The Longreads Blog

Suicide in the Family

Photo by Robin Riat, Flickr

In the literary magazine Post Road, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson writes about how her grandmother ─ a smart, talented woman born in repressive times ─ committed suicide for unclear reasons, and how silence and that gap in the family narrative shapes the way we view ourselves. As a historian and author, Dickinson’s father made a living telling stories that reflected how, in his words, “Life is messy.” The same applies to the end of life, too, and Dickinson explores the benefits of talking openly about tragedy and personal history. Her essay appeared in Fall 2015.

Silence, though, is not an uninhabitable vacuum. It is no black hole. The place where stories stop and silence starts becomes its own fertile ground; other notions take root. A story grew in my childhood, one of my own devising. I believed, from a young age, that I was Wilmeth reincarnate. This idea was reinforced by the way my father sometimes looked at me, or in the rare breaches when he would say, “You remind me of your grandmother today.” I believed that I had to make amends for Wilmeth’s truncated life. I would be healthy and normal. I would be smart and successful.

Unlike my grandmother, I had the power of choice and I made hard ones. I chose not to marry that man in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and to risk waiting for a different kind of love. I chose to be a writer, to work for myself, to buy a very old house and to tear it to the studs in order to bring it back to life. In a letter written to me a few years before his death, my father recounted these choices and he told me that I was brave. I had to be, you understand. Here, I had no choice. I had to prove what my grandmother might have become if given the chance. I had to show that it was merely thwarted opportunity, and not biology, that pulled that trigger.

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How to Drop Out of a Presidential Race

Adlai Stevenson (left) at a 1952 AFL convention. Photo: Kheel Center, Flickr
Adlai Stevenson (left) at a 1952 AFL convention. Photo: Kheel Center, Flickr

This is not an idle consideration. Dropping out of the presidential race can be more important—and can have a more lasting impact—than entering it. Departing the right way can help a candidate built a lasting “brand” and set him or her up for speaking fees, TV contracts, a book deal and, who knows, maybe another run for the top prize one day.

Of course, some candidates go out with more grace and style than others. One of history’s best dropout lines came from Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who, after losing to Dwight Eisenhower, confessed, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” Richard Nixon, after he lost his race for governor of California in 1962, chose a different tack, famously proclaiming he’d quit politics forever and snapping to reporters, in words that would haunt him the rest of his life, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” Ronald Reagan fought Gerald Ford all the way to the convention in 1976, and spent the next four years giving speeches and addresses that set up his frontrunner status in 1980. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton left the presidential campaign after a long, bitter struggle against Barack Obama she proclaimed herself a “glass ceiling” breaker—and made it pretty clear she’d be back to try to shatter the glass again.

—Matt Larimer, writing for Politico. Larimer’s piece offers an excellent guide for the losers of Iowa and New Hampshire and armchair analysts alike.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photograph by Jamie Chung for Bloomberg Businessweek
Photograph by Jamie Chung for Bloomberg Businessweek

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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How Winona Ryder Became the Face of ‘90s Nostalgia

Image adapted from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image adapted from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s not uncommon for artists to be associated with a particular cultural moment: think Hemingway and interwar Europe or vintage Lady Gaga and the onset of the age of virality. What is rare is for a cultural moment to be so strongly linked to a specific artist like the `90s — specifically the first, pre-internet half — are with Winona Ryder.

At Hazlitt, Soraya Roberts digs deep into Ryder’s career to find out why we (or at least a certain subset of “we,” mostly born between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties) struggle to decouple the artist from the period in which she got lodged in our collective psyche.

We cannot see Ryder without seeing the grunge era. In the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Carl Wilson riffed on the “20-year cycle of resuscitation” that had finally turned to Gen-X nostalgia. “In intimate terms, nostalgia is a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience,” he wrote. “And it’s a reminder that it matters not only that an idea or an image was created, but when — that things speak most fully in chorus and counterpoint to other events and concepts of the same era.” As Tavi Gevinson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “how I feel when I see pictures of teen Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp holding hands in leather jackets, like, nobody can match that.”

The only person that can come close is Winona Ryder now, because embedded in Winona Ryder now is Winona Ryder then. She carries her past with her. The teen actress who sought to make her own life nostalgic before it had even passed her by peeks out from within the woman Marc Jacobs now imbues with nostalgia — she is a Russian nesting doll of reminiscence. That Winona Ryder’s image makes more of an impression than her current performances — in The Ten, The Last Word, Stay Cool — confirms our culture’s chronic desire to preserve the past rather than accept the present.

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The Aristocratic Chef: An Interview with Daniel Le Bailly de La Falaise

Photo © Max Vadukal
Photo © Max Vadukal

Cody Delistraty | Longreads | February 2016 | 14 minutes (3,672 words)

 

“The most stylish chef in the industry,” according to Vogue Paris. “A fairy tale child,” according to fashion editor André Leon Talley, “straight out of a gothic novel.” The grandson of Maxime de La Falaise, a 1950s beauty who wrote for American Vogue and played muse to Andy Warhol. The nephew of Loulou de La Falaise, the afflatus of Yves Saint Laurent. The great-nephew of Mark Birley, who ruled London nightlife with Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar. And on and on.

Daniel Le Bailly de La Falaise has always had much to live up to.

