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AUG. 22, 2016

AUGUST 22, 2016


Amy Davidson on the Republicans’ dilemma; political swag; an Olympian from Brooklyn; Martha Graham’s autobiography; little men. THE POLITICAL SCENE

Family First The influence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

Lizzie Widdicombe


Cora Frazier


Please See Attached

Siddhartha Mukherjee


The Chase Can the Zika virus be stopped?

Jeffrey Toobin


Mitch Epstein


Patrick Radden Keefe


Total Recall An élite squad of super-recognizers.

Thomas McGuane






Justice Delayed The legacy of lynching on death row. SHOWCASE

“Clouds #67, New York City” Sand and sky in Coney Island. LETTER FROM LONDON



Myth, memory, and the Underground Railroad.

Kathryn Schulz


James Wood

74 77

The short stories of Joy Williams. Briefly Noted

Joan Acocella


Christopher Wheeldon’s “Winter’s Tale.”

Alex Ross


Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel.”

Emily Nussbaum


“Stranger Things,” “The Get Down.”

Anthony Lane


Lynn Melnick Justin Quinn

42 62






“Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Morris from America.” POEMS

“Landscape with Loanword and Solstice” “Adelsö” COVER

Barry Blitt

“Donald’s Rainy Days”

DRAWINGS Drew Dernavich, David Sipress, P. C. Vey, Kendra Allenby, John McNamee, Liana Finck, Seth Fleishman, Michael Crawford, Edward Koren, Charlie Hankin, Farley Katz, Alex Gregory, Will McPhail, Edward Steed, Michael Maslin, Paul Noth, Kate Curtis SPOTS Pablo Amargo

CONTRIBUTORS Lizzie Widdicombe (“Family First,”

Jeffrey Toobin (“Justice Delayed,” p. 38)

p. 24) is a New Yorker writer and an editor of The Talk of the Town.

is a staf writer. His new book, “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst,” has just been published.

Siddhartha Mukherjee (“The Chase,” p. 32) has published three books, including “The Emperor of All Maladies,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and, most recently, “The Gene: An Intimate History.” Alexis Okeowo (The Talk of the Town,

p. 21) is a staf writer and a fellow at New America. Cora Frazier (Shouts & Murmurs, p. 31) has contributed humor pieces to the magazine since 2012. She is working on a novel. Lynn Melnick (Poem, p. 42), the author of the collection “If I Should Say I Have Hope,” serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Mitch Epstein (Showcase, p. 45) is an

award-winning photographer whose new series of photographs, “Rocks and Clouds,” will be published in the fall.

Patrick Radden Keefe (“Total Recall,” p. 48) has written for the magazine since 2006. He is the author of “Chatter: Uncovering the Echelon Surveillance Network and the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping.” Thomas McGuane (Fiction, p. 58), the author of “Crow Fair,” is working on another collection of short stories. Kathryn Schulz (A Critic at Large, p. 66),

a staf writer, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. James Wood (Books, p. 74) teaches at

Harvard. “The Nearest Thing to Life” is his latest book. Barry Blitt (Cover) is a longtime New Yorker contributor. “You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?!” is his most recent illustrated children’s book.

OLYMPICS 2016 Carolyn Kormann, Reeves Wiedeman, and others cover the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.


The perils of seeking a liver transplant in one of the most restrictive healthcare systems in the country.

SUBSCRIBERS: Get access to our magazine app for tablets and smartphones at the

App Store,, or Google Play. (Access varies by location and device.) 4



NEWYORKER.COM Everything in the magazine, and more.


Ben Taub’s article vividly depicts the unconscionable violence that the Syrian regime is inflicting on those who provide medical services in conflict areas (“The Shadow Doctors,” June 27th). Indeed, since his article appeared, the regime has stepped up violent assaults on hospitals in Aleppo and elsewhere, including, recently, a pediatric hospital. I learned about these experiences through interviews with more than two dozen doctors supported by the Syrian American Medical Society. They spoke about the terror of having to perform surgery during a bombing, the need to conceal their work if detained by security forces, for fear of execution, and the appalling risks that the sick and the injured face when seeking aid. The doctors could understand the regime’s twisted motives for targeting them. What they could not grasp, and what I cannot, either, is the failure of the Obama Administration and its allies to take action within their power to protect hospitals, staf, and patients from these assaults. Leonard S. Rubenstein Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Baltimore, Md.


Two points in Kelefa Sanneh’s review of the scholarship on the ghetto and gentrification deserve elaboration (“Is Gentrification Really a Problem?” July 11th & 18th). The first is the complex role of the original ghetto, the Jewish enclave in Venice, which, Sanneh notes, was created by Jews in response to being “ostracized by authorities.” When its gates were opened in the morning, the flow of people was not only outward but also inward: nonJews came to the ghetto to tap into the international networks, of which the local Jewish community was part. The American “ghetto” has to be seen in this light as well, considering how people, information, and money flow in and out. The second point is the idea that increasing the supply of new housing in cities may help slow down gentrification by lowering real-

estate prices. This is an illusory hope. Yes, population stability is served when new construction adds to the housing stock, instead of replacing old housing. But a larger volume of new development, made possible by looser zoning laws, does not lower prices when demand is strong. Rather, it puts a greater number of expensive units on the market. The remedies for the inflation of housing prices are already known: rent control, inclusionary zoning, and housing subsidies. Dismal living conditions and extensive displacement must be combatted by adopting measures that temper the efect of market forces. Raphaël Fischler School of Urban Planning McGill University Montreal, Quebec Sanneh asks whether we might best serve those who are most in need by helping them leave the ghetto. This view overlooks the loss of membership in a community. People who are forced to move cannot take their community with them, or readily find a new one. For more than a century, sociologists have studied how people, as they move from villages to cities, lose communal bonds and moral codes, which are essential to one’s psychological well-being. Many inner-city neighborhoods now constitute similarly vibrant communities, and leaving them can have profoundly negative consequences. To prevent such social dislocation, we need to lessen the incentives that are driving gentrification. We should increase the stock of housing, ofer microcredit in poor neighborhoods, and provide legal protection against unscrupulous banks and real-estate agents. Otherwise, gentrification will continue to drive people from the places where they have history. Amitai Etzioni Elliott School of International Afairs George Washington University Washington, D.C.

• Letters should be sent with the writer’s name, address, and daytime phone number via e-mail to Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. We regret that owing to the volume of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


AUGUST 17 – 23, 2016


The inal weeks of summer are packed with worthy options for outdoor moviegoing. Socrates Sculpture Park, in Queens, will show “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (Aug. 17), Werner Herzog’s ierce tale of a quest for El Dorado. Rooftop Films, in Brooklyn, presents Kris Avedisian’s independent drama “Donald Cried” (Aug. 19), and St. Mary’s Park, in the Bronx, features Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 musical “Cabin in the Sky” (Aug. 20). Coney Island Flicks on the Beach concludes its season on Aug. 22 with Ryan Coogler’s “Creed.” PHOTOGRAPH BY MATTHEW PILLSBURY



Mostly Mozart Aug. 16-17 at 7:30: Joshua Bell, an efortlessly stylish purveyor of standard repertory, returns to the festival, playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major on a program with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra which also features Mendelssohn’s Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and two works by Beethoven, the trenchant “Coriolan” Overture and the lissome Eighth Symphony; on the podium, Matthew Halls makes his New York début. (David Gefen Hall.) • Aug. 19-20 at 7:30: No festival would be complete without a program devoted to choral music, a medium that Mozart imbued with operatic urgency. Louis Langrée and the festival orchestra (with the Concert Chorale of New York) ofer the composer’s two major sacred works, the Mass in C Minor and the Requiem; the vocal soloists include the soprano Joélle Harvey and the tenor Alek Shrader. (David Gefen Hall.) • Aug. 21 at 3 and 7: The International Contemporary Ensemble, working on the fringe of the festival so far, becomes a center of attention during the inal weeks. The group teams up with another intrepid combine, the Philadelphia chorus the Crossing (as well as the ine Baroque ensemble Quicksilver), for “Seven Responses,” two programs that mix the seven cantatas of Buxtehude’s “Membra Jesu Nostri”—a meditation on the body of Christ, from 1680—with newly commissioned works. The impressive composers include David T. Little, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and the Pulitzer Prize winners Lewis Spratlan and Caroline Shaw. (Merkin Concert Hall, 129 W. 67th St.) • Aug. 23 at 7:30: ICE again takes the spotlight, with the up-and-coming conductor Karina Canellakis leading the group in ive new concertos, each a première, by four of the ensemble’s favorite composers—Anthony Cheung, Marcos Balter, Wang Lu (“Cloud Intimacy”), and Dai Fujikura (the Cello Concerto and “Lila”). (Merkin Concert Hall.) (

Glimmerglass Festival This season, the preëminent summer opera festival of the Northeast hews to a reliable formula in its lineup, presenting one warhorse, one relative rarity, one musical, and one twentieth-century opera. E. Loren Meeker directs a Belle Époque-themed production of Puccini’s beloved “La Bohème”; Peter Kazaras’s fairy-tale staging of Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” (best known, in the modern era, for its sparkling overture) features Rachele Gilmore as Ninetta and Michele Angelini, a bel-canto specialist on the rise, as Giannetto; Christopher Alden sets Stephen Sondheim’s devilish “Sweeney Todd” in a village hall in postwar England, in performances conducted by John DeMain; and Francesca Zambello, the company’s director, places Robert Ward’s “The Crucible” (inspired by Arthur Miller’s play, an allegory of McCarthyism) where it was meant to be set—seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. (Cooperstown, N.Y. Aug. 18-23. For tickets and showtimes, visit Through Aug. 27.)

Mostly Mozart: “Idomeneo” The countertenor-turned-conductor René Jacobs has a passion for inding new colors and details beneath layers of accumulated performance practice. He brings his inquisitive style to Mozart’s opera, a powerful work in the Baroque genre of opera seria which is nonetheless shot through, like so many of Mozart’s stage works, with Enlightenment themes. The tenor Jeremy Ovenden leads a cast that includes Gaëlle Arquez, Sophie Karthäuser, and Alex Penda. With the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. (Alice Tully Hall. 212-721-6500. Aug. 18 at 7:30.) Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble The company, which gives emerging singers a chance to try out repertoire in fully staged productions, devotes its August season to the glittering, precarious world of the Parisian demimonde. Opera’s two most famous depictions of the kept woman, Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Massenet’s “Manon,” alternate on the schedule, along with a semi-staged presentation (“Scenes from the Demimonde”) of excerpts from Puccini’s operetta “La Rondine” and Leoncavallo’s rarely performed “La Bohème.” (Nagelberg Theatre, Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Ave. Aug. 19-23. For tickets, dates, and times, see 8


Tanglewood Aug. 19 at 8: Charles Dutoit, a suave, distinguished veteran, leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a program that yearns for the drama of the opera house. The revered pianist Menahem Pressler, along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and a group of vocal soloists (featuring the Met star Matthew Polenzani), join the conductor in music by Mozart (including the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major) and his great Italian successor, Rossini (the “Stabat Mater”). • Aug. 20 at 8: Opera comes to the fore in the music director Andris Nelsons’s next concert with the B.S.O.: Acts I and II of Verdi’s “Aida,” with a cast that features Nelsons’s glamorous wife, Kristine Opolais, in the title role, as well as the estimable Andrea Carè, Franco Vassallo, and Kwangchul Youn. • Aug. 21 at 2:30: Nelsons returns to the podium to conduct a piquant, mostly Franco-Russian concert that features Berlioz’s “Béatrice et Bénédict” Overture; a new work (“Sonnets”) by the noted American composer George Tsontakis; Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Egyptian” (with Dejan Lazić); and a suite from Prokoiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” (Lenox, Mass.

Music Mountain The St. Petersburg String Quartet, a seasoned ensemble with an authentically Russian sound, is a longtime regular at the northwest Connecticut festival. It teams up with the superb pianist Melvin Chen for a concert mixing solo piano works by Poulenc, Debussy (“Hommage à Haydn”), and Ravel with Shostakovich’s incendiary String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor and Brahms’s exciting Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25. (Falls Village, Conn. Aug. 21 at 3.) Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at SPAC The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is one of the newer venues for the Society’s ever-widening ambitions. Its annual series closes with two concerts, one of German standards (including Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B-Flat Major) and another of mostly Russian chestnuts (featuring Rachmaninof’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos and Tchaikovsky’s string sextet, “Souvenir de Florence”); the roster includes the pianist Wu Qian, the violist Paul Neubauer, and the cellist David Finckel. (Saratoga, N.Y. Aug. 21 at 3 and Aug. 23 at 8.) Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church is the home base for this beloved East End series, headed for some three decades by the lutist Marya Martin. Going strong through the end of August, its penultimate week features a concert of virtuoso works by Hummel and Mozart (the small-scale Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-Flat Major, with Alessio Bax), as well as a bracing modern masterpiece, Penderecki’s String Trio (1990-91). ( Aug. 21 at 6:30.)

Charles Dutoit’s conducting duties at Tanglewood this week also include a more intimate project: leading a staged performance of Stravinsky’s theatrical work “Histoire du Soldat,” on Aug. 18 at 8.



Maverick Concerts The Borromeo String Quartet, a treasured ensemble long based in Boston, takes the Sunday-afternoon slot at the Maverick’s idyllic woodland hall. But this weekend features a Saturday-night classical concert as well: the annual chamber-orchestra program, conducted by the series’ director, Alexander Platt. Called “Continuum,” it neatly ties together the Maverick’s twin strands of tradition and innovation, featuring music by Bach (the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Piano Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055) and Copland (the Nonet for Strings and the Piano Fantasy, meditative modernist masterworks from the composer’s later years); the adventurous pianist Adam Tendler is the soloist. (Woodstock, N.Y. Aug. 20 at 6 and Aug. 21 at 4.)

THE THEATRE 1 OPENINGS AND PREVIEWS Aubergine Kate Whoriskey directs a new play by Julia Cho (“The Language Archive”), which tells three parallel stories about people preparing a meal for someone else. (Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200. Previews begin Aug. 19.) Caught The Play Company presents Christopher Chen’s multidisciplinary piece, directed by Lee Sunday Evans, about a man claiming to be a dissident Chinese artist. (La Mama, 66 E. 4th St. 646-4305374. Previews begin Aug. 17.) A Day by the Sea The Mint stages N. C. Hunter’s 1953 play, directed by Austin Pendleton, in which a Foreign Service employee has a midlife crisis during a seaside picnic in Dorset. (Beckett, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200. In previews.) The Layover Trip Cullman directs a drama by Leslye Headland (“Bachelorette”), about two strangers who meet on a plane when their light is delayed. (Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St. 212-246-4422. In previews.)

1 NOW PLAYING Cats Even if you’ve never seen this historic musical, you won’t begrudge your fellow audience members who have attended the show multiple times, whooping and hollering at the close of a number—any number. Trevor Nunn’s production generates so much good feeling for so many that it’s virtually review-proof; it’s an experience. The set, by John Napier (who also designed the costumes), helps create the right mood: a nighttime, junkyard world, where the fabled cats, based on characters from T. S. Eliot’s playful book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” come to life and love and laugh and sometimes have regrets. As Grizabella, the custodian of “Memory,” the show’s most famous tune, Leona Lewis projects an earthiness and a sense of desire that will never age. Neither will Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lasting music. It might be kitsch, but it’s all right. (Neil Simon, 250 W. 52nd St. 877-250-2929.) Engagements Written by Lucy Teitler and set mostly at a series of engagement parties, what starts of looking like a catty sex comedy soon turns out to be something altogether more sour. As played by Ana Nogueira, the protagonist, Lauren—a young scholar of Victorian literature whose choices with men are invariably impulsive and self-destructive—is a captivating mess, but the other four characters aren’t individually interesting, never mind having chemistry with one another. Along the way, questions arise. Why do the characters use a microphone, standup-style, whenever they speak in soliloquy? What is the

function of the two unwelcome houseguests who end up hijacking the plot? And inally— although this is perhaps more a question for the culture at large—why is one woman obliged to attend quite so many engagement parties in the course of a single summer? (McGinn/Cazale, 2162 Broadway, at 76th St. 212-246-4422. Through Aug. 20.)

The New York International Fringe Festival This year marks the twentieth iteration of New York’s largest, scrappiest theatre festival, which unites the strange, the untested, and the occasionally sublime from small companies near and far (sometimes very far: international artists this year hail from Copenhagen, Perth, and Tehran). Though the Fringe organizes its two hundred productions by genre—musicals, solo shows, burlesque—they also tend to break down along recognizable thematic lines: expect playfully updated classics (“Medea’s back and she’s putting the pulse in expulsion,” announces an electropop rif on Euripides), meditations on personal trauma, and musicals about celebrities. Sifting for theatrical gold takes patience, but the pleasure is in the search. The wackier the title, the less likely you’ll see it anywhere else. Case in point: “Poops, I Did It Again: True Tales of an Angry Colon.” (Various locations. Summer Shorts 2016: Series A For its tenth annual “Summer Shorts” festival, 59E59 presents two variety packs of three newish one-act plays. Series A is a trio of treats. The irst is the most lovable: in Cusi Cram’s “The Helpers,” a therapist and her longtime patient get together for an awkward reunion, years after their sessions abruptly ended. The second is the most cleverly staged: in Neil LaBute’s “After the Wedding,” a young couple admits to witnessing a tragedy on their wedding night, telling the tale in tandem yet seemingly separately. And the third is the most deranged: in A. Rey Pamatmat’s “This Is How It Ends,” a guy named Jake discovers that the Antichrist comes wearing a Snuggie. All three are funny, suspenseful, very New York, and impeccably performed; a big share of the enjoyment derives from the sheer perfection of the casting. (59 E. 59th St. 212-279-4200.)

1 ALSO NOTABLE An Act of God Booth. • An American in Paris Palace. • Butler 59E59. • Cirque du Soleil— Paramour Lyric. • The Color Purple Jacobs. • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Ethel Barrymore. • The Effect Barrow Street Theatre. • Fiddler on the Roof Broadway Theatre. • Finding Neverland LuntFontanne. Through Aug. 21. • Fun Home Circle in the Square. • The Golden Bride Museum of Jewish Heritage. • Hamilton Richard Rodgers. • The Humans Schoenfeld. • Oslo Mitzi E. Newhouse. • Quietly Irish Repertory. • School of Rock Winter Garden. • Sense & Sensibility Gym at Judson. • Small Mouth Sounds Pershing Square Signature Center. • Something Rotten! St. James. • Waitress Brooks Atkinson. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



Subject to Change Bruce Conner’s fifty-year crusade of reinvention, at MOMA. In 1963, Bruce Conner decided to find himself. He was back in San Francisco, after a year in Mexico documenting his search for mind-altering mushrooms (Timothy Leary has a flickering cameo in the resulting short film). But this wasn’t just any Beat-era soul-searching: Conner wanted to invite every living Bruce Conner to attend a convention. The plan went unrealized—like many conceptual pranks of the period, it was unrealizable—but he did mail Christmas cards to some of his namesakes, along with a pair of campaign-style buttons, a green one that read “I Am Not Bruce Conner” and a contrary red one, “I Am Bruce Conner.” Both facts were true for every man who opened the envelope. The buttons and the ecstatic film collage “Looking for Mushrooms” are among some two hundred and fifty eye-opening works in the retrospective “Bruce Conner: It’s All True,” orga10


nized by the San Francisco Museum of Art and dexterously installed on the sixth floor of MOMA by the curators Laura Hoptman and Stuart Comer. It’s the first major show in New York for the mercurial Bay Area artist, who died in 2008, at seventy-five. His career was so unpredictible—sculptor, filmmaker, painter, music-video pioneer, collagist, draftsman, punk-band photographer, puller of stunts—that his true medium was his refusal to meet expectations. Conner faked his death during his first brush with success, and later exhibited under pseudonyms, including Dennis Hopper (his friend), Justin Kase, and Emily Feather, whose gossamer inkblots, suggesting tantric drawings by fairies, mesmerize here. The Kansas-born Conner first made his mark in the late fifties, with assemblages of found dolls, doodads, and nylon stockings. Many look dated now, but some still have the power to stun, notably the soot-black, wax-encrusted “Couch” (1963), a primal scream of a sculpture. Conner was included in MOMA’s genre-defining show “The Art

of Assemblage,” in 1961, and abandoned the practice several years later. His impulse to assemble found parts of the world into something wholly new and anomalous found its greatest expression in film, the one form he kept coming back to. The show opens with “A Movie” (1958), a free-associative pageant of found footage, which flashes both slapstick (a clip of a periscope cuts to a voluptuous pinup, then to a speeding torpedo) and tragic (executed bodies strung up by their feet, an elephant swarmed by its hunters, children beset by famine), compressing the thrill, dread, desire, hostility, and too-muchness of life into twelve stunning minutes. Conner’s masterpiece—and the cornerstone of “It’s All True”—is “Crossroads” (1976), a meditation on the atomic bomb, one of the darkest truths of the twentieth century. Splicing together thirty-seven minutes of declassified footage of detonations at Bikini Atoll, Conner unspools a horrific beauty, at once disembodied and visceral, setting us on a soul-searching mission ourselves. —Andrea K. Scott


A detail from Bruce Conner’s 16-mm. film “Breakaway” (1966), featuring an incandescent performance by the then twenty-three-year-old Toni Basil.



New Museum “The Keeper” This summer’s art-show sensation ofers a staggering abundance of things to see—and a stirring place to feel and think. The curatorial team, led by Massimiliano Gioni, has beautifully installed collections amassed by driven individuals throughout the twentieth century. What is a collection? One answer: objects gathered together for a subjective reason. Here, that includes paintings of apples, street trash, a deceased mother’s wardrobe, rare rocks, string igures (collected by Harry Smith), butterlies (collected by Vladimir Nabokov), photographs of snowlakes, documentations of homosexuality throughout history, and reproduced drawings by an unknown inmate of Auschwitz. The arts patron Ydessa Hendeles has loaned three thousand photographs of people with Teddy bears, shown in a library-like space, complete with steel spiral staircases. In each case, the profusions focus attention rather than exhaust it, telling tales that balance out-there materials with the in-here of a human heart. Questions of market value are moot. This is a meditation on valuing—an activity that exposes, even as it delects, our fears that the universe couldn’t care less about our hankering selves. Through Sept. 25.

A. R. Penck In 1959, before a wall divided Berlin and before the East German painter, born Ralf Winkler, adopted his pseudonym, he painted a small, oleaginous scene of a poker-faced, barefoot man condemned to the electric chair. The painting, the knockout incipit of this informative show of Penck’s early work, was the last properly igurative piece that he made. By the early sixties, he had adopted his signature style of lat hieroglyphs, in which stick igures stand tall, go to war, dance, and die. Excluded from the G.D.R.’s oicial academies, Penck often painted on board. His little-known sculptures, a highlight here, are of similarly humble origin: glass bottles and cardboard, painted a sorrowing gray, or two interlocking rings (manacles?) fashioned from aluminum foil. Through Sept. 2. (Werner, 4 E. 77th St. 212-9881623.)

Frick Collection “Watteau’s Soldiers” In 1710, when Watteau was still in his twenties and not yet the go-to painter for France’s languorous ancien régime, the artist spent long hours in Valenciennes, sketching soldiers and oicers about to do battle in the decade-long War of the Spanish Succession. The men look more like dancers than warriors in the red-chalk drawings in this handsome and intimate exhibition: in one three-part composition, a soldier puts forward a dainty left leg and cocks his head to the sky, then twirls and thrusts his hand out, as if pausing for emphasis. Watteau sketched his subjects individually, then fashioned them into tranquil, at times theatrical paintings of his own invention—a soldier with a broken arm at the center of one study reappears in a tableau of a halted regiment, staring longingly at an oicer’s wife. But not every artist has the temperament for the front lines, and Watteau’s real gift was for probing the social encumbrance of life during wartime. Through Oct. 2. Museum of Arts and Design “Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound” You may know the Italian-American designer’s furniture for Knoll, but the works that Bertoia himself most esteemed were his sonic sculptures, notably the tall, slender bunches of metal rods that produce deep gonging or ambient humming when struck. Here, you can listen to recordings while vegging out on one of Bertoia’s signature wire chairs, examine similar sculptures by the artist’s son (museumgoers can play them on Thursdays and Saturdays), and watch an illuminating ilm, from 1971, in which Bertoia, wearing a mustardcolored grandpa sweater, agitates the columns to make a metallic racket. In a supplementary presentation of Bertoia’s jewelry, one charming pair of gold earrings suggests wearable chimes. Through Sept. 25.

1 GALLERIES—CHELSEA “Lux: The Radiant Sea” A photograph records the complex array of light that a lens captures. Sometimes, it’s a picture of light itself: the sun, a lame, a glowing bulb, an errant lare. This savvy show considers illumination by contemporary artists including Rinko Kawauchi, Laura Letinsky, Wolfgang Tillmans, and James Welling. Linda Conner shows a quietly dazzling trio of images—the sun in eclipse, a shooting star, a swirling galaxy—printed from early-twentieth-century negatives. The show’s most subtle surprise comes from Orit Raf, whose picture looks like a minimalist seascape of a horizon line; look carefully, though, and you’ll see that it’s sunlight seeping in beneath a white door. Through Aug. 19. (Richardson, 525 W. 22nd St. 646-2309610.)

1 GALLERIES—BROOKLYN “Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie” Capote appears in just three of the forty images here, but he’s the show’s tour guide nonetheless. Lines from his essay “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir,” from 1959, are stencilled on the wall above Attie’s black-and-white pictures of the borough, taken in 1958, providing this otherwise meandering show with a loose narrative. Attie, who died in 1982, used Capote’s home in Brooklyn Heights as the starting point for a ramble that led him to women gossiping on a stoop, boys swimming in the East River, and a group of men huddled together outside the Robert Fulton Civic League headquarters. The series, while atmospheric and charming, is not as distinctive or sophisticated as the dreamy photomontages that Attie was commissioned to make as illustrations for “Breakfast at Tifany’s” by Harper’s Bazaar, which later reversed its decision to publish Capote’s novella. It was Attie’s irst paying job, and it launched his career, but the dreamy double-exposures are being exhibited here for the irst time. Through July, 2017. (Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St. 718-222-4111.) THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


NIGHT LIFE 1 ROCK AND POP Musicians and night-club proprietors lead complicated lives; it’s advisable to check in advance to confirm engagements.

A. Chal The Weeknd may have evoked Toronto’s frigid overcast when he sketched out the hedonist R. & B. of his “House of Balloons” mixtape, but the style struck a chord in muggy Los Angeles, where it spawned progeny who found the soundtrack toxic enough for spotty nights of La Brea. The Peruvian-born Alejandro Chal puttered out a few kindred cuts in 2013, zipped into a free release called “Ballroom Riots,” and he has reanimated with a pair of singles, “Gazi” and “Round Whippin,” that bake in Billboard chart luency and have enjoyed healthy support from Beats 1 Radio’s Zane Lowe. In Chal’s world, there’s no shame in pop aspirations, or in early-morning Uber requests; this week, he plays a free set in Williamsburg before spiritual and literal homecomings in Toronto and L.A. (Baby’s All Right, 146 Broadway, Brooklyn. 718-599-5800. Aug. 21.) Juan Atkins For young laptop producers, making music without software might be like typing with your eyes closed. The visual interface provides a spotter that isn’t vital, yet it simpliies the process drastically—which makes the precision and emotion found in pre-P.C. releases from Juan Atkins, the Godfather of Techno, and his Detroit ilk all the more impressive. “Clear,” which Atkins released with Richard Davis, as Cybotron, in 1982, is yanked forward by an uphill arpeggio that reappeared on various records during the next three decades—by deinition, a sound of the future. His Korg MS-10 experiments were soon dubbed “techno,” and, even then, Atkins stressed that his was a progression not of music but of technology: “Stretching it, rather than simply using it.” (Output, 74 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn. Aug. 19.)

Blink-182 MTV has lately taken several earnest stabs at mining its potent archive: Beavis and Butt-head now snicker along in revival limbo, “MTV Cribs” is coming to Snapchat, and the “Celebrity Deathmatch” bell may yet ring again. This month, VH1 Classic became MTV Classic, a twenty-four-hour network that re-airs music videos and original series from the past thirty years—if the programmers stay true to format, this band’s 1999 clip for “What’s My Age Again?” should run every twenty minutes. Beyond their ear-licking pop-punk and gummy bows to adolescence, Blink-182’s videos marked a cultural singularity, in which summer blockbusters, seedy talk shows, fast-food promos, and U.S. Presidents all seemed to bear the same mischievous smirk. But our tone has changed, as has theirs: this year’s “California” is the band’s irst album featuring Matt Skiba’s vocals, which play scrappy straight man to Mark Hoppus’s crystallized teen-movie lilt. The new songs and sound shoot the band into the present—they’ve yet to release a new video, but have embarked on a hefty North American tour. (Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn. Aug. 17.) Danny Krivit In 1971, on the advice of a friend who owned the Stonewall Inn, Bobby Krivit converted the Ninth Circle, his ledgling lounge and steakhouse, into a gay bar, to serve the growing queer community that was forming in the West Village. Business boomed quite literally overnight, and to keep his new basement disco churning Bobby had his stepson Danny program tapes with dance music and custom edits. That same year, Danny met James Brown, who gifted him a white-label copy of “Get on the Good Foot,” kicking of a decorated career and promoting in landmark clubs throughout New York City, including the Loft, Area, Limelight, and the Paradise Garage. This week, Krivit celebrates fortyive years of city beats with an all-45 set. (Output, 74 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn. Aug. 18.) Powell It’s easy to discuss Oscar Powell’s many deft promotional strategies, including subversive billboard

campaigns and a music video composed of a scathing e-mail from Steve Albini. It’s assuredly more diicult to describe the London club kid’s music, which may be why even his biggest supporters often bow to the former temptation. But claw your way into the jagged glitches and atmospheric static of instrumentals like “So We Went Electric” and “No U Turn,” released on his own Diagonal imprint, in 2014, and you can almost feel the fog of the balmy after-hours halls they ignite and antagonize. He recently clariied, “I don’t make music for people to dance to. I make music that people can dance to.” The producer and d.j. announced his upcoming album, “Sport,” in an e-mail to a fan; on Aug. 20, well ahead of its October release, Powell and his Diagonal clan play the Warm Up, at MOMA PS1, in the afternoon, then seize the system at this Ridgewood hole to drag brains and bodies into dawn. (Trans-Pecos, 9-15 Wyckof Ave., Queens. Aug. 20.)

1 JAZZ AND STANDARDS Monty Alexander Although he has long established himself as an ebullient featured pianist with eclectic tastes, Alexander likely remembers with afection his apprentice days, when he was a valued supporting player with such mainstream giants as the bassist Ray Brown and the vibraphonist Milt Jackson. He pays tribute to both lodestars, fronting a quintet that includes the gifted vibes player Warren Wolf. (Blue Note, 131 W. 3rd St. 212-475-8592. Aug. 23.) John Beasley’s Big Band The music of the pianist and composer Thelonious Monk is simultaneously unassailable and ever open to reinterpretation. Fronting a ifteen-piece band well stocked with formidable players, Beasley takes Monk’s sturdy tunes on a joyride for MONK’estra, bolstered even further by the addition of a surprise guest singer on Aug. 18 and the imaginative violinist Regina Carter on the 19th and 20th. (Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St. 212-576-2232. Aug. 18-21.) Brooklyn Jazz Underground Festival A borough may bring them under a collective fold, but the various forward-thinking bandleaders who make up this intrepid festival each go their own way when it comes to aesthetic choices and proclivities. Among Wednesday’s highlights: the saxophonist Adam Kolker’s augmented ensemble, the drummer Owen Howard’s wiry trio, and the trumpeter David Smith’s quartet. On Thursday, the pianist David Cook, the drummer Rob Garcia, and the vocalist Tammy Scheffer each front personalized ensembles that make pointed use of collective members. (Smalls, 183 W. 10th St. 212-252-5091. Aug. 17. Shapeshifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Pl., Brooklyn. Aug. 18.)

The London producer Powell brings his Diagonal Records friends and family, including Russell Haswell and Not Waving, on a North American tour, celebrating five years of cerebral noise releases. 12


Trio Da Paz If the taste of Brazil still lingers, this longstanding guitar, bass, and drums outit (with assists from like-minded guests) ofers musical comfort food in the form of nods to the iconic composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and the saxophone titan and bossanova popularizer Stan Getz, among other treats from Rio and beyond. (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Broadway at 60th St. 212-258-9595. Aug. 17-23.)


Katie Thiroux Thiroux, a beguiling singer and irst-rate bassist whose granite tone and life-airming beat recalls that of Ray Brown, hits the bandstand with forthright swing on her mind. Visiting from the West Coast, she leads a vivacious trio. (Jazz at Kitano, 66 Park Ave., at 38th St. 212-885-7119. Aug. 17.)


Willor Lee Guilford plays a woman who is being stalked by her estranged lover in Oscar Micheaux’s 1932 melodrama “Ten Minutes to Live.”

Out of the Box


An overdue rediscovery of Oscar Micheaux’s talking pictures. The new five-disk set “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” (Kino Classics) is a landmark in the history of the art form, especially for its collection and restoration of eight features and one short by Oscar Micheaux—much of the director’s surviving work. (Most of his forty features have been lost, and others have, until now, circulated in poor copies.) Micheaux wasn’t the first black filmmaker, but he was the first black auteur, whose body of work developed his themes and his artistry in the course of his long career, which ran from 1918 to 1948. The entrepreneurial Micheaux had his own production company, and he made most of his films under its aegis. His movies were shown mainly in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and often attracted large audiences, but they nonetheless went generally unnoticed in the mainstream white press. Many of Micheaux’s stories involve the eforts of black Americans to run their own businesses and establish their own cultural institutions; he

relished the creative freedom of being his own producer, and he devised a bold and distinctive, harsh and emphatic style with which to express his ideas unambiguously. Micheaux’s silent films are stark melodramas with sharply analytical displays of societal fault lines, both those which divided whites from blacks and those which divided the black community itself. His 1920 feature “Within Our Gates” bluntly depicts lynchings and the racist subjugation that they enforced while also mocking black preachers who promised heaven instead of ofering education. “Body and Soul,” from 1925, stars Paul Robeson in a dual role as a struggling inventor and his twin brother, a faux minister who hides crimes beneath sanctimonious airs. The rise of talking pictures posed new problems for Micheaux, and he met them with even greater artistic audacity. His low-budget films had badly recorded sound, but he overcame it by directing his actors—mainly his regulars—to speak with a theatrical declamation, which seemed to emboss the dialogue on the screen. His films were overtly political, as seen in their spectrum of subjects, including the impos-

sible dream of interracial marriage; the hostility of light-skinned blacks to darkerskinned ones; the great moral cost of trying to pass as white; the unjustified arrest of blacks on trumped-up ofenses and the use of black prisoners’ forced labor by white business owners; the legal chicanery that kept neighborhoods segregated; and the ills, such as bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution, that alicted black communities deprived of education and opportunities. Yet, remarkably, Micheaux’s sound films are also musicals. Creating characters who frequent night clubs or work in them, Micheaux used the advent of sound to document an extraordinary array of black artists—including opera singers, jazz bands, blues musicians, comedians, primordial twerkers, swing dancers, and tap dancers of easygoing virtuosity—whose work wasn’t often seen by Hollywood’s audiences but whose talent dwarfed that of many white celebrities. With their blend of political critique and alluring spectacle, Micheaux’s sound films are homegrown American counterparts to the contemporaneous musical satires of Bertolt Brecht. —Richard Brody THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



1 OPENING Ben-Hur An adaptation of the novel by Lew Wallace,

about a Jewish nobleman in ancient Rome who is enslaved and becomes a Christian. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov; starring Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Ayelet Zurer, and Nazanin Boniadi. Opening Aug. 19. (In wide release.) • Morris from America Reviewed this week in The Current Cinema. Opening Aug. 19. (In limited release.) • Spa Night Andrew Ahn directed this drama, about a young Korean-American man’s acknowledgment of his homosexuality. Opening Aug. 19. (Metrograph.) • A Tale of Love and Darkness Natalie Portman directed and stars in this adaptation of a novel by Amos Oz, about members of a Jewish family who emigrate from Eastern Europe to Palestine in the nineteen-thirties and participate in the founding of Israel. Co-starring Shira Haas, Ohad Knoller, and Makram Khoury. Opening Aug. 19. (In limited release.) • War Dogs Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star in this comic drama, as small-time businessmen who become major arms dealers during the Iraq War. Directed by Todd Phillips; co-starring Bradley Cooper. Opening Aug. 19. (In wide release.)


writing—and his unquestioned liberal sympathies— keep them out of the story. The result is a readymade Sundance fantasy.—Richard Brody (In wide release.)

The Conversation The writer-director Francis Ford Coppola took a suggestion from his fellow-ilmmaker Irvin Kershner to check out the expanding world of electronic eavesdropping, and developed it into a near-triumph about a guilt-wracked bugging master named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who believes that he hears intimations of murder on his surveillance tapes. When it premièred, in 1974, the movie’s technological tricks and sleek corporate backdrop evoked Watergate. Thanks to Walter Murch’s keen, intuitive sound montage and Hackman’s clammy, subtle performance, the movie captures a more elusive and universal fear— that of losing the power to respond, emotionally and morally, to the evidence of one’s own senses. Bespectacled and balding, Hackman conveys a clumsy sensitivity that compensates for the wispiness of the script; he’s abetted by John Cazale, as Caul’s assistant; Allen Garield, as Caul’s competitor; and Cindy Williams, Frederick Forrest, and Robert Duvall, as the trio involved in the homicide plot.—Michael Sragow (Anthology Film Archives; Aug. 20 and Aug. 23.)

NOW PLAYING Café Society The new Woody Allen ilm, set in the nineteenthirties, tells the tale of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), from the Bronx. Bobby goes to Los Angeles and hooks up with his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), an agent to the stars. Phil is always busy (nobody is better than Carell at that kind of busyness), and so his assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), gets to show the rube around town. They duly fall in love, as they would in any Hollywood romance of that period, except that there’s a hitch: Vonnie is already having an afair with Phil. Allen is an old hand at teasing out such tangles, and, just for fun, he even ties on other strands of plot—perhaps too many. Bobby’s encounter with a prostitute, played by Anna Camp, is even more awkward for the viewer than it is for the protagonists, and the igure of his brother (Corey Stoll), a gangster, is rarely more than a sketch. The ine cast includes Parker Posey, Blake Lively, and a rubicund Ken Stott as Bobby’s father, but it’s Stewart who takes the honors, allowing Vonnie’s shyness to shade into mystery. The cinematography, by Vittorio Storaro, is almost illicitly beautiful; who better to pay tribute to a gilded age?—Anthony Lane (Reviewed in our issue of 7/11 & 18/16.) (In limited release.) Captain Fantastic The title of the writer and director Matt Ross’s second feature is perversely and ingeniously misleading: it’s not a superhero adventure but, rather, a small-scale counterculture drama that’s nonetheless as artiicial as a comic-book concoction. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a left-wing survivalist who repudiates consumerism in all its forms (from media to food), and who is raising his six children in the woods of the Paciic Northwest. He teaches them to catch and slaughter animals and to master hand-tohand combat and rock-climbing, and he replaces organized religion, his bête noire, with the worship of Noam Chomsky. Meanwhile, his wife, their mother, is in a mental hospital. When she commits suicide, Ben’s in-laws (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) ban him from the funeral, but he goes on a road trip to crash the service nonetheless, and takes the children, who are beginning to chafe under his hermetic authority, along for the ride. The story runs on the ostensible virtue of Ben’s politics. Ross directs his well-cast actors with an eagle eye that keeps loose ends out of the performances, no less than his clever 14


Don’t Think Twice The comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed, and co-stars in this amiable, lovingly detailed comedy about comedy—speciically, about the life and possible death of an admired but struggling New York improv troupe called the Commune. Birbiglia plays Miles, who founded the troupe a decade ago but is struggling to ind a place in the business at large. He and the ive other members hold down day jobs (one’s a waitress, another works in a store, and Miles teaches improv) while awaiting their big break. When a producer invites several of the members to audition for “Weekend Live,” the Saturday-night broadcast that makes comedians instantly famous, the resulting turmoil of resentments and frustrations turns the Commune into a buzzing hive of individualists and threatens to pull it apart. Birbiglia ilms what he knows, ofering ample and intricate scenes of improvisations performed onstage, along with an insider’s view of the industry, and he pushes his colleagues to the fore—especially Keegan-Michael Key, who has a drolly ambiguous turn as a self-anointed star, and Gillian Jacobs, playing a powerhouse performer tormented by self-doubt, who is the ilm’s movingly dramatic center.—R.B. (In limited release.) Equity This methodical but cleverly plotted drama, directed by Meera Menon, shows female executives coping with bosses, clients, lovers, lawyers, and each other in a big New York inancial irm. It stars Anna Gunn as Naomi Bishop, a high-level investment banker whose


A video discussion of Bill Gunn’s “Ganja & Hess,” from 1973, starring Duane Jones and Marlene Clark, in our digital edition.

hopes of running the irm depend on her leading an I.P.O. for a major tech startup. Naomi’s subordinate, Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), is denied a raise and a promotion, and blames Naomi. Naomi’s lover, Michael Connor (James Purefoy), a broker at the irm, wants insider’s secrets about Naomi’s deal, and a prosecutor named Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner) is sniing around. The clash of their ambitions and desires is a volatile brew that eventually blows up. Menon’s direction is merely eicient, but the script, by Amy Fox (who co-wrote the story with Thomas and Reiner), gives the women’s personal lives equal weight, as they struggle to balance family and work and face male clients whose interests aren’t all business. The story its together too neatly and the characters remain ciphers, but scenes of news reports of the high-proile deals—in which the protagonists see themselves—evoke an eerie air of plausibility and alienation.—R.B. (In limited release.)

Hell or High Water The Howard brothers, of West Texas—Toby (Chris Pine), who’s divorced and unemployed, and Tanner (Ben Foster), who’s fresh out of prison—are in mourning for their late mother. They’re also pissed of at the Texas Midlands Bank, which will foreclose on her ranch unless they can fork over forty-three thousand dollars by the end of the week. The brothers set out to raise the money by robbing a bunch of the bank’s branches, and Marcus Hamilton (Jef Bridges), a marshal on the verge of retirement, sets out to stop them. The script, by Taylor Sheridan, piles a load of snappy incidents and tangy dialogue on this neo-Western, neo-noir setup; the action is as schematic and artiicial as a chess game, and the characters have as much identity as its pieces. The director, David Mackenzie, gives each of his actors time to shine and ills the ilm with picturesque details, but the movie might as well be a table read set before a green screen. Only Bridges emerges whole; with his typical brilliance, he leaps from the laconic to the rhetorical, making even the shady brim of his hat speak volumes.—R.B. (In wide release.) Hunt for the Wilderpeople Gentle and appealing performances can’t rescue this facile and cloying comedy, about a neglected New Zealand boy who lourishes in an idiosyncratically rustic household. Julian Dennison plays Ricky Baker, a twelve-year-old foster child who has bounced from family to family, leaving behind a trail of trouble. He’s adopted by Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a cheerful and openhearted woman who lives with her gruf, taciturn husband, Hector (Sam Neill), a skilled outdoorsman. Bella, who kills wild boars with her bare hands, shows Ricky the love he never had (her improvised song for his thirteenth birthday is the movie’s high point). When she dies suddenly, Hector—a convict considered unit to adopt—prepares to send Ricky back to the authorities and heads for the woods. Ricky follows him there, and the unlikely pair try to stay a step ahead of a punctilious child-services agent (Rachel House) and her police posse. Ricky and Hector lurch from adventure to adventure in a series of mechanical plot twists with a calculated blend of laughter and tears, and only a inal showdown with a streak of earnest danger grounds the plastic sentiment in strong emotion. Directed by Taika Waititi.—R.B. (In limited release.) Indignation The ilming of late-period Philip Roth continues apace. In 2014 we had “The Humbling,” starring Al Pacino as an actor with failing powers, and now we have James Schamus’s adaptation of Roth’s blistering short novel, irst published in 2008. (When will somebody bring “Nemesis,” his heartbreaking

MOVIES account of a wartime polio epidemic, to the screen?) Logan Lerman plays a bright Jewish boy named Marcus Messner, who goes to college in Ohio, in 1951, thus avoiding the draft; friends of his have already been killed in Korea. He is a loner, toiling hard and making few friends, and that air of isolation brings him to the attention of the Dean (Tracy Letts), who calls him in for a talk; their long conversation, spiced with prejudice and resentment, becomes the core of the tale. Marcus also has a brief encounter with a fellow-student, Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a troubled soul, who bewitches and bales him with her forwardness. There are times when the movie, patient and decorous, all but seizes up; and yet there are outbursts and declarations that, true to Roth, bring the period—and the hero’s predicament—to life. Most fearsome of these is the proud and possessive speech delivered by Marcus’s mother (Linda Emond), as she ights to save her boy.—A.L. (8/1/16) (In limited release.)

The Interrupters Steve James’s 2011 documentary, based on an article by Alex Kotlowitz, follows members of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based conlict-mediation group, over a year of their attempts to defuse potentially violent situations. Most of the group’s activists, as seen in the ilm, were once criminals themselves, which, together with their roots in the community, gains them the respect of the people they advise, cajole, dissuade, and mentor. James centers the ilm on a few of these “interrupters” and a handful of young people in need of guidance; with his insistent yet compassionate camerawork, he gathers poignant, troubling stories. Their recurring themes include the inluence of gangs, the allure of easy money, the toll of families broken by violence and drugs, and the need for jobs—and the elders’ hard-won wisdom, with their frequent mention of incarceration as the ultimate dissuader. Law enforcement comes across as awkward and misguided, yet it looms, ubiquitous and unexamined, in the ilm’s margins. James’s depiction of people bearing inextinguishable pain isn’t analytical but, rather, empathetic and powerful; the struggle toward stability of one profound and troubled soul (a thirty-two-year-old man who has spent ifteen years in jail) has a Dostoyevskian intensity.—R.B. (Museum of the Moving Image; Aug. 19.) Jason Bourne It was widely assumed, at the end of “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the man who owns more passports than the rest of us have saucepans, had inally come to rest. His identity was conirmed, his past explained, his freedom assured, and his torso tired of being used as a permanent punching bag. Well, we were wrong. Jason is, as one awed observer says in this latest addendum to the saga, back in play. A voice from the past— that of Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles)—summons him to the fray, and the fray turns out to include a riot in central Athens, vehicular chaos in Las Vegas, and other relaxing pastimes. These are choreographed with clarity and propulsive élan by the director, Paul Greengrass, an old Bourne hand, and Damon is provably indestructible, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we are watching a kind of superior replay, at once urgent and oddly redundant. There is no Joan Allen this time, sad to report, but we do get Alicia Vikander, as an ambitious young hot shot at the C.I.A., and, at the other end of the spectrum, Tommy Lee Jones, as her wonderfully weary boss.—A.L. (8/8 & 15/16) (In wide release.) Little Men An actor named Brian (Greg Kinnear) moves to Brooklyn with his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), who

is a psychotherapist, and their thirteen-year-old son, Jacob (Theo Taplitz), after the death of Brian’s father. Such is the familiar geography, social and emotional, of Ira Sachs’s ilm, and he maps it out with care— too cautiously, perhaps, for more impatient tastes. Paulina García plays Leonor, a Chilean woman who runs a dress shop on the ground loor of Brian’s property; she pays a meagre rent, and doesn’t take kindly to being asked for more. Meanwhile, her son, Tony (Michael Barbieri), befriends Jacob, and the boys’ companionship, against expectation, not only becomes the core of the story but somehow nudges the other characters, especially Brian and Kathy, aside. Sachs’s title is nicely poised; the adults in the movie seem diminished by their trials and responsibilities, and by squabbles over money, whereas someone like Tony, in Barbieri’s tough and soulful performance, is all wised up and ready to grow.—A.L. (8/8 & 15/16) (In limited release.)

Pete’s Dragon The director David Lowery brings natural sweetness and heartfelt wonder to this remake of the 1977 fantasy. Young Pete’s parents are killed in a car accident in the rural Paciic Northwest, and Pete, who survived, heads for the woods, where he’s rescued by a furry green dragon—more like a gigantic, winged, ire-breathing dog—which he calls Elliot. Five years later, Pete (Oakes Fegley), a wild child whom Elliot raises, shelters, and entertains, is spotted by a local girl named Natalie (Oona Laurence), who informs adults, who drag him into society. Elliot, something of a rural myth, comes out of hiding to search for the boy, and the chase is on. Meanwhile, Pete becomes attached to Natalie’s family circle, which includes an outdoorsman (Robert Redford) who’s the only villager to have seen Elliot for himself. Lowery lovingly crafts a neorealist fantasy, in which Elliot’s vast powers— including light and evanescence—have practical limits. The director revels in the free-wheeling frolics of Pete and Elliot, and resolves their conlicts with a hard-earned sentimentality. It’s as if Disney were launching a new artisanal line; if so, this inely crafted and keenly felt drama inaugurates it in style.—R.B. (In wide release.) Star Trek Beyond Bad news for the Starship Enterprise. On the far side of a distant nebula, an unprovoked assault leaves the vessel in shreds, and her crew— headed, as custom demands, by Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto)—beached on a mountainous planet. Thank heavens the air is breathable. The nimble screenplay, by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (who returns in the role of Scotty), hops neatly between the varying fortunes of Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin), as they come together to defeat the dastardly Krall (Idris Elba) and thereby thwart his cosmic plans. The director is Justin Lin, who knows a thing or two about warp speed from his work on the “Fast & Furious” franchise, and who seldom allows the pace of events, in the interstellar void, to slacken or to dip into sententiousness—no small feat, given that this is the thirteenth ilm in the series. The happiest innovation is the presence of Jaylah (Soia Boutella), who tinkers with an old spacecraft as if it were a bicycle, and whose black-and-white makeup is a jagged work of art.—A.L. (8/1/16) (In wide release.) Suicide Squad What does David Ayer’s movie want to be? An anti-“Avengers” project, perhaps, in which peace and justice are preserved not by well-meaning heroes but by a feral bunch of misits, most of whom

should never be let out of jail. We have an assassin by the name of Deadshot (Will Smith); Katana (Karen Fukuhara), another assassin, though her skills are entirely sword-centered; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a bright-eyed psychopath in hot pants; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who seems happiest in a sewer; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), whose hands keep bursting into lames; an Australian thug called, of course, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); and the Joker (Jared Leto), who is really not funny at all. A paltry attempt is made to bind the gang together in fellowship, but the movie, openly bored by the business of characterization, forges ahead into a messy mayhem. The result would love to be badass, but it winds up feeling sour, dark, and thin, like a cup of cold cofee. Overacting is rife. A measure of dignity is restored, thank heavens, by the calming presence of Viola Davis, as the government oicial who brings the team into being.—A.L. (In wide release.)

Sunrise For his Hollywood début, in 1927, the German director F. W. Murnau brought a slender story to life with a breathtaking display of cinematic virtuosity, creating one of the masterworks of the art form. The archetypal tale concerns a farmer (George O’Brien) who is caught in the erotic grip of his scheming urban mistress (Margaret Livingston). He takes his wife (Janet Gaynor) on a rowboat ride in order to do away with her, but he can’t follow through; when they reach shore, the horriied innocent lees, and he penitently pursues her to a picturesque reconciliation in the big city. The astonishing visual transition of the broken couple’s arrival, by trolley car, in the metropolitan swarm is matched by the overwhelming design of the city itself— complete with streetcars, traic jams, and a teeming amusement park—which gives rise to meticulously staged set pieces and a mercurial range of emotions. With his invented city, Murnau captures the essence of urban life; with the generic love story, he conjures love in itself. From the wisp of a tale, he raises cinema to the heights of philosophical speculation—and, at the same time, renders palpable the joy of an unrivalled inventiveness, the miracle of the medium’s power. Silent.—R.B. (Film Forum; Aug. 22.)

1 REVIVALS AND FESTIVALS Titles with a dagger are reviewed. Anthology Film Archives “Voyeurism, Surveil-

lance, and Identity in the Cinema.” Aug. 20 at 6:45 and Aug. 21 at 9: “A Model Couple” (1977, William Klein). • Aug. 20 at 9 and Aug. 23 at 6:45: “The Conversation.” F BAM Cinématek “Joe Dante at the Movies.” Aug. 19 at 2 and 7: “Innerspace” (1987). • Aug. 19 at 4:30 and 9:30: “Mickey One” (1965, Arthur Penn). Film Forum “Return of the Double Feature.” Aug. 19 at 12:30, 5:10, and 9:50: “Vertigo” (1958, Alfred Hitchcock). • Aug. 19 at 3 and 7:40: “Rear Window” (1954, Hitchcock). • Aug. 22 at 5:45 and 9:35: “Sunrise.” F • Aug. 22 at 7:40: “Nosferatu” (1922, F. W. Murnau). Museum of Modern Art The ilms of Judy Holliday. Aug. 19 at 1:30: “It Should Happen to You” (1954, George Cukor). • Films Produced by Gaumont. Aug. 17 at 4 and Aug. 20 at 7:30: “Camille Rewinds” (2012, Noémie Lvovsky). Museum of the Moving Image “Kartemquin at 50.” Aug. 19 at 7: “The Interrupters.” F • Aug. 21 at 3: “Hoop Dreams” (1994, Steve James). THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


DANCE BalletX In its eleven years of existence, this Philadelphia-based contemporary-ballet ensemble has carved out an important niche as a place of choreographic innovation. The work of its co-founder and choreographer, Matthew Neenan, is a case in point: imaginative, poetic, full of unexpected twists, and often diicult to parse. At the Joyce, the dancers will perform his recent “Show Me,” set to folk-inlected music by the raucous chamber group Brooklyn Rider (in a recording). Trey McIntyre, another uniquely American voice, is represented by “Big Ones,” an eccentric work down to the costumes, with music by Amy Winehouse. The company will also perform “Gran Partita,” by Jorma Elo. (175 Eighth Ave., at 19th St. 212-242-0800. Aug. 16-21.) SummerStage At Rumsey Playield in Central Park, on Aug. 17, the City Parks Foundation puts on an old-school jam called “Behind the Groove—Soul Connected.” Hosted by the veteran b-girl Rokafella, the event stresses connections among genres, with vogueing from the Legendary House of Ninja, salsa courtesy of Eddie Torres, and hip-hop by the Full Circle Souljahs. Raphael Xavier, a leading Philadel-

phia b-boy since the nineteen-eighties, also presents a new piece about break-dancing into middle age. On Aug. 20, an international lineup comes to Marcus Garvey Park, in Harlem: the Kalabanté Circus is a Montreal-based outit of Guinean acrobats and musicians; Iron Skulls is an experimental b-boy crew from Barcelona, and they’ll be joined by the Catalan speed painter Quim Moya. (212-360-2777.)

Beach Sessions Dance Series Now in its second year, the series transplants indoor choreography to a stage on Rockaway Beach, with a backdrop of waves and sky. The irst of two Saturday programs features Laurie Berg’s “Mineralogy of Objects,” a whimsical piece starring an inlatable sex doll, and “Repercussion,” a rough-and-tumble duet by the performance project Boomerang, set to erratic live percussion by Greg Saunier. A beach cleaning follows each program. (Beach 86th St., Rockaway Beach, Queens. Aug. 20. Through Aug. 27.) Drive East This festival of classical Indian music and dance, an upstart in 2013, has become a ixture, intro-

ducing New Yorkers to styles and practitioners during the dance desert of late August. This year’s typically jam-packed week opens with three exponents of Bharatanatyam: Rukmini Vijayakumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi (who performs with live music), and Bala Devi Chandrashekar. (Ellen Stewart, 66 E. 4th St. navatman. org/tickets. Aug. 22-23. Through Aug. 28.)

1 OUT OF TOWN Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival The dancers of “FLEXN” (at the Ted Shawn, Aug. 17-20) are sensational, contorting their bodies inventively in the powerfully expressive East Brooklyn style known as lex. But the show, at its début last year in the cavernous Park Avenue Armory, felt overinlated, reaching for socio-political relevance with insuicient guidance from its famous director, Peter Sellars. The dancers’ talents might loom larger in a smaller space. There’s little more exciting in dance these days than the recent works of Pam Tanowitz (at the Doris Duke, Aug. 17-21). Dense with new ideas, eccentric yet rigorous, “Heaven’s on One’s Head” and “the story progresses as if in a dream of glittering surfaces” conjure dance poetry through steps and form, in the mysterious manner of Merce Cunningham. Pam Tanowitz Dance, her terriic crew of unafected dancers, is accompanied by the FLUX quartet. (Becket, Mass. 413-243-0745. Through Aug. 28.)

Never Sleep Alone The travelling performance troupe Spiegelworld hosts this interactive show, which is part theatre, standup comedy, and group therapy session. Dr. Alex Schiller, an author and sexual evangelist, brings her “Never Sleep Alone” presentation to New York after closing out a threenight stand at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas, this February, a rich site for her obeat yet on-thenose discussions of modern courtship: “I found it interesting that people who have no fear of dancing topless, juggling chainsaws, or dealing with hundreds of a-holes a day were afraid to hold hands with a stranger,” she said recently. Schiller’s show calls upon attendees to loosen their inhibitions, with the audience divided into Voyeurs and Singles—only the Singles are asked to make out with a neighboring patron, though everyone is required to sing. The talk is followed by an after-party at a nearby, not-yetannounced location. (Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St. 212-967-7555. Aug. 19 and Aug. 27.) Hudson River Park Blues BBQ Cap of the summer season on the pier with the seventeenth annual Hudson River Park Blues BBQ, which invites a slate of big blues and 16


roots bands to jam along the water while families enjoy dishes served by Mighty Quinn’s, Fort Gansevoort, and more. This year’s lineup includes Gaye and the Wild Rutz, Cash Box Kings, the Bernard Allison Group, the Sugaray Rayford Band, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. (Pier 97. Aug. 20 at 2.)

help forums, and ultimately questions whether an inconsiderate ex was really a narcissist, as she’d once concluded, or just an everyday jerk. Dombek discusses the tempting yet problematic overlaps between psychological jargon and popular culture at this launch with the n+1 editor Dayna Tortorici. (686 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-246-0200. Aug. 17 at 7:30.)


Asian American Writers’ Workshop This arts and literature organization invites Andrew Lam and Victoria Chang to screen imagery that inspires their writing and share insights into respective processes. Lam has written extensively on the Vietnamese diaspora, among which his experience is nearly singular: the son of a South Vietnamese general, he had the privileged upbringing of a military family, but soon saw his homeland ravaged by conlict before being exiled to America. The poet Chang was born in Detroit, and her terse view of Western aspiration is on full display in works like “The Boss,” which earned her a PEN poetry award. Also reading are the emerging poets Monica Ong Reed and Eugenia Leigh. (112 W. 27th St. Aug. 17 at 7.)

READINGS AND TALKS Greenlight Bookstore Kristin Dombek’s début book is nothing short of ambitious. In “The Selishness of Others,” the cultural critic questions America’s current ixation on narcissism by positing an even nimbler concept: an endemic fear of narcissism, or narciphobia. Dombek argues that, like many psychological disorders that have been downgraded, over time, to mere social put-downs, narcissism has been over-diagnosed, and she points out how repeated accusations of narcissism might amount to throwing stones in a house of mirrors. With a humorous, relatable voice and darkly poignant observations, the author parses reality television and self-





Le District


225 Liberty St. (212-981-8588) Down at the revamped World Financial Center, amid the puce-colored marble of Brookfield Place, Francophiles can be scented at Hermès, bathing-suited at Vilebrequin, and sated at Le District. Touted as the “French Eataly” when it opened, last year, the thirty-thousand-square-foot space, all polished concrete and subway tile, is divided into several boisterous halls. Aisles of on-theme delicacies—safroninfused moutarde, crumbly Sablé cookies, frozen coq au vin—alternate with specialty counters, spanning meat and fish and cheese. The provisions supply not only grocery shoppers but also a number of small open kitchens, where duck rillettes and poutine are served at slate-topped bars, by baseball-capped attendants. Beaubourg, the larger of Le District’s two stand-alone restaurants, ofers a long list of brasserie basics. Highlights include a spicy pâté de campagne and the salade Niçoise, served with thick wedges of nicely seared ahi. At lunchtime, Goldman guys share seafood platters in a dining room with Art Nouveau gilding; at cocktail hour, they are joined by tourists from the nearby 9/11 Memorial, who relax on teal furniture outside, in view of the Hudson. Later, Battery Park City families descend for freedom fries. Le District has the feel of a literal-

minded love letter to France. With its bottlenecked aisles and wilted to-go salads, it emphasizes the encyclopedic over the local and the fresh—seemingly out of synch with a Manhattan dining scene that has trended West Coast in recent years. Still, there’s a mad charm to the monomania, especially when it comes to L’Appart, an eight-table “private apartment” hidden behind a leather-padded door, of a hallway stacked high with chocolate bars and spatulas. In the manner of most haute French dining, the food is both rich and richly priced. On a recent Friday evening, as the sun set behind drawn curtains, Nicolas Abello, formerly of Daniel, on the Upper East Side, manned a six-burner range on his own. Over several hours, he turned out a ten-course menu that included charentais-melon soup, aromatic with lemon verbena; Chilean sea bass, dense but flaky, topped with pickled Moroccan eggplants and resting on a bed of the Japanese kind, roasted; and an unsportingly good Wagyu filet, from Washington State, black on the outside and ruby in the center. When the meal had finally ended, the rest of Le District was dark. Diners were shown out through a side door into the balmy night, free to walk of their torchons along a river that might almost have been the Seine. (Beaubourg entrées $21$45. L’Appart prix-fixe starts at $105.) —Daniel Wenger


Margarita Island 1105 Bowery St., Brooklyn (718-449-1284) Why waste away in Margaritaville when you can explore the delightful terrain of Margarita Island? This beachy cantina, tucked along Coney Island’s neon midway, comprises a tiki-thatched archipelago of snack stands in the magniicent shadow of the Wonder Wheel. Start by ordering a whole watermelon from the Original Coconut Kookoo—its insides blitzed to pink cream—then carry the sloshing globe a few paces to one of the Island’s two bars to have it spiked with rum. You might grab some nachos and stop to catch a zombie lick at the 5-D cinema, where you’ll be doused with water when blood sprays onscreen. Like a true sea-locked landmass, Margarita Island operates by its own mysterious economy. Thursday evenings progress in loose bills: draft beers are a buck at six, and increase by a dollar hourly until nine o’clock, after which the price sticks at four clams. On a recent Saturday afternoon, a woman walked around the scattered picnic tables advertising shots at a discount, to liven up the margaritas. “You can never go wrong with stronger,” she said. Even without the additional booze, the drinks are trouble, refreshing and perfectly sour. They also cause an inordinate amount of brain freeze. One patron suggested pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth to ease the pain. It works, but it might be better to just sip slowly—for all of Margarita Island’s commerce and blaring reggaeton, the scene is surprisingly laid back. Patrons can turn a proit, too. The Sunday-afternoon bikini contest is open to anyone wearing a twopiece. Winners take home three hundred dollars, and losers are awarded a free frozen drink, a nudge in the direction of the bar’s motto: “Know when to give up and have a margarita.”—Wei Tchou THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



t’s fair to say that Donald Trump has made things


I diicult for the Republican Party. He has taunted its lead-

ers, turned its debates into rap sessions about his anatomy, sabotaged its eforts to appeal to Latinos and to women, and, as he has shouted out bigoted invective, made many of its members feel shame. But, in the past two weeks, Trump has made things easier for certain Republicans: those elected oicials still seeking what Senator Lindsey Graham has called an “of-ramp,” by which they can justify to the most partisan of their constituents and colleagues renouncing the Party’s nominee. The first week in August was, as the title of a Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, summed it up, “the week they decided Donald Trump was crazy”—“they” being Republicans who finally had to admit that nothing could induce Trump to act rationally. Instead, he had insulted Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army oicer who died while trying to protect his men in Iraq. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on August 8th, cited that incident as one of many that had persuaded her that she could not vote for Trump. The same day, fifty former oicials who had held national-security or foreign-policy posts in Republican Administrations released a letter saying that none of them would vote for Trump, and expressing particular alarm at his potential control of the nuclear arsenal. And those defections came before Trump told a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina, that if Hillary Clinton won the election and “gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people—maybe there is.” Suddenly, this was the week when Republicans had to decide whether they would stick by a nominee who, indirectly but unmistakably, had mooted nullifying election results at gunpoint.

The Trump team didn’t see matters this way, as it explained in a “Trump Campaign Statement on Dishonest Media,” issued later that night. “It’s called the power of unification,” the statement began, suggesting that Trump had simply been talking about the “amazing spirit” of gun-rights advocates, who would go to the polls in “record numbers.” (Never mind that he had been talking about what could be done after Election Day.) The N.R.A. promptly tweeted its support, which may have helped to quiet the response from some elected Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan said at a press conference that the remarks sounded “like just a joke gone bad,” and that he hoped Trump, whom he has endorsed, would clarify them “very quickly.” He went on, “I think it’s very clear that the TrumpPence ticket is going to be one that will put good judges at the Supreme Court.” On Thursday, Trump told CNBC that only the “haters” would think he wanted Hillary Clinton dead. Hate, though, is precisely what he has worked to evoke in his supporters. In Wilmington, he said that Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State “cost so many lives” and that “she’s so guilty, she’s so guilty.” He added, “If I’m isis, I call her up and I give her the most-valuable-player award.” By the next day, he was calling President Barack Obama the “founder of ISIS” and Clinton his “co-founder.” She was, further, a pawn of Wall Street and other paymasters, working to destroy America “from within”—someone who has to be stopped but perhaps can’t be by normal means, because the electoral system is “rigged.” In that context, the callout to Second Amendment people was almost an unnecessary Trumpian embellishment. For some time, commentators have been observing that violence can emerge from the sort of rhetoric that swirls around Trump, and drawing parallels to the angry exchanges in Israel in the days leading up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Collins was the sixth Republican THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


senator to announce that it’s all too much to sustain. (The others are Graham, Jef Flake, Mark Kirk, Ben Sasse, and, in his own way, Ted Cruz.) Historically speaking, that’s a remarkably high number, and Collins may be a harbinger of a still broader shift. By the end of the week, however, none of the remaining forty-eight Senate Republicans had followed her. Politico reported on the draft of a letter from seventy G.O.P. regulars asking the Republican National Committee to redirect money to down-ticket races. The letter’s primary concern, though, seemed to be less Trumpism than Trump’s poll numbers. Then, there is the question of where the defecting Republicans will go. So far, most have been elephants wandering of into the mist. Only a few—Meg Whitman, Mark Salter, Representative Richard Hanna, of New York, who is retiring— have said that they will support Hillary Clinton. Many of the most prominent, including Collins, her fellow-senators, and Jeb Bush, have said that they will not. Jeb’s father and brother, the former Presidents Bush, have efectively declined to engage since the primaries, at least publicly. For a family that, for several generations, has made public service its profession, that is an extraordinary abnegation of the idea of leadership. The Party’s previous nominee, Mitt Romney, has said that he wants to be able to look his grandchildren in the eye and tell DEPT. OF SWAG SPECIMENS

very four years, the Smithso-

E nian dispatches a small expedition

to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, to collect artifacts for the National Museum of American History. Their finds—a mixture of objects both homemade and mass-produced, profane and devotional—are sent to Washington, where the best join a trove of a hundred and thirty thousand political relics, including, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat. One afternoon, less than two weeks after the Conventions had ended, the museum permitted a visitor to enter the archives of the Division of Political History—a windowless industrial space, with pipes overhead—on the condition that its precise location within the facility remain unpublished, to avoid tempting thieves. The new artifacts were still being bagged in acid-free plastic and tagged with field notes. They were temporarily arrayed—Democratic material on one side, Republican on the other—on a long 20


them that he took a stand against Trump. But he won’t vote for Clinton; he told the Wall Street Journal that he might “write in a name.” Michael Hayden, a retired general who has headed the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., signed the national-security oicials’ letter and also loudly condemned Trump’s Second Amendment comment. “You’re not just responsible for what you say,” he said on CNN. “You are responsible for what people hear.” But he has also stated that he and others who signed the letter have deep concerns about Clinton, and that he may not vote for anyone for President. Some people might hear in that a military man telling them that there is no option at the ballot box that will keep America safe. What Susan Collins did wasn’t easy for her. “Being a Republican is part of what defines me as a person,” she wrote. Yet what appears to be holding many Republicans back isn’t simply partisanship, or loyalty, or ambition. For one thing, there are plenty of Republicans, at all levels, who agree with Trump; he did win the nomination. Others have, perhaps without thinking about it much, let a patina of hints about Obama’s citizenship and the undesirability of immigrants and of religious and ethnic minorities build up until it has become hard to tell what the Republican Party looked like without it. And that has made things easy for Donald Trump. —Amy Davidson

chest of drawers, which contained objects from previous episodes of American history: “Goldwater Billboards,” “World War I Posters: Uncle Sam/ Women/Ethnic.” The 2016 expedition team consisted of two curators, who set out for the Conventions carrying large black portfolio cases. One of them, Jon Grinspan, noted, “The portfolio kind of says, ‘We’re not crazy people.’ ” Some of the more interesting objects have to be extracted delicately. “There’s a little element of trying to tell people that you’re not stealing their stuf,” Grinspan said. Come on too strong, and people get spooked. “They’re proud of their hat. They’re proud of their poster. And the last thing you want to do is surround them.” His colleague, Lisa Kathleen Graddy, an expert on the woman-sufrage movement, has learned to identify her targets early. “You soften them up on Day One,” she said. Regardless of the fate of their candidate, donating to the Smithsonian can give Convention-goers a feeling of victory. “I asked a Bernie Sanders delegate from Florida for her hat, and she started to cry,” Graddy recalled. “The idea that we weren’t pushing him aside from history, that the Smithsonian was going to say, ‘Bernie Sanders happened,’ was incredibly important to her.”

Grinspan asked, “Was that the woman with the picture of her kids on the hat?” Graddy shook her head. “It was the one with the bird coming out of the top.” Once an object comes through the Smithsonian’s door, it becomes a specimen, to be handled with white cotton gloves: iPhone cases, a whoopee cushion, emery boards, bottle openers, plastic signs, and dozens and dozens of lapel buttons. Grinspan identified a “Black Girls Vote” button as “very 2016,” because, he said, “since 2008, African-American women have had the highest voter turnout of any demographic group.” There were niche products—a button with Trump’s name in Hebrew and the message “He’s not just our candidate. He’s mishpocha! ”—and items that had not been allowed into the arenas, such as a sign that read,“America Was NEVER Great! We Need to OVERTHROW This System.” Harry Rubenstein, the curator who heads the division, sat beside the loot. “In a sense, it’s just meaningless swag,” he said. “In another sense, these are the tools of democracy. There is a series of questions that the founding generation faced, that we still face: Who gets to participate? How do you actually get these people to participate? How do you inspire people?”

Over the years, the curators have learned that some delegations make for lousy scavenging. Oregonians pack out their garbage, like good campers. New Yorkers sometimes cut deals with the local historical society. The job can be unsavory. After a night of booing, a Sanders supporter peeled of a damp DayGlo green T-shirt (it bore the message “Enough Is Enough”) and donated it to Graddy. “It lay on the floor of my hotel room overnight to dry out,” she said. What can’t be captured on-site must be obtained later. “We got a lovely e-mail from my cape lady,” Graddy told her colleagues. She’d been working on a Democrat with a carefully stitched Hillary Clinton superhero cape. Grinspan saw a potential connection. “We have women’s-sufrage capes going back to when?” “Yeah,” Graddy said. “I want to display it with a cloak from the 1913 parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Some of the best items will be exhibited next summer, in a show titled “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith.” For Grinspan, aspects of the 2016 campaigns make more sense when viewed through the wide lens of history. He said, “A hundred and fifty years ago this summer, Andrew Johnson toured the country, comparing himself to Jesus and screaming at crowds. He seemed like a megalomaniac.” The Republic survived. But perhaps history should not be so reassuring. “It can almost be an opiate,” Grinspan said. “You can say, ‘Well, we had a civil war in this country. This is nothing.’ ” —Evan Osnos


n a recent weekend, Nzingha

O Prescod was practicing at the Fenc-

ers Club, in Manhattan, on West Twenty-eighth Street. She moved lightly, jabbing her foil in the direction of her coach, Buckie Leach. “When she’s patient, she’s amazing,” Leach said. Prescod was headed to the Olympics the following week. The first American woman to

earn a gold medal in foil at the Grand Prix, in 2013, and the first African-American woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships, in 2015, she was hoping to repeat her success in Rio. “Nice and easy,” Leach said as they tapped foils. “I think I tend to go too fast most of the time,” Prescod said. Prescod is petite and compact, and has a curly bob with blond tips. She grew up in the Flatlands area of Brooklyn. (“No trains go out there,” she said.) Her mother, a single mom who worked as a lawyer for the city, enrolled her in a battery of after-school programs—ballet, piano, tennis, gymnastics, karate, swimming—to keep her busy. When Prescod was nine, her mother discovered the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a program run out of the club in Chelsea, which teaches fencing to kids from disadvantaged communities and covers many of their fencing expenses. The sport has a snooty reputation because of its costs. “You’re practicing every day, it’s five hundred dollars a week for the club,” Prescod said, maneuvering around clashing blades in the practice space. “All the whites”—fencing outfits—“are expensive, the blades break constantly, and then travelling to competitions, paying for the coach to come! Oh, my God, it’s a lot of fees!” Shuttling between the Flatlands and Chelsea was a culture shock. “Everyone goes to private schools and is expected to go to Ivies—that’s why they fence a lot of the time, to get in,” she went on. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School, Prescod went to an Ivy, too, studying political science with a concentration in ethnicity and race at Columbia University. Prescod rolled out a mat to stretch. She said that she notices more black fencers these days, but sometimes she’s still the only black woman in the room, which can make for uncomfortable situations with her peers. “Like, they would ask about my hair: ‘Why is your hair so long?’ or ‘Did you get a haircut?’ No, I got extensions,” she said. Prescod, her coach, and several of her Olympic teammates happened to be in Dallas for the U.S.A. Fencing National Championships, when five police oicers were killed in the city. When the man-

hunt for possible shooters took place, they were trying to get back to their hotel from a baseball game. “It was so scary,” she said. “We were stuck at an Applebee’s, not saying anything, just watching the news, and I was, like, ‘This is war.’ But I didn’t talk about it. I was the only black person there.” As the Olympics approached, Prescod’s profile rose dramatically. She attended the ESPY Awards in L.A., where she met Chance the Rapper. “He likes fencing, so I was, like, ‘We need to do a demonstration together!’ ” she said. “But then it just got a little weird and uncomfortable,

Nzingha Prescod because his friend got my phone number.” She also posed for ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue, leaping nude through the air while brandishing a foil. “I am really very comfortable wearing no clothes,” she said. “If you play a sport, you’re around naked people all the time in the locker room. People walk around with no pants, especially in Europe.” A fencer named Zaheer approached. “What’s Gucci?” he said. “How was that thing last night? I left before everyone showed up.” “I got there at nine-thirty!” Prescod said. “For Zaheer, that’s bedtime,” another fencer, Jessica, interjected from nearby. Prescod finished stretching and headed to the locker room. She’s thinking of quitting fencing after this year; she was ofered a job as a data analyst at Ernst & Young and also wants to get into public speaking. She aspires one day to bring sports like fencing, gymnastics, THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


lacrosse, and rowing to her old neighborhood in Brooklyn. “So that kids can see these are options,” she said. In Rio, Prescod placed tenth in the individual foil competition, after being bested in a direct elimination bout with Astrid Guyart, of France. “I’m disappointed in the result,” she said afterward. “Especially not knowing if I will continue fencing. It’s really crazy that, after fifteen years, the most important competition happens so quickly. But that’s how it goes.” —Alexis Okeowo


man sat in a chair in the café

A on the first floor of the New

York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center, for almost seven hours and listened to sixteen dancers and former dancers read “Blood Memory,” the autobiography of Martha Graham, one reader after the other, all the way through from beginning to end. Graham wrote that a dancer is “an athlete of God” and quoted Lincoln Kirstein’s remark that dance is “glorified human behavior.” Sitting with a glorified seatedness that came from deep within himself, the man, who can’t dance a lick, felt grateful just to be in the bleachers.

“There is a fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep.” Though Graham wrote that early in her book, the man did not fear such a possibility. His chair was perfectly O.K. The sun moved overhead and the shadows crossed the nearby buildings visible out the café windows in a downtown direction, toward Forty-eighth Street, where Graham had performed for the first time with her own group of dancers exactly ninety years before, to the day. The marathon reading marked that anniversary. Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, read first. “Movement never lies. . . . The body is a sacred garment. . . . Every dance is a kind of fever chart. . . . The beauty of the heel as it is used to carry one forward into life.” Next came Tiler Peck, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, who, her shoulders bare, wore her dark hair up, brightred lipstick, and dangling earrings. She took the young Graham through early childhood, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh), where her father was a strict Presbyterian and an “alienist,” or psychiatrist, and coal soot covered everybody. Martha went around veiled. Behind the readers, in a window of the building across the street, a man or woman sat and organized papers, holding them in both hands and tapping them downward to make them even. Sonya Tayeh, a two-time Emmy nominee for her choreography for “So You Think You Can Dance?,” arrived in an ankle-length black garment and

“I thought it would be cool to have one, but now I just use it for storage.”

platform shoes. Her black hair was long on top and shaved close on the sides. She read the part that included Graham’s family’s move to Santa Barbara and the fright Graham gave her mother when she skipped rope while standing on a branch of an olive tree. “I have based everything that I have done on the pulsation of life. . . . I am sure that levitation is possible.” Virginia Johnson, a founding member and artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, read about Graham’s achievements in high school—her editorship of the school newspaper, her playing on the basketball team—and the death of her father. That misfortune threw the family into poverty. Midafternoon approached; reader followed reader. Pronunciations were Midwestern, Southern, New Jersey, and British. Meanwhile, Graham grew up, studied with the Denishawn Dance Troupe, in Los Angeles, moved to New York, unwillingly became a dancer with a musical revue to support her family, refused to wear cheesy costumes, quit the musical revue, began to put together her own company, knocked everybody out with a one-night performance of her work on April 18, 1926, in a theatre she had rented with money borrowed from the owner of the old Gotham Book Mart, appeared all over the country, inspired Fanny Brice to parody her, danced for Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House, danced for eight U.S. Presidents, won worldwide fame. The sun’s angle became more aslant. In the room across the street, someone lowered the blinds. Most readers, when they finished, sat through the next reader or two, then tiptoed out. The tactful steps of dancers trying not to disturb were small and beguiling choreographies in themselves. A soft stepstep-step-step, head down, with torso bent; then longer quiet strides in the open, toward the elevator up ahead. “I don’t work from counts. I have a very physical memory. I work from body phrase.” In the late afternoon, when the marathon had reached the final section, Marnie Thomas Wood, a petite, bright-featured woman who had danced in Graham’s company in the fifties, could not resist taking of her shoes, sitting on the floor, crossing her legs, and flopping forward to show how

Graham taught the dancers to draw energy from the ground. “When you sit up from this position and throw your head and arms all the way back, she always told us, it should be as if a spear had pierced your chest,” Wood said. Then she got up and read to the book’s end. Among the final sentences, written when Graham was ninety-six: “What is there for me but to go on?” —Ian Frazier


here’s no shortage of cinematic

T tropes when it comes to the teen-

age boy, be he the geek with a master plan, the evil prepster, the hapless stoner, the alpha jock, or the singing, snapping gang member. “Little Men,” a new film, by Ira Sachs, about best friends torn apart by parents feuding over Brooklyn real estate, would like to add another type to the canon: sensitive, wise, emotionally mature, and fiercely loyal. You know, as teen boys are. The other day, Sachs’s two young stars, Michael Barbieri (fourteen) and Theo Taplitz (thirteen), met up at the Brooklyn Museum, where the movie’s final scenes, involving school field trips, had been shot a year earlier. Taplitz, who has the pallor and vibe of a Victorian-novel protagonist, had just come from Cape Cod. “I got the most sun I think I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. He lives in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles—“but I’m a bit of a vampire.” Barbieri—charismatic, with a “Newsies”-esque accent—had flown in from Atlanta, where he’s shooting “SpiderMan: Homecoming.” He’d had breakfast with his parents, at their apartment in Battery Park. As the teens, both hovering around five and a half feet tall, consulted a museum map, they discussed favorite artists. “Da Vinci—ya know, the classics,” Barbieri said. “Michelangelo.” “I’ve been getting into Turner’s work,” Taplitz said. “It’s just very interesting, atmospheric.”

