Issue #52: Summer Reading

Rob Spillman

In the late 1980s, the British music critic Simon Reynolds coined the term “miserabilism” to describe Morrissey and the numerous Manchester bands spreading their very personal gloom across the globe. The word could also be applied to the “Merritt Parkway Novel,” Gerald Howard’s term for the miserabilist fiction produced within a stone’s throw of the road cutting through affluent, suburban Connecticut, from Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road to Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm. Howard reevaluates the cultural impact of these novels and examines their continuing influence.

Fittingly, Tin House 52 features work pushing the realistic envelope, including Amy Hempel’s powerful, closely observed story “A Full Service Shelter,” Alice Munro’s older couple coming to grips with mortality in “Dolly,” Sherman Alexie’s poem of loss and legacies in “Crazy Horse Boulevard,” and Anne Carson’s poetic essay on the idea of threat in “We Point the Bone.” This issue looks both forward and backward, with Lost and Found appreciations of Patricia Highsmith’s The Tremor of Forgery, by Aaron Hamburger, and Annie Ernaux’s A Man’s Place, by Francine Prose. Consider this summer reading as providing a few grains of sand in your suntan lotion, a little bit of grit to remind you of the depth and breadth of the human condition.

Sadly, as we were going to press, we learned that the great Adrienne Rich has passed away. Here we feature one of her last poems, “From Strata.” Fierce to the end, Rich once said, “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard.”

If you are looking for relentless cheer, go to (yes, we have it bookmarked in the office), but if you are looking to be challenged and possibly maddened, please pull up your beach chair, turn the page, and engage. Happy complicated reading, everyone.