In Which We Ride To Safety Thanks To Our Lieutenant

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

I recently broke up with my girlfriend of three years. Actually that is a neutral way of putting it since she met someone else and has informed me they are planning their future together.

It has been four months and I finally want to put myself out there again. While my ex and I were together, we used to attend various functions at her job. One of her coworkers no longer works there, but she and I had an easy rapport and her social media indicates she is single. Would it be weird to get in touch with her and how should I approach it?

Duane T.

Dear Duane,

Let’s say an airplane plans to land at a particular airport. As the bird approaches, the pilot, who we will call Duane or perhaps Lieutenant Quail, is told that the runway approach is not clear. He must find some other place to land, and the likelihood is that he will crash and burn since he bears no real resemblance to Denzel Washington.

This is the risk you are taking, Lieutenant Quail, and it is best practice to be concerned with preserving your own life. You could maybe contact this woman as a friend; making things romantic from there is not impossible. She will see you coming a mile away, so this is very tough. Proposing any kind of real world activity is insane, but if you pretend to ask for advice and maintain some kind of internet thing for awhile she will probably give you a strong indication one way or another. Be indirect.

Hey,

For various reasons I am only trying to date Jewish men at this time. My problem is that it seems like only non-Jewish guys are interested in what I am broadcasting, and I am not sure how many of them are serious about possibly converting down the road or if they are just saying that to fuck me. Is there any good way of knowing if someone is truly open to this?

Katey R.

Dear Katey,

Are you telling the Jewish guys you date that you only date Jewish guys? You should really not do this, because the second you do so they sense you are trying to look them to an economic and emotional contract that is likely to lead to divorce and impotence.

Men don’t really need to know what kind of guys you prefer. Leave this question open, since restricting the type of person you are looking for is not really beneficial in any way. If you want to meet more Jewish men, go on jswipe or wear a yarmulke. If you want to know if someone will convert, force them to do it two years into the relationship by withholding sex.

In Which This Was Not Going To Be Roses

Sex By Other Means

by LINDA EDDINGS

for E.

Sleep’s our disease, the heart’s adagio. – William Logan

That season with the yardarm, the scrupulous derrick, reaching low into the marsh. Reminders call back the dressings around us, opaque. Another option is the reservoir, draining inaudibly whenever I am near. Stupid to find any consolation in the rejoinder, hankerous, insincere. A metaphor never suffices in such situations, but the mouth will have to do.

E. 3rd and Bowery could be strewn with tumbling bags of garbage or easy women at one time. Now a failing bookstore and a nail salon bookend the cuisine of the Himalayas. Molten is the precipitation, the wind simply a frugal exhale. Arrival in a warm place, departure on one knee. Taking things into your body is a fool’s errand. Best practice is a few furtive licks and a jangle at the seam. This could take all day.

Two years later it is sex I never planned or imagined. There is such thing, time persists in informing me, as pleasure that is too virulent. It almost always leads to conception; in the rare case that it does not blue balls are likely to ensue.

Duty to recall these dark moments: the proper thrill of a morally fervent eroticism is that it can always be retrieved.

I think it was Elias Canetti who said the thing he found most repulsive about people were their plans. I called the rest of my contacts first. During the act, weakness is a pause the stronger participants feeds on, attacks, makes use of. At such moments, the tongue is akin to a dangling preposition, with the feet and toes to match. Never asking to leave, a named orifice loses all value as a point of repose. Lines along the face mete out all the demarcation. A rogue emotionality is of no consequence among the salt.

For when the man is on top, you can draw a straight line. Her phone is nearly always in portrait mode. I have noticed the more appealing the person, the less likely they are to have a protective case on their device. This is an analogy that stretches through the eons.

Better to think of the leftovers as a happy bunch, who sampled all you could provide. Not only did they survive it, but they managed you the dignity of never bringing it up again. The fairness of the world overwhelms the moral sense of any one individual. The more decisive any sexual act is, the less likely it is to be ethical. I know that when someone misses you, that is never enough in itself. They have to want you inside them, or them inside you.

These strange words are written on top of a building at 141st street. Roof access is for everyone, makeshift ashtrays congregate like coral. This vantage offers the rear view of everything that once mattered. At times I sense how useful it remains to not be alone. Practically, when you put someone’s ass in your face, the smell is never going to be roses. I realize I may have an oversensitive nose, and I freely admit I may have scented worse in the marsh.

