Longform Journalism and Nonfiction
"The Slow, Troubling Death of the Autopsy" (Elemental)
The first thing to know about how a real autopsy lab works is that everything TV taught you is wrong. For one thing, there is no blue lighting anywhere — this is the dubious logic of CSI, in which autopsies are conducted in atmospherically dim rooms. In reality, the lighting is dazzlingly white and stark. The floors are brushed cement, the walls are white, and the tables made of stainless steel.
There are also no glowing screens, no projected holograms, no computers that can instantly spit out a list of every foreign substance in a person’s system. Instead, there are basic tools: scalpels, aging Dell computers, endless cotton towels, long-handled pruning shears that retail for $39.99 at Home Depot.
"My Mother's Second Act" (Romper)
Toni Morrison, Isak Dinesen, Elizabeth Strout, and George Eliot didn’t publish their first novels until they were 40 or older. Penelope Fitzgerald did it at 60; Laura Ingalls Wilder was even older when she wrote the first Little House on the Prairie book. These were women who knew something about the world. Recently, my mother finished a libretto for a brand-new opera composed by Stephanie Chou, a 35-year-old jazz musician. It’s about comfort women, the 200,000 Chinese and Korean women who were abducted into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in World War II. After he read it, my father says he looked at her and said, “If we hadn’t had children, you could have written a hundred of these.”
No, she told him. “There’s no way I could have written any of it if I hadn’t.”
"Reality Bites: The Story of Rocco DiSpirito" (Eater)
In 2003, there were two kinds of food television: the kind in which Julia Child or Emeril Lagasse stood behind a massive kitchen island and explained how to make chicken a la king, and the gastro-tourist kind, like Bourdain’s first show, A Cook’s Tour. There was no Top Chef, no Chopped, no Kitchen Nightmares; Iron Chef America wouldn’t premiere until 2004. The Restaurant was America’s first food-oriented reality show, and it’s striking now for everything that isn’t there.
"Super Sad True Chef Story" (Eater)
In the summer of 2017, as research for a novel, I went to France to train, or stage, for a short period of time in a Michelin-starred kitchen. The stage system’s genius, I found, was its simplicity. It forged chefs who could take the heat, and it broke those who couldn’t. To get through a stage (pronounced “stodge”), your desire to work in a kitchen had to be absolute because it was all you had. If you came out the other side, you were accepted.
Me? I broke after one week.
"McDreamy, McSteamy, and McConnell" (Longreads)
That hope — the hope that maybe some of it isn’t fictional — is what drives people to write stories about Congress. Authors who write humanizing stories about politicians “are hoping in some sense that they are that human,” says Anne Jamison, an assistant professor of English at the University of Utah. If you can imagine a world where all Mitch McConnell needs is the love of a good man, or one where Susan Collins has a backbone, then you can convince yourself that maybe, just maybe, it could be true.
"In the Dark All Katz Are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia" (Hazlitt)
With the benefit of hindsight we can see Dirty Dancing for what it is: a Jewish horror movie. In the summer of 1963, a nice family goes to a Jewish resort in the Catskills for a week of bonding and relaxation, only to have their Mount Holyoke-bound seventeen-year-old daughter repudiate them completely in favor of an uneducated blond Adonis in leather pants named Johnny fucking Castle, who has rhumba’d his way into her heart.
"Strega Nona Is Not a Communist" (Gawker)
Big Anthony emerges to rapturous adulation from the crowd. He is no longer Big Anthony, the goat-milker who doesn’t pay attention; he is the Italian Prometheus. He has not merely bent the arc of history, he has snapped it like an uncooked noodle.
Translation for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
"Take Care, Love," by Jean-Claude Mourlevat (October/November 2018)
There was a sickening noise of splintered bone. The man, who had half stood up, fell to all fours under the impact. She kicked him in his bony and preposterous bare buttocks and hit him a second time, then a third, then again and again, always on the head, hurling curses at him, of which the gentlest was “you son of a bitch.”
Criticism for Times Literary Supplement
"With Their Eyes Turned." (Review of Eyes and In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William Gass)
It is a strange business to review a book that is manifestly indifferent to whether it will ever be read, much less reviewed. Yet Gass’s commitment to that indifference, whatever the cost, is precisely what makes him worthy of critical attention: he is perhaps the most virtuosic author of the last century; he may also be one of its greatest failures.
"Well Seasoned." (Review of Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli, by Ted Merwin)
In fact, one of the more pleasurable sections of the book contrasts the deli’s exaltation of exquisitely spiced food, glabrous with fat and mustard, with the prim Presbyterian propriety of the 1920s, which held that the road to hell, drink, and masturbation was paved with excessive seasoning.
"Cadres and Contours." (Review of Last Days in Shanghai, by Caleb Walker)
Last Days is a book about how much it takes for us to admit our own corruption, and our complicity. It’s the opposite of a bildungsroman; it’s what we might call a demolierungroman: a novel about a young man’s steady demolition.
“Gods in a Gallery.” (Review of Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe)
Ndibe writes as if his purpose is higher than the creation of healthy, living fiction; the matters of accurate language, tight structure, realistic characters, and local detail fall beneath his gaze.
Criticism for Brooklyn Rail
“Make Ready the Champagne Bottle.” Review of The Parrots (I Pappagalli), by Filippo Bologna (February 2014)
The Parrots may not be a Great Book. It is too unkempt, too messy, too rangy in its attentions, and too ham-fisted in its attempts at symbolism. But because it is all these things, because it is rude, it is sharp, it is vulgar, and it is, at times, as beautiful as the rosy blush on an old dipsomaniac’s cheeks, The Parrots is a terrific book.
Travel Writing for Roads and Kingdoms
The Only Decent Dessert in China (August 2015)
The crisp warm shell was fragile as a swallow’s nest. The difference between the flimsy yellow versions flogged in mainland China and this, the real deal, was the difference between Hello Kitty and an actual cat purring and sleeping in your lap.
How Not To Watch Soccer In Kenya (July 2015)
If coffee is a stimulant, Ethiopian coffee is smoking crack out of a lightbulb fragment. It tastes like the stuff Noah used to seal up the ark.