They set of, swapping stories of how they got into acting. Barbieri began, “Since I was about three, I’ve always been playing baseball.” When he was six, his brother John, sidelined from football, took to the stage; Barbieri followed. Eventually, “I had to give up either baseball or acting.” He concluded, “I made the right choice.” “For me, I started around the second grade,” Taplitz recalled. He was cast in an all-kid stage production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” “I loved creating my own character, layering it in, just figuring out who this guy was.” The role: animal No. 2 (a fruit bat). In an exhibit called “Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn,” Barbieri sidled up to a large wooden sneaker from Ghana. “I’m a big sneakerhead— Foot Locker, Flight Club. Me and my friends, we camp out sometimes. Our interests strictly consist of sneakers, movies, and sports.” He wore a pair of pristine white Jordan Jumpmans. “I call this!” Taplitz said, admiring a nineteenth-century model of the planets. He read the description: “Complex and beautiful scientific instruments . . . ” Upstairs, the boys strolled into the dark room that houses Judy Chicago’s feminist art work “The Dinner Party,” a triangular table set with rather graphically vulvar plates. “Oh, this is the table of the Last Supper,” Barbieri said. Then, a bit nervously, “That’s what I think it is, at least.” They hustled through and headed toward the relative safety of a sportsphotography show, pausing before a grid of Andy Warhol Polaroids. Barbieri rattled of the names of Warhol’s subjects: “That’s Kareem. Gretzky. That’s Muhammad Ali.” Taplitz said, “ This guy ’s O. J. S-s-s—” He squinted, tr ying to remember. “Simpson,” Barbieri said. “I’m just marvelling at you,” Taplitz said, with a little bow. He wasn’t much of a sportsman, he explained. “I do tricking. It’s like back flips and front flips and folds—it’s fancy flips.” The boys were impressed by the Francis Guy painting “Winter Scene in Brooklyn,” from around 1820, which depicts quaint wooden houses and loose livestock.

“This was Brooklyn?” Barbieri said. “It’s sort of like ‘Gangs of New York,’ ” Taplitz said. Barbieri segued to gentrification: “If I was in an apartment building, and let’s say the cabinets are old or the house is getting worn down, and you want to raise the rent? Then I want a new apartment—I want fresh cabinets, I want new paint. Every situation has gotta be a win-win.” “I’m not as well trained as you are, Michael, in these situations,” Taplitz said. Barbieri will start high school at LaGuardia in the fall; Taplitz will enter

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz the eighth grade, in L.A., at Millikan Middle. In “Little Men,” it’s Taplitz’s character, Jake, who goes to LaGuardia. On a class trip to the Brooklyn Museum, he spots his former friend Tony (Barbieri) across the airy BeauxArts Court, in a cluster of schoolmates by a Renaissance painting, “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels.” He overhears Tony ask his peers, “Who you see yourself in outta all these people, who resembles you?” “This is the exact place!” Taplitz exclaimed, as they neared the work. They settled, shoulder to shoulder, on a bench. So, who resembled them? “Guitar,” Barbieri said, pointing to a cherub with an eerily adult face, jamming on a lute. Taplitz deliberated: “The baby to the left, flying high in the sky. He looks like he’s having fun.” —Emma Allen THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



FAMILY FIRST How Donald Trump came to rely on Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. BY LIZZIE WIDDICOMBE

he modern Presidential cam-

T paign may be the world’s most so-

phisticated pop-up operation, a billiondollar multilayered organization that, if it hopes to succeed, must be as technologically sophisticated and responsive as any Silicon Valley unicorn. A campaign includes armies of social-media worker bees, data crunchers, messaging experts, policy advisers, media surrogates, fund-raising chiefs, opporesearch teams, volunteers, and, above all, coolheaded managers, who can formulate a coherent position on Chinese trade policy and a plan for how to get out the vote in Hillsborough County in a lightning storm. Then, there is the Presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, which has followed this formula about as closely as the candidate follows the South Beach Diet. The Republican Party establishment has, if reluctantly, helped sketch the outlines of an organization. The campaign raised eighty million dollars in July; some of Trump’s friends and donors have been tapped to form a team of economic advisers, who include numerous billionaires and men named Steve. But Trump’s “brain trust” is largely the black box of Donald Trump’s real and existing brain. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has hinted at the limitations of his own position. “The candidate is in control of his campaign,” Manafort told Fox News recently. “And I’m in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign.” To Trump’s fans, this is part of his appeal. Politicians can resemble automatons, mouthing the directives of some ofstage Svengali. Trump tweets what he wants to tweet. “I’m speaking 24


with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he has said. Preparation is overrated. Clinton stafers spent months detailing the rhetoric and the attacks that were part of this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Trump said, of the Republican version, “I didn’t produce our show—I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday.”

“The Trump campaign is not a bad campaign,” James Carville, who managed Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, told me. “It’s not a messed-up campaign. It’s not a dysfunctional campaign. There is no campaign.” Carville continued, “Everybody that’s done this for a living and got paid to do it is, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, suppose this works. We’re all rendered useless.’ He will

have destroyed an entire profession.” But the Trump campaign is not without secondary figures. Rather than a Karl Rove or a David Axelrod, his true inner circle seems to be his family, especially his adult children. It’s nothing new for the children of Presidential candidates to lend a hand. George W. and Jeb Bush worked alongside Lee Atwater in their father’s 1988 campaign. Al Gore’s daughters were well-spoken surrogates. The five Romney boys—those square-jawed Mittlets— gave strategic advice to their father. But it’s diferent with Trump, because, as the political historian Julian Zelizer observed recently, the Trump kids “seem at points to be the only people in the room.” For all the goofy charms of Eric (the golf-course expert) and Donald, Jr. (the force behind the unfortunately timed Trump Mortgages, which launched in 2007), Ivanka, who is thirty-four, is Donald’s clear favorite. She lends a veneer of professionalism to the campaign, giving speeches that portray her father, who once told New York, referring to women, “You have to treat ’em like shit,” as a Lean In-style feminist. In early August, Trump, pressed to name a woman he might appoint to his Cabinet, could think of only one: his daughter. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, a thirty-five-year-old real-estate developer, who owns the New York Observer, has become what the Times described as Trump’s “de facto campaign manager.” He has acted as a liaison with dozens of influential figures, including Henry Kissinger, Paul Ryan, Rupert Murdoch, and, until recently, Roger Ailes. Ivanka has counselled Trump on his rhetoric and his policy choices, and Jared was instrumental in the running-mate selection. Ivanka and Jared are an unlikely couple to represent the ticked-of populism that has emerged as Trump’s Presidential theme. Sleek, tall, and patrician, they went to élite schools: he attended Harvard and New York University; she went to Georgetown and Wharton. They live on Park Avenue, where talk of “the wall” refers more rarely to the border with ILLUSTRATION BY PABLO LOBATO

Mexico than to the climbing facility at the local Equinox. In person, they are known for being almost spookily presentable. Ivanka, the more charismatic of the pair, is a master of the thoughtful baby gift, the heartfelt dinner-party toast. Jared, who has a more stilted bearing, is a listener and a helperouter: he volunteers to oiciate at weddings—he’s done two—and performs pro-bono real-estate work for his friends. Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, told me that, when the league was looking for a space for its retail store, “Jared was our unoicial, unpaid adviser.” For young people, Jared and Ivanka’s social circle includes a lot of old people, among them aging media figures such as Barbara Walters, Barry Diller, and Diane von Furstenberg. A friend of Jared’s told me that he’s a bit of a “chameleon”: “He’s really fascinating, in that he is a young, boyishly handsome guy who can act and talk like an old man.” The couple also mix with a younger, aspiring-tech-mogul group, led by Jared’s brother, Josh, who is thirty-one. Josh is a budding venture capitalist, whose company, Thrive Capital, recently raised more than seven hundred million dollars for its third fund. He dates the supermodel Karlie Kloss. Donald Trump rails against the “rigged” political system that keeps people like Hillary Clinton in power. Yet Kushner’s parents have been among the most prominent funders of Democratic politicians on the East Coast. They were the largest donors to Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and, despite the acrimony of the current campaign, Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are close friends of Ivanka and Jared. It is not rare for Republican political figures to play down their suspected liberal tendencies—witness Mitt Romney’s memories of being a varmint hunter. But the harsher notes of the Trump campaign—its openly nativist and racist appeals—have called into question Jared and Ivanka’s motives. The “Mexican” judge, the Muslim ban, the “joke” about killing Hillary Clinton: these incidents have won Trump plenty of fans, but they’ve appalled many people, including those in the social set that Ivanka and Jared inhabit. People in that circle have begun to wonder: Can they really be going along with all of this?

Tensions came to a head when, in early July, a member of Trump’s campaign staf posted on Twitter a picture of Hillary Clinton against a background of hundred-dollar bills; a six-pointed star branded her the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” The image had been circulating on white-supremacist Web sites that target Jews. As it happens, Jared and Ivanka are Jewish. Kushner was brought up in the Modern Orthodox tradition, a strain of Judaism that integrates strict observance of religious law and custom with a life in the secular world. Ivanka converted to Judaism, and the couple’s three children are being brought up in the religion. Dana Schwartz, an entertainment writer at the Observer, wrote for the paper “An Open Letter to Jared Kushner, from One of Your Jewish Employees,” which excoriated Trump for his failure to disavow the illustration as anti-Semitic, and quoted at length the anti-Jewish bile that had been directed at her on Twitter when she criticized him. Then she turned on her boss: You went to Harvard, and hold two graduate degrees. Please do not condescend to me and pretend you don’t understand the imagery of a six-sided star when juxtaposed with money and accusations of inancial dishonesty. I’m asking you, not as a “gotcha” journalist or as a liberal but as a human being: how do you allow this?

In response, Kushner made his first public statement of the campaign, publishing a letter entitled “The Donald Trump I Know.” Citing his background as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Kushner said that the tweet was an innocent mistake. “America faces serious challenges,” he wrote. “A broken economy, terrorism, gaping trade deficits. . . . Intolerance should be added to that list. I’m confident that my fatherin-law . . . will be successful tackling these challenges.” In New York, many people were not convinced. Mark Green, the former New York City Public Advocate, a Democrat whose brother is a prominent realestate developer, said, “When my wife and I saw him on TV, we commiserated with him, assuming that he was embarrassed by his father-in-law’s rants and smears. But that was naïve. He did what in retrospect almost any sonin-law would do in that fraught sit-

uation, which is stick with the family, even at a reputational cost. He’s done it unapologetically.” As for Ivanka, any lingering mystery about her allegiances was cleared up at the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland, where she introduced her father. Smiling and levelheaded, she announced that her advocacy of women’s empowerment and her support of her father were in perfect agreement: “Like many of my fellow-millennials, I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat. More than party ailiation, I vote based on what I believe is right, for my family and for my country. Sometimes it’s a tough choice. That is not the case this time.” “They’re believers,” Reed Cordish, a friend of the couple, said. “They are all in. They have been all in from the get-go, without hesitation.” squat, beige building with tinted

A windows and “Kushner Companies”

on its façade sits just of the Columbia Turnpike, in Florham Park, New Jersey. Not far away are the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, which are named for Jared’s grandparents. Joseph and Rae survived the Holocaust in Poland, married in Budapest before going into a displaced-persons camp, and eventually emigrated, landing in Brooklyn. As a carpenter who spoke little English, Joseph worked on construction sites in New Jersey until he scraped together enough money to develop plots of land with partners, who included another refugee family, the Wilfs. (They were part of a group of survivors known as the Holocaust Builders.) By the time he died, in 1985, he had built some four thousand apartments. The Kushners had two sons and two daughters. Charles, Jared’s father, was the younger son, but, much like Donald Trump, he was his father’s successor. Joseph had been a cautious businessman. Charles, known as Charlie, was a risktaker, unafraid of loans and leverage. In less than ten years, he created his own firm, Kushner Companies, and made it into one of the largest private landlords on the East Coast, with assets worth an estimated billion dollars, and including twenty-two thousand apartments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, commercial THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


properties, an insurance company, and a bank. Charlie Kushner had an outsized presence in New Jersey’s Jewish community. At work, he was meticulous and focussed. He kept his huge desk completely empty and had a closet full of blue and white dress shirts, each hung an inch apart. He was generous, making large donations to charities. “If you met him right now, you’d walk away saying, ‘He’s the most charming, nicest person I’ve ever met,’ ” an associate told me. But Charlie had another side, which former associates describe as “threatening,” “nasty,” and “vindictive.” One former Kushner Companies executive said, “If you pissed him of, it was like somebody gave him drugs. He was like an animal, cursing and foaming at the mouth.” A disciplined man who avoided the press, Kushner was no Trump. But he had Trumpian qualities, such as a tendency to withhold payment from venders like contractors, cleaners, and architects, forcing them to accept a fraction of their fee. The former Kushner Companies executive told me, “Every week we’d have meetings at Charlie’s house, and we’d go through the bills—the larger bills and corporate bills. And he’d sign them, or he’d say, ‘Ofer them forty per cent.’ Or ‘Ofer them fifty per cent.’ ” This was a cost-saving measure, not unheard of among developers. “It was, Why pay someone a hundred per cent when you could pay a lot less?” Charlie and his wife, Seryl, had four children—Dara, Jared, Joshua, and Nicole—whom they reared in the Orthodox Jewish tradition that Seryl grew up in. The family kept kosher and observed Shabbos; the children went to religious schools. Those who did business with Charlie remember that he often brought along young Jared and, later, Josh, both of whom watched their father’s every move. The former New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli told me, “I would often meet with Charlie to spend some social time or discuss some major issue”—Torricelli was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—“and it was not unusual for him to bring Jared simply to listen.” He described Jared as reserved. “He was not necessarily as gregarious as 26


his father,” Torricelli said, “but I think what he got was the same high level of focus.” As with the defense industry and the financial industry, success on a large scale in real estate often depends on government connections. Tax incentives, licenses, and inspections come more easily that way. As Trump has said, explaining his contributions to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns, “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” From 1996 to 2004, Charlie Kushner gave more than $1.4 million to Democratic politicians, including Jon Corzine, Frank Lautenberg, and Charles Schumer. After Clinton won the 2000 Senate race, she made a pilgrimage to the Kushners’ house on the Jersey Shore for Shabbos dinner. In the late nineties, Kushner met James McGreevey, who at the time was the mayor of Woodbridge Township. Kushner began financing his subsequent campaigns, a partnership that culminated in McGreevey’s victory in the 2002 gubernatorial election. A month after the inauguration, McGreevey nominated Kushner to be the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position that would have put the developer in charge of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, controlling billions of dollars in state contracts. It was bad timing: the family had started to unravel. Charlie’s older brother, Murray, filed a lawsuit, accusing him of mismanagement. Then a former Kushner Companies accountant, Bob Yontef, sued, alleging that Charlie’s political and charitable contributions came from company money. Itemized in Yontef ’s complaint is a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousanddollar fee that was paid to Bill Clinton, who spoke at a luncheon for executives of the bank that Kushner Companies owned. The legal actions caught the attention of Chris Christie, a Republican who was then the U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey. He began looking into Kushner’s campaign donations; when the investigation became public, Kushner withdrew himself from consideration for the Port Authority job. Kushner became fu-

rious with his younger sister, Esther Schulder, whom he believed was coöperating with Christie, and, in retaliation, he set a trap for her husband, Billy Schulder, a former Kushner Companies employee whom he resented for having had an afair at the oice. He hired a prostitute, who, posing as a stranded motorist, approached Schulder at the Time to Eat Diner, in Bridgewater. Schulder then met her at the Red Bull Inn, on Route 22, where a camera installed in an alarm clock captured them in a sex act. Kushner mailed images from the tape to his sister, who promptly shared them with federal authorities. Kushner was arrested, and suddenly the whole family was starring in a baroque scandal—part “Peyton Place,” part “The Sopranos.” McGreevey was forced to apologize for his nomination of Kushner. (Months later, he resigned the governorship, following a sex scandal of his own.) Kushner pleaded guilty to eighteen counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations—“crimes of greed, power, and excess,” as Christie put it. Kushner received a two-year prison sentence, and spent eighteen months in a federal penitentiary in Montgomery, Alabama, before being transferred to a halfway house in Newark. Students at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy wore duct tape over their sweatshirts, to hide the family name. ared Kushner describes his faJ ther’s downfall as the defining event

of his life. The man whom he idolized had become a source of humiliation and grief. But he also took Charlie’s view of the crisis: that his father had been a victim. In an interview with the real-estate trade paper the Real Deal, Charlie said, “I don’t believe God and my parents will ever forgive my brother and sister for instigating a criminal investigation and being cheerleaders for the government and putting their brother in jail because of jealousy, hatred and spite.” The jail sentence interrupted Jared’s trajectory. He had attended Harvard, a circumstance that, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Daniel Golden described in “The Price of Admission,” may have been connected to a gift of $2.5 million that his parents pledged to the university, in 1998. According to the

book, Charlie Kushner also asked Frank Lautenberg to persuade his fellowsenator Edward Kennedy to put in a word with William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions. (A Kushner family spokesperson said, “The Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Charitable Foundation has given away more than a hundred million dollars to universities, hospitals, day schools, and charities of all kinds.”) I overlapped with Kushner at Harvard, where he cut a noticeable figure. On a campus full of T-shirts and cargo shorts, he wore dress shirts and jeans from the then trendy label 7 for All Mankind. And he drove a Range Rover around campus. “He didn’t do it with a sense of humor,” one classmate recalled. “He did it, like, ‘I’m fucking rich.’ ” As a freshman, Kushner joined the I.O.P.—the Institute of Politics, where future D.C. types hang out—but he drifted away after a semester, eventually becoming a member of the Fly, a “final” club (Harvard’s version of a fraternity). Still, he was not a party animal. His friend and roommate Nitin Saigal told me, “One of the first times I met him was sitting in Annenberg,” a campus dining hall. “Everyone was goofing around. He was reading Crain’s New York Business.” As a sideline to his classes, Kushner bought buildings in nearby Somerville, converted them into condominiums, and sold them, for a reported profit of more than twenty million dollars. For a college student, Kushner was uncommonly pious and devoted to his family. He called his parents every day. On Fridays, he ate in a kosher dining hall, either Hillel or the Chabad house, which is ailiated with the Lubavitcher Hasidim. At the Fly, new members are subjected to initiation hazing: seniors will demand that they clean a dorm room, or drink warm gin. Kushner encouraged them to come to Shabbat dinner at Chabad. Hirschy Zarchi, the rabbi at Chabad, said, “Can you imagine? New initiates. He said, ‘You have to come and have dinner and be exposed to Jewish ideas.’ ” Saigal said that Jared’s reaction to his father’s downfall, which came after he graduated, with honors, and began pursuing a joint M.B.A. and law degree at N.Y.U., was straightforward: “Head down, focus.” He spent Mondays through

Fridays studying and working at the family business and, on weekends, flew to Alabama to visit his father in prison. At twenty-four, Jared started running Kushner Companies. He pushed to make an audacious move: get out of New Jersey and try to make it in New York. In 2007, soon after Charlie was released, the Kushners bought an oice building, 666 Fifth Avenue, for $1.8 billion, much of it borrowed. It remains the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan. Later that year, the company sold its entire portfolio of rental apartments for roughly the same amount. The market subsequently tanked, and by 2008 the cash flow from 666 Fifth Avenue wasn’t enough to cover its debt service. The Kushners had to sell of the building’s retail space. The 666 deal was a rocky one, but, in many ways, its financial success was beside the point. In the span of a few years, with Jared at the helm, the Kushners had managed a Gatsbyish reinvention—emerging from disgrace in New Jersey as up-and-comers in the glitzier world of Manhattan real estate. Recently, Jared and a group of partners acquired several vast properties in Brooklyn from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for two billion dollars; they are filling them with hip, techie tenants such as Etsy and WeWork. Jared himself had a new profile, owing

in part to another investment. In 2006, while his father was in prison, Jared bought, for ten million dollars, the Observer, a weekly paper founded by the investment banker Arthur Carter, which was known for its curdled take on the New York power élite. (I was an intern there in 2004.) The paper had a tiny circulation, and routinely lost money, but it was devoured by insiders in the industries it covered: media, politics, and real estate. Kushner had a honeymoon period with the paper’s longtime editor, Peter Kaplan, but the partnership grew strained. “They had a tortured, love-hate relationship,” David Michaelis, a friend of Kaplan’s, said. “Peter was always saying to me, it was like asking your son for the car keys.” Kaplan resigned in 2009, and Jared went through a succession of editors; according to several of them, his opinion of the product—the articles themselves—ranged from lack of interest to disdain. One former editor said, “He hates reporters and the press. Viscerally.” But the Observer gave Kushner a kind of access that money alone couldn’t. Soon after buying the paper, he had dinner with Rupert Murdoch, and asked for guidance. Thereafter, the two spoke on the phone several times a week. Bob Sommer, who was president of the Observer Media Group from 2007 to 2009,

“Nobody reads anymore.”

• said that he became accustomed to hearing things like “Here’s Rupert’s business model,” “Rupert does it this way,” “We’re going to turn it into a profitable media business, and Rupert knows how to run a media business.” Kushner and Murdoch became friends, and Murdoch passed on books by such conservative thinkers as Charles Murray and Niall Ferguson. (After Murdoch and Wendi Deng divorced, in 2014, Kushner helped set him up with an architect for his bachelor pad.) The friendship might have had something to do with Kushner’s political awakening: readers of the Observer ’s editorial page noticed a shift, from a Clinton-Cuomo-esque, centrist liberalism to a more conservative view, reminiscent of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. (The Kushner spokesperson said, “Jared is not involved in running the paper day-to-day.”) In turn, a former associate of Murdoch’s told me, “I think Jared’s been the key in getting Rupert to come around to the idea of a Trump Presidency.” These days, the Observer ’s coverage of the rich and powerful includes stories like “21 Young New York Socialites You Should Know,” and the occasional negative article about people whose ties to the Kushners have frayed; targets have included the Wilf family, whom the Observer took to task for having a “broken 28


• moral compass,” and Murray Huberfeld, a former business partner of Charlie Kushner’s, who was recently indicted for bribery. (Huberfeld pleaded not guilty.) Owning the Observer made Kushner an arbiter of status in the city. A former business associate recalled, “I’m sitting in Jared’s oice, and he’s ranking the one hundred most powerful people in real estate. Trump was No. 38. A secretary came in with a Post-it note that said, ‘Donald Trump on line one.’ He looked at it and smiled and said, ‘Tell him I’ll call him back.’ ” n acquaintance of Jared and

A Ivanka’s told me,“Jared, he’s human.

He’s got people he likes and doesn’t like and is plotting and scheming. But Ivanka’s unusual. She’s a little bit like Bill Clinton. She seems to be on message one hundred per cent of the time.” It’s a comparison that Ivanka’s friend Chelsea Clinton has made as well. “She’s always aware of everyone around her and insuring that everyone is enjoying the moment,” Chelsea told Vogue last year. “It’s an awareness that in some ways reminds me of my dad.” Like Chelsea Clinton, Ivanka had an exceptionally public childhood. Her mother is Trump’s first wife, the Czechborn skier and socialite Ivana Trump. The settings of Ivanka’s childhood were

the golden landscapes of the New York tabloids in the late twentieth century: the rococo splendor of Mar-a-Lago, the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate, in Palm Beach, which Trump bought in 1985; a forty-seven-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut; a triplex in Trump Tower, with faux Titian murals and an indoor waterfall. When Ivanka was nine years old, she learned that her parents were divorcing, and a crowd of paparazzi began staking out her afterschool pickups at the Chapin School. The photographers followed her for weeks, and even asked her to weigh in on a headline in the Post, quoting Trump’s girlfriend, Marla Maples: “BEST SEX I’VE EVER HAD!” “You know, the media is vicious, they’re brutal—present company excluded,” she told GQ, in 2007. “It taught me not to trust anyone,” she said. “You can never let your guard down, and I never really have since that time.” In “The Trump Card,” a memoircum-marketing manual published in 2010, Ivanka writes that her father’s divorce made her realize that “I could no longer take him for granted.” A Trump family friend told me, “It’s a close family in many ways—except it’s all about Donald all the time.” He went on, “Donald only thinks of himself. When you say, ‘Donald, it’s raining today,’ he says, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m indoors.’ ” To get on his parental radar, it appears, you had to go to him. When he moved into an apartment ten floors below Ivana and the children, Ivanka developed a new routine: “I now went down to see him every morning before school, and I also started dropping by his oice on my way home in the afternoon.” In an interview with CNN, she told a story about hiding in a janitor’s closet during recess at school, so that she could call her father. “I was probably ten years old and I’d call collect to the Trump Organization,” she said. According to a onetime associate of the Trump family, “If anyone else—even the boys—called, they wouldn’t necessarily be put through.” He added, “He never did not take a call from Ivanka. It was like a standing order.” The time with her father had an efect. The associate said, “I remember returning a call to Donald at home. Ivanka answers the phone.” The man lived in New

Jersey, and he told her about a flyer he’d received in the mail, advertising a suburban boutique called Ivanka’s. Ivanka was exasperated. “She was, like, ‘I told Dad we should copyright my name! I told him!’ She was about fourteen at the time.” At the age of fifteen, Ivanka was sent to boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, and during her first year there she modelled a black leather catsuit by Thierry Mugler at the VH1 Fashion and Music Awards. She moved on to Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, and the cover of Seventeen. She describes her modelling career as an aberration—a way to get some spending money and independence while at boarding school. But, by all accounts, Donald was delighted. He loved when his children were in the press. In 2003, he told Howard Stern, “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her? Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s six feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot of money as a model—a tremendous amount.” But the real way to connect was through Trump’s deeper passion. In 2005, Ivanka joined the Trump Organization, and after five years she became the executive vice-president for acquisitions and development. Friends describe her adjustment to her new career as remarkably smooth. “I can remember being on a weekend with her,” Maggie Cordish, a friend of Ivanka’s, told me. “Everybody was sleeping in. She slipped out. She’d gone to meet her dad on a job site.” Though Trump describes himself as a builder, in recent years he hasn’t been as active as he once was, owing to a string of bankruptcies and failed projects. Much of his income today comes from licensing deals, in which developers pay to put the Trump name on their buildings and have the Trump Organization manage their properties. Ivanka’s task was to expand the franchise: flying to Dubai and Las Vegas to scout out partners, advising on construction, and assisting with marketing and promotion. In this last category, the Trump Organization had a unique asset: “The Apprentice,” a TV show that began airing in 2004, and featured a group of aspiring businesspeople, living communally in Trump Tower. Ivanka joined the show in 2006, and displayed a surprising

talent for firing people. (“I don’t see you fitting in with our company,” she told one male contestant, firmly. “I don’t see you working side by side with me and my father.”) “The Apprentice” was a feat of unparalleled brand-building—which, in Ivanka’s telling, is the point of celebrity. In her book, she writes, “Why buy an ad in a magazine when we can grant an interview to that same publication and possibly land a cover story? That’s the kind of exposure no amount of advertising dollars can buy.” To promote condo projects, Ivanka posed for sexy magazine spreads— Maxim, GQ, even Atlanta Peach—and fielded interview questions about her life. She was central in developing the company’s “brand book,” which is full of Ivanka’s more positive takes on Trump slogans: “Subtlety is not our strength. Indulgence is”; “Never settle.” Over the years, Donald has attempted to leverage the Trump name to promote not just real estate but all manner of consumer products: steaks, wine, bottled water, cologne. (In 2013, he tweeted, “Many people have commented that my fragrance, ‘Success’ is the best scent & lasts the longest.”) Ivanka has pursued this route more efectively. In 2007, she started Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, after Moshe Lax, a young diamond-district merchant, approached her about a realestate deal. She ended up lending her name to his family’s business. She has since become a life-style brand: Ivanka Trump clothing, shoes, and sunglasses sell briskly at department stores like Nordstrom and Dillard’s. In these licensing deals, Ivanka is entitled to only a fraction of the wholesale revenue, typically a little less than ten per cent. And she doesn’t spend her days designing clothes. Instead, she’s in charge of her “master brand,” which is based on her image as a chic working woman. When Ivanka’s not on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower, working alongside her brothers, she’s on the twenty-second floor, with her all-female brand team, running, a site that ofers advice on beauty and parenting, and a series of profiles called #womenwhowork. Her many social-media

accounts provide a gauzy window into her world: handbags, babies, construction sites. But politics are absent. In early August, when cable news channels were awash in coverage of Trump’s suggestion that “Second Amendment people” could do “something” about Hillary Clinton were she to be elected, Ivanka’s Instagram account was discussing workto-evening wear (“From your desk to #datenight in a flash”). It’s a balancing act that’s getting harder to pull of. Michael Stone, the chairman of Beanstalk, a brand consultancy, told me, “She was taking advantage of a name that stood for wealth and luxury and a high style of living. . . . I think the brand, the name Trump, has changed.” and Ivanka were introduced J ared to each other in 2005, by a real-

estate broker, who thought they could do deals together. Jared had previously been with Laura Englander, the daughter of the billionaire hedge-fund manager Israel Englander; Ivanka had dated the socialite Bingo Gubelmann. “They had an instantaneous crush,” Maggie Cordish told me, of Jared and Ivanka. Friends say that Ivanka was wary of the sort of flash she had grown up around. She told Vogue, “It was nice finding someone who is a genuinely good person. I don’t take that for granted. I feel really lucky to have met, like, a great New Jersey boy.” The lingering issue was religion. The Kushners hoped that Jared would marry a Jewish woman. “I know he loved Ivanka dearly,” Jared’s friend Nitin Saigal told me. “But the religious thing was important to him.” Donald Trump is Presbyterian, and Ivanka—who in the documentary “Born Rich” appears wearing a necklace with a silver cross—was not what they’d had in mind. Ivanka, for her part, was hurt that Jared didn’t unequivocally take her side against his parents. In 2008, the couple broke up. Then the hand of fate interceded, in the form of Wendi Deng. According to a story that the couple tells, Deng called Jared and said, “You’re working so hard. Come with Rupert and me on the boat for the weekend.” He arrived on the Murdoch family yacht to find THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


that Ivanka had been invited as well. Jared bought Ivanka a 5.22-carat cushion- cut diamond engagement ring—set by Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry. (They married in 2009.) Ivanka converted to Judaism under the instruction of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, known as K.J., a Modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper East Side. The conversion process is rigorous. It involves extensive study of the Torah, the laws and traditions of Judaism, and a deep commitment to religious observance. It culminates in an appearance before a three-judge religious panel known as a beth din, and a trip to a mikvah, the ritual bath. Ivanka reportedly applied herself diligently to the process, winning Charlie and Seryl over with her devotion. She took the Hebrew name Yael. Ivanka and Jared and their children are shomer Shabbos: they adhere to the laws of the Sabbath. Between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, the couple shut down their phones and computers, and spend time with their children. Ivanka has said that she appreciates the traditional rituals and holidays of Judaism. “I remember the first Purim after they were married, I got invited to Charlie and Seryl’s house in New Jersey,” a friend of the family told me. “The men are speed-reading the Megillah, and the women and Ivanka are serving food and taking food away, and she was in a long dress, dressed extremely conservatively.” The family often spends weekends with Charlie and Seryl in their mansion at the Jersey Shore, and they have a home at the Trump National Golf Club, in Bedminster, New York, where they’re joined by Ivanka’s Czech grandmother. Until recently, Jared and Ivanka’s friends tended to gush about how “normal” they are. Adam Silver told me, of Kushner, “We’ve been to many sporting events together. Mets games. And we took the subway. He loves eating the hot dogs.” he Trump Organization has a

T unique culture. Everyone calls the

boss “Mr. Trump.” Employees often eat lunch at the Trump Grill, in the lobby of Trump Tower, which ofers a dish called Ivanka’s Salad. The higher you get in the company, the more the family and business blur. Michael Cohen, 30


the executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, told the Jewish Chronicle, “To those of us who are close to Mr. Trump, he is more than our boss. He is our patriarch.” It’s not clear that Jared was ever Trump’s vision of an ideal suitor for his daughter—temperamentally, the two men couldn’t be more diferent. But they have reportedly become close, bonding over business. Reed Cordish said, of Kushner, “He’s found it very important to be reachable and accessible.” This quality proved helpful, early in the campaign, when Trump began leaning on Jared for research-related tasks, looking into, say, voter data in Iowa. One day last November, he suggested that Jared join him on his plane, often referred to as Trump Force One, as he travelled to a rally in Springfield, Illinois, where Trump addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand people. He spoke at length, touching on many of the campaign’s central themes: the wall with Mexico, the corruption of “the system.” He asked, “Who do you want negotiating for you?,” and the crowd chanted, “Trump!” Then the candidate did a little role-playing, acting out a negotiation between the “head of Ford” and “President Trump”: Head of Ford: Mr. Trump, this is the head of Ford. President Trump: Are you the one that’s building a plant in Mexico? It’s not a good idea! It’s bad!

The crowd went wild. Kushner was struck by the vast chasm between the received notions in his world—populated by C.E.O.s, media moguls, and the children of the rich—and those of the people in the audience. This new perspective appears to have energized him. He began to derive a certain feeling of righteousness from the idea that, by allying himself with his father-inlaw, he was taking the side of the people. In his letter to Dana Schwartz, in the Observer, he wrote, “I encourage Ms. Schwartz—and all reporters—to get out there and meet some of those people ‘outside their ken.’ ” (Schwartz didn’t appreciate receiving that advice from her billionaire employer. “I’m from Illinois!” she said.) Despite Kushner’s mild-mannered

behavior, friends say that he has a stubborn streak—once he’s made a decision, he tends to dig in. The disapproval heaped on his father-in-law by both liberal and conservative élites, rather than causing him to question himself and his choices, has only hardened his commitment. There is something Murdochian in the way that Kushner seems to be relishing his newfound role as a billionaire outsider, tweaking the more delicate sensibilities that he was once immersed in. Responding to Trump’s left-wing critics, especially in the media, Kushner makes familiar arguments about the reverse intolerance of liberalism, warning, in his Observer letter, about the dangers of political correctness run amok: “If even the slightest infraction against what the speech police have deemed correct speech is instantly shouted down with taunts of ‘racist’ then what is left to condemn the actual racists? What do we call the people who won’t hire minorities or beat others up for their religion?” To conservative critics, Kushner’s argument is diferent: the Cruzes and the Bushes of the world may be skeptical of Trump’s policies and shocked by his outbursts—but they didn’t win. And, in the Trump universe, winning is paramount, as he has repeatedly reminded us. Ivanka appears to take less delight in the campaign; by all accounts, she truly believes in the causes she championed at the Convention—paid family leave, government-subsidized child care. She also believes that the best way to enact them would be in a Trump Administration. According to friends, she disagrees with things her father has said during the campaign, but she prefers to register her complaints in private. Isn’t that how any loyal daughter would behave? To publicly break with one’s father— or father-in-law—isn’t easy. And for Ivanka and Jared it would be more than just awkward. It would be intolerable: viewed as a betrayal, grounds for banishment and reprisal. They would lose their position and their fortunes. Doing so would require acting against their own self-interest, as well as the interest of their families. And that’s not something that they tend to do. 


o the Editors, It is with great shock and humiliation, and depression about the current state of our species, that I find it necessary to write to you today. I never anticipated that I would send such a letter, but now, in the strongest terms, I must protest and declare reprehensible your publication’s decision not to publish my nude photos.

selfies of my own body in its most unguarded, intimate moments. You may cite various reasons for your choice not to release these pictures to the general public: they are poorly lit; the subject is obviously in a motel on a family vacation, with her parents in the next room; the images were not solicited by you; the anatomy displayed is unclear and oc-

magazine articles, and I regularly get Facebook friend requests from people I don’t know, with nonhuman names, whose profiles contain nonsensical text. It’s absurd to use my lack of fame as a reason not to invade my privacy. Indeed, on review, you may see that this is not my first letter to your publication. I have contacted you several times. I have sent hard copies to your oices in New York City. I have put an envelope of enlarged photos under your door with a neon Post-it reading “Confidential: Hot Tip!” I have befriended the mail-room attendant, in the interest of pursuing the long game. At the time of this letter’s writing, I have sent you hundreds of images—

Imagine my surprise and distress when I opened my e-mail and socialmedia accounts on Monday morning to find—instead of salacious remarks about my body, concerned messages from family members and distant acquaintances, nude images sent by strangers emboldened by my choice, and press requests for interviews—only a notification from Verizon Wireless, informing me that I had exceeded my monthly data allowance. Imagine, if you can—though, if you could, you probably would have reconsidered your decision—my deep shame upon visiting your popular gossip Web site that morning to be confronted with an article headlined “Bill O’Reilly Intends to Sue Ex-Wife for Ten Million Dollars,” instead of closeup

casionally upsetting; the viewer can conclude, even without any medical knowledge, that the subject should have worn her orthopedic back brace more often; the subject clearly has a cold. These photographs were taken in a safe space, with the purpose of engaging in consensual, personally fulfilling mass exhibitionism. They are not for you to disregard at will. What has our culture come to, if bodies are considered of limits, private, and not even worthy of notice, rather than regarded as the property of the global digital sphere, people everywhere, and people not yet born, in perpetuity? My relative obscurity should be no excuse. I have published a few short

some playful, some scary, some sad, some outdoorsy, some candid, some taken by a farsighted acquaintance, some holiday themed, some to raise awareness for underfunded but important causes, some with sleeping special guests. Perhaps you could publish a series of nudes, or release them over time, sending out a daily image as part of your morning e-mail briefing. I understand that you may not want to release my sex tape for bandwidth and music-copyright reasons. But, please, if there is some form of nudity that I have not shown you, let me know, and I can accommodate you to the extent that my biology allows. If not, prepare to be contacted by my attorneys in the near future. In their missives, they may be nude.  