Let’s talk more about sex, and what it means when we have it.

The first eddings as scurrilous toes in my old bed. Winter was always the wrong time of year, a smelting could have eradicated what was once thought permanent. I am new to being atop, but it does seem best to guide the flow of events from up there.

Yes, a man could determine the flow of penetration from a great height, and the larger his member the less he actually has to effect. Averting his eyes simply means he pictures someone fairer, who would not even imagine begging for breakfast.

Reaching back to that place reminds me of all who overhear my proclamations without wishing to do so. On the street a light beam enables swift movement through crowds, eddy and rock formation. Inside my clunky and obstreperous, oversized shoes. From dawn, avalanche. At sunset, liminal. If I knew how to talk another way I would do so, sparing this indignity. For that is what it to be written to in such a cloaked fashion, scribed around the echo of allegro.

What I wanted for us beggars this form.

I am new to provisional attitudes, an uncertainty flashed like a badge or cameo. After mere kindness evaporates, better to have something there, between the two, which feeds on more than blithe engagement. After this intimacy, we tiptoe through an altered prism, searching through time to reclaim it.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which She Was Only Beginning To Get Well

5telyde

The Tiny Gospel

by ALEX CARNEVALE

America is going through a period of luxury and unrest bordering nearly on madness.

Alfred Stieglitz had left New York for Vienna in 1881. When he returned in 1890, the Big Apple was a completely changed city. The dark, dangerous metropolis Stieglitz had left grew incandescent in the evening, revealed by the onset of electricity.

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One aspect of the city became open to him, another closed. His parents wanted young Alfred to marry a spoiled 20 year named Emmeline, called Emmy. Before his wedding, Alfred Stieglitz burned the diary he had kept since he was nine.

Emmy refused to have sex with her new husband, but this was nonce to him. He continued photographing the city and its denizens, and even improved his piano-playing. He gave his new wife the silent treatment. Four years into the marriage, Alfred and Emmy Stieglitz conceived their only child.

Edward Steichen’s photograph of Kitty and Alfred Stieglitz

To commemorate the occasion, the family moved into a new apartment on Madison and 84th. Their daughter Kitty quickly became the center of their conflict, with Stieglitz insisting on photographing the girl almost every second of her life.

Emmy and Alfred were now on speaking terms, but it never got much better than that. As Kitty grew older and remained under the influence of her mother, daughter and father too liked each other less and less. Stieglitz had little time for his family spreading the tiny gospel that was still photography occupied most of his waking hours. “I would rather be a first class photographer in a community of first class photographers,” he pronounced, “than the greatest photographer in a community of non-entities.”

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Kitty graduated from Smith with honors in 1921. She had written her father many letters during her senior year at that Massachusetts college, bonding with him for the first time in her life with her mother in absentia. Since her parents were not speaking again, Alfred could not attend her commencement, but the two grew closer in the years that followed her marriage to a Boston salesman named Milton Stewart.

In June of 1923 Alfred became a grandfather when Kitty gave birth to a son. Severe bouts of postpartum depression dominated Kitty’s days. She alternated lashing out at her father for his neglect of her with expressions of closeness. “I certainly failed in so many ways in spite of all my endeavors to protect and help her prepare herself for life,” Stieglitz wrote. “I realize with every new day what a child I have been & still am absurdly so. It sometimes disgusts me with myself.”

O’Keeffe and Stieglitz much later, in 1944

This experience completely convinced Alfred that having a baby with his girlfriend, an artist named Georgia O’Keeffe, was a terrible idea. He continued affairs with other women as well, and he did not want babies with them either. He wrote romantic letters to the wife of his friend Paul Strand, although a relationship with Rebecca Strand would only ever be consummated by Georgia. O’Keeffe was annoyed by Alfred’s behavior, rebelling against it whenever she could, but she did tolerate it.

“Stieglitz wants his own way of living,” Rebecca Strand told her husband Paul, “and his passion for trying to make other people see it in the face of their own inherent qualities really gets things into such a state of pressure that you sometimes feeling as though you were suffocating.” Meanwhile, Kitty’s condition had put her suddenly doting father in a weakened state. He made peace with Emmy and together they admitted Kitty into a gorgeous sanitarium in upstate New York.

