d notice is that with each new name, each new birth date, the woman originally named Adaline always looks exactly the same. In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, all the way up to 2014, she’s consistently been a lovely and timeless 29.
If that same curious passport glimpser also laid his hands on the right microfilm newspaper copy or set of sepia-toned photographs, or if he happened upon the right vintage, early 20th-century newsreel, he might piece together that this beautiful young woman began a unique journey nearly 80 years back.
Yes, she’s traveled, experienced much and grown intellectually over the years. But having perpetual youth also means there are those who would make her into little more than a test-tube project if they could. And while working to avoid that crowd, she’s often had to watch her daughter from a distance as the child turned from girl to gorgeous to gray. For that matter, every possibility of friendship or, worse, love must sensibly be kept as a fleeting, casual thing. Just watching her beloved pets grow old and die is painful enough.
Still, there are times when even her keep-everyone-at-a-distance wariness cannot stop someone special from slipping in from the edges of her life, men drawn to her unique beauty, depth and wisdom like moths to a flame. And it’s at those times that Adaline sheds a tear—weeping as one blessed and cursed in equal measure.
Nepal is very much on all our minds right now, with the devastating loss of life and history in Saturday’s massive earthquake. As it happens, one of Nepal’s most famous brass bands, the Everest Band Baja, was recorded in January in Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was ruined in the disaster. It’s heartbreaking to think that this video was published just six weeks ago, in what seems like a different world.
Lunch Bag Art
Some parents include paper napkins with hand-drawn illustrations so elaborate that children have preferred to use their own clothing to wipe up spills. Others decorate the once-boring brown paper bag with fanciful dragons and scenes from Star Wars or re-create great works of art in food. (Think Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring rendered in sushi.)
Viewed one way, these art projects are simply a new manifestation of the age-old tradition of showing parental affection through meals. But thanks to social media, such private projects can gain lots of public attention — not all of it approving. And in today’s world of hypercompetitive parenting, outsiders can sometimes interpret lunch bag art as a sort of challenge to their own parenting skills.
Nina Levy, the Brooklyn-based artist responsible for the blog Daily Napkins, started doodling on her two sons’ napkins over a decade ago. In the beginning, she drew with a simple black Sharpie. The illustrations have since gotten far more elaborate and colorful.
Levy’s younger son, now 8, has grown up with ornamental napkins tucked into the lunches he carries to school — she started the project before he was born. And while her oldest, at 12, has aged out of packed lunches, both boys regularly made requests and offered suggestions on how they wanted Levy to depict their favorite characters.
Alas, other parents weren’t always thrilled by Levy’s projects. Years ago, she visited her oldest son’s classroom and drew napkins in front of the students. Soon, other kids were demanding the same from their harried parents.
“It did not make me popular,” she says. Today, most of the criticism lobbed her way comes from readers online. “They see it as indulgent and irritating and a sign that I have too much time on my hands,” says Levy, who works out of a studio just downstairs from her apartment.
As an artist, she’s always seen her napkin art as simply a daily exercise in drawing — one that has the added benefit of bringing her closer to her children. “Suggesting that other people need to do it or that it is a reasonable thing to do — it’s certainly not,” she says.
What’s So Great About Poetry
Poetry is the secret story, the story behind the story — or, as Wordsworth puts it, what is “felt in the blood and felt along the heart.” Poetry is language broken down, chiseled, and refined, made to say what is unsayable through any other means. And while it is singular and limitless in its power to affect, poetry is bound to the senses, to memory and to place.
There’s a reason I can call poetry the highest form of artistic expression without thinking twice about it. And even though most Americans today don’t acknowledge the art form all that much, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sensible person who doesn’t respect or — if only from a distance — admire the magic in it.
Around this time of year, I always think of William Faulkner. Here’s why: For all of his achievements, his Nobel Prize for Literature, his Pulitzers and National Book Awards, his mug on a 22-cent postage stamp — the man still fell short. And it wasn’t that he dropped out of high school and did only a few semesters of college, or that he was once fired by an employer for reading on the job. These were small missteps and shortcomings that were basically inconsequential in the long run. The larger issue is that, in his own view, William Faulkner was a failed poet. Failed.
“Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first,” he told The Paris Review in 1956, “finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
What you may not know is that before his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, Faulkner had written two books of poetry, Vision in Spring in 1921 and The Marble Faun in 1924. While he’d long dreamed of being taken seriously as a poet, the verse was always second-rate and not particularly significant. Eventually he abandoned his efforts as a poet to focus solely on his fiction.
Ember In The Ashes
In An Ember in the Ashes Sabaa Tahir brings us a world at a crossroad of reminiscences: The Roman Empire on the one hand and A Thousand and One Nights on the other. Mixing magic and military intrigues in shifting proportions, the result is an appealing fantasy of crossing destinies and impossible choices.
Lev AC Rosen is a native New Yorker — and he’d have to be in order to write Depth. In Rosen’s latest novel, the United States of the 22nd century is an unrecognizable place: Climate catastrophes have flooded the entire Eastern seaboard, leaving Chicago a coastal town and the surviving flyover states an oppressive stronghold of religious conservatism. The inundated city-state of New York stands alone, tentatively still part of the U.S., but existing as a cluster of half-submerged skyscrapers connected by boats and bridges. It’s a clever microcosm of New York City’s real-life layout, that is, an interconnected network of boroughs. But Rosen’s cleverest move is how he projects the elusive identity of the New Yorker into a frightening yet eerily familiar future.
Depth takes places a hundred years in the future, but it’s unabashedly beholden to the past — namely the mid-20th century. Rosen has turned his drenched, decimated New York into a haven for private eyes, mysterious blondes, smoking pistols, and criminal plots waiting to be unraveled. Many authors have mixed the hardboiled genre with science fiction, from Philip K. Dick and William Gibson to Richard Morgan and Warren Hammond. Rosen, however, pulls off a tricky tactic: He keeps all that requisite grit intact while crafting a watery atmosphere that washes the city clean of its past, if not its sins. The spirit of hardboiled masters like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are present, but Rosen uses his toolbox of detective tropes selectively, stopping well shy of pastiche while constructing a breathtaking backdrop that’s equally fearsome and decadently alluring.