THE CHASE How fast can we roll out a Zika vaccine? BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

n a Saturday morning in April

O of 2014, Nenad Macesic, a thirty-

one-year-old doctor-in-training, received an urgent phone call from the emergency room of Austin Hospital, just outside Melbourne, Australia. Lean and taut, with a swirl of dark hair, Macesic resembles an aspiring urban d.j. In fact, by night he spun electronica in clubs around Melbourne; by day he was a fellow in infectious diseases. The call concerned a woman in her late forties who had come to the hospital complaining of a fever, headaches, and an unusual rash. Travel-related illnesses may be an Australian obsession: foreign contagions brought into the country can spread like, well, rabbits. The woman in the E.R. had just returned from the Cook Islands, an



isolated spray of atolls in the South Pacific, where she and her husband had been attending a family funeral. Other people at the funeral had been sick with mysterious fevers, but she hadn’t made much of it. Now that she was home, though, a mild headache had progressed to a full, persistent throb. Migratory pains appeared in her joints, and an angry, blanching rash—the kind that pales when you press it—was now blooming across her torso. When Macesic entered her hospital room, the woman, a textile worker, looked more medically stable than he had expected she would. She spoke in measured sentences, with no sign of confusion or delirium. But Macesic was struck by her strange rash—vivid raised red dots co-

alescing into islands—and the color of her eyes (pink, with streaks of vermillion), which was indicative of conjunctivitis, a symptom of certain viral infections. Was it dengue? Macesic wondered. Dengue—colloquially known as breakbone fever, because of the intense corkscrews of pain that can occur in the bones, muscles, and joints—is caused by a mosquito-borne virus, and was endemic in the Cook Islands. But the woman’s symptoms seemed too mild for dengue: the disease can cause catastrophic drops in white blood cells and platelets, but her blood counts were nearly normal. Could it be chikungunya? Another mosquitotransmitted viral fever, chikungunya can leave its victims with months, or even years, of wracking joint pains. But this woman’s joint pains and swellings weren’t severe. It was as if she had acquired a milder variant of those diseases—a more temperate cousin. And the conjunctivitis was a tipof: neither chikungunya nor dengue is usually accompanied by those blood-tinged eyes. Macesic decided to consult an online reporting system called ProMED, which tracks infectious diseases around the world. Even surfing the site casually takes a fair amount of fortitude: one day this month, there were eleven new reports on the site, including an undiagnosed measles-like disease that killed forty children in rural Myanmar; anthrax outbreaks among deer in Siberia; food poisoning from cyclospora at a Mexican resort; and a form of strep, normally found in horses, that sickened a woman in Washington State and killed her mother. As Macesic went through previous entries in ProMED’s database—malaria in Oman, Lassa fever in Nigeria—he found a cluster of cases in French Polynesia, some six hundred miles east of the Cook Islands, that seemed remarkably similar to the woman’s condition: a dengue-like, mosquito-borne viral syndrome, but with a milder course. Those cases had been attributed to a little-known virus called Zika, a member of a family of RNA viruses that includes dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever. (Zika gets its name from the Ugandan forest where the virus was first found, in a monkey, in the nineteen-forties.) Macesic sent the woman’s blood to a specialized laboratory for viral analysis. The next morning, the woman’s ILLUSTRATION BY EIKO OJALA

husband arrived at the hospital, enveloped in the same difuse, blanching rash. By the end of the week, the woman’s blood test had come back positive for the Zika virus. The husband, however, had no detectable virus in his blood: he had seemingly cleared the infection almost completely. In both cases, Macesic noted, the symptoms had also begun to resolve on their own. He figured that the man and the woman had been bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes. (The sexual transmission of Zika had been described in one prior case report, but Macesic did not know about it.) Macesic wrote the case up as an abstruse curiosity—a medical “quiz”—for an infectious-diseases journal. “The illness is typically mild and self-limited, with resolution over 1 week,” he noted. “In a previous outbreak with 49 confirmed cases of ZIKV, no deaths, hospitalizations, or hemorrhagic complications were reported, but neurological complications . . . have been described.” Medical students are often taught a piece of diagnostic wisdom: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” But this case, a rare illness that closely resembled common ones, was a classic zebra. Macesic didn’t expect to encounter it again—at least, not anytime soon. t was On March 2, 2015, less than a

I year after Macesic had seen the two

Zika cases from the Cook Islands, that health authorities in Brazil notified the World Health Organization about a viral illness, marked by mild fevers and skin rashes, that was moving swiftly through its northeastern states. By the end of April, nearly seven thousand cases had been reported. Health oicials eventually determined that the illness was Zika. One theory, among many, for the virus’s appearance in Brazil is that it arrived in 2013, when Tahiti’s soccer team, and hordes of fans, descended upon the country for the Confederations Cup. Zika travelled to Brazil, then, as viruses prefer to travel these days—on transcontinental airplanes. In mid-July, 2015, there was more disturbing news. Forty-nine cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome—a neurological condition, marked by flaccid paralysis, that can be associated with an aberrant immune response to a virus—were reported in Brazil, echoing a sharp increase

in the syndrome which was noticed in Polynesia during the Zika outbreak there. Zika had also begun to move through Cape Verde and Colombia. Macesic recalled tracking it on ProMED—“following Zika around the globe had become my small addiction,” he told me. “But the most devastating complication, the one that virtually no one had really anticipated, was still to come.” In the late summer, doctors in Brazil noted an unusually large number of babies born with microcephaly. Such babies have smaller heads and shortened foreheads, a result of the inadequate growth of parts of the fetal brain; they can sufer cognitive dysfunction, seizures, developmental delays, and problems with hearing and eyesight. In early November, Brazilian health oicials reported a hundred and forty-one suspected cases of microcephaly. By late January, the number of reported cases skyrocketed to nearly four thousand. Alarmed by this sudden rise—in previous years, the nationwide annual incidence had been estimated at fewer than two hundred cases—epidemiologists began to investigate. Scouring through case reports and histories, they converged on a prime candidate: Zika infection during early pregnancy. In some cases, scientists suspect, the virus crosses the placenta, infects the developing brain, and kills nerve progenitors. For Zika-infected pregnant women, estimates of the risk of birth defects range widely, from one per cent to thirty per cent. “We still don’t understand the factors that contributed to the striking number of congenital birth defects seen during this pandemic,” Eva Harris, a professor at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Public Health who studies dengue, Zika, and other emerging infections, told me. “Possible explanations include the vast number of people infected—a numbers game. There could be other factors, such as the viral strain, the genetics of the host, environmental exposures, or immune-related factors, such as prior dengue infection.” Stevens Rehen, a neurobiologist at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who led one of the first eforts to understand Zika’s propensity to attack human nerve-cell progenitors, wondered whether microcephaly might represent the tip of an

iceberg of deficits. “A group of radiologists in Brazil have noted changes in the brain’s cortex and calcium deposits in the brains of Zika-exposed fetuses,” Rehen says. “It’s hard to know the extent of the consequences—it might take a few more years to determine the long-term efects in Zikainfected infants without microcephaly.” Even the most cautious estimates of harm rise with the incidence of infection. Teams of scientists, including Rehen’s, are hunting for medicines that might work against Zika. And publichealth experts have been dispatched to eradicate reservoirs of breeding mosquitoes. Those eforts might help—but there’s little that can stop an epidemic in its tracks as efectively as a vaccine. first time I thought seri“T he ously about Zika was January,

2016,” Dan Barouch told me. Barouch directs the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. It was a muggy July morning; the sky threatened a downpour, but would not deliver. The corridors of the lab were lined with newspaper pictures of the black-and-white striped mosquito Aedes aegypti, the predominant carrier of Zika. Signs outside one of the laboratory doors read “Zika Work Ongoing” and “No Food or Chewing Gum.” On a whiteboard, someone had scribbled a cartoon version of a virus: a blob with spikes sticking out, like a hundred antennae. “If you had come to the lab back then, there would have been no mosquito pictures, and no mention of Zika,” Barouch said. “No one was working on Zika, and barely anyone had even heard of it. I’m board-certified in infectious diseases and I’ve worked in virology for more than a dozen years, but I had never seen Zika mentioned outside a textbook.” It was, he said, “like watching a stampede of zebras.” When Barouch heard about the cases being reported in Brazil, he began to search through GenBank, a public database of genetic sequences, and found the sequences of four Zika strains. “The first thing that struck me was the genetic similarity between the strains,” he recalled. For Barouch, who has spent nearly a decade trying to develop an H.I.V.



vaccine, the contrast between Zika and H.I.V. was particularly illuminating. “If you look at H.I.V. sequences, there’s enormous variability between one strain and the next,” he said. “In one infected person, some subpopulation of the virus might be changing every day.” H.I.V. is also designed to thwart an immune response; the virus integrates itself into the genome and kills the very immune cells that threaten it. The Zika virus seemed a much more tractable target. For one thing, it didn’t seem to mutate that much. “That was the first good sign,” Barouch said. And when he read the medical-journal articles about Zika—“I must have found Macesic’s Cook Islands case reports that afternoon”—he learned that the patients cleared the virus and recovered fully on their own, which was another positive sign. The fact that patients developed natural immunity to the virus suggested that if a person’s immunity could be boosted prior to exposure it should be able to resist infection in the first place. In Bethesda, Maryland, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was also struck by these two features of the virus, and by the rapidity of its spread. By December, 2015, Fauci had already assembled a group of researchers at his institute’s Vaccine Research Center to discuss a Zika strategy. The team included John Mascola, the V.R.C.’s director, a handful of virologists, and other scientists in the institute who had spent years working on a dengue

vaccine. “We’ve made incredibly successful vaccines for yellow fever, and for some strains of dengue,” Fauci told me. “Conceptually, there was no reason that a vaccine for Zika would not work.” s news of a looming Zika epidemic

A swept through the media this win-

ter, Barouch approached Peter Abbink and Rafael Larocca, two researchers in his lab. Abbink, who came from Leiden, in the Netherlands, is the lab’s virology expert. Larocca, stocky and afable, with close-cropped hair, is Brazilian; his country’s flag, in yellow, green, and blue, is tacked above his lab bench. He had come to Barouch’s lab to study H.I.V., but was looking for a new project. Barouch had one for both of them. That same day, Larocca e-mailed two colleagues at the University of São Paulo, who had isolated Zika virus from the blood of infected patients, used mosquito cells to grow the virus in their lab, and then injected the virus into mice to re-create the infection. As with humans, the infection in pregnant mice had caused microcephaly and growth retardation in their fetuses. The pups had small brains with dying neurons chock-full of the virus; their developing retinas had involuted and shrunk into small gray nubs. “The Brazilian scientists were immediately interested in collaborating with us on vaccine development,” Barouch said. In early February, a vial of frozen Zika virus was shipped from São Paulo to Boston. Abbink thawed the virus and figured out how to coax it to grow in

“I’ll need you to sign this binding agreement acknowledging that you said no, you didn’t want any dessert, and that you give up all claim to mine.”

monkey-kidney cells. Then Larocca injected the virus into mice. One mouse strain, the researchers found, was particularly susceptible to infection. Using molecular tools, Larocca and Abbink could track the precise dynamics of the infection in the mice—the proliferation of the virus, the rise of immune factors targeting it, and the eventual clearing of the infection. It was a simple but pivotal breakthrough: they had created an animal model of Zika infection with which to test a pilot vaccine. vaccine is an immunological bait-

A and-switch: you rouse the immune

system with something that elicits immunity but does not cause disease. A weakened virus, an inactivated virus, a viral protein, or even something that simply shares a distinctive marker with the virus can be used. The immune system is provoked by the agent and retains a memory of it; when the real pathogen tries to establish an infection, it is swamped by the pre-roused immune system. But which method would work best against Zika? It was a strategic decision as much as a scientific one. One option was to use a weakened, or attenuated, form of the virus to make a vaccine. By growing the pathogen repeatedly in chicken eggs, say, technicians can make it less virulent in humans. But the process can take months, even years—far from ideal while in the throes of an epidemic. Inactivating the virus can be a faster process. The virus loses its capacity to infect but still elicits a specific immune response. That response is sometimes less robust than the one provoked by the attenuated virus—hence the agonizing modern ritual of dragging children to get booster shots for some vaccines— but the method has been used to make vaccines for decades. Barouch and Fauci were also drawn to a newer approach. For more than a decade, vaccine researchers have known that injecting a viral gene into an animal can elicit an immune response. Whole viruses, or their embalmed remnants, aren’t needed; here, the inoculum consists of a piece of DNA that encodes a gene or genes from the virus, and pieces of genetic machinery that turn on those viral genes in animal cells. The cells in the vicinity of the injection

take up the DNA, and begin to synthesize proteins associated with the virus. The immune system mounts a response to these antigens. “Naked DNA” vaccination, as this method is called, has pros and cons. On the one hand, naked DNA is easy to produce in the lab: various genetic parts of a virus can be cloned and tested in animal models to identify the components that provoke the strongest response. But would it be strong enough? “There’s a suspicion that it might be less immunogenic than whole inactivated virus,” Barouch concedes. A more significant problem has to do with scale. Viruses are, as it were, designed to go viral. One virus replicates to create a hundred viruses— the infection propagates more infection—and an exponential expansion ensues. This growth can be crucial in producing adequate amounts of vaccine for an epidemic in which one human carrier might infect a hundred others. The naked-DNA inoculum, by contrast, is usually produced in bacterial cultures; it’s technically challenging to create the material in the necessary quantities. Despite these diiculties, Barouch saw the promise of the naked-DNA technique. If it could be perfected, dozens of vaccine candidates for dozens of pathogens could be tested without having to grow buckets of those pathogens in labs. The scale-up issues would still need solving, but the painstaking, often artisanal process of growing viruses in tissue culture or in eggs— the tedium of isolation and decontamination, gowns, masks, face shields, doubled-up gloves—would be vastly diminished. If the naked-DNA vaccine works against Zika—“the big if,” as Barouch puts it—it will have a transformative impact not just on this epidemic but on vaccine technologies in general. “It would be a game-changer for vaccinology,” Colonel Stephen Thomas, an infectious-diseases physician and a vaccinologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), in Silver Spring, Maryland, said. “Perhaps the efort to create a Zika vaccine is where the DNA vaccine will demonstrate its potential.” At least one trial involving a DNA-based vaccine for H.I.V.—a far more diicult target—failed to show a benefit. And although a DNA vaccine for West Nile virus has been used suc-

cessfully in horses, no DNA vaccine has so far been licensed for human use. “DNA vaccines may be the vaccines of the future,” Barouch said, “but they haven’t had much of a track record in clinical medicine so far.” Given the uncertainties, he wanted to compare both old-school and new-school vaccines, head-to-head, using the mouse model for Zika infection. n the third week of March, as the

I epidemic barrelled ahead in South

America, and the C.D.C. was warning pregnant women against travelling to the Rio Olympics, Barouch called Nelson Michael, a physician-scientist and, like Thomas, a colonel in the U.S. Army. A military scientist with steel-gray hair who swaps his lab coat for a blue uniform at oicial functions, Michael works at wrair, and is one of the world’s foremost authorities on vaccination. He had collaborated with Barouch in the past— they share a long-standing interest in the development of H.I.V. vaccines— but this was the first time they had spoken about the Brazilian epidemic. “Have you guys been working on Zika?” Barouch asked. Michael was on his cell phone in his car, and he pulled into a parking lot. “Every day,” he replied. By early January, working with Thomas, Michael’s group had acquired a Zika strain from Puerto Rico and started growing the virus in the lab. He planned to use the tried-and-true method of inactivation to make a vaccine. Tried-and-true doesn’t mean straightforward. The inactivation of a virus is as much a culinary exercise as a chemical one. If you “overcook the virus,” Michael says, “you can damage it to the point that there’s no resemblance to the original, and the immune response becomes useless to combat the native virus.” The “cooking” process consists of growing the virus in cells using enormous roller bottles. The liquid containing the virus— more than five gallons of it—is then purified on long glass columns packed with filtering resin. Formaldehyde—the mortuary chemical—is added to preserve the virus’s structural components but destroy its capacity to infect cells and reproduce. (Heat or radiation can also be used.) The formaldehyde is then removed, and the inactivated virus is packaged in rubbertopped glass vials, ready for inoculation.

Every batch must be tested and retested to confirm complete inactivation: even the barest trace of an active virus in a vaccine might unleash an infection in a vaccine recipient. Barouch asked Michael whether he would consider collaborating. “We have an animal model to test the vaccine, and we can start testing it anytime,” Barouch told him. By the time Michael got out of his car, the deal was essentially done. “It took just one phone call,” Michael recalled, still sounding amazed. “That was the sense of urgency in the field.” Before long, the first batch of inactivated virus was shipped from the Walter Reed Institute to Barouch’s lab. Diferent labs have mastery of diferent techniques. The Walter Reed group had perfected the art of viral inactivation. In Boston, meanwhile, Barouch’s team had deftly used gene-engineering methods to stitch together the nakedDNA vaccine. “By April, all the critical pieces to start the real vaccination experiments had been assembled,” Barouch recalled. “We had the virus, the mouse model, and two vaccines to test.” arouch’s and Michael’s teams

B were now racing forward with their

Zika project. “It became a major focus for all of us,” Barouch said. A frenetic energy took over the lab: postdoctoral researchers and graduate students stayed late into the evening, wolfing down takeout dinners and shuttling samples between the centrifuges and incubators. The vaccination experiments were launched in early April. Larocca immunized the mice with a “sham” shot, the naked-DNA vaccine, or the inactivatedvirus vaccine. They waited for four weeks for the inoculum to generate an immune response. Then Abbink—gloved and gowned, draped in a sterile blue smock in the isolation room—prepared the socalled challenge virus, which had been kept in tissue-culture flasks brimming with red broth, and they injected the mice with the virus. In all the sham-treated mice, the viral load spiked—by tenfold, a hundredfold, and, finally, more than a millionfold in some animals. In the mice that were given either the naked-DNA or the inactivated-virus vaccine, there was no sign of infection. “The viral load was a flat line,” Barouch said. Larocca told me,



“We had expected a vaccine response, but not this kind of vaccine response.” On May 30th, after confirming that antibodies were responsible for the protective efects, the team sent a manuscript describing the findings to the journal Nature. It was speedily reviewed by experts and accepted less than a month later. The mouse experiments were a run-up to monkey experiments. In late April, a group of macaque monkeys was inoculated with three vaccine candidates: naked DNA, the inactivated virus from Nelson Michael’s lab, and a third, “viral vector” vaccine, derived from a cold-causing virus that had been engineered in Barouch’s lab to express a Zika gene. Other monkeys were merely given a sham shot. As with the mice, the inoculated monkeys developed immunity: all three vaccines protected completely against infection. Barouch’s team tested the body fluids of monkeys that received the inactivated virus. While the shamtreated monkeys exuded virus into their blood, urine, brain fluids, saliva, and vaginal secretions, these inoculated animals had no measurable levels of the virus anywhere. Barouch submitted a paper on the results to Science, which reviewed and accepted it in just seven days, the fastest publishing turnaround in Barouch’s career. It’s hard to convey the magnitude of what Barouch’s and Michael’s teams had managed to do—take a little-known virus and develop an investigational vaccine in a hundred and eighty days. The early-phase development of most vaccines, Michael estimates, can take between four and six years. When Barouch and Michael talk about speed, they bring up their years of H.I.V. research. Mouse models, monkey models, vaccine strategies, the molecular tools to track viral loads: every technical element in the work toward a Zika vaccine had been tweaked and tested on the long road to developing an H.I.V. vaccine. As Michael put it, “The playbook was there. The players were there. Teams were formed. We just turned to a new enemy.” Both Barouch and Michael are enthusiastic but cautious about human trials. “The most powerful thing about our 36


studies is not that we developed a vaccine,” Barouch says, “but that we’ve demonstrated that vaccination is feasible.” Vaccines that look promising in lab experiments can certainly fail in the field. The inoculum may not stimulate enough immunity to resist the viral challenge. The virus may mutate and become resistant. Or the vaccine can turn out to have unexpected side efects. For Zika, that’s a particularly ominous consideration. In the case of dengue, Zika’s distant cousin, there’s some evidence— debated among virologists—that immunization against one strain might increase the severity of disease with another strain. Other studies have suggested that antibodies to some strains of dengue might cross-react with Zika proteins, promoting Zika immunity in dengue-exposed patients. How a Zika vaccine might perform in areas with endemic dengue, or chikungunya, remains an open question. “The most conclusive way to find out,” Michael said, “is to challenge animal models with these viruses, but to also test a pilot vaccine in a real trial in the field.” s Barouch and Michael contin-

A ued their experiments on animal

models, NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center was experimenting with its own candidate for a naked-DNA vaccine. “These were powerful studies, carried out with intense precision and intense speed,” Fauci said, “and they give us a strong hint that there’s a real possibility that we might develop a Zika vaccine.” But the next steps were the most critical: testing the vaccine in humans. The V.R.C.’s human trials began on August 2nd. At the N.I.H. Clinical Center, in Bethesda, Mascola and Fauci watched a volunteer— a twenty-nine-year-old woman—receive the first dose of the DNA inoculum. During the Phase I study, eighty volunteers will be given the DNA vaccine so that its safety can be assessed and their immune responses can be monitored over time. Fauci estimates that the V.R.C.’s Phase I study will cost around four million dollars, and will be completed by December. There are several other vaccine candidates in contention. A Pennsylvania-

based biotech company, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, has also developed a DNAbased vaccine candidate. Inovio hopes to “enhance the uptake of the DNA vaccine by cells,” as Joseph Kim, its C.E.O., put it, thereby triggering a more potent immune response. By October of this year, meanwhile, the Walter Reed Institute will launch a parallel efort to test the inactivated virus in human patients, in collaboration with niaid, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “In early 2017,” Fauci says, “we will transition straight into the Phase II studies”—controlled trials to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, which will enroll between twenty-four hundred and five thousand subjects. These studies, which may involve DNA vaccines, inactivated viruses, or other candidates, will cost about a hundred and fifty million dollars, and will answer the critical question of whether these vaccines actually work. If those trials go as predicted—if every step goes exactly as planned—the first Zika vaccines may be ready in early 2018 or soon afterward. Fauci is frustrated that Congress still hasn’t authorized emergency funds for the Zika efort. (President Obama requested $1.9 billion in February.) “We have had to borrow money from other accounts to get our work started,” Fauci said. “If we don’t receive the requested appropriations very soon, this will slow down the important preparations for the Phase II trial.” Yet, even if a vaccine is shown to be safe and efective, there’s the pressing question of how to scale up production. Swerving the course of an epidemic might take as many as tens of millions of vaccinations, even hundreds of millions. Nelson Michael and his team have signed an agreement with Sanofi Pasteur to produce enough inactivated virus for human vaccine trials. “We need an experienced company that can produce inactivated virus in quantity to the F.D.A.’s specifications,” Michael said. “It isn’t easy to produce.” The DNA-based formulations face particular hurdles here. “We’re growing bacteria in five-hundred-litre vats at our facility in Houston, Texas,” Joseph Kim, of Inovio, says. One litre of such a culture, he estimates, would yield enough

DNA for about twenty-five to fifty vaccines. (Under standard lab conditions, the yield is about a tenth as much.) Ten million inoculations, then, would require at least a swimming pool’s worth of bacteria—achievable, but a formidable challenge. “There are yet other ways of making vaccines that haven’t even entered the picture here,” Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University infectious-disease expert, told me. “You can make a vaccine by making a viral protein in yeast or insect cells.” Indeed, a host of biological techniques might be tried—but all of these have significant ramp-up times. “It’s hard to test all of these in parallel in the midst of an epidemic,” Lipkin said.

“ You don’t give up a spot like that.”

s it possible that Zika will burn it-

I self out, like a short, hot fuse, before

a vaccine can be developed? Natural immunity can actually thwart vaccine development. How do you prove the benefit of a vaccine in a population where most people have become naturally immune through viral infection? (Such a scenario would come at a terrible human cost: thousands of babies born with neurological damage, among other complications.) The successful containment of an epidemic—a public-health triumph— would likewise impede vaccine development. Again, without a cohort of men and women who might acquire an infection, it’s impossible to assess whether the vaccine works. “Not everyone appreciates how complex it is to identify and develop potential vaccine testing sites,” Stephen Thomas said. “In an animal trial, you can create conditions of experimental infection. But a human trial depends on the occurrence of natural infection.” Fauci notes, “That’s what happened with Ebola. Containment halted the spread of the infection—a great thing—but it made it diicult to test the vaccine.” There’s a strange quandary, then, for the development of certain vaccines. Too fast an epidemic, and a vaccine may become untestable (prospective trial subjects are already exposed and therefore immune, obviating the need for a vaccine). Too slow an epidemic, and the vaccine becomes untestable again (prospective trial subjects aren’t exposed to the viral infection at a significant rate, so a vaccine’s benefits can’t be demonstrated). Dan Barouch doesn’t foresee any such

issues with Zika, though. Containment would be diicult: patients often develop only transient, mild symptoms, if they have symptoms at all, and many may not even know that they are carrying the virus, making it impossible to identify and isolate carriers. Nor has it been easy to combat mosquitoes in endemic zones, although a genetically modified strain, designed to produce sterile ofspring, has just been released in Florida and may prove helpful. The rapid burnout of the epidemic is also unlikely: Zika is just beginning to reach parts of the world, including the United States, where there is no natural immunity. n the fall of 2015, Nenad Macesic

I moved to Columbia University, as a

fellow in infectious diseases. Zika migrated as well. This May, Macesic had his third encounter with the virus: a woman in her fifties with the same blanching rash that he recalled so vividly from the Cook Islands cases. She had just returned to New York from a visit to the Dominican Republic. Her sister, the woman explained, had also had a fever and a rash, then had become weak and progressively paralyzed; she was still in an intensive-care unit, likely sufering from Zika-associated Guillain-Barré syndrome. Macesic had the woman’s blood tested for Zika. The test was positive. “When I wrote my medical quiz in 2014, I had not imagined seeing another case of Zika for quite a while, but here it was again,” he told me. But the stakes had changed. Macesic

is the rare doctor who has witnessed Zika morph from an illness smoldering in a far-flung Pacific island to an international medical crisis. On a recent afternoon, when I met him at his oice at Columbia, he recalled the last paragraph of his 2014 article. “It’s funny, but that paragraph has turned out to be prescient,” he said. Zika virus, he had written, “is an emerging pathogen, and may have the potential to cause endemic transmission. . . . Further study is needed to understand the more rare complications of ZIKV and its propensity to cause future outbreaks.” That morning, there were news reports of ten Zika cases in Florida that may have been transmitted by local mosquitoes. (Prior cases in the United States had been reported in travellers, or in people who had bodily contact with Zikainfected patients.) “The transmission of Zika through mosquitoes is worrisome,” Macesic said, “because it suggests the potential of an outbreak in parts of America.” On a computer screen, a video recapitulated the movement of Zika throughout the world. It was like watching an already swift-moving epidemic on fast-forward. As the clock at the bottom of the screen ticked from 2015 to 2016 in the course of a few minutes, a series of crimson dots appeared on a map. Macesic pursed his lips as he looked at the advancing front of the infection. Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the southern edges of the United States—the screen was soon pockmarked by a rash of dots.  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



JUSTICE DELAYED Bryan Stevenson has saved hundreds on death row from execution. Now he has another project. BY JEFFREY TOOBIN

n 1989, a twenty-nine-year-old African-American civil-rights lawyer named Bryan Stevenson moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and founded an organization that became the Equal Justice Initiative. It guarantees legal representation to every inmate on the state’s death row. Over the decades, it has handled hundreds of capital cases, and has spared a hundred and twenty-five ofenders from execution. In recent years, Stevenson has also argued the appeals of prisoners around the country who were convicted of various crimes as juveniles and given long sentences or life in prison. One was Joe Sullivan, who was thirteen when he was charged in a sexual battery in Pensacola, Florida. Sullivan’s original trial, in 1989, established that he and two older boys had burglarized the home of a woman named Lena Bruner on a morning when no one was there. That afternoon, Bruner was sexually assaulted in the home by someone whose face she never saw. The older boys implicated Sullivan, and he was convicted. They served brief sentences. Sullivan was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. In 2005, the Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, a landmark ruling that held that states could no longer execute ofenders who had committed their crimes before the age of eighteen. At the time, the Equal Justice Initiative had several clients in Alabama who had been charged when they were teen-agers and were now exempt from execution. To inform them of the ruling, Stevenson went to death row at the Holman Correctional Facility. He described his visit to me as we sat in his windowless oice at E.J.I.’s headquarters, a converted warehouse in downtown Montgomery. “When I went down and started talking to the guys and said, ‘I’ve got




great news, they’re not going to execute,’ it wasn’t, like, joy, because they were all still quite young,” Stevenson recalled. “It was just another kind of death sentence. ‘Oh, seventy more years in prison.’ ” But Stevenson saw an opportunity in the Roper ruling. “The Court was saying, in a categorical way, ‘Look, children are fundamentally diferent from adults.’ ” If the Supreme Court ruled that children were too immature to be sentenced to death, Stevenson reasoned, then they shouldn’t be sentenced to life, either. In order to push for an extension of Roper, he needed to find a test case. He began a nationwide search for inmates who had been convicted of crimes as juveniles and sentenced to life without parole. Joe Sullivan is forty now, and he lives in the Graceville Correctional Facility, a privately run prison in a remote part of northern Florida. His speech is halting and slurred, owing to a long-standing mental disability and to multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed more than twenty years ago. “I didn’t do nothing,” Sullivan told me. “I was just with the wrong people at the wrong time. They said I’m the mastermind to everything. They said I did a sexual battery. I couldn’t spell ‘sex’ in those days.” On November 9, 2009, Stevenson stood before the nine Justices of the Supreme Court and began, “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: Joe Sullivan was thirteen years of age when he was arrested with two older boys, one fifteen and one seventeen, charged with sexual assault, ultimately convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. Joe is one of only two children this age who have ever been sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide, and no child has received this sentence for non-homicide

in the last eighteen years.” The Justices dismissed Sullivan’s case on procedural grounds, but in a companion case, argued earlier that day, they had embraced Stevenson’s argument: juveniles in non-homicides could not be sentenced to life. After the decision, Stevenson took Sullivan’s case back to the Florida trial court for resentencing. In light of Sullivan’s record in prison, the Florida Department of Corrections informed him that he would be released on June 30, 2014. Sullivan had had a rough time in custody. As a young teen in an adult state prison, he had been the victim of numerous sexual assaults. His current prison was not a violent place, Sullivan told me, but his M.S. had got much worse. “As he became someone who couldn’t walk, and needed a wheelchair, the state was terrible in recognizing his needs,” Stevenson said. “He was basically in a dorm where he was forced to walk places. This caused mini seizures, which will leave him more impaired.” Sullivan had had only sporadic contact with his family over the years, and his only visitors came from E.J.I. In anticipation of his release, Stevenson rented a wheelchair-accessible apartment for Sullivan just outside Montgomery. “Mr. Bryan, he’s like my father,” Sullivan told me. “He gave me a lot of hope.” Three weeks before Sullivan’s scheduled release, he received a notice from the Department of Corrections stating that his release date had been miscalculated. The correct date was December, 2019—more than five years later. Stevenson has gone back to court to challenge the department’s determination, but Sullivan remains incarcerated. (State oicials have declined to comment.) “It’s been very frustrating,” Stevenson said. “We were just all set. Joe sent me a Father’s Day card. It

Stevenson’s Memorial for Peace and Justice will commemorate some four thousand lynching victims in twelve states. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN PFLUGER



breaks your heart.” Sullivan remains hopeful. “I say, ‘PUSH yourself every day,’ ” he told me. “PUSH—Pray Until Something Happens.” as the Sullivan case a success

W or a failure? It was, in one sense,

a great victory, because Sullivan, who was facing the prospect of dying in prison, will now be released at some point. But, almost three decades after he was incarcerated, he remains in prison, in a wheelchair. Of course, Stevenson has experienced grimmer disappointments in his career as a death-row lawyer. Stephen Bright, the president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, told me, “Many people do this work only for a period of time. It’s a very brutal practice. Your clients get killed.” Stevenson and his colleagues have managed to slow, but not stop, the death-penalty machinery in Alabama—an enormous challenge in view of the state’s conservative and racially polarized politics. Alabama has an elected judiciary, and candidates compete to be seen as the toughest on crime. It’s also the only death-penalty state in which judges routinely overrule juries that vote against imposing death sentences. (In their campaigns, judges boast about the number of death sentences they’ve imposed.) Alabama’s population is about twenty-seven-percent African-American. The nineteen appellate judges who review death sentences, including all the justices on the state Supreme Court, are white and Republican. Forty-one of the state’s forty-two elected district attorneys are white, and most are Republican. The state imposes death sentences at the highest rate in the nation, but the Equal Justice Initiative has limited the number of executions to twenty-two in the past decade, and there has been only one in the past three years. “It’s just intensive caseby-case litigation,” Stevenson told me. “We’ve gone more aggressively than anyone in the country on racial bias against African-Americans in jury selection. We have extensive litigation 40


on the lethal-injection protocols. We identify inadmissible evidence. We push hard on every issue.” But Stevenson, who is fifty-six, has come to believe that the defense of people enmeshed in the criminaljustice system, while indispensable, is an inadequate response to the deeper flaws in American society. He served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and he has been an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement. The recent police shootings of AfricanAmerican men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and outside St. Paul, Minnesota, have increased his pessimism. “These police shootings are symptoms of a larger disease,” he told me. “Our society applies a presumption of dangerousness and guilt to young black men, and that’s what leads to wrongful arrests and wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences, not just wrongful shootings. There’s no question that we have a long history of seeing people through this lens of racial diference. It’s a direct line from slavery to the treatment of black suspects today, and we need to acknowledge the shamefulness of that history.” After a TED talk in 2012, called “We Need to Talk About Injustice,” Stevenson is said to have received the longest standing ovation of any speaker, and the talk has been viewed more than five million times on the Internet; it raised a million dollars for his organization, and propelled a deathrow lawyer into a public figure. His 2014 memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” spent years on best-seller lists. He is in constant demand as a lecturer across the country, and he’s booked for commencement addresses years in advance. As a longtime resident of Montgomery, he often thinks about Rosa Parks, whose refusal to sit at the back of a local bus in 1955 set of the modern era of the civil-rights movement. “We have reduced her activism to this celebratory tale—‘It was all great,’ ” he told me. “Here’s what most people don’t know. After the boycott was

declared oicially over, and black people were sitting on the buses, there was unbelievable violence. There were a dozen people who were shot standing waiting on buses. We had white people going around Montgomery shooting black people who dared to get on the buses.” For a time after the boycott, the city shut down bus service altogether. And then, to make way for the I-85 highway, the local authorities, led by a state transportation commissioner who was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, bulldozed the city’s major middle-class black neighborhood. Stevenson believes that too little attention has been paid to the hostility of whites to the civil-rights movement. “Where did all of those people go?” he said. “They had power in 1965. They voted against the Voting Rights Act, they voted against the Civil Rights Act, they were still here in 1970 and 1975 and 1980. And there was never a time when people said, ‘Oh, you know that thing about segregation forever? Oh, we were wrong. We made a mistake. That was not good.’ They never said that. And it just shifted. So they stopped saying ‘Segregation forever,’ and they said, ‘Lock them up and throw away the key.’ ” That dark view of American history may explain a passage in “Just Mercy,” in which Stevenson describes a failed attempt to stop the 2009 execution of a forty-nine-year-old client named Jimmy Dill, who had severe mental impairments. He had wounded a man during a botched drug deal in 1988. Months later, as the victim was recovering, his wife, who had been caring for him, left him, and his health deteriorated. He eventually died, and Dill was resentenced for murder. Dill’s mental impairments might well have entitled him to a reprieve from the death penalty, but he couldn’t aford lawyers, and missed various procedural deadlines for appeals. When Stevenson took the case, a few weeks before the execution, it was too late. “After working for more than twentyfive years,” Stevenson wrote, “I understood that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary or

important. I don’t do it because I have no choice. I do what I do because I’m broken, too.” he family of Stevenson’s mother,

T Alice Golden, like that of mil-

lions of other African-Americans, took part in the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North in the early twentieth century. They went from Virginia to Philadelphia, where Alice was born. She later reversed the customary trajectory when she married Howard Stevenson, in 1957, and went south with him, a little more than a hundred miles, to his home town of Milton, in rural Delaware. They had three children: Howard, Bryan, and Christy. “You have to understand that there are two Delawares,” Howard Stevenson told me. “The north, around Wilmington, is basically part of the North, but we lived in the south, which was part of the South. It was very rural, very country. We lived basically in the woods, farm country. We lived next door to my uncle and aunt, and he used to slaughter hogs.” Their mother never forgot her roots in Philadelphia. “She didn’t want us to grow up with a southern-Delaware frame of mind,” Howard said. “She did all she could to make sure we never forgot the rest of the world. There were places around us with no running water, so Philly was the gateway to the rest of the world.” Alice Stevenson placed a heavy emphasis on education; Christmas presents were microscopes, not footballs. She also had strong views on racial equality. “Some of the black folks in southern Delaware were much more deferential in the face of white people,” Howard said. “Her style was diferent. She didn’t believe in accepting any kind of racism.” Once, when Bryan was in first grade, she wrote a letter to the town newspaper calling for the integration of the local public schools. Another time, a few years later, she protested when the town’s publichealth oicers asked the black children to stand at the back of the line to receive their polio vaccines. “She made such an issue of it that for a moment we weren’t sure if they’d even give us our shots,” Bryan recalls.