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Alfred Stieglitz was suddenly 60 and one of the world’s most celebrated photographers. Kidney stones made his nights restless. He passed the time by reading Ulysses. The divorce from Emmy was final. The following summer his daughter was discharged from the hospital to a summer house at Sagamore Beach. He proposed to Georgia; she declined.

By the fall Kitty had been returned to the sanitarium. Her doctor came to Alfred with a proposal. If he married O’Keeffe, they suggested, Kitty might come to a peace of mind that would aid her recovery. In light of these circumstances, Georgia accepted her boyfriend’s proposal after considerable pressure was exerted.

Kitty Stieglitz photographed by her father with her uncle Joseph

The hasty marriage would change nothing, however, and Kitty’s behavior was that of an indolent teen. She never left the care of doctors, spending the next fifty years trying to get well before her death. Kitty never permitted her father to visit, but her mother Emmy came every single week.

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“Marriage, if it is real must be based on a wish that each person attain his potentiality, be the thing he might be, as a tree bears its fruit – at the time realizing responsibility to the other party,” Stieglitz explained to himself. He was impressively dedicated, even in old age, to thinking of very good reasons why he could not be a faithful husband.

Georgia’s health problems complicated their new union, restricting her to bed rest. She was only just beginning to get well when Stieglitz met 21-year old Dorothy Norman. The girl who incessantly hung around Alfred’s gallery, asking question after question, was married to the son of the founder of Sears. Edward Norman was a deeply disturbed person who was mentally, physically and sexually abusive to his wife.

Dorothy Norman

Stieglitz initially tried to put Dorothy’s at an arm’s length. By the time he really got to know her, she was pregnant with her first child, a daughter. Like Kitty, Dorothy was a Smith graduate. Georgia noticed her husband’s admiration of the pregnant woman, and it upset her greatly. To appease O’Keeffe, Stieglitz tried to confine his expressions of love to secret letters. “I want to incorporate knowing you into my life,” Dorothy wrote back, and in order to position herself as closely as possible to the photographer, commenced work on an article about Alfred that would become a book.

Georgia was more and more skeptical of Alfred’s protestations that the friendship was not intimate. In her own interview with Dorothy, she found the college graduate annoying, pretentious and transparent. When Dorothy talked with Alfred at the gallery, he told her to sit far from him, “out of danger.”

Into his life at this time came Lady Chatterly’s Lover, his new favorite book.

When Georgia went off to a retreat, Stieglitz finally consummated the relationship with his young admirer. His descriptions of that moment are nauseating at best: “It was as I have never dreamed a kiss could be.” He wrote, “We are are one – Every day proves it more and more to be true. Dorothy, do you have any idea how much IWY.” The innovative use of acronyms made the tryst appear more than it really was: at first, the couple only kept things above the belt.

This consummation pushed Alfred in the other direction. Georgia was happiest in New Mexico, and Stieglitz endlessly complained about the time she spent there away from him. She felt his pull  “It is always such a struggle for me to leave him” but New York was not her favorite place. “I think I would never have minded Stieglitz being anything he happened to be,” she told a friend, “if he hadn’t kept me so persistently off my track.”

Alfred’s photograph of Dorothy from behind

Even though Alfred thought nothing of cheating on his wife, he flew into a fury whenever he suspected that she might be unfaithful. The balance of their relationship was changing, however, as Stieglitz was increasingly financially dependent on his wife’s flourishing artistic career. He was determined to improve his marriage.

Stieglitz still saw much of Dorothy, who had given birth to a second child. He photographed Dorothy Norman for the first time in 1930, when she was 25 years old. Alfred bought Dorothy a camera, and told her that he loved her. Each saw the relationship as a supplement to their marriage, and sought nothing more from one another. A friend wrote to Alfred that talking to Dorothy was like “talking to a mirror in which one didn’t see oneself but someone else. She presents no problem, no burden or personality to be dealt with. One can be with her and at the same time alone with oneself.”

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“He was perhaps the most impressive person I have ever known,” Dorothy wrote later. “Yet the greatness of what he expresses was in terms of how people must be non-possessive.” Alfred Stieglitz demonstrated this principle by comparing his wife and his young girlfriend in a 1932 exhibition that was the talk of the art community.

Their professional ties were solid as well. Dorothy involved herself in Alfred’s fundraising efforts at his request, for a gallery that she would run in his name. This closeness rankled Georgia even more, and she sunk into a depression partly brought on by a friend of Alfred’s suggesting that she befriend Dorothy.