Yet even from his younger years, Daniel parried the pressure with aplomb. He modeled for Vogue Paris as a wispy seventeen year-old. He acted in plays on the West End alongside Michael Gambon. It was the same path of aristocratic, creative urbanity that his forebears lived so well.

But one day, he realized it wasn’t quite the life for him.

“I asked myself the question of whose career I coveted and I couldn’t really come up with the answer,” Daniel told me over the phone from Bolinas, California. “I wanted control over what my life would be and cooking was something that I had always done.”

So cook he did.

He was slated to start work at the River Café, a respected Italian eatery on the banks of the Thames, but his great-uncle Mark Birley challenged him. “If you’ve got the balls, if you’ve got balls, Danny, you’ll start at Harry’s Bar,” Daniel recounted him saying in reference to the members-only Mayfair restaurant founded by his great uncle. “He thought I’d make a week and in the end I did years there.”

Today, Daniel lives mostly on an estate near Toulouse, France, with his wife, Molly, and infant son, Louis. He manages Le Garde-Manger de La Falaise, an exclusive line of oils and vinegars sold at Selfridges in London and at Claus in Paris, and he is the author of a recent book from Rizzoli called Nature’s Larder.

But his central work remains cooking. He cooks for himself, his family, and his friends, but he also caters celebrity and fashion events, which take place mostly in Paris, London, and Milan. He catered Kate Moss’ wedding and, most recently, he was in charge of a 125-person dinner at the Château de Courances in northern France for the Olsen twins’ fashion brand, The Row.

Although Daniel’s provenance is one of sophistication and blue blood, he eschews pretension. His favorite food is spaghetti alle vongole and, as he puts it, “there is no better luxury than really distilled simplicity.”

Daniel spoke to me about the pressures of aristocracy, the sexuality of food, and what cooking for the rich and famous really takes. Read more…

Talking to Alice Driver About Violence Against Women in Juárez

Schoolgirls walk in front of a mural painted with the faces of disappeared girls. Local artists and families of the disappeared have been working together to raise awareness about disappearance in Juárez; they paint the faces of missing girls on the donated walls of schools, churches, and homes around the city. Photo: Alice Driver
Schoolgirls walk in front of a mural painted with the faces of disappeared girls. Local artists and families of the disappeared have been working together to raise awareness about disappearance in Juárez; they paint the faces of missing girls on the donated walls of schools, churches, and homes around the city. Photo: Alice Driver

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico was once known as the global murder capital. It’s no longer the world’s most dangerous city, but violence still haunts the town just over the border from El Paso, Texas. Alice Driver, a filmmaker, writer and photographer whose work focuses on human rights, feminism, and activism, has written extensively about Juárez.  Her searing 2015 book More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico deals specifically with the disappearance and murder of women in Juárez. The work, which grew out of her dissertation, blends theory with stories and interviews to explore not just the violence against women in Juárez, but also how that violence has been represented in media and culture. As Driver writes:

“To talk about feminicide is to talk about violence against women in all its manifestations, and in Juárez one of the most visible of those is disappearance. When women are murdered, their bodies don’t always appear. Often they disappear, and so the violence becomes unregistered, unrecorded, and seemingly invisible. This book is about the ways in which those bodies, whether identified or nameless, have been represented in literature, film, and art.”

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The ‘Airplane!’ Guide to Joke Delivery

Neilsen

We found that it was easier to keep an audience laughing than to start them up all over again.

—David Zucker, in New York magazine, on how he and his co-directors, Jim Abrahams and brother Jerry Zucker, approached comedy and rapid-fire joke delivery with the classic 1980 movie Airplane!. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker broke down the origins of their classic joke “…don’t call me Shirley.”

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How to Talk about the Weather Like a Newfoundlander

Photo: Megapixx~
Photo: Megapixx~

Winters are long and cold in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province, but the language that describes the many local varieties of rain, wind, and ice is anything but dreary. In Hakai Magazine, Emily Urquhart digs deep into the rich lexicon Newfoundlanders — from First Nations people to Basque and Irish immigrants — have assembled over the centuries to talk about the world around them.

Stories, like songs, are told with cadence and tone, timing, and, most importantly, attention to language. Perhaps there simply weren’t enough words to describe the erratic weather and rock-lashed land, the complex history of the people who settled there, and the boundless sea that surrounded them. Maybe the regional lexicon was not simply the result of limitation—the isolation of the outports—but a response to the limitlessness of the natural and social landscape.

The vocabulary is fluid. It’s an ongoing dialogue, and it’s as captivating and elusive as the Newfoundland fairies. Preservation efforts are constantly underway, from the b’ys (read: dudes) on George Street outdoing one another with local slang to the academics who collect and study this kind of talk like specimens in a jar. But it’s the artists who’ve cornered the market on heritage language in the province.

Marlene Creates, for example, captures the language of the natural world in her poetry and visual art, which are equal parts aesthetic and political. And what wordsmith could resist terms like glim, a light seen across a distant ice field, or swatch, a rivulet of open water in ice? There is an onomatopoeic quality to these words that lends itself to lyrical language: sketch, for the thin layer of ice that rests on the water; sish, both the word that describes a boat running through slushy water and the resulting sound. You can hear the crackle in brickle ice, which is easily shattered. Way ice is more straightforward, in that a vessel can navigate its broken pans.

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