Smile, America

Smile, America

by Tess Crain

America prizes smiling. Companies in client-facing industries have been known to circulate “service with a smile” policies, which require workers to feign happiness, if necessary, to please customers. “Hey Philly, got a smile only a brother can love?” “Give Us Your Crooked, Crowded, and Snaggled Teeth.” “Come in for a lifetime supply of confidence.” So asks, begs, and pledges SmileDirectClub, one of several fix-your-face startups with pandemic advertising. I understand. I got braces freshman year of high school and did not smile with my mouth open for two years.

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Drunk on the Gush of Poptimism and Skepticism

Drunk on the Gush of Poptimism and Skepticism

by Robb Todd

People complain about the city. There is never not something to complain about. The sidewalks fill with leaves — red and gold — and these critics still complain. Some people complain and never say goodbye but, sometimes, a complainer vacates. The complainer who vacates complains about the city long after she has left. She complains that when she first moved to the city, the city was great. The city was amazing — she never felt so alive. Best thing ever. Never had so much fun. But the city is not great nor amazing nor the best anymore, and it never will be again, she claims. It changed. Forever, she alleges. The city changed. Not the critical complainer, though, just the city doing all the changing.

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The Popularity of Negativity

The Popularity of Negativity

by Zack Graham

Christian loves culture. It’s how he spends all of his time. He champions good books (with the exception of graphic novels), reading the books he likes twice, even three times in a row. He listens to podcasts. He spends entire days “at the movies,” going to double and even triple features at a single theater. Culture is Christian’s life, and writing about culture is his life’s work.

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Julius' Pigeon

Julius' Pigeon

by Siena Oristaglio

I’m sitting on a park bench surrounded by pigeons.

They teeter and flap about.

It’s raining but they don’t seem to mind. 

They peck at the ground, scouring for crumbs.

Their heads scan the surroundings mechanically.

I shift on my bench.

A few turn towards me with an ominous agility.

One sinks its head into its thick neck plumage and gives me a suspicious look. 

I stare back at it. 

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Debate vs. Fight: Notes in the Lead-Up to "the Debate of the Century"

Debate vs. Fight: Notes in the Lead-Up to "the Debate of the Century"

by Tess Crain

Friday night, in Toronto, Slovenian philosopher and analyst Slavoj Žižek will debate Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson on the topic of “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism,” with Stephen Blackwood moderating.

The internet (including Twitter, Toronto Life, the Chronicle, and the Stranger) has a lot to say, and the more you read, the more the debate seems like a title fight or crossover smackdown: it’s the “debate of the century,” a “philoso-fight”; Peterson “wants to throw. The eff. Down”; Žižek will “verbally curbstomp” Peterson—basically, something between Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Conor McGregor, and Alien vs. Predator. Just with words.

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What Is and What Will Ever Be

What Is and What Will Ever Be

by Zack Graham

What is a ghost? Is it an apparition that appears at night to frighten us? Is it a spirit at unrest, refusing to pass on to the next life until it settles a score with our world? Are ghosts corporeal or bodiless? Real or imagined? Alive or dead? Nell Freudenberger tackles these questions in her third novel Lost and Wanted, which centers around Helen Clapp, a brilliant physicist and single mother coping with the sudden death of Charlie, a black Hollywood screenwriter and Helen’s best friend from college.

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Mei's Crow

Mei's Crow

by Siena Oristaglio

The room is as dark as a crow.

A bright light appears, bathing a group of figures. They pose along a bench, their gazes fixed into empty space.

Strange sounds permeate the room — news clips, low voices, musical snippets, static — a radio on seek. The group remains still.

Far behind them, two figures emerge. One, legs spread, appears to give birth to the other.

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A Single Mind

A Single Mind

by Tess Crain

Some of the best novelists in the Americas and Europe have written about chess—yet one of the best chess novels, Chess Story (published in German as Schachnovelle; also known as The Royal Game) by Stefan Zweig, was written by an otherwise less than superlative author.

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Why You Love New York

Why You Love New York

by Zack Graham

“You, Very Young in New York,” a poem by Hannah Sullivan, will remind you of why you live in New York. It will remind you why you struggle through winter after winter, why you wait underground for a train that may never come, why sometimes, despite living in the biggest city in America, you feel so alone. In short, “You, Very Young in New York” is the perfect remedy for a brutal New York February.

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Ivoire's Flamingo

Ivoire's Flamingo

by Siena Oristaglio

I recognize the bold colors and simple, graphic drawing style. A hot pink bonfire radiates from the base of what appears to be a vintage wooden paper cutter. The object hangs on the wall across the room from me, its broad handle jutting into the space.

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"Never Complain and Never Explain"

"Never Complain and Never Explain"

by Robb Todd

A silver-bearded man stands in the middle of a sidewalk spotted with gum, a bamboo rice paddy hat tilted on his head, and he cups his hands at his waist and asks in monotone: “Can you help me? I’m poor.”


I pull a banana from my coat pocket and hand it to him, and he says, “Everything you need to know about life you can learn by watching animals,” and he peels the banana by pinching off the black spot at the bottom, not by pulling the stem. “I speak several languages, including toddler, and I’ve picked flowers from rhinoceros horns. Every ritual is forced upon us.”

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The Shame of Reading

The Shame of Reading

by Tess Crain

This past year, I set out to read a hundred books. All had to count, more or less, however subjectively, as “literature.” As I had read fifty-two not without effort the previous year, the goal was to read more, not more quickly; and since my schedule had not changed in any major way, doubling this number required I make time… mainly by skipping parties, putting off work, and puttering less. The project was self-conscious but—books being central to my life as a writer—seemed worthwhile.

Time began to register in volumes…

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The Magician

The Magician

by Zack Graham

There is a preternatural precision to Hernán Diaz’s every syllable, word, phrase and sentence.  No room to spare.  He doesn’t let you breathe.  What’s more, he is a writer capable of conceptual translation.  He can turn the banal into the fascinating.  He can reduce the complex into the basic.  He can even make the gruesome majestic.

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Introducing the Epiphanic

We’re pleased to announce a new monthly feature showcasing four critically minded writers: Zack Graham, Tess Crain, Robb Todd, and Siena Oristaglio. The Epiphanic, so-called, will publish at least one piece each month about an artistic enthusiasm, whether literary, visual, or performative in nature… The intention here is to provide an extended space for critically minded writers to develop their perspectives. If literary culture is to survive well into this new century, the vital role of critics cannot be ignored. Algorithms do not speak with an individual voice; it is the individual voice, finally, or several in conversation, that consecrate literary endeavor. If the perception of value is left to the marketplace alone, well, then, it’s safe to say we all stand to miss a great deal.

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