In the sixties, when the Stevenson children were growing up, the neighborhoods, schools, and swimming pools of southern Delaware were all segregated, in fact if not by law. “There was never a time you could get the majority of people in Alabama or Mississippi, or even southern Delaware, to vote to end segregation,” Bryan told me. “What changed things was the rule of law, the courts. Brown v. Board of Education was ushered in by a movement, but it was a legal decision. And so, for me, I went down the law path, because to be a politician trying to do anti-discrimination work meant you had to work in a handful of communities that were basically majority black.” The jurisdiction of the courts applied everywhere. Both of Bryan’s parents had long commutes to jobs in the northern part of the state. Alice Stevenson had a civilian post at Dover Air Force Base and became what would later be called an equal-opportunity oicer, working to insure that African-Americans received fair housing and education. Albert Stevenson was a lab technician at a General Foods plant in Dover. “We believed that our dad thought he could feed us completely based on what he snuck home from G.F.,” Bryan told me. “I’ve avoided Jell-O since I was ten.” The Stevenson children absorbed their mother’s lessons. Howard Stevenson is a professor of urban education and Africana studies at the

University of Pennsylvania; Christy, the youngest of the three children, teaches music at an elementary school in Delaware. Bryan followed Howard to Eastern College, a small Baptist-ailiated school outside Philadelphia, where he majored in history and philosophy. Then he applied to Harvard Law School, which turned out to be a disappointment. “The courses seemed esoteric and disconnected from the race and poverty issues that had motivated me to consider the law in the first place,” he wrote in his memoir. But as a second-year student, in December, 1983, he took a monthlong internship at what was then called the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, in Atlanta. Stephen Bright, the organization’s leader, happened to be on the same flight to Atlanta as Stevenson. “By the time the plane landed, we were very close,” Bright recalled. “Bryan had found his calling.” He joined the group after graduating, in 1985, replicating his mother’s migration south—which worried members of the family. “When I heard he was going on his own down there, I almost fainted,” Fred Bailey, Stevenson’s cousin and a retired Philadelphia police detective, said. “Bryan’s a humble guy and a spiritual guy, and he sees the good in everyone. But he knew no one. And he had no family down there.” Bright’s group did death-penalty and prisoners’-rights litigation in a

“I don’t get all the hype about treadmill desks.”

hostile region and era. “We were the dance band on the Titanic, this very small group of eight or nine people trying to hold back this tide of executions in the old Confederacy,” Bright said. The lawyers divided up the region, and Stevenson, more or less by happenstance, was assigned the cases in Alabama. He showed an aptitude for death-penalty litigation, which is both emotionally taxing and technically demanding. Capital cases have a complex choreography, involving multiple courts in state and federal jurisdictions, all with their own deadlines, rituals, and rules. Lawyers’ mistakes can prove fatal. The crime rate rose in the late eighties and early nineties, and the few death-penalty lawyers in the South became overwhelmed. In response, a group of lawyers and judges persuaded Congress to fund several state-based death-penalty defense organizations, called resource centers. In 1989, Stevenson, who was still in his late twenties, was appointed to run the Alabama operation. When Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 midterm elections, one of their first acts was to eliminate funding for the resource centers. Stevenson turned the Alabama resource center into a nonprofit, the Equal Justice Initiative, which survived largely because he was awarded a MacArthur grant the following year, and he used the cash, about three hundred thousand dollars, to keep the organization afloat. In time, Stevenson achieved a measure of economic stability for E.J.I., thanks mostly to grants from various foundations and a yearly fund-raiser in Manhattan. (With an annual operating budget of six million dollars, the organization now employs seventeen full-time attorneys and twelve legal fellows, young lawyers who spend two years with the group.) “We were having success in overturning these convictions that are wrongful, but it became clear that race was the big burden,” Stevenson told me. “By 2006 or 2007, I had begun to realize that we were going to have to get outside the courts and create a diferent narrative about race, race consciousness, racial bias, and discrimination in history before we can go back into the 42



Say yes so I let him run me to the limits in a pickup though I know better than to expect the chaparral to grow much through trauma except in order to withstand extinction though it appears under the smog supernatural. CUT TO: he shoves my face into the flatbed then punts me when he’s filled me. Walk home and I do, scrub for miles the darkest day of the year moving in and out of comprehension but I am glad (hear me? I am glad) because now it can be over. —Lynn Melnick courts and expect the courts to do the things that they did sixty years ago, or to create the kind of environment where we could actually win.” Around this time, Stevenson began studying Alabama history. He didn’t have to look far to find it. The E.J.I. warehouse is on Commerce Street, in Montgomery; the original commerce conducted there was in enslaved people. E.J.I.’s oices stand at nearly the midpoint between the dock on the Alabama River where the human cargo was unloaded and Court Square, which was one of the largest slave-auction sites in the South. Between 1848 and 1860, according to E.J.I.’s research, the Montgomery probate oice granted at least a hundred and sixty-four li-

censes to slave traders operating in the city. Thousands of people were auctioned a few hundred yards from where Stevenson practices law. Slaves awaiting auction were held in chains on the site where E.J.I.’s warehouse was later built. Montgomery has dozens of castiron historical markers celebrating aspects of the Confederate past. Stevenson wanted to put a marker up in front of E.J.I.’s door, to point out the presence of the slave trade. “We went to the Historical Commission and said, ‘How do you get a marker up?’ ” Stevenson recalled. He was told that if he provided accurate information the commission would erect a marker. E.J.I. put together a sixty-page proposal for

three markers commemorating the slave trade. Norwood Kerr, of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, e-mailed E.J.I. in response: I have considered your request for the Alabama Historical Association to support the placement of three historical markers relating to the city’s slave trade. While your scholarship appears accurate . . . I do not think it is in the best interests of the Association to sponsor the markers given the potential for controversy.

or several years, Stevenson has

F taught part time at the New York

University School of Law, but he doesn’t have his own apartment in the city. He lives on his N.Y.U. earnings and takes no salary from E.J.I. His personal style is nearly ascetic. He has never married. Keeping a promise that he made to his grandmother when he was a teen-ager, he has never let a drop of alcohol pass his lips. (Alcoholism plagued his family.) For years, he lived in a series of small apartments in Montgomery, until he decided to renew his commitment to the piano, which he once played semi-professionally in jazz groups. He decided to buy a piano, then a house, but rarely finds time to play. E.J.I. has no development staf, so Stevenson must raise the six-million-dollar budget virtually alone. Between fund-raising and court appearances, he travels incessantly. Before one of my visits to Montgomery, he had been on planes for twelve consecutive days; before another, seven days. He has cultivated a network of supporters around the country. In the E.J.I. break room, a state-of-the-art Starbucks machine dispenses free cofee. Since lawyers tend to work late, it gets a lot of use. “This machine has saved lives,” Sia Sanneh, a senior attorney for E.J.I., told me. Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, said, “Just by coincidence, two people sent me Bryan’s book at the same time, and I read it in two or three sittings. I was so moved by his story and his selfless acts, and his humanitarianism, that I reached out and called him cold.” They arranged to meet in New York, and then Schultz and his wife visited E.J.I. in Montgomery. “We all meet interesting people, and some of the people don’t live up to their press,” Schultz said. “Bryan is one of the rare individ-

uals who exceed your expectations.” Schultz arranged for “Just Mercy” to be displayed at Starbucks counters for a month; some forty-five thousand copies were sold. Schultz also donated the cofee machine. The world of public-service lawyering can be competitive and petty, even among ideological allies, but Stevenson’s colleagues speak of him with something close to awe. “Bryan is absolutely in a class of his own,” Chris Stone, the president of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, which has funded E.J.I., said. “He is a modest, straightforward, ordinary person, and yet he is magical. He is a gift to this country and to a cause that would not be the same without him.” Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, said, “Bryan is one of the transformational leaders of my generation. He is one of the great prophetic voices of our era.” Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, said, “Bryan is without question the most inspirational lawyer of our times, not just because he’s charismatic, and also a brilliant litigator, but because he connects emotionally with people like no one else.” Anthony Romeo, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Most of us who do this kind of work are good. He’s head and shoulders above us all. He’s a genius. He’s our Moses.” For all the ties he has forged around the nation, Stevenson is at this point an Alabaman. He knows where to find the pressure points in the local system, a knowledge that he put to good use after the Alabama Historical Association rejected his petition. He enlisted a small organization devoted to African-American history in Alabama as an alternative sponsor. In 2013, E.J.I., with its new ally, was allowed to put up three markers in downtown Montgomery. During the controversy, Stevenson visited the University of Texas Law School, in Austin, for a conference on the relationship between the death penalty and lynching. Jordan Steiker, the professor who convened the meeting,

told me, “In one sense, the death penalty is clearly a substitute for lynching. One of the main justifications for the use of the death penalty, especially in the South, was that it served to avoid lynching. The number of people executed rises tremendously at the end of the lynching era. And there’s still incredible overlap between places that had lynching and places that continue to use the death penalty.” Drawing on the work of such noted legal scholars as David Garland and Franklin Zimring, Steiker and his sister Carol, a professor at Harvard Law School, have written a forthcoming book, “Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment,” which explores the links between lynching and state-sponsored executions. The Steikers write, “The practice of lynching constituted ‘a form of unoicial capital punishment’ that in its heyday was even more common than the oicial kind.” Lynchings, which took the form of hangings, shootings, beatings, and other acts of murder, were often public events, urged on by thousands, but by the nineteen-thirties the behavior of the crowds had begun to draw criticism in the North. “The only reason lynchings stopped in the American South was that the spectacle of the crowds cheering these murders was becoming problematic,” Stevenson told me. “Local law enforcement was powerless to stop the mob, even if it wanted to. So people in the North started to say that the federal government needed to send in federal troops to protect black people from these acts of terror. No one in power in the South wanted that— so they moved the lynchings indoors, in the form of executions. They guaranteed swift, sure, certain death after the trial, rather than before the trial.” In 2007, Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, published “On the Courthouse Lawn,” which focussed on two lynchings in Maryland. “What I learned is that an alarming number of lynchings took place not in secret, in the woods, but in public, on the beautiful lawns that THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


are still there in all these communities,” Ifill told me. “And there is nothing to commemorate these lynchings on those lawns, which are in the center of every town in the South.” Lynchings were often covered in local newspapers, and sometimes even previewed in them, and these records were indispensable resources for the E.J.I. researchers. The stafers at E.J.I., in addition to their legal duties, attempted to identify every lynching that took place in twelve states. They found records for about four thousand lynchings, roughly eight hundred more than in previous counts. Stevenson became convinced that lynching had a historical and a contemporary relevance that needed to be more visible. At first, he imagined erecting more historical markers, but he soon expanded his plan. “One factor, to be honest, was that we started talking about a memorial for 9/11 victims within five years,” he said. “It’s not as if we haven’t waited long enough to begin the process of a memorial for lynching. So that’s when it became clear to me that, in addition to the markers, we needed to be talking about a space, a bigger, deeper, richer space. The markers will give you a little snapshot, but we need to tell the whole story.” n a steamy Saturday morning

O in May, about a hundred volun-

teers assembled at the warehouse. Stevenson commands a stage without being especially commanding. He’s of average height, with a shaved head—a concession to encroaching baldness— and he has the politician’s gift for making his set pieces sound as if he were delivering them for the first time. “I continue to believe that we’re not free in this country, that we’re not free at birth by a history of racial injustice,” he told a diverse group of students, retirees, local activists, and supporters from around the country. “And there are spaces that are occupied by the legacy of that history that weigh on us. We talk a lot about freedom. We talk a lot about equality. We talk a lot about justice. But we’re not free. There are shadows that follow us.” His cadence alternates between preachy intensity and lawyerly restraint. 44


As Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor, put it, “There are two diferent streams of rhetoric in the African-American tradition, the sacred and the secular. Martin Luther King didn’t sound like Thurgood Marshall. You can’t argue in court like you’re preaching in the Abyssinian Baptist Church. But scholars like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson in recent years have drawn from both traditions. Bryan does, too.” Stevenson told the group, “If you’d come to Montgomery a few years ago, you’d find a city with more than fifty markers or monuments to the Confederacy but hardly a word about slavery. And it’s not like in the South we don’t want to talk about the past. We love talking about the past.” He noted that Alabama still observes Confederate Memorial Day (the last Monday in April) and Jeferson Davis’s birthday (celebrated on the first Monday in June). In lieu of a separate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, the state celebrates a joint Martin Luther King, Jr.–Robert E. Lee holiday. He also pointed out that the two largest high schools in Montgomery are Robert E. Lee High and Jeferson Davis High. “Both overwhelmingly black.” The group had gathered to participate in Stevenson’s project to commemorate the history of lynching. “Lynching was racial terrorism,” he said. “Old people of color come up to me sometimes and say, ‘Mr. Stevenson, I get so angry when I hear someone on TV talking about how they’re dealing with domestic terrorism for the first time in our nation’s history after 9/11. You need to make them stop saying that, because that’s not true.’ People who had endured lynchings and bombings and threats had a tremendous shape on our lives. We haven’t done a very good job of understanding the legacy of lynching, but the black people that are in Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit and Los Angeles and Oakland and Boston and Minneapolis did not go to those communities merely as immigrants looking for new economic opportunities. They went to those communities as refugees and exiles from the American South.” After Stevenson’s speech, the vol-

unteers headed out in small teams to fill gallon-size glass jugs with soil from the sites of the three hundred and sixty-three lynchings that E.J.I. had documented in Alabama. Many of the sites are approximate, and the soil project, which has been going on for about a year, is meant to be symbolic rather than scientific. Along the back wall of the room where Stevenson was speaking were about a hundred jugs already filled with soil. The colors of the soil samples varied, from nearly black, in the Black Belt communities across the middle of the state (which was named for its rich soil as well as for its ethnic composition), to the tan, sandy soil from the Gulf Coast, around Mobile. The names of the victims and the dates of their deaths, which ranged from 1877 to 1950, are marked on the jugs. The soil-collection project is part of a plan to erect the first national memorial to lynching victims, to be built on six acres of vacant land in downtown Montgomery. The project will cost twenty million dollars, and will include a museum at E.J.I. headquarters. It will transform the look, and perhaps the reputation, of Montgomery. A key part of the plan is a dare to the communities in which the lynchings took place. “We’re going to name thousands of people who were the victims of lynchings,” Stevenson told the group before they received their trowels and jars. “We’re going to create a space where you can walk and spend time and go through that represents these lynchings. But, more than that, we’re going to challenge every county in this country where a lynching took place to come and claim a memorial piece— and to erect it in their county.” ontgomery offers the proj-

M ect a rich civil-rights history and

low-priced real estate. For the most part, the streets of downtown are quiet, and the sidewalks are empty. (There is no Starbucks.) Stevenson was able to assemble six and a half acres of contiguous abandoned lots that were once the site of a failed public-housing complex, for about six hundred thousand dollars. It’s a fifteen-minute walk from the warehouse, and up a small hill above the Greyhound bus



For the past two years, Mitch Epstein has been making large-format black-and-white photographs of rocks and clouds all over New York City. In “Clouds #67,” above, the steel frame of the Parachute Jump, a defunct ride in Coney Island, seems to bridge the sand and the sky. Epstein’s show “Rocks and Clouds” opens next month, at the Yancey Richardson gallery. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


station where the Freedom Riders were assaulted in 1961. From a distance, the lynching memorial, designed by Michael Murphy and a team from the MASS Design Group, of Boston, will look like a long, low colonnade. Once visitors enter the structure and follow the path downhill, they will see that the columns are hanging in the air, as if from trees. Each column is six feet tall. The current plans call for the soil collected by volunteers to be used in coloring their exteriors. There will be eight hundred and one columns, one for each county and state in which a lynching took place. The names of the victims and the dates of the lynchings will be inscribed on the columns. The memorial also has a more provocative component. Adjacent to the colonnade will be another eight hundred and one columns, exact duplicates. Each county in which a lynching took place will be invited to remove its memorial column and display it in its own community. The columns that remain in Montgomery will stand in mute rebuke to the places that refuse to acknowledge their history of lynching. “For us, it’s the kind of activism that has clarity, purpose, and a goal,” Stevenson told me. “Sometimes the goals aren’t very clear or very well articulated, and you don’t know whether you’re getting closer or not. This will give us a way of measuring that. We’ll know the places that are resisting, and

it should build pressure on those communities, and the people in those communities, that are either not doing enough or need to do more.” The city of Montgomery has come to embrace Stevenson’s plans, in the name of economic development. Mayor Todd Strange told me last spring, “We certainly appreciate the fact that it’s going to lead to a big influx of people who want to come and gain some understanding. Those are good, clean tourist dollars.” But he was also aware that, as he put it, “history is a battleground.” Stevenson has been cautious about unveiling the project, which recently completed the zoning-approval process. Plans for the memorial had been mentioned only briefly in the Advertiser, the local daily. Strange told me, “Bryan has wanted it quiet. We still today have not made an announcement relative to the museum and the memorial park.” For the moment, Stevenson has given the project the generic name of the Memorial for Peace and Justice, which provides no clue that it’s all about lynching. The reaction of Dick Brewbaker, a Republican state senator who represents a district in Montgomery, may presage a less warm welcome. Brewbaker, who is a prominent auto dealer, was not aware of the project when I asked him about it. “If he wants to do it, he needs to do it with private funds,” Brewbaker said. (Stevenson has used no govern-

ment funds.) Brewbaker went on, “Why is racially motivated violence worse than any other kind of violence? I don’t give a damn what the motive of the ofender was if an act of violence was committed. Interjecting even more race talk into Alabama’s politics is not productive.” Brewbaker noted that Montgomery has several museums about the civil-rights era, including one devoted to Rosa Parks, another to the Freedom Riders, and a third to the movement as a whole (at the Southern Poverty Law Center). “I’d say the imbalance has been corrected pretty quickly, especially when you consider the Confederate symbols that have been removed.” In 2015, Governor Robert Bentley ordered the removal of Confederate battle flags from the grounds of the Capitol. The flags are gone, but the plaques that described them remain. Stevenson’s first round of fund-raising for the memorial and the museum has garnered a two-million-dollar commitment from the Ford Foundation and a million dollars from the charitable arm of Google; he has also earned more than a million from his book, the sale of movie rights, and his relentless speechmaking. That still leaves a considerable gap for a twentymillion-dollar undertaking, which Stevenson hopes, optimistically, will open in 2017. For the moment, he bears the financial burden himself. Darren Walker, of the Ford Foundation, told me, “One of the things I’ve wanted to do is help Bryan situate his institution in a way that is durable and resilient and not so reliant on him as a charismatic leader.” To that end, the Foundation has given E.J.I. a grant to hire a professional development staf. I wondered how someone who was successfully juggling so many responsibilities could describe himself as “broken.” Stevenson told me about the moment when he was talking to his client Jimmy Dill, just before Dill was executed, in 2009. “I’ve been in that setting before, but there was something diferent about this, because the man had this speech impediment,” Stevenson said. “He couldn’t get the words out, and he was going to use the last few minutes of his life—his

last struggle was going to be devoted to saying to me, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you for what you’re trying to do.’ I think that’s what got to me in a way that few things had. And I, for the first time in my career, just thought, Is there an emotional cost, is there some toll connected to being proximate to all this sufering? I think that’s when I realized that my motivation to help condemned people—it’s not like I’m some whole person trying to help the broken people that I see along the road. I think I am broken by the injustice that I see.” fter Stevenson spoke at the

A warehouse on that Saturday

morning this spring, a fiftyish volunteer named Susan Enzweiler, who had recently retired from a job in historic preservation, received an assignment to visit the site of the lynching of a man named Ebb Calhoun. He died on April 29, 1907, in the village of Pittsview, on Alabama’s border with Georgia. According to the materials provided by E.J.I., on the day before the attack Calhoun’s son reportedly walked between a white man and his daughter on the street, brushing against the woman. The white man, a “prominent merchant,” according to a contemporary report, shoved the son to the ground; the man was already “annoyed by the boisterousness of a large crowd of negroes” in the town that day. E.J.I. gave the approximate address for the lynching as 88 Le Conte Street, in what was described as the central business district of Pittsview. When Enzweiler and I arrived in Pittsview, we found what appeared to be the shell of a business district. A convenience store and a one-room post oice survived, but the structure at what might have been 88 Le Conte was a crumbling brick building. Enzweiler studied the arrangement of the bricks. When bricks were more fragile and less standardized than they are today, builders would alternate “stretchers” (bricks laid lengthwise) with “headers” (bricks with the short side exposed). There were headers every six rows in the building, which Enzweiler took to mean that it was constructed around the beginning of the twentieth century. It had proba-

“It’s not a huge role, but it is Shakespeare. I get to ask the king if he wants bottled or tap.”

• bly been standing at the time of the lynching. As Enzweiler was looking around, a woman drove up to the post oice, across the street. She was a letter carrier. She said that her route covered Pittsview and the neighboring town of Cottonton. “Pittsview is majority black and minority white,” she said. “Cottonton is the opposite.” She said that the residents on Le Conte where Enzweiler was standing were all white; the residents farther up the block, on the other side of a traic light, were all black. The road of demarcation between the racial enclaves was called Prudence. Stevenson had asked the volunteers to try to imagine the events that led

• to the lynchings. Ebb Calhoun had returned the next day to the site of his son’s confrontation. Several white men, including the merchant who had had the altercation with the son, harassed Ebb and then accused him of firing a shot at a visitor from Columbus. A group of whites assembled, surrounded Calhoun, and then shot him dead. “This was the main drag. They executed him in a public place,” Enzweiler said. “Mr. Calhoun must have known what was going to happen. He was trying to protect his son, taking the hit that was probably meant for him. Ebb was a hero.” She took out her trowel, bent over to brush away pieces of crumbled brick, and began to fill her glass jar with soil.  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



TOTAL RECALL Scotland Yard has assembled a team of detectives who never forget a face. BY PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE

predator was stalking London. He would board a crowded bus at rush hour, carrying a Metro newspaper, and sit next to a young woman. Opening the newspaper to form a curtain, he would reach over and grope her. The man first struck one summer afternoon in 2014, on the No. 253 bus in North London, grabbing the crotch of a fifteen-year-old girl. She fled the bus and called the police, but by that time he had disappeared. A few months later, in October, he assaulted a twenty-one-yearold woman on the upper level of a double-decker as it approached the White Hart Lane stadium. She escaped to the lower level, but he followed her, and he continued to pursue her even after she got of the bus. She flagged down a passerby, and the man fled. In March, 2015, he groped a sixteen-yearold on the No. 168. On each occasion, the man slipped away from the crime scene by blending into a crowd of commuters. But, each time, he left a trace, because public buses in London are monitored by closed-circuit-television systems. When transit police played back the footage of each sexual assault, they saw the same middle-aged man in spectacles and a black parka. He had thinning hair and a dark mustache that was going gray. After consulting the electronic readers on each bus, investigators isolated one fare card that had been used on all three. If the pass had been bought with a credit card, it could be linked to the perpetrator. But the man had paid for it in cash. The transit police found themselves in a familiar predicament: a case in which a crime is captured on video but no one can identify the perpetrator. London has more than eight million residents; unless somebody recognizes a suspect, CCTV footage is efectively useless. Investigators circulated photo-




graphs of the man with the mustache, but nobody came forward with information. So they turned to a tiny unit that had recently been established by London’s Metropolitan Police Service. In Room 901 of New Scotland Yard, the police had assembled half a dozen oicers who shared an unusual talent: they all had a preternatural ability to recognize human faces. Most police precincts have an oicer or two with a knack for recalling faces, but the Met (as the Metropolitan Police Service is known) is the first department in the world to create a specialized unit. The team is called the super-recognizers, and each member has taken a battery of tests, administered by scientists, to establish this uncanny credential. Glancing at a pixelated face in a low-resolution screen grab, super-recognizers can identify a crook with whom they had a chance encounter years earlier, or whom they recognize from a mug shot. In 2011, after riots broke out in London, one super-recognizer, Gary Collins, a cop focussing on gangs, studied the grainy image of a young man who had hurled petrol bombs and set fire to cars. The rioter wore a woollen hat and a red bandanna, leaving only a sliver of his face uncovered, like a ninja. But the man had been arrested years earlier, and Collins had noticed him at the police station—in particular, his eyes. The rioter was convicted of arson and robbery, and is now serving six years. When the transit police brought the groper case to the super-recognizers, Eliot Porritt, a detective sergeant in the unit, took up the investigation. Porritt, who is thirty-six, is rumpled and cerebral, with a mop of curly black hair. As a boy, he loved watching movies with his father, and found that he could identify actors who had been in other films they’d seen, even in tiny

parts. As a police oicer—first as a beat cop in Islington, and then working plainclothes on a robbery squad—he discovered that while walking the streets he could spot faces and know, in a flash, who they were, where he had met them, and whether they were criminal suspects. Three times a week, the Met issues an online bulletin, “Caught on Camera,” featuring video stills of unidentified suspects committing crimes. Many oicers ignore it, but Porritt found the activity of picking out faces quietly absorbing, like doing a crossword puzzle. He soon became known for his prowess at making identifications—“idents,” in the Scotland Yard vernacular—and last year he was asked to join the super-recognizers. In the groping case, the transit card did not reveal the suspect’s identity, but Porritt could use it to reconstruct his movements. On a digital map of North London, he pinned a flag on each bus stop where the card had been used. He noticed that the man took as many as twenty bus trips a day. Sometimes he rode in one direction, got out, crossed the street, and went in the opposite direction. “He wasn’t commuting,” Porritt told me. “He was casing victims.” Studying the map, Porritt plotted the various routes and developed a hunch that the man lived in Camden. Porritt grew up there, and he decided to go and ask around. He invited Alison Young, an oicer who had just joined the unit, to tag along. Young is twenty-nine, with long red hair and an ebullient sense of humor. She had worked as a community-support oicer for several years, but one day she was summoned to an auditorium at Scotland Yard, where dozens of oicers were instructed to take a facial-recognition exam. Using a laptop, Young found matches in a series of faces that were

London has as many as a million CCTV cameras. But why capture a crime on video if no one can identify the perpetrator? ILLUSTRATION BY NICOLAS ORTEGA



presented like masks—without hair or other context. When the test was done, she was startled to learn that she had received the second-highest score. By some estimates, as many as a million CCTV cameras are installed in London, making it the most surveilled metropolis on the planet. Boris Johnson, who before becoming Britain’s Foreign Secretary served as the city’s mayor, once said, “When you walk down the streets of London, you are a movie star. You are being filmed by more cameras than you can possibly imagine.” Porritt thought that the cameras outside the Camden Road railway station might have caught the groper walking by, so he and Young visited the CCTV oice there. As Porritt examined the equipment, Young gazed out a window at scores of rush-hour commuters streaming in and out of the station. Then, suddenly, she shouted, “Oh, my God. That’s him!” Young was staring at a man just inside the entrance: he had a mustache and wore glasses. She watched him pick up a Metro from a stack on the floor and walk out of the station. “We ran like maniacs,” Young recalled. They caught him, and after he was in handcufs he muttered to Porritt, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” A fifty-sixyear-old clerical worker named Ilhan Karatepe, he subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and received a suspended sentence. (He was also barred from riding public transportation by himself.) “Here was a guy that nobody could identify until Alison spotted him,” Porritt said. “Every identification we make is efectively a cold case. We’re unique. There’s no precedent for what we’re doing.” n 2008, a postdoctoral student at Harvard named Richard Russell began working with a team of perceptual psychologists on a study of prosopagnosia, or “face blindness,” a condition in which patients are unable to recognize human faces. In extreme cases, prosopagnosia can be a socially debilitating aliction: a mother tries to retrieve the wrong child from day care




because she does not recognize her own baby; a patient is shown a photograph of a woman and wonders who it is, only to be informed that she is looking at a picture of herself. But many people sufer from milder forms of face blindness, and may not realize that they are in any way abnormal. “We’re not good at talking about how we recognize faces,” Russell said. “So we assume that other people are like us.” Until recently, only a few hundred prosopagnosics had been studied, and from this research neuroscientists and perceptual psychologists had established a binary “pathological” model: either you were normal, and could recognize faces, or you had face blindness. But new studies have indicated that although prosopagnosia can result from a stroke or traumatic brain injury, it is a heritable condition that is sometimes present from birth. It’s also much more widespread than was previously believed. With the advent of the Internet, formerly isolated individuals have found a community of fellow-suferers. Collaborating with two psychologists, Ken Nakayama and Brad Duchaine, Russell disseminated a bulletin in the Boston area seeking research subjects who thought that they might be face blind. The researchers heard back from many people who believed that they were prosopagnosic. But they also heard from a small group who said that they were “the opposite.” Russell had come to suspect that facial recognition might not be simply a faculty that was either present or absent. What if it was on a spectrum? If most people are pretty good at recognizing faces and prosopagnosics are terrible at it, Russell recalls thinking, shouldn’t there be “some people on the high end”? The team studied four people who considered themselves exceptionally good at remembering faces. First, the researchers administered a version of the exam that Alison Young aced in the auditorium at Scotland Yard, the Cambridge Face Memory Test, in which the subject is instructed to find matches among faces stripped of hair or other visual clues. A second test, called Be-

fore They Were Famous, consisted of a series of images of celebrities, from Malcolm X to Scarlett Johansson, in their youth. (The researchers chose celebrities because they needed faces that most subjects would have some prior familiarity with.) The four subjects in the study performed extremely well. Prosopagnosics often have strange stories about how they cope with their condition. The subjects had their own curious tales about being on the other end of the spectrum. They not only recognized character actors in movies—they recognized the extras, too. In social situations, prosopagnosics often smiled blandly and behaved as if they had previously encountered everyone they met, rather than risk ofending acquaintances. Russell’s subjects described the opposite adaptation: they often pretended that they were meeting for the first time people whom they knew they’d met before. After all, if you’re introduced to someone at a party and you remind him, in pointillist detail, about the circumstances of a brief meeting years earlier, he might reasonably conclude that you are a stalker. One of the subjects described an ex-boyfriend’s referring to her as a “freak of nature.” In 2009, Russell and his colleagues published a paper in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, “Super-Recognizers: People with Extraordinary Facial Recognition Ability,” which concluded that there is “a broad distribution” of the facial-recognition capability. On tests, the four super-recognizers performed at least two standard deviations above the mean, which meant that they were “about as good at face recognition and perception as developmental prosopagnosics are bad.” arlier this summer, I visited

E New Scotland Yard, a tower of mir-

rored glass not far from St. James’s Park, to spend a week with the super-recognizers. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, who created the unit, greeted me. “I’m the Henry Ford of CCTV,” he told me. “The rest are just playing at it, really.” Neville is burly and ruddy-faced, with beady eyes and a flinty, tough-guy grin. He speaks in the gruf murmur of his native Lancashire and swathes

his considerable bulk in pin-striped suits and regimental ties. As a trainee detective in Brixton, during the nineteen-nineties, Neville worked gangs, and he excelled at recruiting informants. Raised by a working-class single mother, he found common ground with the young people he arrested for robbing post oices and betting parlors. He’d slip them cigarettes or buy them a sandwich, then cajole them into snitching on their associates. In those days, CCTV images were stored in big photobooks, like family albums, and Neville would barge into a holding cell, plop the book down, and bark, “All right—names and faces!” The first permanent CCTV cameras in London were installed in 1968, in Grosvenor Square—the home of the U.S. Embassy—to monitor students protesting the Vietnam War. More cameras were added during the seventies and eighties. In 1993, a toddler named James Bulger vanished from a shopping center in northwest England. Footage from a security camera showed two older boys leading him away. Both boys were convicted of Bulger’s murder, and the eerie images of his final walk were played incessantly on the news, solidifying the rationale for more cameras. By the late nineties, more than half of the Home Oice’s crime-prevention budget was devoted to CCTV. The profusion of cameras was premised on a coercive principle: the new architecture of surveillance would dissuade people from committing crimes. “There is a friendly eye in the sky,” a Home Oice minister proclaimed in 1994. “There is nothing sinister about it, and the innocent have nothing to fear.” CCTV was clearly efective at recording malfeasance, but it struck Neville that if so many people were committing crimes on camera then perhaps the cameras weren’t much of a deterrent. He wondered why people took the risk. “Some people are drunk, or high, or just evil,” he told himself. But many rational criminals had clearly concluded that the police were unlikely to do much with CCTV footage. If you left fingerprints at a crime scene, they were entered into a centralized database. But if you left your image behind, Neville noticed, “it would just sit there.”

In 2006, he set up a dedicated unit to comb through CCTV footage and make identifications. At first, he was given mostly cops who had conditions that rendered them unfit for other duties. Sitting at a computer and scrolling through hours of surveillance footage can be migraine-inducing work; it is not for everyone. Yet Neville was stuck with an arbitrary crew of misfits. He referred to his staf, not without afection, as the Dirty Dozen. For an oicial in a starchy bureaucracy, Neville has a surprising compulsion for candor. In 2008, he attended a conference and complained, “Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how police are going to use the images. The cameras are not working.” The Guardian published an article about Neville’s re-

marks, highlighting his assessment that Britain’s use of CCTV was “an utter fiasco.” The Met hastily issued a statement contradicting Neville’s views and reassuring citizens that CCTV was “an important tool in protecting the public.” According to Neville, several of his colleagues and superiors attempted to shut down his unit. “I had to pull all sorts of strings to keep it going,” he said. During this struggle, Neville heard about the Harvard paper on super-recognizers. He had noticed that some oicers and informants excelled at making identifications, but he had always attributed the diference to motivation. What if there was a neurological explanation? At another conference, Neville met Josh Davis, a psychologist

“How does it look untucked?”

whose dissertation focussed on forensic analysis of CCTV footage, and on the risks associated with misidentifications. The detective and the scientist decided to collaborate, subjecting Met oicers who were especially good at making identifications to facial-recognition tests. Davis told me that initially he was dubious when Neville spoke of the remarkable capabilities of some of his oicers. “I knew about prosopagnosia, but I hadn’t known that there was anyone at the other end of the scale,” he said. “It was itself a sort of blindness.” n Room 901, Eliot Porritt sat with

I four colleagues at cluttered tables, staring at computer screens showing the faces of suspects. Alison Young had brought a bag of sweets, and the su-

per-recognizers chewed candy while scrolling through the database. Whenever a crime is committed in London, police check to see if any suspects were captured on CCTV. Most cameras in the city are private—installed by businesses or homeowners—and when the police request footage the owners generally oblige. (When they don’t, police have legal authority to compel them to turn it over.) An oicer scans the footage and selects a screen grab of the perpetrator, which is uploaded to a centralized database at the Met. There are now more than a hundred thousand images of unidentified suspects in the database, each with its own six-digit code. The super-recognizers regularly cross-reference the images with a database containing mug shots of people who have been arrested.

“He was a very good boy.”

Mick Neville picked up a composite sketch of a white man with a high forehead, a blocky haircut, and a pointy jaw. “Who’s this?” he said. “Attempted rape suspect,” Porritt said. “He looks like the one-armed man from ‘The Fugitive,’ ” Neville observed. There was a murmur of agreement. The super-recognizers adore Neville, and when he is not around they speak of him with familiarity and afection. But Neville, who served in the British Army and comes from a long line of soldiers, appreciates the perquisites of rank, and when he is in the room everyone sits a bit straighter. Neville has a good memory for faces, but, as he told me, “I’m not like them.” He speaks about his team members with the dainty protectiveness of an orchid keeper. He describes Porritt as “an artist.” In 2012, Neville started working with Josh Davis, the psychologist, to identify super-recognizers. Oicers who did well on Davis’s tests were called upon from time to time to do identifications. The efort proved so successful that, last year, Neville obtained permission to create the dedicated unit. When I visited Room 901, there was a tally on a whiteboard that tracked the progress of Neville’s experiment: “WEEK: 61. IDENTS: 1957.” When a super-recognizer makes an ident, she must submit it for “peer review,” in which a second super-recognizer—usually Eliot Porritt—renders an independent judgment. Porritt tends to request peer review from Jim Bullock, a laconic sergeant who works several floors up. One afternoon, Porritt trudged upstairs to find Bullock studying three CCTV images of a middle-aged black man with dreadlocks shoplifting in diferent locations. Two oicers on the force—neither of them super-recognizers—had identified the man, but they had identified diferent suspects. “We’re trying to work out which one is the correct ident,” Bullock said. “The research is good for both,” he continued, pulling up mug shots. Both potential matches were from the area, and both had been arrested for shoplifting in the past. “This guy here,” Porritt said, indicating one of the CCTV images. “He looks almost more Tamil.” “I think it’s the lighting, because he

looks very dark,” Bullock said. “It’s very bright when you walk into a store.” One quirk of facial recognition is that, from infancy, we tend to be better at recognizing faces of the ethnicity that we are most frequently exposed to: white people are generally better at recognizing white faces, black people tend to be better at recognizing black faces. At this point, the super-recognizer unit consists exclusively of white oicers. But the Met has some thirty thousand police oicers, and Davis has identified about a hundred and fifty who qualify as super-recognizers; Neville can draw on this diverse auxiliary force. One especially prolific super-recognizer who works outside the unit is Idris Bada, a jailer at Charing Cross Police Station. Bada, who is black, books fifty or so new prisoners each day. His brain is like an illustrated atlas of London’s criminal underworld. Once, he peered into a cell and recognized a prisoner who, thirty years earlier, had attended his elementary school. “Here’s another image that’s just come in,” Bullock said, pulling up a picture. “Fourth image of the guy that this might be.” Porritt noted that the video clip had been distorted. “You’ve got to be careful, because the proportions have been stretched laterally,” Porritt said. “The nose and the face look wider.” Porritt wondered whether they could access the original video. “You can’t see details like the ears,” he said of the stills. With video, you can see a face from multiple angles, you can observe someone’s gait, and you can avoid tricks of the light. Paul Smith, an oicer who helps Neville manage the unit, told me that one day someone showed him an image of a crime that had taken place not far from his home: a kid had stolen a charity box from a gas station. When Smith saw the image, he was aghast. It was his stepson. Smith’s stepson is autistic and is dependent on a caregiver, yet there he was: the same jacket, the same posture, the same manner of thrusting his hands in his pockets. “It was going to cause a lot of issues for me,” Smith told me. “But I have a duty to be impartial.” Before saying anything to his colleagues, he decided to check the

“But the Wi-Fi kept cutting out. The only choice they had left was to unplug the router, wait ten seconds, and THEN PLUG IT BACK IN!”

