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NER Classics | The Marburg Sisters | Andrea Barrett

Categories: NER Classics


grapevineThe girls’ mother told them stories: how their grandfather Leo had grafted French vines onto North American roots with his German-Russian hands, finding the western New York winters easy to manage after Ukraine. At the head of the lake the Couperins, who ran a rival winery, had laughed at Leo’s cultivation practices, but in 1957, when Bianca was born, Leo had his revenge. That winter’s violent cold spell left the Marburgs’ earth-shrouded vines untouched when everyone else’s were killed, and Walter Couperin lost all his hybrid vines and switched back to Concords in a fury. 

Leo smiled and kept his secrets and established acres of gewurztraminer, which Couperin couldn’t grow, and rkaziteli, a Russian grape temperamental for everyone but him. The girls grew up hearing words like these: foxy, oaky, tannic, thin. Like all children, they knew more than they knew that they knew. 

In the fall the cold air slipping down from the hills hung white and even below the trellises. Leo’s winery thrived, and his oldest son—Theo, the girls’ father—threw himself into the business with a great and happy passion. Peter Couperin, Walter’s heir, field-grafted Seyvals onto half his Concord stock, and still Theo outdid him. 

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 Andrea Barrett‘s story, “the Marburg Sisters,” appeared in NER 16.4 (1994).

NER CLASSICS | First Encounters with the Elgin Marbles | Benjamin Robert Haydon

Categories: NER Classics

Parthenon_pediment_statuesI shall never forget the horses’ heads—the feet in the metopes! I felt as if a divine truth had blazed inwardly upon my mind and I knew that they would at last rouse the art of Europe from its slumber in the darkness.

These passages from Benjamin Robert Haydon’s 1853 Autobiography were published as a rediscovery in NER 19.3:

The first thing I fixed my eyes on was the wrist of a figure in one of the female groups, in which were visible, though in a feminine form, the radius and ulna. I was astonished, for I had never seen them hinted at in any female wrist in the antique. I darted my eye to the elbow, and saw the outer condyle visibly affecting the shape as in nature. I saw that the arm was in repose and the soft parts in relaxation. That combination of nature and idea which I had felt was so much wanting for high art was here displayed to mid-day conviction. My heart beat! If I had seen nothing else I had beheld sufficient to keep me to nature for the rest of my life. 

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NER Classics | Northern Insomnia | Mark Jarman

Categories: NER Classics, Poetry

Mark Jarman’s poem “Northern Insomnia” appeared in NER 13.3-4:

Passing out of the rain into dull cloudlight,
heather, a field of sleep, and rock,
Into the discovery of water
And with it the recognition of wind.

Dark water, water showing,
In a basin cut lengthwise below a hill,
Nothing of the sky, a sheepish gray,
Nothing of the eye’s desire for rest…

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Carrying the Torch | Brock Clarke

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics


Brock Clarke’s story “Carrying the Torch” appeared in NER 21.1:

450px-Gersdorff_p21vI decided last night that someday soon I am going to rip my husband’s penis off with my bare hands. I plan to do it while he’s sleeping. I will make sure that I am wearing my running shorts and sneakers, and after I have done the deed, I will jog at a good clip around my neighborhood, holding the bloody thing above my head and a little in front of me like a torch. The summer Olympics started yesterday, and I was in the crowd as Rafer Johnson ran through Atlanta with the real torch, which is how I got my idea.

“Who exactly is Rafer Johnson?” I asked my husband, Till, yesterday. Till is an executive with Microsoft’s Atlanta division, and he’s also on the Olympic organizing committee, which is how we managed to stand right up front while this large, fit black man ran down Peachtree with Nike written all over his mesh tank top and nylon jogging shorts.

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NER CLASSICS | A French Love Affair | Gwen Strauss

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

Gwen Strauss’s essay, “A French Love Affair,” appeared in NER 21.2.

We live on a converted barge, a houseboat, on a canal,
on the eastern edge of Burgundy almost in the Jura mountains . . . 800px-Paul_Klee,_Swiss_-_Glance_of_a_Landscape_-_Google_Art_Project

We live on a converted barge, a houseboat, on a canal, on the eastern edge of Burgundy almost in the Jura mountains, next to Switzerland. Driving to the closest town in our new, very old 1952 Peugeot 203 takes about fifteen minutes. Of course, in a newer car you’d get there faster—and I wonder, would the town seem more modern? Because when I’m in our car, I notice again that our village is full of old people, that the French countryside has been abandoned by the younger generations. When I pull into the gas station, or into the market place, inevitably an old French man will come running out of the nearby café. With pastis on his breath he’ll exclaim, “C’est ma jeunesse!” Then he will moon over the dashboard. It’s the same, the very same as the one he had as a young man! There will follow some discussion, mixed with patriotic disbelief, about how I, as a youngish American woman, got possession of this car. How could that be? they ask. I want to answer: by sheer pathological stupidité. But I just smile and shrug my shoulders and sigh a lot, “C’est comme ça.”

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NER CLASSICS | Not Renata | Dwight Allen

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

. . . he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured,
the way long-ago boyfriends will do . . .


Dwight Allen’s story, “Not Renata,” appeared in NER 21.2.