Stieglitz’s self-portrait, 1890

When Dorothy could not find a publisher for her manuscript of poems, Stieglitz demanded he publish them. This final insult pushed Georgia into the arms of the poet Jean Toomer, who she invited to stay with her on Long Island.

In the spring of 1936, Elizabeth Arden asked Georgia to paint a massive mural in her salon. More flush with cash than she had ever been, Georgia rented a penthouse on 1st Avenue to work on it, a cold, drafty, beautiful workspace. There Alfred suffered his first heart attack, ending his photographic career.

Alfred was now 74 years old. In his feebleness, the arrangement with Dorothy could be nothing more than close friendship. The affair dissipated without ever having a formal break. Both had provided something the other needed, is how Dorothy saw things, something essential and something clandestine. “There was a constant grinding like the ocean,” O’Keeffe wrote of her husband. “It was as if something hot, dark, and destructive was hitched to the highest, brightest star. He was either loved or hated there wasn’t much in between.”

In the days that followed Stieglitz’s small funeral, Georgia called up Dorothy Norman. She told Dorothy to clear all her stuff from the gallery, commenting that she found Dorothy’s relationship with her husband “absolutely disgusting.” After Alfred’s death, Georgia O’Keeffe lived forty more years.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Hoped For The Abundant

Bouquet

by HEATHER MCROBIE

Running alongside the events of those years was like in the cartoons where the animated out-sized character doesn’t realize he’s run off the edge of a cliff, until he looks down and so – to comic, cartoonish effect – suddenly starts falling.

Sometimes I thought of Tahrir Square like a coral reef, everyone moving as one, shoals darting between the barnacled city walls.  Sometimes I thought of breezy, light Tunisia like a dandelion clock that all the young people and sad people blew at once, scattering the seeds of it everywhere, like this would be the first and last birthday cake whose candles we’d all ever get to blow out. At other times I thought of it like a grapevine, each bunch ripening in tandem, and at other times I couldn’t believe any of it at all.  A lot of metaphors also ripened during this time and because we were still growing up we overused all of them, and I’m sorry for that.  There are lots of stupid, easy things to say about spring.

The man I was in love with then did algebra and never used a metaphor, which I respect now more than I did when things were starting. For the purpose of this story I’ll use his brother’s name, Ibrahim, not so much for anonymity but more just because things between us were always a bit dislocated like that, like someone forgot to carry the one in an equation.  Something always got left over from the last thing, or nudged down one unit in a row.

He wasn’t Brahim, my friend from early Cairo-unbelievableness, with whom, in the infinite possibilities of this outside-time year-zero, I carved out a perfect friendship uncorroded by the complications of politics and sex.  “Guess how short my skirts are when I go out in London? And guess how short they are when I go out in Manchester? And guess how short my skirts are when I go out in Liverpool?” Brahim would put his hands to his face like two giant leaves covering the centre of a sunflower but you could tell from the glow that peaked out that he was always laughing.  We were laughing in our language classes and laughing on the balcony and only not-laughing when he took me to the cemetery and even then afterwards he made jokes, of a kind.

The man I was in love with who studied physics and was bemused by all of this came with me on a boat to Tunis where we imagined all the ancient Greek shipwrecks that must lie between his port-city home and the port-city someone with his surname had once left for the lower-lip of southern France.  We became professionally annoying with our photographs: every flag and every protest, me taking my dress off in our bedroom in the heat (later after Ibrahim left I was working at home in my underwear because it was too hot and heard the clicking of a camera by an amateur creep who was peering in through the window). We photographed the hospital and photographed the morgue and photographed the bars called “Facebook” and the cafes called “Twitter”. I sent emails to professors in Europe and North America telling them all their theories were outdated now, after this miraculous blossoming of spring. I mainly got out-of-office replies.

Since Ibrahim grew up in the south of France but studied in Paris I came to understand a relationship that had nothing to do with me, a north-south tension that didn’t play out in my life.  The ‘grandes ecoles’ of regimented Napoleonic education and the starched northernnesses of his classmates were as alien to him as they were to me, and he moved around Paris as half-bemused as he was half-bemused in Tunisia, home of his father.  I thought of him – because I loved him and he loved mathematics – as the mathematically-precise centre-point between these two, Paris and Tunis, held comfortably in his smiling certainty that this would all turn out alright, don’t worry my love.  I started to think of the Mediterranean like a mouth, with southern Europe as the upper teeth and north Africa as the lower teeth, how they had once slotted together, before some tectonic shift exposed the wet middle of sunken Greek ships.