• original video. His identification was wrong. “When I looked at the image, it was him,” he said. “But when he moved it wasn’t.” Scrutinizing the CCTV images, Porritt and Bullock began to suspect that they might depict not the same dreadlocked shoplifter but, rather, multiple thieves who bore a superficial resemblance to one another. They stared at the faces in silence, until Bullock said, “Let’s come back to this tomorrow, when the brain’s a bit fresher.” Being a super-recognizer can be draining: there is no of switch for this mysterious capability. It is not uncommon for a super-recognizer, out on the town with friends, to bolt of after spotting someone with an outstanding warrant. Before joining the unit, James Rabbett, a young detective with a hipster beard, won an award for making two hundred arrests in a year. Rabbett, who has a cocksure manner, displays powers of recognition that are exceptional even by the unit’s standards. He told me that, since joining the team full time, six months ago, he has made nearly six hundred identifications. Rabbett sometimes makes as many as five arrests a week while of-

• duty. This is fantastic for racking up stats, if less than conducive to a fulfilling social life. “It’s become a bit of a burden,” he allowed. Once, Rabbett was of-duty in Finsbury Park when he recognized a jewel thief and chased him down. A year earlier, he had glanced at the man’s image on a wanted poster. “You’re nicked on suspicion of stealing a bag a year ago!” Rabbett said. The thief, we may fairly assume, was surprised. (He subsequently pleaded guilty.) are special,” brain scien“F aces tists like to say. Days after birth, an infant can distinguish its mother’s face from those of other women. Babies are more reliably engaged by a sketch of a face than they are by other images. Though human faces are quite similar in their basic composition, most of us can diferentiate efortlessly among them. A face is a codex of social information: it can often tell us, at a glance, someone’s age, gender, racial background, mood. Using f.M.R.I. scans, researchers have discovered that certain areas of the brain are hardwired for processing faces. The human brain is often less reliable



than digital algorithms, but it remains superior at facial recognition. This might no longer seem true in an era in which Facebook prompts users to tag friends in photographs. With its database of two hundred and fifty billion user photos, Facebook has developed a facial-recognition algorithm that is more reliable than those developed for the F.B.I. But Facebook’s software has conspicuous advantages: people usually post photographs of friends, and this helps Facebook narrow the range of possible matches. The image quality also tends to be high: you’re unlikely to post a grainy shot taken from a bad angle while a person is moving or in shadow. “It’s bullshit,” Mick Neville said when I asked him about automated facial recognition. “Fantasyland.” At the airport, when a scanner compares your face with your passport photo, Neville explained, “The lighting’s perfect, the angle’s perfect.” By contrast, the average human can recognize a family member from behind. “No computer will ever be able to do that.” Some industry observers share his skepticism. In 2014, Shahar Belkin, a co-founder of FST Biometrics, which develops facial-recognition technology, told The Verge that any firm promising to deliver “near-human” capabilities is lying. “The diference between a human brain and a computer is huge,” he said. After the 2011 London riots, the Met gathered two hundred thousand hours of CCTV footage. Computer facial-recognition systems identified one rioter. Gary Collins, the super-recognizer, identified a hundred and ninety. The riots were Neville’s proof of concept. “From that point on, things got a lot easier,” he said. The journalist Clive Thompson, in his 2013 book, “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” suggests that for some tasks the most formidable tool is neither a human brain nor a computer but both working in tandem—a “centaur” strategy. The super-recognizers follow this approach. To navigate the Met’s database, they rely on a proprietary software program to guide them. Each time an image is entered into the system, a human tags 54


it with metadata; if the super-recognizers are searching for a white male between the ages of forty and fifty who is known for nonresidential burglaries in East London, they can select for those criteria. “Have a go,” Eliot Porritt said one morning. I took a seat facing a monitor and scrolled through the search options. The racial categories include Northern and Southern European, African or Caribbean, Middle Eastern, East Asian or South Asian. (Crime by people from Central and South America is apparently so rare in London that these categories did not merit inclusion.) You can sort the images using numerous tags, each with its own menu of subcategories: “Accessories ( Jewelry, Eyewear, Bandanna . . . )”; “Tattoos (Angel, Animal, Bird . . . )”; “Hair Style (Comb Over, Dirty, Extensions . . . ).” Momentarily puzzled by an entry labelled “Lacking,” I clicked the drop-down menu to see “Eye, Limb, Tooth, Teeth.” These designations are so specific, Porritt said, that a search can become counterproductively narrow. “Less is more,” he advised. You might end up with a few hundred more faces to sort through, but you’re less likely to miss your culprit. Computers may not be great at spotting faces, but logo-recognition algorithms are very efective. And it turns out that many criminals not only commit the same crimes again and again; they do so wearing the same outfits. (The super-recognizers find this hilarious, and joke about “crime clothes.”) Cameras had captured a burglar committing several break-ins wearing the same Everlast sweatshirt, which happened to be a perfect match for the one that he had worn in a mug shot taken after a previous arrest. Another thief was devoted to a newsboy cap. As I scrolled through the database, even my untrained eye picked out multiple shots of the thief in his trademark hat. There are other tells. When Mick Neville gives talks, he shows a slide featuring “the cross-eyed Peckham arsonist,” and gently suggests that the next time the man feels like setting a fire he might want to consider wearing shades. Four out of five people identified by the super-recognizers are “habitual” repeat ofenders. A member of the unit,

Andy Eyles, explained, “If you do something and get away with it, you’re not going to branch out.” One wall of the oice features a list of “Prolific Unknowns,” with thumbnail images of individuals who have been recorded repeatedly committing the same ofense but have not yet been identified by name. If you can find a “linked series” of images, Neville explained, and then identify the perpetrator, you’ve cracked a dozen cases at once. Recently, a handsome, olive-skinned man of about forty showed up in multiple clips. He would walk into a jewelry store or a boutique and engage a saleswoman in conversation, posing as a wealthy customer in search of a gift for his girlfriend. When the saleswoman turned her back, the man used sleight of hand to pocket a bracelet or shove a cashmere sweater down his pants. As the super-recognizers scoured the database for images of clean-cut white male shoplifters, they were startled by how many pictures of the man they had accumulated. “It just grew and grew,” Porritt said. Eventually, they had images of nearly forty thefts: the man had stolen clothes, antiques, designer sunglasses, luxury cosmetics. He’d made of with more than a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise. After circulating his image in the press, the team received a tip that his first name was Austin. When they consulted the database of booking photos, they found their man: one Austin Caballero, who had been arrested for shoplifting in 1993. But they could not find a current address for Caballero, and had to wait for him to strike again. On New Year’s Day, 2015, Porritt received a call at home. In the predawn hours, a man had taken a taxi to buy cigarettes; he refused to pay the driver and ended up assaulting him. When he was arrested, the man gave the name Jack Donaghy. (Apparently, he was a “30 Rock” fan.) It was chaotic at the station, and the oicers were about to let “Jack Donaghy” go when somebody thought to fingerprint him. It was Caballero. Two of Porritt’s colleagues went to the station and presented Caballero with a collage of photographs documenting thirty-six incidents of shoplifting. He pleaded guilty to all of them.


“Super-recognizer” cops identified the face of Austin Caballero in thirty-six thefts that were documented by CCTV cameras. Porritt sometimes talks about the database using mystical language, like a trophy fisherman musing about the sea. Scrolling through thousands of photos, he squints his eyes, as if looking for a pattern that is hidden just beneath the surface. “I still think in the database there’s a massive series— bigger than Caballero,” he said. “Keyser Söze’s in there.” ne afternoon in August of 2014,

O a fourteen-year-old girl named

Alice Gross left her home in West London and disappeared. Six hundred police oicers joined a manhunt for her. Gross’s image had been captured by a camera as she walked along a canal. The super-recognizers examined the footage, and Porritt and his colleagues fastened on a ghostly clip showing a man on a bicycle following the same route a few moments later. Gross disappeared into a wooded area where there were no cameras. The man did the same. Sometime later, he reëmerged, and the super-recognizers traced his movements as he made his way to a

shop where he bought beer; he then disappeared into the woods again. Eventually, police discovered Gross’s body at the bottom of the River Brent. Using the footage, the super-recognizers helped identify her killer—a builder and convicted murderer named Arnis Zalkalns. But by the time police found Zalkalns he had hanged himself from a tree. As with the abduction of the toddler James Bulger, the Alice Gross case underlined both the potential and the limitations of CCTV. The cameras helped to solve an unspeakable crime—but they did not prevent it. With a queasy smile of consolation, Porritt said, “We were told that had Zalkalns lived they would have had enough evidence based on what we found to charge him. So, that felt good.” Given how adept the super-recognizers have proved at solving property crimes, it seems likely that they will eventually find weightier applications for their gifts. Counterterrorism is one field in which powers of facial recognition could make a diference. In 2013,

after the Boston Marathon bombing, authorities raced to identify the two bombers by using CCTV footage that had captured their faces before the blast. The F.B.I. crowd-sourced the problem, releasing the images to the public. Amateur sleuths on Reddit pinpointed several innocent students (and one person who was dead). Having a squad of super-recognizers at the F.B.I. could be useful not just in making identifications but in guarding against misidentifications. Super-recognizers could also improve airport security. In 2014, researchers in Sydney, Australia, conducted a study of oicials who issue passports. When volunteers presented passport applications containing photographs of other people, the oicials did not recognize the discrepancy fourteen per cent of the time. One might attribute this alarming statistic to reckless inattention. Yet the system for hiring passport oicers likely rests on the faulty premise that applicants have essentially equal skill in recognizing faces. According to recent studies, as much THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


“Someday, son, this will all be yours—and underwater.”

• as two per cent of the U.S. population may sufer from prosopagnosia, and as many as eight million citizens may have a more moderate impairment. Richard Russell, the psychologist, who is now at Gettysburg College, believes it is statistically inevitable that some passport oicers at American airports are face blind—and that quite a number are significantly impaired. For decades, teen-agers have faked their way into bars using borrowed I.D.s with comically dubious photographs. What if that is all it takes to fake your way onto an airplane? Talking with the super-recognizers, I found myself wanting someone like Alison Young stationed at the airport. Shouldn’t anyone applying for a job that involves face-matching—from a guard at a federal building to a sentry outside a nuclear plant—take the Cambridge Face Memory Test? Josh Davis and other scholars who study super-recognizers believe that the gift may be roughly as common as face blindness, which would mean that one in fifty people has a brain that is especially well suited to such jobs. Mick Neville often tells a story about the brothers Alfred and Albert 56


• Stratton, who were hanged in 1905 for murdering a married couple while robbing their shop, in Deptford. No witnesses could definitively link the brothers to the crime, but on an empty cash box investigators discovered a greasy thumbprint that turned out to be a match for Alfred Stratton. It was the first time that fingerprint analysis helped secure a murder conviction in Great Britain. Neville believes that we are on the cusp of what he calls “the third revolution in forensics.” He expects that, as with fingerprints and DNA, CCTV imagery will be embraced as a forensic science and accorded the respect and the resources it deserves. “In the Met, we solve about two thousand cases a year with fingerprints and another two thousand with DNA,” he told me. “This year, we solved twenty-five hundred crimes using imagery, and it’s about ten times cheaper than those methods.” The super-recognizers already have made a diference in U.K. law. Traditionally, an oicer who identified someone in court had to demonstrate prior acquaintance with the individual. But the super-recognizers have succeeded with prosecutions in which they have

ofered “indirect identifications”—establishing familiarity with a suspect through repeated exposure to his likeness on CCTV. When I asked Neville how reliable this standard was, he replied, “I’ve never met Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager. But I would recognize him.” The super-recognizers acknowledge that they are not infallible, which is why they have the peer-review process as a safeguard. According to statistics that they freely share with the press, seventy-three per cent of their identifications have led to criminal charges; many of these suspects, realizing that they have been caught in flagrante, plead guilty. But thirteen per cent of the unit’s identifications have been wrong. Sometimes the super-recognizers have identified someone as the culprit of a crime only to discover that the suspect was in jail when the incident took place. Porritt emphasized that suspects very seldom go to prison solely on the basis of their identifications. “It’s never our word alone that puts someone away,” he said. “What we do, by identifying suspects, is help direct the investigation.” There is something quaintly Victorian about many of the crimes that the London unit has investigated: the artful pickpocket, the roving purse snatcher. Caballero, the most prolific scalawag identified by the superrecognizers to date, received only four years in prison. Such an initiative might have harsher consequences in the United States, with our fixation on nonviolent drug crimes and lengthy sentences. Neville’s techniques could also be applied with chilling efects in a country like China, which has one of the greatest concentrations of CCTV surveillance outside the United Kingdom. At the same time, if legal authorities accept that there is a spectrum of facial-recognition ability—and that this skill can be evaluated with simple tests—it could be a boon to defense attorneys, and could inspire an overhaul of criminal procedures that involve such identifications. In recent decades, the status of eyewitness testimony has been undermined as scholarship has demonstrated that after stressful situations people are often mistaken

about what they have seen. But what if, even on a good day, the people ofering testimony have an impaired ability to recognize faces? When a police oicer testifies that he saw a defendant fleeing the scene of a crime, should we not ask how that oicer has fared on the Cambridge Face Memory Test? In July, a cop in Savannah, Georgia, confronted a young African-American named Patrick Mumford in a driveway and repeatedly Tased him, in the mistaken belief that he was another man, Michael Clay, whom the cop had a warrant to arrest. “They look a lot—a good bit alike,” the oicer told a neighbor after realizing his mistake. “It’s not far of.” In fact, Clay and Mumford don’t look alike. The oicer could have made the mistake because he’s a racist, or because he was badly trained, or because, as a white man, he is better at recognizing white faces than brown ones. But wouldn’t it be helpful to know where he falls on the facial-recognition spectrum? If he’s demonstrably inept at recognizing faces, the public might wonder whether he should still be deployed, with a gun, on the street. Tony Porter, the head of the U.K.’s commission on CCTV technology, functions as a kind of in-house watchdog for the government. Last year, he observed that the proliferation of such tools could fundamentally alter “the psyche of the community.” In particular, he warned that, as algorithms advance, CCTV might eventually be used “to predict behavior.” It already is. Paul Smith, the oicer who helps Neville manage the unit, told me that from time to time the super-recognizers are assigned to concerts and street festivals in a “preventative capacity.” Moving incognito through the milling crowds, they are tasked with picking out “known troublemakers” and “risky fans” and either eject them before they can disturb the peace or simply keep an eye on them. Concert organizers welcome the super-recognizers; Smith noted that thefts of mobile phones drop precipitately whenever the team works an event. Yet there is something disquieting about the idea of public events infiltrated by superhuman watchers, like Argus, the

creature from Greek mythology with a hundred eyes. Neville parries such civil-liberties concerns with impatient disdain. “There’s an obsession with compliance,” he grumbled to a group of oicials at a conference that I attended in London. “We’re focussing on all the things we can’t do, rather than what we should do.” n January, authorities in Cologne

I were overwhelmed by reports of sex-

ual assaults that had occurred during New Year’s Eve festivities. The German government requested help from the super-recognizers, and Neville dispatched Porritt and Eyles to the city. The super-recognizers helped make some identifications, but they were dismayed by how little footage they had to work with: Germany has not embraced CCTV to nearly the extent that the U.K. has. James Rabbett pointed out to me that whereas in Britain people live with the knowledge that “ninety per cent of their day” is captured on camera, “a lot of other countries have issues with human rights and that sort of stuf.” Despite such cultural diferences, Neville believes that his ideas can be exported across the globe. Even in a city with less comprehensive surveillance, the police could systematize the process for gathering images and configure a searchable database. Another easily adaptable element of his program is testing the facial-recognition skills of oicers. He points to Alison Young, who identified the Camden groper. Had she not taken the test, she might still be working her old beat, with no inkling of her rare talent. “You could be the best soccer player in the world, but unless you pick up the ball you’d never know,” Neville said. Neville plans to retire soon, and he feels that his forensic contributions have not yet been adequately appreciated by the Met. “I’ve been the same rank for fifteen years,” he told me. “If I worked for the Ford Motor Company and figured out how to make more cars at a fraction of the cost, I’d be promoted.”

He plans to follow the example of Bill Bratton and Jack Maple, who became international consultants after devising the heralded CompStat system at the New York City Police Department. Neville hopes to advise other departments, for a fee, on how to identify and train their own super-recognizers. The police department of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently announced that it is working with psychologists at Dartmouth and Harvard to test the facialrecognition capabilities of its oicers. Other departments are likely to follow. One afternoon at Scotland Yard, Neville arranged an awards ceremony at which he commended CCTV operators, in an efort to foster esprit de corps. Beverages were served, and after seeing of the last stragglers Neville stuck around with a handful of the super-recognizers, drinking wine in plastic cups and chatting. There was something valedictory about the gathering: at the end of the week, the team would be vacating Room 901. The Met has sold New Scotland Yard, and the unit is relocating to a facility in Lambeth. (“New New Scotland Yard,” someone joked.) When I asked Alison Young, out of earshot of Neville, about the prospect of his departure, she noted that the team relied on him to advocate for them in the department. “He’s a legend,” she said. “We’re still technically a temporary unit,” Porritt said. There was a sense that without Neville the whole initiative could be disbanded on a bureaucratic whim. Neville clearly shares this concern. He feels that he has unlocked a mystery of the human mind which could signal a revolution in policing. He is frustrated when he encounters skepticism, as if he were claiming to have discovered oicers with telepathy or E.S.P., and he feels a nagging suspicion that had he written an algorithm instead the brass would be rushing to embrace it. “People don’t want to believe that humans could be better than a machine,” he told me. “And the sad truth in this wicked world we live in is that people don’t want to pay a human. They want to buy a machine.”  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016






rrol Healy should have retired by now from his marineinsurance business, but it was such a going concern it was hard to shut it down, and he worried about what he’d do in retirement. He was widowed and his only child, Angela, had gone up to Gainesville, graduated, and moved to Washington with her husband, Mike, a marketing consultant at the Seattle Art Museum. Every year, Errol travelled to Seattle to see Angela and Mike and, of late, his granddaughter, Siobhan. But Key West was always and intensely home, and Angela was amused to see his rush to get back. She missed Key West not at all, despite the fact that she had been elected Miss Conch in eleventh grade at Key West High. She’d been a conventional sorority girl at Gainesville, and if a word could describe her life thus far it would be “smooth.” It was more than peculiar that Errol had made a career insuring ships and boats, mostly commercial fishing boats, trawlers, long-liners, northern draggers, and even a processing ship half a world away. He had begun as the janitor to two old Conchs, Pinder and Sawyer, who had been insuring shrimp boats for half a century and were part owners of a chandlery. When Pinder and Sawyer died, in successive years, Errol was the last man standing, and, with a modest understanding of how the business ran, he made the most of it. To this day, he loved salt water, and his only recreation was sailing his old boat, Czarina, which had been stolen long ago, when he was running from his problems, in the Bahamas, but was recovered, a derelict tied to a piling in the Miami River, and had been repaired often at unreasonable expense. He was attached to Czarina not only because he’d nearly lost her in the seventies but because that theft had sent him on to the life he had led ever since. He had been a boy of his time and place, Florida in the last third of the twentieth century, one of the thousands who thought they could sail away to happiness in some tropical escape: wooden sailboats with light air rigs, acoustic guitars, and reckless girls. The reckoning always came sooner than one expected, but at that age even a little time seemed like a lot. It was long ago and far away, and now the blond dreadlocks of his


youth would be viewed as cultural appropriation. He had often annoyed his late wife with his many versions of “Funny How Time Slips Away”: Joe Hinton, Al Green, Willie Nelson. . . . “Enough!” she’d cried. “I got it!” Errol frequently indulged in thoughts of the past on his visits to Dr. Higueros’s oice on Flagler. He always took with him a big paper bag from Fausto’s market in which to carry home mangoes from the efulgent tree that shaded the doctor’s driveway and eventually made it slippery with rotten fruit. Errol used them in his breakfast smoothies, which gave him a reason to visit a friend he’d known since they met as refugees— Dr. Higueros and his wife from the north coast of Cuba, Errol from a kind of captivity in the Bahamas. Today was a fine day to see the doctor, a wet squall from the Gulf bending the palms along the street to Higueros’s oice, people hunching from awning to awning. The recurrent problem of wax in Errol’s ears, a buildup that afected his hearing, required Dr. Higueros’s attention: hydrogen peroxide to soften the impaction and then vigorous syringing over a white ceramic bowl into which the wax fell, in a way that Errol found stirring. As the fluid bubbled in his ears and he awaited the blasts of warm water, he talked with Juan, as he called the doctor, of things big and small—big being Mrs. Higueros’s advancing dementia, small being the new cars of which Juan was a devoted fan. He told Errol that he was “over S.U.V.s,” which were too hard to park in Key West’s intense street scene, and was waiting for the Tesla to come down in price so that he could recharge at home, rather than beating his way across town for gas and paying some cholo to do the windshield. He and Errol shared about a ten-block radius, which Errol rarely breached except to go to his boat and Dr. Higueros to his club to play dominoes. The Higueroses had a daughter, too—Jaquinda, who was now an ophthalmologist in Green Cove Springs, on the St. Johns River. When Jaquinda was a teen-ager, Errol had stayed away from the Higueros household for perfectly good reasons: briefly a wild high schooler, Jaquinda had once shared with him her little supply of cocaine and things had very nearly gone of the

rails before Errol sensibly fled to his airconditioned insurance oice. He saw her again when she was out of school, and she displayed a laughing formality toward him that he found quite brilliant, in its way, and a relief. When Juan thought he’d syringed enough, Errol urged one more shot, because he could sense that his right ear was still occluded. Juan gave it a good blast this time, and a golden chunk fell into the bowl, causing great satisfaction for them both. It was lunchtime, and they sent out for masitas de cerdo, their favorite pork dish, which arrived in a big flimsy Styrofoam carton and which they ate from paper plates with plastic forks and beer from Juan’s fridge. Then they settled in to rehash the past as usual. Juan believed that his challenge in getting to the U.S. had been unlike Errol’s. “You were stranded, but you were in a friendly country, not fleeing los barbudos.” “I had nowhere to go. My boat had been stolen. I was running away, and I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t have anything.” “You let that woman make a slave of you!” “I must have needed it.” Errol spread his arms, palms open, as though encompassing something that neither he nor the doctor could see. he memory was far clearer to him

T now than nearly anything that

had happened since. When he had awakened that morning, hungover in the sand, tormented by sand flies, next to extinguished buttonwood coals with the smell of old meat, a Bahamian woman, Angela, had been standing over him. She helped him to understand that he had been robbed of everything, his boat stolen. The news had the efect of emptying his mind entirely. Angela, on the other hand, seemed to find his bewildered response entertaining. “Boat gone!” she cried happily. “Come with me.” The momentum was hers, and Errol found a bleak luxury in allowing himself to be taken over. Angela drove him in an old truck to a shack at the top of a ravine overlooking papaya fields and gave him the task of cleaning the palm rats’ nests out from under the shack’s sagging pipe bed. The window had been painted black, and THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


“These whale sounds aren’t calming me down at all.”

• Angela laughed as she pointed it out, saying, “You might want privacy! I am tellin’ you, there could come a time!” She made a little furrow between her eyebrows to ofset her teasing, of-center smile. She had never seen a white boy with Rasta braids before. “Where’s the nearest town?” “Why you want a town for?” Angela tipped her head skeptically. “Maybe have a drink with friends.” “Ha-ha! You don’t have no friends here! I’m your friend.” The papaya trees, once Errol got out among them, struck him as a bit creepy— barkless, branchless, their otherworldly shapes lovely in the evening, against the stars and the oceanic clouds. He managed a fitful sleep before Angela arrived in the morning with porridge and half of a papaya, whose black seeds she scooped and flung outside his door. She’d brought a wheelbarrow, too, a cumbersome thing with an iron wheel and stripped branches for handles. Inside rested a square-headed shovel, its handle polished by long, hard use. His job, she explained, would be hauling bat guano from the clifs above the papaya grove and fertilizing the trees. He was weary before he arrived at the first cave and had to rest, but the el60


• evation revealed some settlement to the south, and a glimpse of the sea to the west. He felt a familiar pull when he saw this strip of blue above the green highlands and succeeding karst ledges, but what good would it do him to get to the sea? He entered the cave, pushing the wheelbarrow on its noisy wheel. Arawak petroglyph swirls were cut into the walls, and the ammonia stink of guano was overwhelming. He was already sick from his life, and this was too much. He let himself spew onto the floor. Then he began to dig, filling the wheelbarrow a shovelful at a time, staring from the shadows at the hard light outside the cave. As he started back downhill to the papayas, he lost control of the wheelbarrow and had to refill it from the rough ground. He poured with sweat and his eyes stung. Hands on her hips, Angela watched from below, and when he reached the grove she directed him as he deposited the guano around a few of the trees. Then she gave him a drink of water. “Two more,” she said, “and I will bring you some food. Not before!” On his third night in the shack, Errol considered the ways he could put an end to this, but, as he plucked pieces of

scorched pig from a greasy strip of paper, he found himself liking the clarity that pushed through the pain of his muscles. Then he stretched out on his bunk and congratulated himself on having declined Angela’s ofer to bring him a Kalik with his meal. He had managed to get the blackened window open, and the fragrant square of stars consoled him as he drifted of. One night, a mongoose stood in his doorway like an amiable visitor, then hopped of toward better prospects. “What day is today?” “Why you want to know?” “Why don’t you just tell me?” “What I tell you for?” “I just wondered what day it was.” “You needing a day of?” “I need a bath.” “Of course you do!” She fanned her face and rolled her eyes. Angela took him to her home, the first time he’d seen it, a wooden house on cinder blocks, with a concrete cistern, very tidy, laundry on a line and chickens in the yard. By the edge of the trees, a pen held a nursing pig and her piglets. Angela lit a propane flame beneath a copper coil, directed him to a faucet beside the cistern, and said she’d be on the porch. A plastic cover from a car battery, nailed to a tree, held soap. Errol undressed, glancing around warily, and washed himself under the warm sprinkle, then quickly put his clothes back on and joined Angela on the porch, where she sat foursquare in a blue homemade dress that came to her calves and some kind of recycled military boots. Her hair was tied in a tall topknot with a strip of blue rag. “You ain’t give out? You been working like a mule.” “Not yet,” Errol said, and laughed. She stared at him rather than share the laugh. “Aks you somethin’? What’s wrong with you? Look like it eat you up.” “Doing O.K. Something changes I’ll let you know.” “I always be guessin’ what is up wit my kids, all eight. Dat just me.” “Eight!” “So far!” She laughed hard. “Yes, yes, so far.” Errol thought about a rant his father often delivered, about blacks and the many children of the poor and the impossibility of improving their

circumstances through education: “We’ve been educating the sonsabitches for a hundred years and it has done no good whatsoever. We’re gonna have to spray them. On second thought, let’s not spray them. Aviation fuel has gone through the roof.” “Look here,” Angela said. “You keep goin’ up to the cave with your wheelbarrow until you figure out what’s the matter with you, and then I’ll try to get you on home.” “I’m fine!” “Sure you is, li’l man!” t seemed that by the time he had

I fertilized each papaya tree it was time

to start at the beginning again. He had hauled hundreds of pounds of guano, fanning away disgruntled fruit bats as he worked shirtless. The hardest was stabilizing the load in the wheelbarrow as he made his way down the hill, zigzagging around sloping ledges. After one failure, he found himself crying, “Bat shit! It’s just bat shit!,” then laughing at the thought that the statement could apply to him as well as to the load he was carrying. One night a storm came in from the sea and, because so many parts of his shack were minimally connected, it made a tremendous amount of noise. Lying abed, he could see the ceiling moving. It was frightening. Summoning figures from the past, he masturbated, and as he reached climax a huge piece of tin blew of the roof and revealed clouds racing across a yellow moon. He heard the tin tumble away and pulled his thin blanket over his head. Who was that last one? He troubled himself over the image of a girl who had bitten her tongue during intercourse. It was in New Port Richey was as far as he got before falling asleep, then waking up to, No, Crystal River!, and falling asleep again, still without a name. No dice, a desirable girl lost in memory. When he awoke in the morning, the storm had passed and a glistening white egret stood in the opening overhead, looking down at him from above its jet-black beak. His fingers were sticky from ejaculating into his hand. That was when he remembered her: it was in Chattanooga, and her name was Denise. They’d been headed to Jazz Fest, in Nola—Ernie K-Doe and Irma Thomas—but had wound up where

there wasn’t shit-all going on, unless it was hillbilly clog dancing. There’d be no reason for her to remember him now. She had probably got of drugs and had a Ph.D. and was living in a mansion with a litter of King Charles spaniels and a German car. Time to fix that roof tin, which he found entangled in Brazilian pepper seedlings and love vines and struggled to drag out. He slid it back up on the roof, wedged it to keep it from sliding of, then put a jar of nails and a claw hammer there before using the window ledge to climb up beside it. He had trouble holding the tin in place while he tried to nail it down. Every time he started a nail, the tin moved and the nail went clinking to the floor below him. He put some nails in his mouth, clutched the hammer in one hand, and eased his weight onto the tin to secure it. But as he lifted his hand for a nail the tin shifted under his weight, and, riding it, he shot into the dirt yard twenty feet in front of the shack, where he lay moaning until he was discovered by Angela, who characteristically placed her hands on her hips as she surveyed him, shaking her head from side to side, and marvelled, “Good Lord!” He gazed back at her but said nothing.

“Can you move?” “I don’t know why I would.” “Do you want to be examined?” “I suppose, but everything works. I’m quite sore, it says here.” “Let me help.” Angela stood him up, though he was aware that he was crouching, not standing. She put him in bed and told him in so many words that she would review his condition at the end of the day. He looked up at the leaves of a tall palm that swayed against a sky so attractive it enlarged his sense that he was missing something. While Angela fussed about the shack, he searched for what it was that he missed until he found that it was his wheelbarrow. He sorely missed his wheelbarrow and its noisy iron wheel. He fell asleep. He was awakened by the arrival of three of Angela’s sons, Winston, Benson, and Isaiah, who introduced themselves while peering at him in bed. He made broadly awkward responses with toothy embarrassed smiles. Shrinking back was a young woman, well along in her pregnancy. No one introduced her. Except for Benson, the boys, approaching young manhood, were fishermen; Benson was a carpenter. Powerful youngsters, they charged the shack with their energy. Benson had brought tools, and

“ ‘Thank you for sending us your manuscript,’ she exclaimed. ‘ You’re welcome,’ I retorted. ‘Unfortunately, it’s not what we are looking for,’ she opined. ‘How disappointing,’ I remarked.”

Errol could see a rusty Japanese truck in the doorway. When he sat up and ofered to help, Isaiah said, “We got it, mon. Stay where you at.” So Errol lay amid all this activity like something inanimate, listening to the hammering and the squeak of the corrugated tin as it was shoved into position. When they were done, Winston reached for Errol and helped him to his feet, then Benson led the pregnant girl into the shack and helped her into bed, while Errol, crouching in pain, tried to smile solicitously. “And you are?” “Pregnant.” “No, your name.” Benson called out, “Dat Shonda. Shonda havin’ me baby!” Then the three men swept Errol out the door and into the truck, Winston at the wheel, Benson and Isaiah riding in back with the tools and the lumber. “Where are we going?” Errol asked to gales of laughter. Finally, Winston said, “Get you some tomatoes.” “Tomatoes?” “You don’t like tomatoes?” “I do like tomatoes, but why are you taking me for tomatoes?” Benson said with extraordinary solemnity, “You better of wit dem. You be rollin’ in tomatoes.” The others regarded this as an extremely witty remark. Errol got a first look at the settlement, a handful of tiny homes made of assorted scavenged materials, driftwood, parts of wrecked boats—two had roofs like the tops of cabin cruisers—and surrounded by substantial piles of crawfish traps. Anytime people could be seen in yards, Winston blew the truck’s horn and the merriment thus occasioned suggested a real event. At the wharf, other small rusty Japanese trucks were gathered in the last stages of loading a low-slung fortyfoot wooden boat with tomatoes, most in boxes but some in loose piles. At the stern of the boat was a modest pilothouse, beneath which a smoky diesel engine rumbled and spat cooling water from a pipe at the stern. An old man in a weathered Miami Dolphins cap stood in the pilothouse, cigarette hanging from the center of his mouth; occasionally he removed it, leaning to one side to call out orders for the loading of the vessel. Errol and the brothers climbed from the truck, and Benson propelled Errol 62



1 I am lying in a hammock in Sweden, blue sky beyond a canopy of cherry. I am resting in a socialistic Eden, beside long meadows, tall oaks for a king, sand paths that wander to sweet water, a ring of road that goes back to the ferry. This haze and heat might have me half asleep. The cherry globes bob slightly in the breeze. The shapes or shades of deer sprint round and leap through ancient lichened branches; toward the evening they loudly bell, a sound like awful grieving about the island’s groves and leas. 2 I am lying in a hammock in Sweden, I might have had a beer or two—beer made just down the road from here, and brewed to sweeten such summer days and free this people from their goodness, their incorruptible aplomb, for a few hours dreamily swayed. The label says one Anders Kotz brewed it. May he do well. He’s lifted me on waves that lift the island also. Feet to the bowsprit, I’m launched on Lake Malar and headed north. Frost giants might say what’s up with the earth, if I can ind them in their icy caves. 3 The world’s on ire this summer: rub two sticks and miles of forestland will turn to smoke; the ocean’s thermostat went up some clicks and ish are none too pleased; rain, if rain falls, runs of the car parks, courts, and malls— the worms ask us is this a joke. toward the boat with light fingertips in the small of his back. Errol boarded the boat and shook the captain’s horny hand. Glancing back, he saw that Angela had joined her sons and was blowing him kisses, perhaps sarcastically. Since he wasn’t sure how to take this, Errol returned the gesture, and the resulting comic uproar confirmed that it had been sarcasm. The captain identified himself as Wellington, then shouted to Angela and the boys, “Behave! And cast me of.” The three sons obediently untied the ropes from the bollards, tossing them onto the boat with a thud. Wellington engaged the engine and, as the boat

moved away from the dock toward a dark-green channel in the pale shallows, Japanese truck horns blared farewell. Angela was still blowing kisses, but now toward the houses, where others returned the gesture, sharing some joke about who it was who was really departing. Errol was not uncomfortable being led about like this, even onto an outbound vessel of dubious seaworthiness, but it did seem time to ask where they were going. “To West Palm to sell dese tomatoes before dey rot.” Wellington hardly said anything after that, and replied with ill-concealed annoyance, as he kept a perfunctory eye

And all the while three brothers in the night, three corners of the continent, we sigh, we shout, we argue from the left to right. Frost giants loose the ice caps from their grip in the background. And so my crazy trip up to the north to ask them why. 4 Or am I just asleep? Is this a winding sheet? My almost cosmic snoring joins the storms that rough up trees and latten ields of wheat. Great currents draw back, mustering their forces. Out on the lake, waves massing like warhorses. The hills unfold in laming forms. And the wolves run. Is this how the world ends? Frost giants stood here at the start of things. The stories tell how two wolves—ierce, immense— will eat the sun and moon. The sea will rise and rush across the earth to men’s surprise, the world-tree scorched to its irst rings. 5 I am lying in a hammock in Sweden, between a cherry and a plinth of elm. Unheard by giants, still alive, world-smitten, though chill encloses me as light is lost— a portent or a memory of frost. Night creatures of the island realm make noise again: three brothers, belling deer, a single wolf that’s watching from a barrow. Still uncertain, but if the world’s still here we’ll rise and clean up last night’s plates and pots, put dough into the oven, and Anders Kotz will brew another batch tomorrow. —Justin Quinn

on the compass but picked a cloud to steer by, using the plunging stemhead for a sight. Errol was elated to be on the ocean again. The laden hull created a steep stern wave, and, in the first miles, dolphins slipped up its face and somersaulted back into the sea, barely skimming under the surface between vaults. Then they angled of into a shower of flying fish and were gone toward the purple light of the Gulf Stream. Errol was still weary from his nighttime struggles. He found a spot among the crates where lengths of cordage had been stowed, probably for the anchor, and lay down feeling a bottomless phys-

ical relief. He laced his hands behind his head and, watching a frigate bird high above, immediately fell asleep, stirring occasionally to change position and twice thinking that he heard voices. He was awakened finally by the silence of the engine and the roll of the boat, and concluded by its motion that they had crossed the Stream. Sitting up, he could make out the loom from the lights of Florida on the far horizon, and he could hear Wellington speaking on the radio. Two people were standing by the pilothouse. Wellington emerged and, seeing Errol awake, said, “Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Higueros.”

The Higueroses were dressed as though for a business meeting, he in a gray suit of an old-fashioned broadshouldered style, ill-suited to his small shape, and she in a kind of black jumper with a wide-winged white shirt. Wellington returned to the pilothouse and then reëmerged with something in his hand. He pulled sharply downward on it and a flare shot up, parachuting an umbrella of white phosphorus. They waited in expectant silence until a mobile speck of light appeared at sea level to the west, enlarging steadily until it became the running light of a low blue-gray race boat, entirely open except for its helm and windshield, behind which stood two men in night goggles, one with a hand on the binnacle and the other resting on a machine gun attached to a clip on the side of the console. The man at the wheel said, “Morning, Wellington. Nice, quiet crossing, I hope.” He shut the engine of to drift alongside. “Kurt here will do the banking. Who’s that third guy?” “Called Air Roll.” Errol made a rather feeble gesture of greeting. “He stayin’ with you?” “He goin’ with you.” “Angela didn’t say nothin’ about him.” “She just put him on, say you wouldn’t mind.” “But I do mind, Wellington.” “I can take them all to West Palm. It up to you,” Wellington said firmly, easing toward the pilothouse, tugging the bill of his Miami Dolphins cap and looking toward his next horizon. “Naw, God damn it, Wellington. Come here.” Wellington went to the gunwale, balancing against it with his waist while Kurt began counting money into his hand. When it went too rapidly, Wellington raised the palm of his free hand to slow things down. Kurt said, “That’s a lot of U.S. dollars.” “I don’t want to count it,” Wellington said blithely. “I want to weigh it.” “Make sure Angela gets hers. I don’t need to be hearing from her.” Wellington and Errol helped the couple into the boat, frightened and clinging to each other, then Errol climbed in. The driver put the boat in reverse and it chugged backward in the wash around the tomato boat, turned ninety THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


degrees, and was immediately up on plane with the thrust of its big engines. Once out of sight of the tomato boat, the boat stopped again and Kurt carried a hamper of clothes to Mr. and Mrs. Higueros. “Oye, change into these,” he said. “You don’t need to look so fuckin’ balsero.” Kurt returned to the stern and turned away while the Higueroses changed clothes. Kurt said, “Cubans. If they got the money, honey, I got the time.” When it was polite to do so, Errol looked back: the transformation was remarkable. Both now wore baggy shorts and logo fishing shirts, Mrs. Higueros sporting a leaping blue sailfish and Mr. Higueros a livid map of the Caribbean with associated fishes and, on his back, “Come on Down and Kick Some Fin!” They wore identical ball caps from the Dania greyhound track and beheld each other with comical admiration. Errol saw that these were clever people. Back at full speed, the boat seemed to touch the water only delicately, a kind of lengthwise flutter beneath the hull. “How did you get on this load, Air Roll?” the driver asked. “Friend of Angela’s.” He had no idea

how it had happened, or why he had not resisted, or where, exactly, he was going. “Old Angela, man, she makes it happen. I don’t know where she’s burying all the money, unless it goes to West Palm under a load of papayas. No way to spend it where she’s at.” He jerked his head toward the passengers. “Slipped this duo out of Camagüey. Doctor and his wife. Relatives paid for it. Don’t none of ’em stay po’ long.” “Are you gonna drop them of on some beach?” “Naw, naw, naw, we go right into the marina.” He tapped Kurt on the shoulder and wiggled his finger at the machine gun. Kurt took it from the console and stowed it in a side locker. “The little doc’s gonna be just fine. Hey, what’s with the dreads? You octoroon or something? I have a octoroon cousin, highyeller kind of feller, only he don’t admit it. Hey, this is America—we gotta get along, ain’t we? Damn straight.” Errol let it ride: Air Roll the octoroon. In a while, the well-lit coast grew clear and the motion of the boat changed with the waves on the shelving bottom. The running lights were

“Maybe we don’t need to do these news updates every sixty seconds.”

of; the boat and its passengers seemed part of the darkness. At length, the corners of an inlet emerged, with long, breaking rollers flowing to the interior, and, at much reduced speed, they struggled to the top, then slid down the inside of the wave. The boat slowed to a steady idle, then abruptly turned into a wilderness of docks and finger piers. They cruised between rows of yachts, then on to less occupied docks, before turning into one and shutting everything of. At the base of the dock was a black Lincoln Town Car, its windows a sheen in the security light. Kurt and the driver helped Dr. and Mrs. Higueros onto the dock. They hurried over to clamber into a rear door of the Lincoln, which barely shut before the car drove of, away and gone. “Two new wet-foot dry-foot Americans,” Kurt said. He secured the boat with stern and spring lines, while Errol tied of the bow. The driver came forward, glanced, and said, “Man knows how to tie a knot. Someone coming for you? No? So where are we taking you?” “A1A.” e found a ride right away, in a

H dry-cleaning van that got him as

far as Homestead and could have taken him to Key Largo, but he got out early, abruptly, at a stoplight. He had been closely watched for miles, in sidelong glances and gazes, by the driver, a large, somewhat handsome man, who, with his carefully combed hair and clueless lopsided smile, resembled the young Ronald Reagan. Errol’s discomfort increased until he felt compelled to account for his dishevelled appearance. “I lost my boat, all my clothes and supplies. I’m afraid I’m a mess until I can get a shower and a change.” The man smiled at him for a long time before speaking. “It don’t matter, son,” he said in an unhurried drawl. “I’m gonna fuck you anyway.” He spoke with easygoing confidence. Errol thought it best to consider this a reasonable idea until he could collect his thoughts. When the man reached toward him, Errol took his hand and replaced it on the steering wheel, saying, “Not now.” Watching the approaching stoplight, he asked, “Mind if I play the radio?” “Baby, knock yourself out.” Errol reached for the dial and wound

around until he found a ranting evangelist. At the stoplight, he lifted the door handle and twisted the volume knob high. The radio poured out a screech to all the Hell-bound out yonder in Radioland: Repent! The driver covered his ears, and Errol stepped onto the Dixie Highway with a grateful wave. Acknowledging him with a grim nod and a hand flap of dismissal, the driver drove of on green. Errol walked for a while, until he found a homeless shelter and the smell of food. He hesitated, but he knew that he wouldn’t get far without nourishment, so he went in and was promptly and cheerfully questioned by a nun at the front desk, who made him an I.D. tag and pinned it on him: “Errol Healy. In Transition.” She asked if he needed assistance recovering his identification papers; if he would like foot lotion, a phone card, legal advice, a place to sleep, or mail service. He wailed, “I want something to eat.” “Our casserole program is just winding up. Head down the corridor, double doors on the right.” “Where’re you from?” he asked, to allay the efect of his cry for food. “God loves us wherever we’re from,” she said with a laugh. “But, O.K., Green Bay, Wisconsin. I came for the climate.” The dining hall was almost empty, but the sound of silverware ceased as he entered. Maybe twelve elderly people in two groups, one black and one Cuban, separated by language and folding chairs. A casserole remained on the steam table, and Errol cut himself a piece—cheese, sausage, and tomato, which he gobbled down, despite its blandness—and followed it with glass after glass of sweet iced tea. A corrugated shield had been pulled down behind the steam table, and raucous voices could be heard behind it. The fluorescent tubes lighting the room had a flicker that seemed connected to something inside Errol, and he glanced around, wondering if some bulbs were better for sitting under than others. He ate more than he wanted, hoping the calories would keep him kicking out footsteps or normal conversations if he found rides. Refreshed, he walked out past the same nun working at a ledger. He said, “Go, Packers!” and dropped of his I.D. tag. She smiled without looking up, and then he was back in the rising heat of

• the Old Dixie Highway. He stood with his thumb out in front of streaming southbound traic—cars, vans, motor homes; a police car slowed but didn’t stop. The reflected heat from the pavement had begun to make him dizzy when the black Lincoln pulled over, well ahead of him by the time it got itself out of traic. It wasn’t until he was in the back seat that he saw Dr. and Mrs. Higueros, still in their anomalous sportfishing togs. Dr. Higueros, at close range, was young, but friendly in an old-fashioned, courtly way. They’d overnighted at a Super 8 in Pompano and showed him the postcards, the Barefoot Mailman, bathing beauties picking oranges. “Where are you going?” the doctor asked. “Where are you going?” Errol said back. Mrs. Higueros smiled rigidly; the decision to pick up a dirty stranger

• who knew their origins was not hers. “To our family in Key West. Can we drop you along the way?” Errol said, “Key West will be fine.” r. Higueros loved to make noise

D by crushing the Styrofoam con-

tainer with both fists as he gathered the debris from their lunch. “Did you put this on a tab?” Errol asked. “Let me get one. I’m behind.” “Sure. What’s going on with Angela these days?” “All good. Nothing new. I don’t know how they can stand it there. The sun never comes out. I get a cold just from visiting.” “You’re a new grandpa. You have to go. You just need warmer clothes.” ♦


Thomas McGuane reads “Papaya,” on The Author’s Voice podcast. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016




DERAILED The troubling allure of the Underground Railroad.

he crate arrived, via overland ex-

T press, one spring evening in 1849.