Now and then, he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured, the way long-ago boyfriends will do, if you aren’t careful. I’d be chewing on my pencil or a fingernail, say, or looking at the blue California sky while pumping gas into my car, and there he’d be, lying on a three-legged, rummage-sale couch in our graduate school apartment of twenty years before. (The fourth leg was a cookbook my mother had given me. “Hope this will inspire you,” she said.) In this picture he’s as still as a painter’s model, cigarette smoke veiling him like stage fog. I peer at him, this secretive, cowardly boy I once loved, and then the picture dissolves and I’m inhaling gasoline fumes or listening to Mrs. Ramirez or Mr. Kuhn or someone else at the senior center tell me a story. I work with the elderly. With the crabby and unpopular Mr. Kuhn, I sometimes play checkers, waiting for the moment he says “King me!” and stirs me from my daydreams. The last time my former boyfriend appeared before me, I was in the dentist’s chair.

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NER CLASSICS | Updike’s Way | William H. Pritchard

Categories: NER Classics

“Wallace took a similar line in more abusive terms, declaring that readers under age forty—particularly female ones—had no time for what he termed the G.M.N.s (Great Male Novelists) and disliked Updike in particular . . .”

William H. Pritchard’s “Updike’s Way,” appeared in NER 21.3:

356px-Study_for_the_Oath_of_the_Horatii_the_elder_HoratiusIn the fall of 1997, at the time John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time was published, the New York Observer featured a page headlined “Twilight of the Phallocrats, “consisting of pieces by the critic Sven Birkerts and the novelist David Foster Wallace about the current state of American fiction. That state was not good insofar as it concerned what Birkerts called “our giants, our arts-bemedaled senior male novelists.” He was referring to Updike, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and Saul Bellow, whose recent novels were “manifestly second-rate,”yet who were not “getting called onto the carpet for it.” Birkerts suggested that these eminent writers would be well advised to yield their crowns to a younger generation of “brothers,” novelists such as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Stone, and John Edgar Wideman, who had their eyes on politics and society, the “larger world” Updike and his contemporaries, in their obsessive preoccupation with the self, were neglecting. Wallace took a similar line in more abusive terms, declaring that readers under age forty—particularly female ones—had no time for what he termed the G.M.N.s (Great Male Novelists) and disliked Updike in particular. Toward the End of Time was a prime example of what these novelists shared—”their radical self-absorption and their uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and in their characters.” 

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NER CLASSICS | Sadness | Aliki Barnstone

Categories: NER Classics, Poetry


Aliki Barnstone’s poem, “Sadness,” appeared in NER 21.2:

Rilke says sadness is the moment the future enters us
By surprise and pushes us into the unknown
The handsome bartender says,”Your drinks are on me”
—And leans across the counter—”What’ll it be?”
Alcohol is heat in my ears as I catch my reflection
In the mirror, happy flirting without forethought.
But days later alone the question comes back:
What will it be?
                           and I remember moments with you
When time raced quickly around us like a romping young dog
And we were amused. Today time reminds me of the hound
Knowingly guarding the underworld. Sadness slips in,
Doesn’t it? even in the gentle pleasures of the body
Which pass too and remind us of loss. 

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NER Classics | The Long March of “Orientalism”

Categories: NER Classics, Nonfiction

The Long March of ‘Orientalism': Western Travelers in Modern China,”
Nicholas R. Clifford’s report from abroad, appeared in NER 22.2:

Graves, graves, graves, countless ancestral graves in countless ancestral fields! Always the presence of death! A few naked trees along the railwayembankment . . . now and then the dark crenellated walls of some ancient city . . . (Agnes Smedley, 1943) . . .442px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Chinese_Ship_(Tosen_Zu)_with_Listing_of_the_Sea_Route_from_China_to_Japan-2

They are drawn conventionally enough, these pictures. Travelers finding in a foreign land—here, the China of fifty or sixty years ago—a waste of unchanging hopelessness: a land perceived as corrupt, superstitious, and burdened by a conservatism so rigid it might be taken for stupidity. The images themselves betray a frustration, a kind of fed-upness by the observer with the observed. In no sense are they original, for their pedigree reaches back a century and more, each succeeding generation adding its own detail and coloration to the features conjured up by Western fancies of the country.

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NER Classics | The Fickle Gods | Robert Cohen

Categories: NER Classics

Robert Cohen’s “The Fickle Gods,” appeared in NER 21.4.

“Christ knew, she was in need of some grace today . . .”

580px-Michelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_St_Jerome_(detail)_-_WGA04159Though she was running almost ridiculously early for her doctor’s appointment that morning, Bonnie didn’t mind. She liked going to doctors. She had a pretty fair tolerance for dentists, accountants, and lawyers too. It was a professional age. She delivered herself with gratitude to their buzzing offices, sought out their informed opinions, their brisk, impersonal evaluations. They made her feel located; they made her feel known. After nine-odd years of graduate school—the last five spent crawling through the tunnel of her dissertation—people who not only talked about things but actually went around doing them were like evidence to her of some casual secular miracle. In their presence she became calm and penitent, open to the ministrations of grace.

Christ knew, she was in need of some grace today. In addition to her usual strenuous bout of pre-dawn vomiting, there had been at breakfast a rather nasty and gratuitous argument with her kids which had left her utterly depleted. It was almost as if they knew what was up. But how could they? She herself didn’t know. Not officially. Not clinically. Which was why she had made her appointment with Dr. Siraj.

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