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The Threepenny Review

The Threepenny Review Spring 2020

The Threepenny Review is a well-regarded quarterly of the arts and society which has been published since 1980. Every issue contains excellent essays, stories, poems, and memoirs, plus beautiful black-and-white photographs. Its regular writers include six Nobel Prizewinners and four U.S. Poet Laureates; recent issues featured writing by Wendell Berry, Geoff Dyer, Louise Glück, Greil Marcus, Javier Marías, Adam Phillips, and Kay Ryan.

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United States
The Threepenny Review
4 Issues

in this issue

1 min

Try to think, said the teacher,of an image from your childhood.Spoon, said one boy. Ah, said the teacher,this is not an image. It is,said the boy. See, I hold it in my handand on the convex side a room appearsbut distorted, the middle taking longer to seethan the two ends. Yes, said the teacher, that is so.But in the larger sense, it is not so: if you move your handeven an inch, it is not so. You weren’t there, said the boy.You don’t know how we set the table.That is true, said the teacher. I know nothingof your childhood. But if you add your motherto the distorted furniture, you will have an image.Will it be good, said the boy, a strong image?Very strong, said the teacher.Very strong and full of…

1 min
coming upon a young screech owl

Face down on the sidewalk, its head to one side.I squatted, stroked its ear with two fingers—not sleeping, then: a small wildness, frozen.I ruffled the barred feathers of the neck,which were as light as air, pleated brown and white.Stared at the one side of the face I could see—flat as a dish—and the one eye I could see,which was open, the iris drained of yellow,the pupil dark-stunned with unbecoming.I thought to pluck a feather, then hated myselffor it. I traced the softness down to the legswhere the talons were sunken deep into the neckof a rabbit kit, smaller than my hand. Was the rabbit too heavy for a young owlto carry? Or the owl distracted by headlights?As if knowledge could save me. But nevermind. Owl and rabbit are equals now, the…

18 min
table talk

JUDY GARLAND started it. I wasn’t at her Carnegie Hall performance in April of 1961, but in my sixteenth year I’d somehow come into possession of the double LP live recording of it. I didn’t so much listen to the performance as I was pierced by it and by music’s unreason. Whichever number she performed, Judy’s thrilled tones registered a quivering, animal alertness to being alive, as if she’d just woken to existence and had to sing about how dangerously fine that was. Her silvery voice, with its miles-wide vibrato, was fearlessly beseeching, strung out by a sense of exalting hurt and glee. My Judy experience was sharpened by my frequent consternation whenever the female voices in my family cut loose—the women, I mean, on my mother’s side of the…

11 min
a taxonomy of longing

Message from the Shadows by Antonio Tabucchi. Archipelago Books, 2019, $18.00 paper. THE ITALIAN writer Antonio Tabucchi’s oeuvre is notably eclectic, and has about it the air of a painful exertion. Each story is so strange he seems to be reinventing himself with every published work, learning what he must to pull off his next mystifying effect. His world—largely Mediterranean, frequently twilit—is one rich with velvety nights and copper-colored days, pale-blue lamps and yellow taverns sunk in shadowy streets, homey cafés and windswept terraces and fado concerts held by candlelight. A mild breeze seems to flutter the pages of Message from the Shadows, which present a haunting succession of stories rife with train journeys and flagrant passions, with children who sing to eels on moonlit nights and thoughtful whales that offer…

6 min
vegas neon

Motel Vegas by Fred Sigman. Smallworks Press, 2019, $29.99 cloth. IT’S TO be expected. You take photographs in order to document things—Paris in the case of Eugène Atget in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the shacks of the American south in the case of Walker Evans in the 1930s—and these documents then acquire a quality of elegy. What is extraordinary is the speed with which this happens, the brevity of the “then.” As soon as the images emerge in the developing tray—even, conceivably, the moment the shutter is clicked—they are imbued with how they will be seen in the future. The photographs in Fred Sigman’s book Motel Vegas were commissioned in the mid-1990s in order to record the signage of once-thriving motels on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. Frame and…

18 min
portrait of a production

ON AN April afternoon in 1956, the whole company of The Iceman Cometh at the Circle in the Square—twenty-two people in all—were sitting in a tight circle in José Quintero’s office above the stage, engaged in our first rehearsal. We had read through three acts of Eugene O’Neill’s play, with Act Four still to come, and we were taking a break. The room was quiet. Two big windows were open to a mild breeze and a distant sausage smell from some joint on West 4th Street. Nobody wanted to talk about the play. Jason Robards, reading the role of Hickey, was sitting by himself, looking at his script. People were staying away from him, the way ballplayers stay away from a pitcher who’s working on a no-hitter. José sat alone,…