Emma Cline is the author of The Girls, shortlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the 2016 John Leonard Prize from the National Book Critics Circle and the 2016 LA Times Book Prize. She is one of our 2017 Best of Young American Novelists. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
A friend just sent me a link to this incredible and deeply weird documentary made by NBC News in 1978. It’s a very fun report from the front lines of the narcissistic seekers of Marin County, complete with chardonnay, open marriages and the Human Potential Movement. As ludicrous as it is to see the gurus and the mystical potions, it’s strange to think about the ways these values have only gone mainstream and corporate. I passed a juice place the other day with a sign in the window Your Juice Matters.
When I was twenty-one, my laptop broke and would only operate when kept at a certain angle – I couldn’t see the screen, but I could still type, and every morning I went to the same coffee shop to work, plugging away at my broken keyboard. One morning, when I got up to leave, the barista stopped me to tell me that someone had left a note for me. It was a business card with a phone number scrawled on the back.
This was how I met S. He was a very wealthy tech guy, someone who funded a lot of arts programs in the area, paid for all of his employee’s kids to go to college, supported emerging artists, and, it appeared, took an interest in young women struggling to type on broken electronics.
I could only imagine tawdry situations, but S. turned out to be a wholly benign kind of benefactor – he bought me a new computer. He offered to pay my rent and expenses for a while so I could work on writing full-time. We went out to dinner sometimes when he wanted company. There was nothing remotely sexual between us – I hugged him hello and I hugged him goodbye. It interested me in the way lots of things interested me in my early twenties – I sold a pair of underwear on Craigslist to see what it was like, I hitchhiked to prove to myself that I could. S. was just a lonely, generous man, looking for a version of friendship that was both more and less straightforward than one he could achieve by other means.
All this is to say that Catherine Lacey’s new novel, The Answers, about an experiment run by a wealthy man looking to pay young women to supply his various requirements for a girlfriend, felt particularly interesting to me for the ways it considers some of these questions – what if the messy parts of relationships could be segmented into a new format? What if people found blunter ways to meet their emotional needs? Her clean prose and nimble brain takes on these questions in fascinating ways.
I’ve been listening to this album a lot recently. She sounds a little like Dillard and Clark, a little like the Gram Parsons dream. I love her spooky voice, the way she plays with these old-fashioned sounds but at a remove, like she keeps the nostalgia in quotation marks.
WET was a magazine started by Leonard Koren in the seventies. They put out an anthology in 2012 that is a good alternative to trying to track down old copies of the magazine on eBay. The photos alone are amazing, but it’s also interesting to see the range of contributors, like April Greiman and Matt Groening. Besides WET, Koren has written a lot of books, among them Undesigning the Bath and Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement – as expected from someone identified as an ‘aesthetics expert’, the books themselves are beautiful objects, a pleasure to have in your hands.
5. Larry Sultan
His photographs are so close to a certain way I imagine California in my mind. Golden foliage and backyards abutting total wildness, a certain quality of late afternoon light. I love the dogs in one of his porn set photos, these four pitbulls trailing after a porn actress in a robe, a light on a stand in the foreground. There’s so much banal artifice in the picture, and then this woman and these dogs who have this real mythic spookiness about them. Sultan seems to take on that strange part of California that is both deeply manufactured and deeply human. The SFMOMA is showing a retrospective of his work through the end of July.
Artwork © WET the Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, 1979