Years later in Odessa I thought similarly and differently of the Black Sea: Ukraine glistening above and Turkey propping it up assuredly from underneath.  The heartening enclosed-ness of it all.  I liked to hold on to enclosed things, after the places and events since the start of the revolution that unraveled and just kept on unraveling.   I thought maybe the Mediterranean Sea was Ibrahim’s mouth beaming in the sun and the Black Sea was Amela’s mouth in that period when I thought about Amela’s mouth all the time, when she’d sit out by the library, and say funny and clever things and purse her lips in between so that they looked, improbably, like an exact map of Australia coloured in with lipstick.  ‘Amela’ is also a fake name for someone whose identity I need to smudge into imprecision, but her lips really did shape themselves, perfectly, just like that.

The best and worst thing about growing up motherless is you have to learn the artifice of femininity really carefully, like you’re learning algebra – when to carry, when to drop, when to press a little, when to stop.  I remember thinking of this in the Tunis hospital where the blue corridors were casually lined with dirty bandages.  How the hands of the nurses wafted at me in unison like seaweed in some sticky, maternal mauling.  How had they learned to touch bodies like that? It seemed as definite as maths but whole in natural-ness, precise but organic, like a starfish.  They sent me back to the apartment in Tunis with my own bouquet of bandages.

Ibrahim grew up in a town in France that had the same position as the town I grew up in in England: unromantically run-down, un-special, near to a famous port-city.  Walking around it in the spring before the hospital I remember thinking how at least the Runcorn of France had palm-trees, and there was something to be said for what sun can to do wash away any kind of ugliness.

Much later I stood in a central station looking up the bus schedule to Tripoli and I realised that my period was late because I was looking at schedules; later I was looking at the bandages that lined the blue corridors of the hospital and realised we were all too late.  But I couldn’t tell anyone because the doctor was so kindly and quietly explaining to me that it wasn’t meningitis, I was probably just overcome by events. Everyone was overcome by events.

Three years after the revolution in Egypt, Bassem Sabry, the brightest, truest young writer of those times, fell to his death from a Cairo balcony and I couldn’t stop thinking of him.  I re-read his recent writing, shocked that he had touched something now as complete and grown-up as death.  I couldn’t stop thinking of him and of how everything just tumbled like that.  As the revolutions buckled under themselves everything was either the swollen pregnant pauses of the curfew or the sudden internal caving-in of blood.

All I want to remember from these years of my life is that night when he and I were taking pictures of each other in the dark.  This was in Tunis before the hospital visit and before I found out that I needed glasses and I didn’t know how the pictures or anything else would turn out.  I thought that it was going to be something blossoming and abundant – like spring, or a revolution. Instead of what it really was: something mutant and unsustainable – like a miscarriage, or a lie.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Oxford. She has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, the Times Literary Supplement and Salon. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sumeja Tulic.

In Which We Decide To Take A Trip By Ourselves

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

I have been dating my girlfriend Susan for over a year and I can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Don’t get me wrong – we get along great and have so much in common. At times she feels like she is a part of my family because she gets along with my sisters and parents so damn well.

We did have a weird incident where she accused me of cheating. I know she has trust issues but it completely was not true at all and she jumped to conclusions about some texts I had received. Essentially, an ex was texting me and I could have just deleting what was written but I forgot. Susan made it sound like there was still some reason I had it on my phone, when there wasn’t.

It is not so much that which bothers me as the fact that maybe there could be someone out there better even though I definitely love Susan. What is wrong with me?

David P.

Dear David,

There comes a time in every man’s life when he thinks, I would do anything to be with this woman forever because the prospect of finding someone new sounds like the drizzling shits to me. You are obviously not at that stage yet.

It is best to do something to test your appreciation of Susan without dumping her and ending up regretting it. A few women will allow you to couple with them again after such an event, but most can never bear the sight of your face again.

Things that you can do to evaluate the depths of your love include taking a trip by yourself someone for reasons. How often do you think of Susan? How often do you think of her as God made her? How often do you think of a hotel room somewhere in Russia? How often do you think that masturbating is wrong and effectively punishable by a trip to hell?