Three feet long, two feet wide, and two and a half feet deep, it had been packed the previous morning in Richmond, Virginia, then carried by horse cart to the local oice of the Adams Express Company. From there, it was taken to the railroad depot, loaded onto a train, and, on reaching the Potomac, transferred to a steamer, where, despite its label—THIS SIDE UP WITH CARE—it was placed upside down until a tired passenger tipped it over and used it as a seat. After arriving in the nation’s capital, it was loaded onto a wagon, dumped out at the train station, loaded onto a luggage car, sent on to Philadelphia, unloaded onto another wagon, and, finally, delivered to 31 North Fifth Street. The person to whom the box had been shipped, James Miller McKim, was waiting there to receive it. When he opened it, out scrambled a man named Henry Brown: five feet eight inches tall, two hundred pounds, and, as far as anyone knows, the first person in United States history to liberate himself from slavery by, as he later wrote, “getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state.” McKim, a white abolitionist with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, had by then been working for the Underground Railroad for more than a decade, and he was awed by the courage and drama of Brown’s escape, and of others like it. In an article he wrote some years later, he predicted that future generations of Americans would come to share his emotions: Now deemed unworthy of the notice of any, save fanatical abolitionists, these acts of sub66


lime heroism, of lofty self-sacriice, of patient martyrdom, these beautiful Providences, these hair-breadth escapes and terrible dangers, will yet become the themes of the popular literature of this nation, and will excite the admiration, the reverence and the indignation of the generations yet to come.

It did not take long for McKim’s prediction to come true. The Underground Railroad entered our collective imagination in the eighteen-forties, and it has since been a mainstay of both national history and local lore. But in the past decade or so it has surged into “the popular literature of this nation”—and the popular everything else, too. This year alone has seen the publication of two major Railroad novels, including Oprah’s first bookclub selection in more than a year, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” (Doubleday). On TV, the WGN America network aired the first season of “Underground,” which follows the fates of a group of slaves, known as the Macon Seven, who flee a Georgia plantation. Nonfiction writers, too, have lately returned to the subject. In 2004, the Yale historian David Blight edited “Passages to Freedom,” an anthology of essays on the Underground Railroad. The following year, Fergus Bordewich published “Bound for Canaan,” the first national history of the Railroad in more than a century. And last year, Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia, published “Gateway to Freedom,” about the Railroad’s operations in New York City. Between 1869 and 2002, there were two adult biographies of Harriet Tubman, the Railroad’s most famous “con-

ductor”; more than four times as many have been published since then, together with a growing number of books about her for children and young adults—five in the nineteen-seventies, six in the nineteen-eighties, twenty-one in the nineteen-nineties, and more than thirty since the turn of this century. An HBO bio-pic about Tubman is in development, and earlier this year the U.S. Treasury announced that, beginning in the next decade, she will appear on the twenty-dollar bill. Other public and private entities have likewise taken up the cause. Since 1998, the National Park Service has been working to create a Network to Freedom, a system of federally designated, locally managed Underground Railroad sites around the country. The first national museum dedicated to the subject, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, opened in Cincinnati in 2004, and next March the Park Service will inaugurate its first Railroad-related national monument: the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, in Cambridge, Maryland, near Tubman’s birthplace. This outpouring of interest suggests that we have collectively caught on to what McKim long ago understood: that the stories of those who fled slavery and those who helped them to freedom are among the most moving in our nation’s history. It was McKim’s hope that these stories would excite our admiration, reverence, and indignation, and they do. But, as more recent work has made clear, they should also incite our curiosity and skepticism: about how the Underground Railroad



Stories of the Underground Railroad provide the possibility of moral comfort in a profoundly uncomfortable past. ILLUSTRATION BY LEIGH GULDIG



really worked, why stories about it so consistently work on us, and what they teach us—or spare us from learning— about ourselves and our nation. o one knows who coined the term.

N Some ascribe it to a thwarted slave

owner, others to a runaway slave. It first appeared in print in an abolitionist newspaper in 1839, at the end of a decade when railways had come to symbolize prosperity and progress, and three thousand miles of actual track had been laid across the nation. Frederick Douglass used the term in his 1845 autobiography—where he laments that indiscreet abolitionists are turning it into “an upperground railroad”— and Harriet Beecher Stowe used it in 1852, in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” when one slave-catcher cautions another against delaying pursuit of a fugitive “till the gal’s been carried on the underground line.” By the following year, the Times was reporting that the term had “come into very general use to designate the organized arrangements made in various sections of the country, to aid fugitives from slavery.” Seldom has our national lexicon acquired a phrase so appealing to the imagination, or so open to misinterpretation. In his new novel, Colson Whitehead exploits both those qualities by doing knowingly what nearly every young child first learning our history does naïvely: taking the term “Underground Railroad” literally. His protagonist, a teen-age girl named Cora, flees the Georgia plantation where she was born into slavery and heads north on a series of rickety subterranean trains—one- or two-car numbers, driven by actual conductors and reached via caves or through trapdoors in buildings owned by sympathetic whites. Whitehead has a taste for fantastical infrastructure, first revealed via the psychically active elevators in his brilliant début novel, “The Intuitionist.” Those elevators were the perfect device—mingling symbolic resonance with Marvel Comics glee, absolved of improbability by the particularity and force of Whitehead’s imagination. In “The Underground Railroad,” he more or less reverses his 68


earlier trick. Rather than imbue a manufactured box with mystery, he turns our most evocative national metaphor into a mechanical contraption. It is a clever choice, reminding us that a metaphor never got anyone to freedom. Among his other concerns in this book, Whitehead wants to know what does: how the Underground Railroad really worked, and at what cost, and for whom. Those questions were first asked in an extensive and systematic way by an Ohio State University historian named Wilbur Siebert. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, when many parents of the Civil War dead were still alive to grieve for their children and former slaves still outnumbered freeborn African-Americans, Siebert began contacting surviving abolitionists or their kin and asking them to describe their eforts to aid fugitives from slavery. The resulting history, published in 1898 and entitled “The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom,” depicted a network of more than three thousand anti-slavery activists, most of them white, who helped ferry largely anonymous runaways to freedom. That history has been difusing through the culture ever since, gathering additional details along the way and profoundly shaping our image of the Underground Railroad. In that image, a clandestine organization of abolitionists—many of them Quaker or otherwise motivated by religious ideals—used covert methods (tunnels, trapdoors, concealed passageways) and secret signals (lanterns set in windows, quilts hung on laundry lines) to help convey enslaved African-Americans to freedom. That story, like so many that we tell about our nation’s past, has a tricky relationship to the truth: not quite wrong, but simplified; not quite a myth, but mythologized. For one thing, far from being centrally organized, the Underground Railroad was what we might today call an emergent system: it arose through the largely unrelated actions of individuals and small groups, many of whom were oblivious of one another’s existence. What’s more, even the most active abolitionists spent only a tiny fraction of their time on surreptitious adventures with packing crates and the like; typi-

cally, they carried out crucial but banal tasks like fund-raising, education, and legal assistance. And while fugitives did often need to conceal themselves en route to freedom, most of their hiding places were mundane and catch-as-catch-can— haylofts and spare bedrooms and swamps and caves, not bespoke hidey-holes built by underground engineers. As for the notion that passengers on the Underground Railroad communicated with one another by means of quilts: that idea originated, without any evident basis, in the eighties (the nineteen-eighties). The putative role of textiles and architecture in antebellum activism doesn’t matter that much, but other distortions in Siebert’s story do. No one disputes that white abolitionists were active in the Underground Railroad, but later scholars argued that Siebert had exaggerated both their numbers and their importance, while downplaying or ignoring the role played by African-Americans. Among religious sects, for example, the Quakers generally receive the most credit for resisting slavery, with secondary acknowledgment going to the wave of evangelical Christianity that spread across the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, in the movement known as the Second Great Awakening. Yet scant mainstream attention goes to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was established in 1816, in direct response to American racism and the institution of slavery, and played at least as crucial a role in raising money, aiding fugitives, and helping former slaves who had found their way to freedom make a new life. This lopsided awareness holds not only for institutions but for individuals. Many people know of William Lloyd Garrison, one of the country’s leading white anti-slavery activists, while almost no one knows about the black abolitionist William Still—one of the most efective operators and most important historians of the Underground Railroad, whose book about it, published a quarter of a century before Siebert’s, was based on detailed notes he kept while helping six hundred and forty-nine fugitives onward toward freedom. Likewise, more people know the name of Levi Coin, a white Midwestern Quaker, than that of Louis Napoleon, a freeborn black abolitionist, even though both risked their

lives to help thousands of fugitives to safety. This allocation of credit is inversely proportional to the risk that white and black anti-slavery activists faced. It took courage almost everywhere in antebellum America to actively oppose slavery, and some white abolitionists paid a price. A few were killed; some died in prison; others, facing arrest or worse, fled to Canada. But these were the exceptions. Most whites faced only fines and the opprobrium of some in their community, while those who lived in anti-slavery strongholds, as many did, went about their business with near-impunity. Black abolitionists, by contrast, always put life and liberty on the line. If caught, free blacks faced the possibility of being illegally sold into slavery, while fugitives turned agents faced potential reënslavement, torture, and murder. Harriet Tubman is rightly famous for how boldly she faced those risks: first when she fled slavery herself; then during the roughly twenty return trips she made to the South to help bring others to freedom; and, finally, during the war, when she accompanied Union forces into the Carolinas, where they disrupted supply lines and, under her direction, liberated some seven hundred and fifty slaves. By then, slave-

holders in her home state of Maryland were clamoring for her capture, dead or alive, and, in the words of her first biographer, publicly debating “the diferent cruel devices by which she would be tortured and put to death.” Tubman, of course, is the one black conductor on the Underground Railroad whose fame is commensurate with her work. She is also the only black conductor most people know—though William Still’s reputation may be on the rise, courtesy of his small but compelling role in the uneven but often excellent TV series “Underground.” Still, while white abolitionists remain statistically overrepresented in stories about the Underground Railroad, the recent set suggests that, more than a century after Siebert, the balance may finally be shifting. “Who built it?” one of Whitehead’s fugitives asks, on first reaching a station on the Underground Railroad and peering down a tunnel where iron tracks disappear into darkness. “Who builds anything in this country?” the agent answers. he fugitive-slave narrative pre-

T sents a curious paradox. In terms of

content, it describes one of the darkest eras of American history; in terms of form, it is, in a way, the perfect Ameri-

can story. Its plot is the central one of Western literature: a hero goes on a journey. Its protagonist obeys the dictates of her conscience instead of the dictates of the state, thereby satisfying our national appetite for righteous outlaws. And its narrative arc bends in our preferred direction: from Tubman to Katniss Everdeen, from “The Shawshank Redemption” to Cheryl Strayed, we adore stories of individuals who fight their way to actual or psychological freedom. Although such heroes make their journeys under duress, fugitive-slave stories are also a form of travel narrative. And, while in real life fugitives ran in every imaginable direction and were often caught or forced to turn back or died en route, in our stories the direction of travel is more nearly uniform. On the Underground Railroad, geography is plot: the South represents iniquity and bondage, the North enlightenment and freedom. Whitehead, a canny storyteller, makes use of this narrative tradition in “The Underground Railroad,” while also considerably complicating it. Freedom is illusory in his novel, and iniquity unbound by latitude, but he knows that the story of slavery is fundamentally the story of America, and he uses Cora’s journey to observe our nation, from an upper-crust mixed-race family in Boston to a farming community in Indiana. Some of the finest parts of the novel involve the efort to make sense of a new place—whether through the tiny attic window from which Cora studies the cultural, political, and natural landscape of a North Carolina town or on the long, strange wagon ride she takes through a Tennessee landscape devastated by wildfire. As in “Lolita,” the moral crisis is so consuming that it’s easy to miss the journey—but the journey is the essence of this novel. Indeed, the most efective liberties that Whitehead takes are not with Cora’s mode of transport but with the terrain through which she travels. Station by station, he builds a physical landscape out of the chronology of African-American history. Cora’s northward journey first lands her in South Carolina, where what initially seems to be a policy of paternalistic benevolence toward blacks turns out to mask a series of disturbing medical interventions: a kind of early, statewide Tuskegee experiment. From there, she moves on to North Carolina,

which has implemented, to genocidal ends, the ideals of the American Colonization Society—a real organization and social movement, evoked but unmentioned by Whitehead, that sought to end slavery and return all blacks to Africa, not least to make real the enduring fantasy of a white America. In Whitehead’s fictional version, new race laws forbid blacks to enter the state, and those caught within its borders are tortured, murdered, and left hanging on trees as a warning to others. North Carolina, one character observes, has succeeded in abolishing slavery. “On the contrary,” another corrects him. “We abolished niggers.” As all this suggests, Cora is trying to escape from much more than a plantation. In the temporally elastic landscape through which she flees, it is slavery, as much as the slave-catcher, that is pursuing her, and anyone alive in today’s America knows that she will never entirely outrun it. Indeed, at times Cora seems to be already traversing a future bereft of full freedom—the landscape blighted by proto-Jim Crow, her journey a private Great Migration. Behind the slavecatcher we can almost glimpse the police oicer misusing lethal force; behind the manacles on the walls of a train depot, the bars of mass incarceration. Still, for all the liberties that “The Underground Railroad” takes with the past, they have nothing on those in “Underground Airlines” (Mulholland Books), by the novelist and playwright Ben Winters, best known for his 2009 parody, “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.” (As it happens, Colson Whitehead’s previous book was about zombies.) Winters posits an alternate history in which the Civil War was averted and slavery, never abolished on the national level, persists into our own era, in what are called the Hard Four: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Carolinas, which together hold three million people in bondage. The protagonist, known mostly as Victor, is a fugitive slave who, after being apprehended, makes a Faustian bargain: in exchange for keeping his freedom, he agrees to work for the U.S. Marshals Service to catch other runaways. When “Underground Airlines” opens, Victor is working his two-hundred-andtenth case, trying to track down a mysterious fugitive, nicknamed Jackdaw, who

has run away from an Alabama textile plantation. To find him, Victor must infiltrate the national anti-slavery network known as the Underground Airlines— not a literal entity here but “the root of a grand, extended metaphor,” now updated: airport security, gate agents, connecting flights, baggage handlers. “The Airlines flies on the ground, in package trucks and unmarked vans and stolen tractor-trailers,” Winters writes. “It flies in the illicit adjustment of numbers on packing slips, in the suborning of plantation guards and the bribing of border security agents, in the small arts of persuasion: by threat or cashier’s check or blow job.” Winters, also the author of several mysteries, is working partly in the genre of the hardboiled detective novel; Victor is a classic noir antihero, whose self-interested amorality cloaks a troubled heart. But “Underground Airlines” also belongs to the tradition of counterfactual secession stories, à la Harry Turtledove’s “The Guns of the South” and MacKinlay Kantor’s “If the South Had Won the Civil War.” Such alternate histories run the risk of piling on textbooky details in the interest of proving the credibility of events that never happened, but Winters gets the balance right. He is careful to set up a plausible case for how history shifted of-kilter (Lincoln is assassinated before an armed conflict can break out; Congress, in grief and chaos, jams through a compromise that preserves both the Union and slavery), and he paints a convincing picture of what fugitive life would look like in our own era. (Homeland Security has a division called Internal Border and Regulation, the slave-catchers’ most fearsome tools are technological, and plantation overseers are supplied by private contractors.) But he is ultimately far more interested in the political, intellectual, and moral compromises that people make in order to live in the presence of, and sustain the existence of, legal bondage. Like Whitehead, though in a strikingly diferent way, he wants to get us to see the past in the present—the innumerable ways that we still live in a world made by slavery. he first train ride that Cora

T takes in “The Underground Rail-

road” begins just below a farmhouse in rural Georgia and ends underneath a tavern in South Carolina. Whitehead,

who knows his history, sneaks a little asterisk into the escape. “It was commonly held,” he writes, “that the underground railroad did not operate this far south.” It did not. Contrary to a claim made by Siebert and subsequently reflected in myriad popular representations, the Underground Railroad didn’t lead “from the Southern states to Canada.” In fact, with very rare exceptions, it didn’t operate below the Mason-Dixon Line at all. Aside from a few outposts in border states, the Railroad was a Northern institution. As a result, for the roughly sixty per cent of America’s slaves who lived in the Deep South in 1860, it was largely unknown and entirely useless. These are inconvenient facts for those who like to locate America’s antebellum conscience in the North. Had that region really been so principled, it wouldn’t have needed a clandestine system to convey fugitives beyond its borders to a foreign nation. Instead, while slavery itself was against the law in the North, upholding the institution of slavery was the law. As a nation, the United States regarded it as a legitimate practice, respected the right of white Southerners to own other human beings, and expressed that respect in laws that governed not half but all of the land. This was a moral disaster for our country, and a terror for fugitive slaves. The obligation to return them to their owners was enshrined in the Constitution, then further codified in 1793, and in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850— which, as Foner notes, was among the most draconian laws ever enacted in this nation. It rendered impotent any Northern ordinances designed to protect fugitives; compelled citizens to assist in capturing them; set harsh civil and criminal punishments for failing to do so; created a legal document ordering a specific fugitive to be returned to his or her master that could not be challenged in any court of law; and established a fee system whereby oicials adjudicating fugitive-slave cases earned ten dollars if they decided in favor of the owner and five if they decided for the slave. “We could see no spot, this side of the ocean, where we could be free,” Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography: fugitives themselves knew that they were only marginally better of in the THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


ostensibly free state of Ohio than across the border in Kentucky, only marginally safer in Maine or Michigan or Wisconsin than in Maryland and North Carolina and Washington, D.C. Outside of scattered pockets in upstate New York, Massachusetts, and the Midwest, moral opposition to slavery was not the norm above the Mason-Dixon Line, and fugitives were not exactly welcomed with open arms. In 1858, an editorial in a Vermont newspaper demanded that “a log must be laid across the track of the underground railroad,” and went on to argue, in terms that echo today’s debates over refugees, for the immediate cessation of “the illegal introduction of colored persons in the free states” to “prevent a large yearly increase of that class of population which is hanging like a millstone around the neck of our industrial progress.” Several ostensibly free states, including Illinois and Indiana, did just that, passing laws that prohibited free blacks from settling inside their borders. On the eve of the Civil War, the mayor of New York proposed that the city secede from the Union to protect its economic relationship with the South. We should not be surprised, then, that most people who slipped the bonds of slavery did not look north. In fact, despite its popularity today, the Underground Railroad was perhaps the least popular way for slaves to seek their freedom. Instead, those who fled generally headed toward Spanish Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Native American communities in the Southeast, free-black neighborhoods in the upper South, or Maroon communities—clandestine societies of former slaves, some fifty of which existed in the South from 1672 until the end of the Civil War. Together, such runaways likely outnumbered those who, aided by Northern abolitionists, made their way to free states or to Canada. Moreover, most slaves who sought to be free didn’t run at all. Instead, they chose to pursue liberty through other means. Some saved up money and purchased their freedom. Others managed to earn a legal judgment in their favor—for instance, by having or claiming to have a white mother (beginning in Colonial times, slave status, like Judaism, passed down 72


through the maternal line), or by claiming to have been manumitted. In “Slaves Without Masters,” the historian Ira Berlin quotes an irate man addressing a neighbor who had freed his slaves. “I will venture to assert,” he complained, “that a vastly greater number of slave people have passed and are passing now as your free men than you ever owned.” The more you try to put the Underground Railroad in context, in other words, the tinier it seems. Most runaways did not head north, and most slaves who sought their liberty did not run away. And then there is the largest and most important context, the one we least like to acknowledge: from the vast, vicious, legally permitted, fiercely defended enterprise that was American slavery, almost no one ever escaped at all. o one knows for sure how many

N enslaved Americans escaped with

the help of the Underground Railroad. Foner estimates that, between 1830 and 1860, some thirty thousand fugitives passed through its networks to freedom. Other calculations suggest that the total number is closer to fifty thousand—or, at the highest end, twice that many. What we do know for sure is this: in 1860, the number of people in bondage in the United States was nearly four million. By then, slavery in this country was more than two hundred years old, and although estimates are hard to come by, perhaps twice that many million African-Americans had lived their lives in chains. Most accounts of fugitive slaves do not invoke those numbers, and most Americans do not know them. The Underground Railroad is a numerator without a denominator. The problem, then, is not the stories we tell; it’s the stories we don’t tell. In 1988, after her own story about a runaway slave, “Beloved,” won the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison described the scope of this silence. “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of or recollect the absences of slaves,” Morrison said. “There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no three-hundred-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree

scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence, or, better still, on the banks of the Mississippi.” In the decades since Morrison spoke, all of that has only barely begun to change. We have told a few more stories, organized a few more exhibits, planned a few new museums, including one devoted to all of African-American history, opening next month on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., and the privately funded Whitney Plantation, in Louisiana, the first to be wholly dedicated to slavery. Yet, more than a hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, you still will not find, anywhere in our country, a federal monument to the millions of people whom we, as a nation, kept in bondage. To put that omission in perspective, there are more than eighty national parks and monuments and countless other federal memorials commemorating the Civil War. That war lasted four years. Slavery lasted two and a half centuries. Until the very end of that time, most white Americans, North and South, either actively fought to maintain the institution of slavery or passively sustained and benefitted from it. Only a small fraction had the moral clarity to recognize its evils without caveat or compromise, and, before the war broke out, very few did anything to directly challenge it. Fewer still took the kind of action that later made agents of the Underground Railroad such widely admired figures. Exactly how few is hard to know, but most historians now dismiss Siebert’s original tally of three thousand as considerably exaggerated, compiled as it was from post-hoc accounts. Eric Foner, making the best of diicult data, suggests that, across the country and throughout the duration of slavery, the number of white Americans who regularly aided fugitives was in the hundreds. Only after the fact—when it no longer required vision or courage or personal sacrifice; when the Civil War was over and the efort to distance ourselves from the moral stain of slavery had begun—did large numbers of white Americans grow interested in being part of the story of African-American liberation. That interest led to the first major

renovation and expansion of our favorite piece of mythic infrastructure, a project that began with the work of Wilbur Siebert. A similar expansion is under way in our own times. Much of it is welcome: over all, the recent crop of underground stories feature more black agency, fewer white saviors, greater attentiveness not only to runaways but to what they were running from. The boom in public exhibitions and institutions honoring Railroad sites, however, in part reflects the fact that it has now become not only morally but also economically advantageous to be associated with the Underground Railroad; in contrast to even twenty years ago, significant numbers of people will pay to visit such places. A similar trend is appearing in private real estate. As the historian David Blight wondered, “Is there a realtor in the Northern or border states selling old or historic homes, largely to white people, who has not contemplated the market value of space that might have been used in the nineteenth century to hide black people who were fugitives from slavery?” That desire to literally own part of the story of the Underground Railroad is extremely widespread and is much of what makes it so popular in the first place. In the entire history of slavery, the Railroad ofers one of the few narratives in which white Americans can plausibly appear as heroes. It is also one of the few slavery narratives that feature black Americans as heroes—which is to say, one of the few that emphasize the courage, intelligence, and humanity of enslaved African-Americans rather than their subjugation and misery. By rights, the shame of oppression should fall exclusively on the oppressor, yet one of the most insidious efects of tyranny is to shift some of that emotional burden onto the oppressed. The Underground Railroad relieves black and white Americans alike, although in very diferent ways, of the burden of feeling ashamed. White Americans also feature as villains in Underground Railroad stories, of course, but often in ways that minimize over-all white responsibility. Because the stories focus on the fugitive, much of the viciousness of slavery is displaced onto the slave-catcher—an odious figure, to be sure, but ultimately an epiphenomenon of an odious system. Some recent Underground Railroad

“I moved to the Internet to be closer to my children.”

• stories manage to resist that figure’s allure. Victor, the slave-catcher in “Underground Airlines,” is interesting not only because he is a former fugitive but because he is an essentially bureaucratic figure—one of many such people employed by the federal government to navigate and enforce the byzantine system by which slavery endures. But Arnold Ridgeway, the slave-catcher in Colson Whitehead’s novel, and August Pullman, in “Underground,” are Ahab-like characters, privately and demonically obsessed with tracking down specific fugitives. They both come of as irrationally committed to the hunt (and, like all supervillains, irrationally unkillable), and both risk locating the atrocities of slavery in individual pathology. In reality, and notwithstanding the viciousness of its many enforcers, slavery was institutional. The Underground Railroad, by contrast, was personal: a scattering of private citizens, acting on conscience, and connected for the most part only as the constellations are—from a great distance, by their light. They have earned our admiration and reverence, as McKim knew they would, and we have made much of their few stories, in part for suspect reasons: because they assuage our conscience, distract us from tragedy with thrilling adventures, give us a comparatively comfortable place to rest in a profoundly uncomfortable past. Yet there are also deep and honorable reasons that we are drawn to these

• stories: they show us the best parts of ourselves and articulate our finest vision of our nation. When Congress approved funding for the Network to Freedom, it noted, correctly, that “the Underground Railroad bridged the divides of race, religion, sectional diferences, and nationality; spanned state lines and international borders; and joined the American ideals of liberty and freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to the extraordinary actions of ordinary men and women working in common purpose to free a people.” It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own—that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it—and someone always needs it—we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



UNWELCOME GUESTS The stories of Joy Williams. BY JAMES WOOD

is neither rebellious nor orthodox; it’s quizzical, playful. His parable jauntily turns away from the overemphatic legibility of parable. I thought of it while reading Joy Williams’s new book, “Ninety-nine Stories of God” (Tin House). These are not stories in the conventional sense, nor are all of them about God. They are radically compressed, many barely a page long, some just a single paragraph. It is new territory for Williams, with a brevity and a strict whimsy you might encounter in Lydia Davis’s work. (The very Davisian “Museum,” for instance, is a single sentence: “We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.”) But, generally, Williams enjoys inventing witty theological fables, many featuring appearances by God or godly surrogates, although it can take a little time to catch her comic rhythm. “Essential Enough” goes like this (in full): The Lord was trying out some material. I AM WHO I AM, He said. It didn’t sound right. THAT’S WHO I AM. I AM. It sounded ridiculous. He didn’t favor deinitions. He’d always had the most frightful diiculties with them.

here is a theological parable de-

T vised by the impeccably named

English philosopher John Wisdom but often adapted and updated by others. The version I first heard, years ago, went something like this: Two travellers return to a once neglected garden and find it miraculously restored to life. One of the travellers suggests that this is proof that a gardener has been tending the patch. The other disagrees, and they decide to set up watch. No one appears, which prompts the believer to suggest that an invisible gardener must be doing the work. Various monitors— bloodhounds, motion detectors, night-

vision cameras—are put in place, but none register the appearance of the ghostly gardener. Finally, the skeptic asks the believer what meaningful diference there can be between a gardener who cannot be detected and a gardener who does not exist. It’s a canny construction, because it dramatizes an abstraction and because (though this may not have been Wisdom’s intention) skeptic and believer can take equal solace in it: for the skeptic, the non-appearing God is obviously incredible; for the believer, an invisible God is by no means a nonexistent one. Wisdom’s wisdom

Williams can sketch an entire season of feeling with an odd, brutal detail. 74


In these pieces, Williams lightly plays with deep questions: God’s disappearance or invisibility; how to speak of a deity, or how a deity speaks to us; the problem of sufering. She likes to float a puzzle and let it drift of the page. In “Wet,” the Lord is drinking some water from a glass, and complains of its terrible taste. He and some engineers are in “a white building on a vast wasteland.” The water has travelled miles to get to the building. The piece ends: What have you done to my water? the Lord asked. My living water . . . Oh, they said, we thought that was just a metaphor.

What may no longer have any power as a theological metaphor (I remember an evangelical hymnal from the nineteen-seventies entitled “Sounds of Living Water”) may still have power as an ecological metaphor, and may need to, in our warming climate. Williams’s sense of comedy tends to undercut obvious “seriousness.” Her PHOTOGRAPH BY JONNO RATTMAN

fables start like fables but end, a few lines later, in abrupt self-mockery; they seem to bite their own tails. This, in full, is a little joke called “Neglect”: The Lord was asked if He believed in reincarnation. I do, He said. It explains so much. What does it explain, Sir? someone asked. On your last Fourth of July festivities, I was invited to observe an annual hot-dog-eating contest, the Lord said, and it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever witnessed.

In “And You Are . . .,” people at a wedding are wondering about the presence of an “old and smiling” guest whom no one knows. At last, one of the groom’s brothers approaches the stranger. “Were you invited?” he asks. “You’re creeping out the invited guests.” The stranger replies, “I’m not here to nibble on your fucking salmon.” Later, the bride said: “We should have let him stay. This is not good. What if he were Jesus or something?” The divorce cost seventeen times what the wedding had, and the children didn’t turn out all that well either.

This is deeper than it looks. Williams adapts, and makes fun of, the kind of religious tale you find in late Tolstoy, in which a mysterious stranger turns out to have been Christ in our midst. To the irritating pedagogy of those tales, Williams brings the exaggeration of satire; the severe but almost arbitrary punishment—“and the children didn’t turn out all that well either”—puts the very form of the fable into question. It’s not clear if the unknown guest was divine or just weird: God may be in our midst, but, then again, He may not. Williams leaves the question open, though generally, in her fictional world, God long ago departed, and we humans lack any possible protection. “Ninety-nine Stories of God” is a slight book, provocatively so; the pieces vary in quality, and can seem like pressed keepsakes from a commonplace book. Still, they miniaturize the qualities found in Joy Williams’s celebrated short stories: concision, jumped connections, singular details, brutal humor. I say “celebrated” because Williams has been writing stories for forty years, and for forty years her literary peers—from Ann Beattie to Raymond Carver, from James Salter to

Don DeLillo—have regarded her work with a kind of Masonic fellow-feeling. Yet she remains, in some ways, a diicult, and certainly an original, writer. She writes at a slight angle to the culture, literary and otherwise. Her fiction is easy to follow and hard to fathom; easy to enjoy and harder to absorb. collection of new and old sto-

A ries, published last year as “The

Visiting Privilege” (Knopf ), ofered up a life’s work of refractory brilliance. Williams’s fictions don’t move like other writers’. The forms at first resemble conventional stories: a pastor looks after his wife, who has a blood disease; a mother mourns her recently deceased son, who was a drug addict; two people tremble on the verge of marrying, she for the second time, he for the fourth; a depressed daughter tries to deal with her dying, and very diicult, mother; a young man travels to his estranged father’s funeral on a small island. But conventionality ends there. Williams has an elegant briskness that can seem severe, high-handed, ruthless. Jane Bowles comes to mind, the invigorating writer who, in her novel “Two Serious Ladies,” introduces Christina Goering this way: “As a child Christina had been very much disliked by other children. . . . She wore the look of certain fanatics who think of themselves as leaders without once having gained the respect of a single human being.” Consider some of Williams’s beginnings: “Angela had only one child, a daughter who abhorred her.” Or: “Elizabeth always wanted to read fables to her little girl but the child only wanted to hear the story about the little bird who thought a steam shovel was its mother.” She compresses narrative almost to abstraction. In “The Wedding,” the story about the couple who are getting together after previous marriages, Williams swiftly, and hilariously, covers their first meeting: Sam and Elizabeth met as people usually meet. Suddenly, there was a deceptive light in the darkness. A light that blackly reminded the lonely of the darkness. They met at the wedding dinner of the daughter of a mutual friend. Delicious food was served and many peculiar toasts were given. Sam liked Elizabeth’s aura and she liked his too. They danced. Sam had quite a bit to drink. At one point, he

thought he saw a red rabbit in the floral centerpiece. It’s true, it was Easter week, but he worried about this. They danced again.

Nothing is stranger (and funnier) in Williams’s work than her details. Like her forms, they only resemble conventional realist details, an atmosphere perhaps encouraged by her flat, functional sentences (“They danced. Sam had quite a bit to drink”). The details are frequently surreal, magical, hallucinogenic, delivered in a cool, dispassionate, routine manner. In the passage above, the phantasmal red rabbit tells us more about Sam’s drinking problem (a theme of the story) than the sentence “Sam had quite a bit to drink.” With insouciant abruptness, Williams can sketch an entire scene or season of feeling. In “Summer,” she has only this to say about the diference between July and August in a seaside resort, but it is enough: “August was hot and splendid for the most part, but those who stayed for the entire season claimed it was not as nice as July. . . . There was more weeping in bars, and more jellyfish in the sea.” One of her new stories, “Souvenir,” begins thus: “This is in England, in Cornwall, and a more weird dreary spot could scarcely be imagined. Nevertheless, tourists were beginning to arrive in everincreasing numbers because they had been everywhere else. The inhabitants of the place were in many respects peculiar, poor and cruel with extraordinarily dark eyebrows, but the cream teas were excellent.” (The story only gets odder.) As with her fables about God, Williams loves to let the contexts hang in mystery. One of the “Ninety-nine Stories of God” contains this moving but sublimely unexplained paragraph: “Her father had been a student of alcohol. From him she learned the beautiful word epitasis, which refers to the part of the play developing the main action and leading to the catastrophe.” We are told nothing else; the reader fleshes out the implied world. The longer works, in “The Visiting Privilege,” function like this. In “The Little Winter,” first published some twenty-five years ago, a woman boards a plane and orders a drink: “The plane pushed through the sky and the drink made her think of THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016


how, as a child, she had enjoyed chewing on the collars of her dresses. The first drink of the day did not always bring this to mind, but frequently it did.” And Williams is often very funny, in a manner precisely related to the mysteriousness by the authorial resolve not to explain. There is no need for commentary when meaning is moving with such rapidity. Consider how much is packed into the following four sentences, from “The Girls,” one of her most powerful new stories: Daddy said that when you look death in the eye you want to do it as calmly as a stroller looks into a shop window. But Mommy never looked into shop windows like that. She looked into them with excitement and distress. Sometimes what Daddy said didn’t take Mommy into account.

A friend of mine likes to complain of certain writers whom she finds diicult that “their words don’t fit in my head.” I sometimes feel that Joy Williams’s words don’t entirely fit in my head. It can be diicult to work out what is at stake; her strange and superb sentences can fail to aggregate, at least for me. Since the problem is clearly with my cranium, I have spent the past few weeks slowly rereading those pages most resistant to my understanding. And it was while rereading “Marabou,” a story that had at first left me wonderingly lukewarm, that I suddenly felt I had a key to understanding not only that work but many of Williams’s best stories. is just a fragment, re“M arabou” ally. Anne, whose son Harry

was recently buried, has invited some of the mourners at his funeral—most of them Harry’s prep-school classmates, and all of them “addicts, or former addicts of some sort”—to dine at a restaurant. Afterward, she invites them to her home. Things don’t go well. Harry’s friends don’t talk about him much, though one of them remembers “a time when Harry was driving and he stopped at all the green lights and proceeded on the red. They all acted as though they’d been there.” At around one in the morning, Anne tells the friends about a recent trip she took with Harry to Africa. On the first evening, at a hotel in Victoria Falls, Harry said that he’d seen a pangolin, “a peculiar ant-



eater-like animal.” Because the animal is so rare, nobody in the hotel believed the boy’s account. Anne continues to tell his friends about the trip to Africa, but they look uncomfortable. They hadn’t known of the journey, a fact that surprises Anne, because the two had been away for a month, “and this was very recently.” Eventually, Anne tires of the friends and tells them to leave. Alone, she spends a little time thinking about her son—“He’d been a very troubled boy, a very misunderstood boy”—and then this startling sentence appears: “After some time, she got up and packed a dufel bag for Africa, exactly as she had done that time before.” She puts the bag by the door. It is still night. There is a knock at the door. One of Harry’s friends asks to come in; Anne shuts the door on her. Anne remembers Harry once complaining to her: “I have these spikes in my head. They must have been there for a while, but I swear, I swear to you, I just noticed them. But I got them out!” Anne remembers soothing her son, stroking his hair for a long time. This didn’t happen often, she recalls: “Usually, she couldn’t help him.” There’s another knock at the door. A group of his friends are waiting. They’re angry. There’s no need, they complain, for Anne to treat them with such contempt. They loved Harry, too. One of them adds, “I think Harry saw that thing, but I don’t think he was ever there. Is that what you meant?” Another says: “Harry will always be us. . . . You better get used to it. You better get your stories straight.” Anne says good night to them, shuts the door, and sits in the darkness. I’ve summarized the whole story, because its peculiarities are representative of Williams’s body of work. There is the sparseness of the social context, so that the reader finds it hard to gain a foothold in a recognizable world: Who is Anne? Who was Harry? Where did they live, and when? There are the strange details and mini-stories—Africa, the pangolin, the “spikes” in Harry’s head. There are the curious, abbreviated exchanges (“You better get your stories straight”). And then there is the uncertainty of the facts themselves: a monthlong trip to Africa, which Harry’s friends knew nothing

about, and now a dufelbag packed again for Africa. “Marabou” can’t be to everyone’s taste, but it seems to me a beautiful and terribly sad story—the more powerful because its facts are so fragile and unexplained. It’s a tale at once filled with apparently irrelevant details and about the fraught status of apparently irrelevant details. Both Anne and Harry’s friends need to tell their own stories of Harry; their grief is possessive, and they are rivals in possession and in storytelling. But perhaps they are not only rivals in possession but rivals in hallucination, in make-believe. The trip to Africa probably never did happen, so the most unfathomable and wondrous sentence in the story—“After some time, she got up and packed a dufel bag for Africa, exactly as she had done that time before”—is also the saddest. If Harry, when high (or, perhaps, low), felt as if he had spikes in his head, his grieving mother has spikes in her head, too: stories and visions and fictions about lost Harry. In this respect, Harry’s friends are wiser than his mother. Harry didn’t need to go to Africa to see that rare animal; he had his true visions. Likewise, Anne may be making things up about her son, but she also saw him, a rare animal, properly—or, at least, in her own true way. In grief, people can never get their stories straight. A good number of Williams’s stories turn, I now see, on the question of hallucination, on facts and details that perplex the reader but make private sense to the characters. Like “Marabou,” the title story of “The Visiting Privilege” places two strange versions of reality in contention, and suggests that both are skewed by necessity and by the force of desire. Donna visits her friend Cynthia at a facility called Pond House, where Cynthia is being treated for depression. There are many details that seem unlikely or unverifiable. We are told that Cynthia has three mysterious roommates, two obese teen-agers and a woman in her sixties; later in the story, the older woman dies suddenly, after eating Jell-O, and one of the teenagers (or so Cynthia tells Donna) attacks another inmate and gouges his eye out with a spoon. “It’s bedlam in here,” Cynthia says, laughing wildly.

