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Culture & Literature
The Paris Review

The Paris Review Spring 2020

The Paris Review publishes the best fiction, poetry, art, and essays from new and established voices, and the Writers at Work interviews offer some of the most revealing self-portraits in literature.

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United States
The Paris Review Foundation, Inc.
4 Issues

in this issue

18 min.
by design

CLARE SESTANOVICH Her son and his future wife took Suzanne out to lunch and asked her to do the wedding invitations. Not so long ago, she had been a successful graphic designer. Her own boss. They were anxious to make her feel useful. When the food arrived, it was vegetables sliced in long, nearly see-through strips, a pile of ribbons in orange and green and red. Suzanne saw her son’s ulterior motive clearly. Being unemployed, she had told several friends, was sharpening her perception. But Spencer took pride in being subtle—probably someone had led him to believe this was the same as being adult. Suzanne’s aesthetic was elegant and inoffensive. Occasionally a little too austere. “As you may recall,” she told the future wife, piling carrot shavings onto her fork, “I didn’t lose my…

6 min.
g. c. waldrep

SUITE FOR A.W.N. PUGIN PUGIN I was reading a biography of Pugin. Architecturewas how Pugin avoided God.This much is evident. When he slipped out at nightto drift down to the water he was a smoke.He did not look up at the moon. We can be surethat any bargain he made was intentionalespecially those he bound in straps made of snow. PUGIN I was reading a biography of Pugin. Exileis something like a hearse is something, tungstenor zinc. You are born through it. Some fewemerge from that labor wearing somethingtheir lovers, later, will call a caul. “Look, a caul,”they will say. But they will be wrong about that.Later they will dream of the circus on fire. PUGIN I was reading a biography of Pugin. Funnythat at one point he should have fancied himselfa maker of chairs, when…

40 min.
the art of fiction no. 246

RACHEL CUSK Rachel Cusk was born in Canada in 1967 to British parents, who moved the family to Los Angeles, then to England, where Cusk lives to this day. She began publishing in her midtwenties—clever and assured novels featuring men and women attempting, with little success, to manage their anchorless lives in a bewildering, loveless world. Then, after having two daughters in quick succession, she began writing essayistically about her life. Her memoir A Life’s Work (2001) dealt directly with the existential, social, and intellectual struggles of early motherhood. The book received praise for its honesty and intelligence, and also assault for its perceived solipsism and negativity. A Life’s Work seemed to announce a new beginning for Cusk as an artist, yet it would be almost a decade before she returned to…

1 min.
griffin brown

BLACK CURTAIN after an oil painting by Peter Doig As is always the case with Doig, we are on the inside.Outside, this time, is a coast we all know.The view is ideal: the day has reached an end,the water is mostly still, and the moisture in the airmakes every light into a star. In the distance, another landmass—likely just as calm, as long as the curtain stays where it is. It hides the riptides, renders the outside an anesthetizing blue. And yet, at the horizon, where the curtain is threadbare,there are hints of something beginningto break through: pointillist splotches,possibly storms, threatento upset the scene. The longer we look, the more salientdecay becomes. It first showsat the top of the frame: the nightturns wan, ashen, as if renegingits depth. Then we lose the linesof the cliffs, their…

1 min.
kevin young

HUM I am learning how to sleepagain, to lovethe descent, or is it, lying here, a rising upto summitwhere sleep wanders till waking. And whenI cannot, when the waterleaches into everything & capsizes me, I wonderwhere you are,father, if anywhere at all—Does sleepknow you? Does day? Such nights, dreams fill my waking& worry weathersthe dark, the light horribly leaking through the curtains—or, awake,early, I wait for it to seep in from the east. The landof dead in the west.The hum of sun— none, none, then suddenlyup—it, too,cannot be sated or slaked off, brother sun,mother moon,father you cannot find though somewhere still shines. SHADE It’s a strange placeto try & findGod—inside a building. Better offin a field whose owner,if any, has let the ivy overtake it, shotgun shackspulled down, abandonedbeneath the green that has no borders& thus is beautiful.Once seen, you won’t later, in shadow, be ableto hunt…

26 min.

BETH NGUYEN When my son Henry was a year old I took him to Boston to meet my mother. She didn’t show up. It turned out that she had gone to Foxwoods Casino instead, which sounds bad and maybe was, but it had been three years since I’d seen her or even spoken to her; we wouldn’t see each other for seven more. I couldn’t blame her for trying her luck elsewhere. “Birth mother” doesn’t seem the right term for her and neither does “biological mother,” which implies an adoption story. “Real mother” forgets my stepmother, who has been in my life since I was three. I never know how to refer to the woman who gave birth to me, who was my first mother, who did not leave me but was…