The answers, respectively, are not much, a few times, frequently, and from time to time.

Hey,

Things have been going decently well with this girl Paisley. On our third date something happened that has made me a bit worried. We were at the movies and we were holding hands. When the lights came up, I displayed a visible erection that Paisley seemed to take notice of. She seemed a little out of sorts for the rest of the evening, but I’m not sure what her reaction really was.

In the ensuing days nothing seemed all that different. When we went back to my place though she made an excuse and went home. I’m trying to figure out how to proceed, since I haven’t had a connection this positive with someone in awhile.

Jeff P.

Dear Jeffrey,

Our minds all go to different places when we see a signifier. You have entered the realm of the purely semiotic. Each individual brings different experiences to the idea of a large p rising through some bro named Jeffrey’s shawts. Maybe she didn’t expect it; or maybe it triggered an identification with some negative moment in her life. Who knows, you might never know.

On some level she was probably aware your penis was living a quiet and flaccid life before this, and at the slightest hint of contact with a human being it would choose to spring to alert, screaming with the urethra as its de facto mouth, “I am aware of the current circumstances, Jeff!”

It is important not to let this slow you. If you do not show a woman that you desire her sexually, she will not be able to respond in a concomitant fashion. There is no such thing as taking it slow. The faster you are able to establish a connection between the body and mind of a woman, the sooner you will have a real relationship, versus the penis-observer functionality that you and Paisley are currently operating under.

In Which We Will Never Confuse Amy Adams And Isla Fisher Again

Sleep Routine

by ELEANOR MORROW

Nocturnal Animals
dir. Tom Ford
116 minutes

MV5BMTYwMzMwMzgxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA0MTUzMDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgAmy Adams’ real-life husband looks terrible with facial hair, like it is clinging to his face as a small animal might in impotent rage. Her husband in Nocturnal Animals is a clean-shaven Arnie Hammer. He is twelve years younger than her and is usually in New York with his girlfriend. She doesn’t sleep nights, and despite the fact that she is rapidly running out of money, she employs a full security detail. One weekend her husband heads out of town and she has nothing to do; I guess she has already cleansed her Netflix queue and Emerald City hasn’t made it way to television yet. She decides to read a book to fill the time. She can’t choose between Proust and the manuscript of a novel by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) that arrived in the post on Friday.

After opting for the latter, she reads his book over the course of the next few days. It is terrible. Basically it’s about this guy (still Jake Gyllenhaal) whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter are raped and murdered. A detective (Michael Shannon, hamming it up for his own entertainment) semi-blames Gyllenhaal for the crimes since he never resisted or anything. In response to these allegations, Jake shaves his beard. He’s the only man in the world who doesn’t look older with facial hair.

As I said, this is a very bad book that Edward Sheffield has written. It makes Amy Adams think of when she told Edward Sheffield that he should not write about himself anymore, and instead should make up stories about women getting raped and murdered and how upset that makes the men in their lives. The only action any woman takes in Nocturnal Animals is to read a book and have an abortion. That’s it. That’s what a woman is capable of.

But I completely forgive director Tom Ford, because Nocturnal Animals either takes itself way too seriously or doesn’t at all. There are many amusing scenes in this milieu. Amy has a very entertaining house, all glass and so many countertops. She loves Apple, everything they make. Amy wears this dark color lipstick that makes her look absolutely ridiculous, even though she doesn’t really have to do much except read in bed. For this task she dons a series of increasingly absurd eyeglasses. Whenever she dresses up, she looks like she is about to attend a Festivus party.

Early on in Nocturnal Animals, there is a very fun scene where Amy talks to a friend (Andrea Riseborough) of hers who is married to Michael Sheen. Ford, who is gay himself, has the friend explain how much better it is to be lifelong partners with a gay man. “We’re best friends,” she explains. Amy Adams sort of nods like she sees the wisdom of this approach.

Despite the fact that she is a mere ten years older than Amy Adams, Laura Linney plays her disapproving mother. It is hard to imagine how this could really work, although I guess the insinuation is that since Adams’ character is a product of rape, Edward Sheffield’s novel was really an attack on her. There are a lot of angles to Nocturnal Animals that I haven’t figured out yet, mostly because I was so insulted by it.