Cynthia wants to leave Pond House, and feels that her life is about being always thwarted. “We’re all alone in a meaningless world,” Donna replies, severely. The reader may also feel like escaping the bedlam of a story that seems not to add up, and whose essential coördinates are so hard to map. But “The Visiting Privilege” conducts itself like an antic and slightly surreal version of Chekhov’s story “Ward No. 6,” in which the director of a lunatic asylum ends up being judged insane, and is committed to his own hospital. Donna, visiting Cynthia two or three times a day, occasionally wanders the halls to pass the time. “You have to be visiting someone,” a nurse reprimands her. Donna seems a good deal less sane than Cynthia, and it’s perfectly likely that Cynthia will eventually be visiting Donna in Pond House. In Williams’s world, we are all wandering interlopers—adrift, trapped, groundless—looking for visitors’ privileges. If she has a metaphysics, it’s a very bleak one. Relationships founder or stall; families fail; love is precarious or fanatical and unstable; children are largely horrid and parasitical; people drink too much, and then they die. Always, they die—Williams’s stories are death-infested. In “Honored Guest,” Helen, an eleventh grader, is trying to look after her dying mother, Lenore. Mother and daughter battle through grief and hostility. Lenore, full of nihilistic anger, tells her daughter, “God is nothing. OK? That’s Meister Eckhart. But whatever is not God is nothing and ought to be accounted as nothing. OK?” Helen hears about a Japanese aboriginal tribe whose sacred annual ritual involves taking in a bear cub as an honored guest and lavishly looking after it for a while. When the bear grows up, it is brutally sacrificed—tied to a stake, skinned, and beheaded. Helen thinks this is an apt emblem for life: “To live was like being an honored guest. . . . Then you were no longer an honored guest.” But it is also an apt emblem for Joy Williams’s brief and brilliant stories, which lavish gifts of comedy, wit, and rich language on their fictional humans, and then abandon them, bereft and friendless, to a cold world, “accounted as nothing.” 

BRIEFLY NOTED Bobby Kennedy, by Larry Tye (Random House). Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, during a Presidential campaign premised on ending the war in Vietnam and stepping up the War on Poverty. Yet, as this provocative biography reveals, he was not always a champion of peace and social justice. The son of one of America’s last robber barons, he launched his political career as a protégé of the ultraconservative senator Joseph McCarthy; he went on to clash with the Teamsters, plot the sabotage of farmland in Cuba, and authorize a wiretap on Martin Luther King, Jr. Tye, drawing on fifty-eight boxes of private papers that the Kennedy family had kept under lock for four decades, expertly traces the arc of his subject’s metamorphosis “from cold warrior to liberal icon.” We Are Not Such Things, by Justine van der Leun (Spiegel & Grau). In 1993, Amy Biehl, a young American scholar mistaken for an Afrikaner, was murdered outside Cape Town amid chants of “One settler, one bullet.” After the killers were granted amnesty, Amy’s parents employed and befriended two of them. Fascinated by such radical forgiveness, Leun probes the characterization of Biehl as a martyr to the cause of black South African liberation, and examines the murder, the trials, and the afterlives of witnesses, detectives, and the accused. She displays exquisite insights into the inner lives of those involved, the erasure of shameful histories, and the stresses of absolution without accountability. Amazed at the poise of Amy’s mother, Leun wonders, “What kind of a mother doesn’t wail once in a while?” Mount Pleasant, by Patrice Nganang, translated from the French by Amy Baram Reid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This complex, elegiac novel, set in twentieth-century Cameroon, centers on Sara, who at the age of nine was taken to Mount Pleasant as a gift for a local sultan. She has been mute ever since, but a timely coincidence persuades her to share her story with the book’s narrator, an American student. In between vivid tales of old Cameroon, Sara takes a turn as the audience; the narrator has researched Sara’s father, a political activist, and uncovered much about a life unknown to his daughter. “Truth needs to be hidden,” one character muses. “Or else it’d blind us.” You May See a Stranger, by Paula Whyman (Triquarterly). This collection of linked short stories follows a woman named Miranda Weber from high school to middle age. Taken as a whole, the collection is a delicate balance of mundane moments and acute ones, often depicting instances “in which everything seems, not perfect but imperfectly right.” The strongest stories deftly layer harshness over ostensibly happy events: a racially charged driver’s-education class where Miranda experiences a sexual awakening; a strained dinner with a thoughtless man she’s afraid to tell that she’s pregnant; and time spent with a disabled sister, whom she approaches with equal parts frustration and unconditional love. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



A RAIN OF FIRE Christopher Wheeldon’s “Winter’s Tale.” BY JOAN ACOCELLA

are some artists who ap“ T here proach their work from a very per-

sonal standpoint, meaning that they don’t really care what anyone else thinks,” the English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon said in an interview not long ago. “I don’t think I’m like that. I think a lot about the audience—I love to make work for other people to look at.” In the course of a two-decade career, Wheeldon

Wheeldon was helped by his source, Shakespeare’s searing late play, which begins with Leontes, the King of Sicilia, deciding that his queen, Hermione, has cuckolded him with his best friend, Polixenes. Leontes then launches into a linguistic delirium that scholars are still scratching their heads over. (“Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and ears a fork’d one,” he calls Hermione. Knee-deep!) He

pentance, Leontes gets back his daughter and, in a sort of miracle—a statue comes to life!—Hermione. In that sense, the play is a story of transcendence, of moving through pain to serenity: Shakespeare at Colonus. But, as the playwright no doubt anticipated, many people do not find it easy to accept the idea of a statue coming to life. Nor are they necessarily comfortable with the alternate explanation, that Paulina somehow hid Hermione and pulled her out only when she decided the time was right. (Were castles so large, in ancient Sicily, that a man’s wife could be kept out of his sight for sixteen years?) This, in part, is why “The Winter’s Tale” has been known as a problem play. The problem is that it is not realistic. Also, it is quite brutal. Wheeldon does not sidestep the dii-

Shakespeare’s searing play of jealousy and redemption gives Wheeldon’s choreography a new, darkly dramatic edge. has become known for his accessibility. Early on, his trademark was hyper-legato duets—slow, slurpy, acrobatic. (In one, the man rotated the woman three hundred and sixty degrees in midair.) More recently, he created a number of story ballets: an “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” in 2011; a “Cinderella,” in 2012. Last year, he made a musical, “An American in Paris.” All were pleasing. But very rarely did he jump the gate and produce something surprising, mind-snagging. Now he has done so. In “The Winter’s Tale,” a 2014 co-production of London’s Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada—the Canadians just brought it to the Lincoln Center Festival—this genial, perhaps too genial, artist has finally created something disturbing. 78


also goes into action. By the middle of the play, the couple’s young son, Mamillius, distraught at seeing his mother denounced as a whore, has died. The royal pair’s newborn daughter has been cast out upon the rocks of a distant seacoast. Hermione, too, has been declared dead. It is a rain of fire. As Paulina, chief among Hermione’s ladies, says to Leontes after he realizes that he has made a mistake: A thousand knees, Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting, Upon a barren mountain, and still winter In storm perpetual, could not move the gods To look that way thou wert.

Yet, in the end, the gods do look his way, or partly. After sixteen years of re-

culties. His version contains copious violence. When Leontes conceives his suspicion, he hurls Polixenes onto the floor and stamps on him. Later, he almost rapes Hermione—an action made more disgusting by the fact that she is hugely with child. (The baby princess is about to be born.) Hermione’s condition is very much stressed. Once she is accused of adultery, she keeps running her hand over her belly, as if to say to Leontes, “How can you doubt me? Look at the fruit of our love.” He stares at that belly but is thinking that it contains Polixenes’ child. This not only enrages him further; troublingly, it also seems to excite him a little. Even as he denounces Hermione, he kneels and buries his face in her abdomen, and below. Elsewhere, we see ILLUSTRATION BY FRÉDÉRIC RÉBÉNA

Polixenes caressing the Queen’s flanks. This seems to be meant as a diseased fantasy of Leontes’, but many spectators may feel it’s actually occurring, as I did on my first viewing. There’s worse. In the opening scenes, the two men and Hermione repeatedly dance enlaced, with the belly as a sort of fourth participant, the product, it might seem, of all their loves. There are hints of very strong feeling between Leontes and Polixenes. Such matters do not call for a dainty movement style, and “The Winter’s Tale” is more Expressionist, more ballet-bruto, than anything I have seen Wheeldon do before. It’s full of stabbing kicks, angled arms, flexed feet. Dance phrases seem to acquire extra beats, bumps, hitches, and uglinesses. (The commissioned score is by Joby Talbot, a longtime Wheeldon collaborator.) The purest, most “classroom” steps are given, appropriately, to Hermione, the noblest character in the ballet. Her endless arabesques seem pinioned to a rack of pain. Her sufering could have been tiresome, in the manner of any insistent virtue, yet here it seemed to make her grander. Hannah Fischer, though only twenty-two and still two slots below the rank of principal dancer, took the role in the first cast. She managed to make her character’s nobility sexy. She was well matched by Piotr Stanczyk, who was an excellent Leontes, full of grief and menace, sticking his legs out like a spider. he Ballet ’s choreography,

T though sometimes repetitious, is up

to Wheeldon’s usual standard—the ensemble work is especially good. Even more impressive is his dramatic intelligence. Shakespeare’s play contains a lot of material that won’t work in a ballet—for instance, a couple of those scenes where people stand around trading jocular insults that you have to consult the notes to understand. Wheeldon deleted them with admirable pitilessness. The play also features a bear chasing a man and, as we later learn, killing him. Wheeldon has said that if there was no “Winter’s Tale” ballet before his, that was probably because no choreographer could figure out how to do the bear without looking ridiculous. His solution was to bring in the puppeteer Basil Twist, a man who can create anything he wants with fabric. The bear now appears—monstrous but also rather beau-

tiful—painted on a shimmering white silk curtain above his victim. Twist’s silk drops are used elsewhere in the ballet, too, to create seas and storms and ships’ sails. The ballet’s main set designer was the Irishborn genius Bob Crowley. His backdrops for the Sicilian episodes feature paintings of scenes from nature —trees in one, haystacks in another—adapted from Caspar David Friedrich. These are pretty and colorful, but they are hung in the middle of a dark, turgid night sky: a sort of dream of happiness set against a world of doubt and sorrow. Which, in a sense, is what the ballet is. In the play, when Leontes puts Hermione on trial, she says to him: How will this grieve you, When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that You thus have publish’d me! Gentle my lord, You scarce can right me throughly, then, to say You did mistake.

How sweet are the words, the rhythms; how horrifying the facts they address. Although Wheeldon could not use these words, he found a way to convey the idea— that we can never be wholly forgiven— with an inspired alteration to the play’s climax. In Shakespeare, Paulina unveils a statue of Hermione. To Leontes’ surprise—fear at first, then joy—it comes to life. The Queen is restored to him. In Wheeldon’s version, the statue is not one figure but two: Hermione and Mamillius, their son. After Hermione steps down from the pedestal and dances with Leontes, he has an idea. If Hermione came to life when he touched her marble hand, why not Mamillius, too? He grasps the boy’s hand, but it remains stone. Mamillius is indeed dead. His father killed him. Leontes, head bowed, walks out. “The Winter’s Tale” strays far from probability. Bears chasing men, statues coming alive: when do such things happen? But sins committed that cannot be wiped away, and which will afect us for the rest of our lives—these happen every day. So, in a deep sense, “The Winter’s Tale” is actually one of Shakespeare’s most realistic plays. In consequence, it is one of his saddest. Wheeldon’s ballet, too, is his saddest, and his most profound. Sin, inexpiable: this is not the kind of subject he took on before. Better late than never. He’s only forty-three. 


NO EXIT Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel,” in Salzburg. BY ALEX ROSS

he British composer Thomas

T Adès is as compelling as any con-

temporary practitioner of his art because he is, first and foremost, a virtuoso of extremes. He is a refined technician, with a skilled performer’s reverence for tradition, yet he has no fear of unleashing brutal sounds on the edge of chaos. Although he makes liberal use of tonal harmony—including opulent, lateRomantic gestures, for which mainstream audiences profess to be starved—he subjects that material to shattering pressure. He conjures both the vanished past and the ephemeral present: waltzes in a crumbling ballroom, pounding beats in a

pop arena. Like Alban Berg, the twentiethcentury master whom he most resembles, he pushes ambiguity to the point of explosive crisis. Adès, who is now forty-five, has, not surprisingly, proved to be a potent composer of music theatre. His first opera, “Powder Her Face,” appeared in 1995 and has had more than forty productions around the world, including, most recently, a staging by West Edge Opera, the innovative Oakland company. What begins as a brittle, noirish satire—the central figure is the Duchess of Argyll, whose love life created a scandal in nineteen-sixties Britain—acquires weight

The opera, based on Luis Buñuel’s film, tilts toward the apocalyptic. 80


and pathos as the heroine maintains hauteur in the face of degradation. Adès’s second opera, “The Tempest,” had its première at the Royal Opera House, in 2004, and later went to the Met. It follows an opposing trajectory, from an airy, luminous sphere to visceral evocations of Prospero’s “rough magic.” Never have Adès’s extremes collided more spectacularly than in “The Exterminating Angel,” his new opera, which had its first performance on July 28th, at the Salzburg Festival. The libretto—by the director Tom Cairns, working with the composer—is based on the great 1962 film, by Luis Buñuel, about a group of high-bourgeois characters who find themselves mysteriously unable to leave a party at a mansion. Adès had been eying the subject for many years, not least because the Dadaist and Surrealist tradition with which Buñuel is associated is a family inheritance: Adès’s mother, Dawn, is a scholar of Dali and Duchamp. This composer is, however, more of an Expressionist than a Surrealist, and in his hands Buñuel’s cool, eerie scenario takes on a tragic volatility. To some extent, he follows the filmmaker in dissecting the pretensions of the aristocratic hosts and their guests: the opera singer and her conductor, the rational doctor and his delirious patient, the young couple lost in self-indulgent love, and the rest. The servants, by contrast, sense that trouble is near and flee the scene. Yet the curse that falls on the house transcends class. A crucial moment comes in Act II, when Julio, the butler, who failed to leave with the others, enters the zone of confinement. A quadruple-forte C-sharpminor upheaval in the orchestra ensues, with the brass crying doom in falling intervals. The music points to a more universal anguish: the feeling of watching oneself make an irreversible mistake. he Exterminating Angel” is a “T huge, hyper-complex creation, one

that will not travel as easily as Adès’s previous operas. There are twenty-two singing roles, including eight that could be classified as principals. Some of the vocal writing borders on the outlandish; the part for Leticia, the opera singer, often goes up to high E and F. The orchestra calls for an array of bells, a vast battery of percussion, an ondes martenot (the early electronic instrument beloved ILLUSTRATION BY PIETER VAN EENOGE

of Messiaen), a solo guitar, and eight miniature violins (at one-thirty-second size). The layering of harmony, timbre, and rhythm is intimidatingly dense. At the same time, the score has a purposeful, systematic energy. From the outset of his career, Adès has favored cycles of intervals that expand and contract with organic logic. For example, the motif for Julio’s crossing of the threshold contains a fifth, a tritone, a fourth, and a tritone— intervals that narrow and then widen again. (A similar pattern appears in the first minutes of the opera, as a servant sings, “I wish I didn’t have to leave.”) As in Berg’s twelve-tone music, such operations yield a phantom tonality that never stays fixed. The Adès orchestra, meanwhile, rivals the Buñuel camera in imagistic power. The ondes martenot plays a pivotal role, serving to signal the nameless force that ensnares the guests. When Julio takes his fatal step, the instrument swoops to the bottom of its range—“as if swallowing the orchestra,” the score says. The past arises in kaleidoscopic flashes, as it does in so many Adès works. Early in the guests’ captivity, when their inability to leave seems more absurd than abject, waltz rhythms proliferate, variously recalling classic Johann Strauss, the boozy dances of “Der Rosenkavalier,” and the deconstructed waltzes of Ravel and Stravinsky. Eduardo and Beatriz— the young lovers, who commit suicide rather than stay at the party for eternity—are given courtly, limpid music of quasi-Baroque character. Drumming and dance-band music evoke the cityscape outside. In the heaviest, most doomladen passages, the harmony gravitates toward Wagner, or, perhaps, toward some forgotten but inspired Wagner follower. Throughout, Adès pulls of the Stravinskyan feat of making prior styles sound like premonitions of his own. Any sense of playfulness dissipates long before the end of the opera, which, even more than the film, tilts toward the apocalyptic. In Buñuel, the guests liberate themselves by repeating dialogue from the onset of the crisis, only for a new confinement to begin, this time in church. In Adès, liberation from the mansion is achieved not only by a ritual of repetition but also through a visionary aria for Leticia—a harshly radiant setting of a twelfth-century text by the Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet Yehuda

Halevi, expressing a longing for a lost homeland. When the spell of immobility resumes, seraphic harmonies give way to a colossal, demonic setting of fragments of the Libera Me from the Requiem Mass, with bells ringing anarchic changes. On this note of mystical dread the opera closes, no exit in sight. airns directed the début pro-

C duction, at the Haus für Mozart;

Hildegard Bechtler designed the sets and costumes. The mansion and its denizens were vividly rendered, but even on one of Salzburg’s smaller stages the action was at times obscure. Not until halfway through the first act could one diferentiate among the characters. The dénouement, involving a mobile proscenium arch, was uncertain in efect. Refinements will be welcome as the opera travels onward—to the Royal Opera House next season, and to the Met in the fall of 2017. On opening night, the singers came as close to mastering their parts as could be expected of any group of mortals. Particularly notable were the ageless bass John Tomlinson, formidable as the doctor; Anne Sofie von Otter, hypnotically unstable as his stricken patient; and Charles Workman, silken and a touch sinister as the male host. The most heroic performance was delivered by the coloratura soprano Audrey Luna, as Leticia. Her gleaming, yearning tone in the climactic aria provided a short-lived epiphany before darkness closed in again. Cynthia Millar’s playing of the ondes was so acutely expressive that she might have taken a bow with the singers. The Vienna Radio Symphony, under the direction of the composer, achieved furious precision. Buñuel resisted eforts to articulate the meaning of “The Exterminating Angel.” The demand for explanations, he once complained, was itself a symptom of a bourgeois mentality. Adès has been more forthcoming in his comments on the opera. He defines the destroying angel as “an absence of will, of purpose,” and says, “The feeling that the door is open but we don’t go through it is with us all the time.” An instant of inaction brings about the “complete breakdown of society . . . and ultimately the end of the world.” It’s a lesson worth pondering at an ominous historical moment.  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



BE KIND, REWIND Retro pleasures on “Stranger Things” and “The Get Down.” BY EMILY NUSSBAUM

Things,” the new sci-fi “S tranger horror series on Netflix, is a cool

summer treat. It’s spooky but not scary, escapist but not empty. It’s a genre throwback to simpler times, with heroes, villains, and monsters. Yet it’s also haunting, and has a rare respect for both adult grief and childhood sufering. It’s an original. This may seem like peculiar praise

ences to “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Altered States.” There’s a superpowered girl, straight out of “Firestarter.” Goo pours down walls, as in “The Amityville Horror.” A gang of kids fights evil, just like in “Stand by Me.” I even got a “Breakfast Club” whif from a montage of a weird girl who gets a makeover, in a scene with a Tangerine Dream-like soundtrack out

Mike, Lucas, and the very funny Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are Dungeons & Dragons buddies who stumble upon a girl with a mysterious past. There’s a heroic dirtbag cop, Hop (the fabulous David Harbour, hardly recognizable from his time as one of the few bearable characters on “The Newsroom”), who teams up with a single mom, played by Winona Ryder. And there’s Nancy (Natalia Dyer), a pretty, suburban teenage virgin who, in a slightly diferent version of the story, would surely be stabbed to death and/or attending a prom with two dates. Nancy’s best friend is Barb, an echo of nineteeneighties First Ladies that is typical of the show’s layer of in-jokes. These three plots collide with an “X-Files” scenario involving a scary

“Stranger Things” cuts its nostalgia with a slow drip of sorrow and trauma, the residue of Reagan-era anxieties. for a show that is explicitly a pastiche of eighties pop culture, a TV box made of movie memories. The show’s creators, the brothers Matt and Ross Dufer, who are in their thirties, are like baby Tarantinos, but, rather than pulp thrillers or spaghetti Westerns, they’re obsessed with Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. The neon-red title sequence could be ripped from a paperback of “Cujo.” The story, about a little boy who gets tugged into an alternate reality, includes visual refer82


of “Risky Business.” The show has a bifocal demographic appeal: it’s designed to charm both nostalgic GenX’ers and younger viewers who are drawn to a prelapsarian world of walkietalkies, landlines, and suburban kids left free to roam wherever they want on their bicycles. Yet the story itself feels organic and immersive, not like a gimmicky trick— and, like some of the best recent TV dramas, it’s uncynical. Three threads follow the search for that lost boy, Will.

monster (“Alien”-sticky) and a scarier governmental-scientific conspiracy (creepily clean). With so much going on, “Stranger Things” could easily have become structurally lazy, exploiting the Netflix viewer’s bad habit of hitting “Next Episode” no matter what we’re ofered, like the experimental squirrels we are. It never does. I could nitpick a few choices: Does the “friends don’t lie” theme need to be so heavily underlined? Should the best character die so early on? But this is astoundingly ILLUSTRATION BY EMILIANO PONZI

eicient storytelling, eight hours that pass in a blink, with even minor characters getting sharp dialogue, dark humor, or moments of pathos. Still, “Stranger Things” might feel like a mere retro roller coaster were it not for that slow drip of sorrow and trauma, the residue of Reagan-era anxiety about the nuclear family. As the old P.S.A. used to put it, “Do you know where your children are?” This melancholy wells up most efectively during a set of beautifully constructed flashbacks, which appear whenever our heroes are under high stress. Without spoiling any plot points, some involve sweet memories of lost children, like the one of a boy, seen from behind, sharing a favorite song with his younger brother, as his parents fight in the next room; others sketch out disturbing scientific experiments. These flashbacks could easily be mawkish or cheesy, cheap shortcuts to establish motive and to jerk tears—it’s happened on some of the greatest shows, like “Mad Men.” But “Stranger Things” has the confidence not to show already awful things as being even worse than they are. The main plot is a swift-moving caper with jokes and jolts. The flashbacks are about vulnerability, how people are bruised in places that no one can see. The combination of those two tones is almost musical, with a sincerity that feels liberating. It’s a special pleasure to see the nineties star Winona Ryder—so solid in recent cameos in “Black Swan” and “Show Me a Hero”—get a starring role, as Joyce Byers, a frayed divorcée whose neighbors view her with suspicion, even when she’s crushed by tragedy. When Byers loses her marbles in her ramshackle home, or hacks Christmas lights into a communication device, Ryder turns a character who could be needy or shrieky into someone whose obsessive intensity is entirely sympathetic. Using the movie math of “Stranger Things,” Byers is on a Venn diagram of JoBeth Williams, in “Poltergeist,” and Richard Dreyfuss, in “Close Encounters.” But Ryder’s performance is much deeper, whether she’s furiously chain-smoking or glaring down doubters in a local store. In her early movies, beginning with “Lucas,” Ryder had a thorny, “Lost Boys” charisma; as an adult, she shrank, receding like the

Cheshire cat into those huge brown eyes. Here, Ryder’s original eccentricity feels fully revived in adult form. She balances the show’s middle-school drama with a portrayal of a more unusual kind of outsider, the grieving mom as action hero. Ryder’s mirror is Millie Bobby Brown, who gives a career-launching performance as Eleven, the girl with something special—and who is, like Ryder’s tomboy character in “Lucas,” mistaken for a boy. Her head shaved, her face grave, she’s silent for much of the series, but she bends the story toward her, through fearless emotional transparency. In one scene, she tiptoes into an older girl’s bedroom, then opens a ballerina music box. Her eyes widen, and she takes shallow breaths, as if the music box were a bomb. It feels like no mistake that her nickname, El, is a soundalike for Elle. There’s a risk, a very eighties one, that the character could become a contrivance, the exotic among the boys: E.T. in a skirt; she-Yoda. But Brown lends her an air of refugee devastation that makes her much more than the subject of someone else’s fantasy, even when the dialogue threatens, once or twice, to lock her in a symbolic box. Get Down,” which is also on “T he Netflix, is set in the Bronx, in

1977, and it’s got a bold blueprint, one that’s particularly welcome because the subject matter feels fresh: it’s a mythological story of disco and the origins of hip-hop, filmed through shifting lenses of camp, blaxploitation, and kung fu. There’s a dreamy actor at the center, Justice Smith, as a rap tyro named Ezekiel; the “Hamilton” fave Daveed Diggs plays Ezekiel’s older self, performing lyrics by Nas. The show’s creative team includes Stephen Adly Guirgis and other playwrights, the music journalist Nelson George, and Grandmaster Flash. Overseeing this whirlwind is Baz Luhrmann, whose specialty is teen-age lust, teen-age love, and aesthetic overkill. I’d love to report that these are seventeen-odd great tastes that taste great together. Unfortunately, the show is working under a severe handicap, which is that the pilot (the one episode directed by Luhrmann) is truly terrible. It’s baggy and self-indulgent, alter-

nately confusing and obvious. The next three episodes aren’t great, either, though they have flashes of interest—a skosh better than HBO’s “Vinyl,” but that’s not enough skoshes, unless you’re really committed to the project (or are reviewing it). Then, suddenly, there’s a legitimately fun eureka sequence in Episode 5, as Ezekiel and his young crew invent a new art form. In Episode 6, we get, finally, what feels like a fully original series: crude, witty, and defiant, a crescendoing, agitprop vision of the Bronx in flames, Mayor Ed Koch ascending, and black and gay youth buzzing with creativity that the world refuses to understand. If I possessed my own special kung-fu powers, I’d time-travel and kick down the writers’room door, forcing them to squash those first four episodes into one. “The Get Down” ’s central story concerns an Orpheus-like teen-age rapper, Ezekiel, who is in love with a reluctant Eurydice, Mylene; she dreams of becoming a disco diva. Zeke falls in with a gang of street kids, who procure (through Robin Hood-ish looting) the equipment they need to be mentored by their kung-fu guru: Grandmaster Flash himself, played by Mamoudou Athie. There’s also Jimmy Smits, as a Bronx politico who ofers Zeke a route to Manhattan power; ugly disco mobsters; nasty old Ed Koch; some cringeinducing family melodrama; and the adorable Jaden Smith, playing an elfin graiti impresario with an Afro twice his size. The whole thing is cut with archival footage from the seventies— of the riots, the blackout, teens in crop tops—punctuated by Dionysian party scenes, which stir up narrative energy and then, way too often, let it fizzle. There’s a goofy moment, early on, when a stoned Zeke, gazing up from a rooftop at swirling birds, figures out how to scratch vinyl properly, using a purple crayon to mark the prime grooves. Like a lot of the show, the moment hovers between great and ridiculous, unashamed to look corny. That’s a compliment. It would be cool if “The Get Down” evolved into some messy stealth masterpiece, its many mismatched octopus arms thrashing toward something tremendous. Six episodes in, outsized ambition isn’t enough. As the Magic 8 Ball says, “Ask again later.”  THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 22, 2016



SHARP NOTES “Florence Foster Jenkins” and “Morris from America.” BY ANTHONY LANE

Meryl Streep stars in a bio-pic directed by Stephen Frears. he defining talent of Florence

TFoster Jenkins (1868-1944) was that

she had no talent. Of this she was unaware. As a singer, she could not hit a note, yet somehow she touched a chord—murdering tune after tune, and drawing a legion of fans to the scene of the crime. Never has ignorance been such cloudless bliss; her self-delusion, buoyed by those about her, amounted to a kind of genius, and the story of that unknowing has now inspired a bio-pic. “Florence Foster Jenkins,” written by Nicholas Martin and directed by Stephen Frears, stars Meryl Streep in the title role. Who better to play the incompetent Florence than someone whose plenitude of gifts has been an article of faith for almost forty years? There is something of a pattern here, and a risk. If you want to see real-life women of a certain age incarnated by the most formidable actresses, then Frears is your man. Think of “Philomena” (2013), in which Judi Dench played a simple soul on a quest for her long-lost son. The tale was astutely told, though it couldn’t avoid a murmur of condescension. Seven years earlier, in 84


Frears’s “The Queen,” Helen Mirren took the part of Elizabeth II and lent it a musing reflectiveness that, however winning, seemed slightly at odds with the dutiful pragmatist, braced by common sense, who occupies the British throne. In both cases, sheer dramatic skill threatened to overwhelm the facts of the character, and you half-expect Streep to follow suit. Yet her performance is the most successful of the three; not once do you feel that she knows better than Florence—that the leading lady is looking down on her creation, as it were, with an arch of the eyebrow or a taunting glint in the eye. On the contrary, Streep is right there, solidly invested in the folly of Florence’s dreams. When she declares that “music has been, and is, my life,” you believe her. The first person we meet is not the heroine but her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who was once an actor and likes to keep his hand in. Resplendent in white tie and tails, he recites a speech from “Hamlet,” for the benefit of guests at a New York soirée. His delivery is, let us say, more impassioned than convincing, and we are in-

stantly aware that here is someone who has fallen short. The most touching thing is that he doesn’t seem to mind. To realize that one is second-rate can be an epiphany of sorts, or, at least, an immense relief. St. Clair claims to be “free from the tyranny of ambition,” and you can see his point. In any case, he has found a higher calling. His earthly task is to serve the needs of his wife, who inherited money and, with it, a plush sense of entitlement. All goes well until, one evening, an old need rears its head again. The tyranny is back. Florence wants to sing. Frears, whose slyness has deepened with the years, is not averse to teasing. Notice how he delays the first caterwaul, like a maker of war films who waits to unleash the opening boom of artillery. Before Florence can start her glass-shattering routine, she requires an accompanist, and the movie pauses to consider Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), a reedy young pianist who applies for the job. Ofered a wage of ludicrous generosity, he leaves Florence’s apartment, in Manhattan, with a dizzy grin on his face, and the camera, savoring the moment, watches him drift down the street. Helberg has the long sad mug of a mime and the body of a boy; instead of strolling, he seems to hover along, with his hands held stily by his side. (You can imagine him in silent pictures, as a hopeful stooge.) When Florence finally lets rip, what Frears attends to is not just the noise that she creates, reminiscent of a hyena giving birth, but the awestruck expression on Cosmé’s face. Why, he asks himself, is nobody laughing? The answer, as usual, is money. David Haig, a brisk and cheering presence, plays Carlo Edwards, a vocal coach from the Metropolitan Opera, who regularly provides Florence with private tuition. This he must do, for she is an efusive patron, and his plaudits, as she lurches ferociously of key, are small masterpieces of ambivalence: “There’s no one quite like you,” “You’ve never sounded better,” and the ominous “You’ll never be more ready.” For Florence has plans that soar beyond the limits of her drawing room. In the course of the film, she performs first before a cluster of aging acquaintances, many of them blessedly hard of hearing, and, later, at Carnegie ILLUSTRATION BY PIERRE MORNET

Hall, which is packed, at Florence’s request, with soldiers and sailors, most of them blessedly drunk. Believe it or not, this did indeed take place, on October 25, 1944: a holy day in the annals of ineptitude. (You are taken aback by the Second World War uniforms, and by St. Clair’s report that Florence has “sold out faster than Sinatra,” because her demeanor, like her décor, belongs to an earlier age.) If Florence has remained a cult, it is thanks to her bravado in plowing ahead, regardless of her faults. That is certainly the view of Agnes (Nina Arianda), the wife of a rich meathead, who springs to her feet at the concert, rebukes the crowd for jeering, and whips up a storm of applause. Though the film as a whole is less raucous than Agnes, it obeys her instructions, bestowing benign approval on its subject. The result is at once a work of eicient charm and, to those of us who treasured Frears in his more acerbic phase, a mild disappointment. Would the man who made “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985), “The Grifters” (1990), and two foul-tongued Roddy Doyle adaptations have been quite so tolerant of Florence’s fancies? After all, the wealthy of today are equally flattered and indulged, and, as Frears proved in “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988), costume dramas are no excuse for softness. They need a drop of venom in their veins. The best news about “Florence Foster Jenkins” is that, just when admirers of Hugh Grant were asking if the poor guy would ever get a role of any ripeness, he plucks a peach. The dithering that bore him through “Four Weddings

and a Funeral” (1994) and “Notting Hill” (1999) arose not merely from indecision but from a stutter of the spirit—a genuine horror of doing the wrong thing. That fear comes to fruition in St. Clair: his wife does wrong every time she opens her mouth onstage, but he reassures her, time and again, that she is in the right. He pays music critics to be nice; when one of them, refusing the bribe, writes a mean review, St. Clair tries to destroy every copy of the paper in the neighborhood. “For twenty-five years I have kept the mockers and scofers at bay,” he says. His love, though true, is a perpetual agony, and maybe no one but Grant, writhing with misplaced chivalry, could bring such reverence to life. Florence may have been a one-joke wonder, and, to be honest, there is only just enough of her to fill a movie. In the eyes of her husband, however, she is no joke at all. he title character in “Morris

Tfrom America”is an African-Amer-

ican boy, aged thirteen, who finds himself dwelling in a most unlikely spot— Heidelberg, the comeliest of Germany’s old university towns. Not that Morris (Markees Christmas) is dazed by the beauty that surrounds him; as he tours a museum, with music pulsing through his headphones, the figures in the stained-glass windows and even the heads of the statues begin to nod in time with the beat. That’s the only fantasy sequence in Chad Hartigan’s movie, but we get the hint: why blend in with a foreign country, when the country can dance to your tune? Morris is there because his widowed

father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), is a coach for the local soccer team. The two of them get on well and warmly, despite disagreeing about varieties of rap, yet from the start we sense something trapped and lonely in the boy; he looms large in the frame, often head on, with nobody around him. The slender plot finds him reaching out, first to a friendly tutor (Carla Juri), who is coaching him in German, and then to a girl named Katrin (Lina Keller), a couple of years his senior—not much of a gulf, but harder to bridge than he would like. The movie catches Morris on the cusp, with his childhood tailing of behind him. He is young enough to wrap one of Katrin’s sweaters around a pillow and hug it tight but bold enough to take Ecstasy when she ofers it before a party. Does the kid really merit his place, however, at the hub of Hartigan’s film? I gradually grew more interested in Curtis, who has his own solitude to cope with. This represents the first non-comic leading role for Robinson (moviegoers will know him from “Pineapple Express” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” among other films), and he commands it with a gruf and amiable ease. The highlight is not Morris’s worst scrape, when he gets stranded out of town without cash or a phone, but the speech that Curtis gives after he comes to the rescue. Robinson delivers it in long takes and with tremendous style. “We’re the only two brothers in Heidelberg,” he says. “We gotta stick together.”  NEWYORKER.COM

Richard Brody blogs about movies.

THE NEW YORKER IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF ADVANCE MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS INC. COPYRIGHT ©2016 CONDÉ NAST. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE U.S.A. VOLUME XCII, NO. 25, August 22, 2016. THE NEW YORKER (ISSN 0028792X) is published weekly (except for five combined issues: February 8 & 15, June 6 & 13, July 11 & 18, August 8 & 15, and December 19 & 26) by Condé Nast, which is a division of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. PRINCIPAL OFFICE: Condé Nast, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. Elizabeth Hughes, publisher, chief revenue officer; Risa Aronson, associate publisher advertising; James Guilfoyle, director of finance and business operations; Fabio Bertoni, general counsel. Condé Nast: S. I. Newhouse, Jr., chairman emeritus; Charles H. Townsend, chairman; Robert A. Sauerberg, Jr., president & chief executive officer; David E. Geithner, chief financial officer; Jill Bright, chief administrative officer. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. 123242885-RT0001. POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO THE NEW YORKER, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684. FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS, ADDRESS CHANGES, ADJUSTMENTS, OR BACK ISSUE INQUIRIES: Please write to The New Yorker, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684, call (800) 825-2510, or e-mail Please give both new and old addresses as printed on most recent label. Subscribers: If the Post Office alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within one year. If during your subscription term or up to one year after the magazine becomes undeliverable, you are ever dissatisfied with your subscription, let us know. You will receive a full refund on all unmailed issues. First copy of new subscription will be mailed within four weeks after receipt of order. For advertising inquiries, please call Risa Aronson at (212) 286-4068. For submission guidelines, please refer to our Web site, Address all editorial, business, and production correspondence to The New Yorker, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. For cover reprints, please call (800) 897-8666, or e-mail For permissions and reprint requests, please call (212) 630-5656 or fax requests to (212) 630-5883. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the consent of The New Yorker. The New Yorker’s name and logo, and the various titles and headings herein, are trademarks of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Visit us online at To subscribe to other Condé Nast magazines, visit Occasionally, we make our subscriber list available to carefully screened companies that offer products and services that we believe would interest our readers. If you do not want to receive these offers and/or information, please advise us at P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684 or call (800) 825-2510. THE NEW YORKER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RETURN OR LOSS OF, OR FOR DAMAGE OR ANY OTHER INJURY TO, UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS, UNSOLICITED ART WORK (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND TRANSPARENCIES), OR ANY OTHER UNSOLICITED MATERIALS. THOSE SUBMITTING MANUSCRIPTS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ART WORK, OR OTHER MATERIALS FOR CONSIDERATION SHOULD NOT SEND ORIGINALS, UNLESS SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED TO DO SO BY THE NEW YORKER IN WRITING.




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“Sorry I’m late. I hit every traic light coming home.” Kristin Provisero, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. “What happened to us? We used to be so wild.” Hilary Garnsey, Glenwood Springs, Colo. “Yes, it’s hot. But a ceiling fan will only make things worse.” Pam Cirincione, Wakeield, Mass.

“Because it’s not there.” Susan Robinson, Willow, N.Y.

The New Yorker Agosto 22