Photo by Giuseppe Milo

Women We Read This Week

Molly Brodak’s “Bandit” in Granta

Molly Brodak tells the story of her father, a gambler and bank robber who was an enigmatic, pervasive presence in Brodak’s life. In piecing together the history of his life, and the histories of his relationships with her and her mother, Brodak is trying to reconcile both halves of him: the parts that tried to participate in their lives and encourage them to have fun, as well as the parts that lied, stole, and hocked the car. It’s not just the good parts that are real; it’s that duality that makes him whole. Brodak includes a great deal of reporting in this piece. She recounts conversations her mother had before she was born–namely with the woman her father was married to when he and her mother met–and shares things her aunt told her in letters about her father, about how he was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany a few months after WWII ended.

The theme of Granta’s Summer issue is possession. I get the sense that Brodak is at once possessed by her father and is also trying to possess him, to go back to all the times in her childhood when he wasn’t there, and now, as an adult, to know where he was and what he was doing instead of being left hanging, wondering for hours at a time:

I want to say plainly everything I didn’t know. I didn’t know Dad gambled. Sports betting mostly, on football, baseball or college basketball, point spreads, totals, money lines, whatever was offered. Bookies, calls to Vegas, two or three TVs at once. I knew there were little paper slips and crazy phone calls and intense screaming about games – more intense than seemed appropriate – but it only added up to a kind of private tension orbiting him. I didn’t know what it was.

Brodak’s prose is as dense and full of depth and meaning as it is plain and familiar. It’s like sitting and listening to a friend tell you about what their childhood was like, but with a greater sense of empathy and self-reflection than could ever be captured in a conversation. She is curt and clear with the facts, recognizing that this is not where the story lies:

Dad robbed banks one summer. … I was thirteen that summer. He went to prison for seven years after a lengthy trial, delayed by constant objections and rounds of firing his public defenders. After his release he lived a normal life for seven years, and then robbed banks again. There: see? Done with the facts already. The facts are easy to say; I say them all the time. This isn’t about them. This is about whatever is cut from the frame of narrative. The fat remnants, broken bones, gristle, untender bits.


Rachel Vorona Cote’s “The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends” in Pacific Standard

Though I haven’t always realized it, I love my female friends immensely for their presence in my life, as well as for their quirkiness, consistent support, and honesty. My journals as a young girl recount the dynamics of elementary school friendships, with regular updates on who I was closest to and my anxieties about certain friends or people around me. Years later, there were the teary late night conversations, the tense phone calls when we departed for college or discussions I worried about long in advance. Friendship is deeply vulnerable, and Rachel Vorona Cote’s essay offers a raw glimpse into the anxiety and pain that come into play in close friendships when those relationships become tense. While our society seems to consider heartbreak in romantic relationships a given, she argues, we don’t always look upon losing a friend as such. Vorona Cote explains that it’s okay to grieve those losses and simultaneously realize the strength of connections between women; that it’s possible to find them again, but that it’s also not fair to downplay the pain that comes with losing a friend:

My most aching and enduring losses have not been with boyfriends but instead the fading, fizzling, or harsh breaks with women. But only recently did I confront the paucity of vocabulary available to someone who mourns a broken friendship. Perhaps the issue is not so much lack but a stranglehold on certain words. We can have a friend crush, be totally in love with a new friend, love our friends dearly. But that in love-ness and that love do not seem to hold the weight, in language or otherwise, that they might in a romantic or sexual relationship…

As we push back on these fears, we must also be less stingy with our words. We can relinquish the air quotes when we refer to friendship break-ups, or the melancholy of being dumped by a woman who mattered to us. When we belittle friendship heartbreak, we imply that the most legible forms of love are those that adhere to traditional practices and rituals. Hearts shatter every day for all manner of tragedies; it’s both limiting and invasive to dismiss this pain as less than because it is not heterosexual love.

The author is critical of her own anxieties but also reminds us to remember our relationships in all their diverse forms, because nothing is ever fully lost. “Friendship,” she explains, “is not a pale imitation of romance. It is a romance unto itself.”


Kim Todd’s “Reintroductions and Other Translocations” in Guernica

In this lyric-style essay, Todd chronicles a number of species in which biologists have reintroduced or translocated, or are considering reintroducing. Some of these species will likely be familiar to a North American audience–the gray wolf, for example, and the American bison. Others, especially when stacked up together, start to take on mythic qualities. For example, in New Zealand,

The tuatara, an ancient reptile with spines down its back like a baby dragon and a ‘third eye’ (or at least a light-sensing organ) in the middle of the head, goes about her leisurely reproduction; every two to four years, a female lays a clutch of eggs that will take a year to hatch. It’s as if she has all the time in the world.

The style of the essay lends itself well to the larger questions Todd is examining here. Can animals brought back from the edge of extinction, especially when in zoos, be considered “wild”? Is this sort of reintroduction–or simply, introduction, as one biologist Todd speaks with calls it–necessary? Rather than attempting to answer such questions directly, Todd gracefully likens one such experience with reintroduced animals–a herd of Tule elk in California–to an art film about perception. In doing so, she hints at how ecological restoration efforts are a façade for the “real thing,” but how despite knowing this, such encounters can still be transcendent moments in nature:

In Staging Silence by Hans Op de Beeck, hands move objects around a glassy table. They arrange twigs on stands, pour sand from cartons, sweep a path through the piles with a paint brush. It’s a game with toys, completely artificial. Then the lighting shifts, just a little, and suddenly the black and white of the film, the shadows, the loss of resolution, make you see it as an actual, natural landscape. You know you are being fooled, and you scrabble to hold on to what you know is true, the memory of the brush. But it doesn’t matter. You can’t unsee the barren winter branches and the cold sunlight reflecting off the river that runs through mounds of snow. Breath slows. You shiver.

Audrey Quinn’s and Jackie Roche’s “Syria’s Climate Conflict” in Upworthy

An image of a drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, ripped through social media this week, bringing attention on the Syrian refugee crisis “into focus,” says the New York Times. Originally produced in 2014 by Years of Living Dangerously and Symbolia Magazine, this comic by Quinn and Roche was reprinted yesterday on Upworthy. It helps to explain the roots of Syria’s crisis:



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