Tom Ford’s approach to directing actors is where he really shines. He seemingly does not tell any of his performers how to play the scenes at all. It is insane on the surface that a revenge novel involving men in Texas would have the exact same tone as a story about a woman who regrets dumping Jake Gyllenhaal for Arnie Hammer, but even putting that aside, half the actors in Noctural Animals seem to believe it is a satire.

While most of the performers think they are in an actual movie, Michael Shannon senses this thing is off the rails. Shannon’s Texas accent is amusing, and Ford even seems to have fun with some of his lines he creates for the West Texas cop, sensing that this story desperately needs at least a tiny bit of humor to prevent itself from becoming Showgirls. The writing here is certainly Joe Eszterhas-quality.

After finishing the novel, Amy Adams is pretty excited to meet up with Jake Gyllenhaal. She cannot decide exactly what lipstick to go with, and at the last moment she wipes it off her lips entirely. I suppose she figures she should most resemble the person that Jake Gyllenhaal was attracted to in the first place. She plans dinner at this extremely haughty Los Angeles restaurant that probably would not even seat Michael Shannon. The ceilings are so high you cannot even see them.

Amy orders scotch or bourbon and waits for her date. Edward Sheffield never shows, because he is pretending not to care, even though he cared enough to not only send her a manuscript of his shit novel, but dedicate the entire book to her. He could have stayed for one drink.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which Tom Hardy Wears Something For Every Occasion

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The Masque of Tom’s Death

by ETHAN PETERSON

Taboo
creators Steven Knight, Tom Hardy and Chips Hardy
FX, BBC One

taboo-200x300Tom Hardy’s body is disguised by a variety of fluffy black coats in the London winter, 1814. He is just back from Africa, where he is very regretful about European colonialism. He is the only one. This proto-Edward Said launches himself onto the cosmopolitan London — the highest building by far is St. Paul’s Cathedral, which lurks omnipotently in the background. Tom’s father has died with a valuable piece of land in his possession.

Tom’s half sister’s name sounds like a sneeze: Zilpha (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of someone semi-famous idk) says about four sentences in the early part of Taboo, a new series co-financed by BBC One and FX. But she writes a lot of letters, some under the duress of her profligate husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall), others true stories to her brother. A lot of bad things, we come to understand, happened to them as children.

This, it emerges from the testimony of the acting head of the East India Company (Jonathan Pryce), is the motivation for all bad acts. Pryce is a tired villain, and in Taboo all the composed effluence of his turn as the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones seems to have weakened him. He is becoming quite tiresome to watch, but whatever, it just makes Tom Hardy more charismatic in comparison.

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Tom prances from location to location giving everyone the same measure of gruffness. He is well-acquainted with violence, but Taboo at least brings along the onslaught slowly. At first it is not entirely clear why Tom holds such animosity towards the company that however indirectly started his business and gave him his fortune, but who cares? Tom is a racing bullet in a top hat, and it seems only a matter of time before he forces everyone to know it.

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Midway through the first episode of Taboo, Tom is interrupted by an older man who demands compensation for raising a little brother Tom seems to have known something about. He visits the man at a farm outside of London, where he witnesses the boy using what I can only describe as a large fork to move hay from one pile to another. “I’m not the sort of man fit to be around children,” he announces.

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It is hard to key in on what Tom desires so badly he is forced to act like such a madman. He forces a doctor to dig up his father’s body in order to perform what I can only assume is the first autopsy in the history of mankind. The next morning finds sunlight penetrating Tom’s father’s quarters, and the man grimaces as if light itself could be diminished by averting our eyes.

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Creator Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) already has plenty of money, and his projects generally avoid the flaccid compromises of traditional television. Taboo is a fun, if a bit mean-spirited romp through an exciting period for Great Britain. What Knight is best at is not transposing contemporary attitudes and preferences to life in the past. The characters of Taboo are entirely alien to us in some respects, and the bracing difference is felt in every action and decision.

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I would never complain about watching Tom Hardy, but many of these scenes feel a bit familiar. Giving Tom colonialism to battle is something a bit new, but the way in which he plans on dismantling and resisting this iteration of modernity remains well-worn ground. It would be fun to see Tom in something completely different, which he could show a few different angles. As fun as it is to watch, what is the point of casting the best actor on the planet to always play a gruff, unhappy man?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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