Lit Hub Recommends: An Unexplained Death, The Favourite, and a Food Blog
We're also really excited about poetry right now!
I’ve been a Yorgos Lanthimos fan (a Fan-thimos, if you will) since I saw Dogtooth, which features my favorite dance scene in a movie since Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Add to that my abiding love of Olivia Colman (that’s right, I’m also a Col-fan. If you haven’t watched either Peep Show or Fleabag, I recommend both of those, too), and I was pretty much guaranteed to love The Favourite, Lanthimos’ latest movie. It stars Colman, Rachel Weisz, a thoroughly delightful and be-wigged Nicholas Hoult, Emma Stone doing a pretty decent (to my ears; don’t @ me.) British accent, and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend. It’s a darkly hilarious period piece set during the reign of Queen Anne, and guess what? It also contains a sensational dance sequence! And a fairly horrifying depiction of gout. It’s in theaters now, and I recommend you see it immediately.
–Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub social media editor
At a certain age (or maybe if you’re just a certain kind of person?) you start writing more and more letters in your head to the people gone from your life, all the living and the dead. Some of those letters you might actually sit down and write, maybe even send—most, you will not. Well, Tess Gallagher has gone ahead and written a lot of these letters as poems addressed to specific people (she names names), speaking variously to old friends, lovers, and family members. The collection is called Is, Is Not (Graywolf, May 2019) and it’s the perfect accompaniment to the onrush of December’s unrelenting sentimentality.
–Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub editor in chief
This week I have been reading T Kira Madden’s forthcoming memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, and I have nearly missed my stop on the subway six times. This is a true fact. (I am almost done, so soon I will be safe from winding up miles from my intended destination, unless I decide to re-read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which had a similar effect on me.) Another true and probably obvious fact is that I love it: it’s harrowing and sad and funny and beautifully written. It inspires rage and also care. I keep stopping to admire sentences, word choices, deft slips in time. If you want a preview, read Madden’s essay “The Feels of Love,” which also appears in the book, here
–Emily Temple, Lit Hub senior editor
Natasha Trethewey’s first selected volume of poems is the opposite of what her title suggests. This is no freeze framing of the past into bronze. Here instead in 83 remarkable poems lives history and memory as a wound one cannot heal, only tend with love. Trethewey powerfully conjures her late mother, breathes life into people erased in plain sight. Photographic subjects glossed but not captured. Domestic life watched but not seen. Southern history in all its hypocrisy. Raised in Mississippi the child of a black mother and a white father when that was illegal, history’s arm fell hard on Trethewey, as she writes. Through two decades of work we can now see the poet regarding her own self, interrogating the bargains her skin made for her as a biracial woman. These 83 poems are the work of an American master, so full of life, grief and history it will challenge what you think poetry is capable of carrying. It would appear in the right hands—like Trethewey’s—it can hold an entire broken world.
–John Freeman, Lit Hub executive editor
Semi-stranded in my apartment this past Sunday by a mix of freezing sleet-rain and an anxiously attached cat, I fell through a poetry-related internet wormhole that led me, mercifully, to Carly Joy Miller. Carl Phillips, who chose her collection Ceremonial for the 2017 Orison Poetry Prize, wrote of her work, “The poems variously revel in, regret, and feel strange compassion for the beast of desire—of restlessness—inside us all.” In “Dayshift Caught in the Ribs,” we witness that work: “To crash into the architecture / of the beast is to remember / how the body is rigged: / fable me along the wicked / spine and I trip / pearlescent. A bruise.” Reading her, I felt the kind of relief that comes from confessing a long-held secret to a new friend, one who understands.
–Corinne Segal, Lit Hub senior editor
If you’re looking for holiday cheer, I’m afraid I’ve got none. Both my recommendations this week are grim; so grim, in fact, that the book, Mikita Brottman’s An Unexplained Death, requires a content warning. It’s most likely not for you if you have an unpleasant relationship with suicide or suicidal ideation, but if you do choose to read it, that’s not a spoiler! An Unexplained Death isn’t entirely about suicide—it’s hard, in fact, to describe exactly what it is about. While there is a framing device of sorts—Brottman’s dogged hunt to find out what led to the mysterious death of a young man named Rey Rivera—An Unexplained Death isn’t purely investigative. It’s also a lyrical freeform meditation on everything from the history of the Belvedere Hotel (where Brottman lives, and where Rivera’s body was found) to the ways that people can become invisible to one another. I did have concerns as I began the book, not wanting to spend time with any material that sensationalizes crime or mysterious death. Luckily, while Brottman’s research is thorough and her writing evocative (there’s a scene or two that made me gasp and contained no violence or jump scares), but none of the eeriness feels gratuitous or exploitative—in fact, Brottman worked with Rivera’s widow on part of the investigation. The book isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for gorgeous writing, reflections on why some of us are fascinated by the morbid, and are willing to accept that sometimes narratives, like life, can be unsatisfying no matter how deeply they are explored, An Unexplained Death is definitely for you. Tonally, the book feels similar to A Silver Mt. Zion’s stunning, elegiac album He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms (described here as “a reminder that when the world ends, you end, too”), which I also recommend very highly.
–Miriam Kumaradoss, Lit Hub editorial fellow
PSA: There is an incredible thing that has made my life way easier and more fun in the past few years, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought to recommend it to you people!! If you’re like me, you can’t cook to save your life, and all you and your friends do when you hang out is go to the same four restaurants. Don’t get me wrong: you love those restaurants, but sometimes you want something new. Or maybe you had a work function in a neighborhood you normally don’t dare venture through, and now it’s almost midnight and you need tacos! Text Rex, friends. Text. Rex. It’s run by the people behind the stellar food blog The Infatuation. Basically, you go to their site, you sign up (it’s free!), and you get a number that you can text when you want a recommendation. You can be as general as “dessert/snack I probably haven’t tried before” (Doughnut Project or Supermoon Bakehouse) or as specific as “inexpensive, low-key birthday party spot for ten in Lower Manhattan” (Lil’ Frankie’s). The best part is that it’s a real person texting you back. It makes me feel like I have a super hip, very knowledgable friend. And now you do, too!
–Katie Yee, Book Marks assistant editor
This week, I’m recommending one of my all-time favorite pastimes, nay, life passions: watching trailers. I watch an obscene amount of movie trailers every week, and while each passing month sees me exiting yet another movie theater, let down by yet another disappointing film masquerading as a triumph, my beloved trailers have never failed me, never stolen my money or my trust or more than three minutes of my time in one go. All they want is to share their abridged stories with me. To tell me sweet little lies. The latest film to appear on my “well that looks good” trailer radar: Keepers (a psychological thriller in which Gerard Butler plays a lighthouse keeper, or someone who kills a lighthouse keeper…or something). The trailer makes it look very good, so I have no reason to suspect otherwise.
–Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor