Katy Waldman's "Who Owns A Story?" in The New Yorker

In a fascinating review of Susan Choi’s new novel Trust Exercise, The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman explores the thorny ethics of making art from life. Waldman recalls the destabilizing experience of “opening a book and finding yourself in its pages,” before delving into questions of appropriation, truth in fiction, and what happens when a reader begins to see the characters in a novel as real people.  

—Antonia Angress

Then something happened to change my thinking. I realized that the real world is full of people who, presumably, have feelings about being appropriated for someone else’s run at the Times best-seller list. In drafts five through seventeen of this essay, I was mostly concerned with them: with the experience of opening a book and finding yourself in its pages, and with comprehending the precise nature of that violation. In drafts eighteen through eighty-four, I realized that the stakes of this piece are less aesthetic or ethical than metaphysical. When an author plants a made-up character in a novel, that character gains breath, agency, life. But when an author plants a real person in a novel, she metes out a kind of death. Reading lightly autobiographical fiction—which is to say, most début fiction—or its cousin, autofiction, or really any and all fiction, becomes a matter of parsing degrees of realness. It’s sticking your hands through ghosts. I suppose one could reintroduce both ethics and aesthetics here. Is moving someone down the existence scale from “human person” to “character” anything like murder? Is moving someone up the scale anything like art?

Russell Shorto's "Rembrandt in the Blood" in The New York Times

Shorto’s longform article has it all: unearthed Rembrandt paintings worth millions of dollars, a misunderstood aristocrat redeeming himself (or maybe not), and of course, merciless backbiting, double-dealing, and intrigue amongst the art world’s elite. The story begins with Jan Six XI, a middle-aged Amsterdam-based art dealer who’s made quite an incredible discovery. While perusing the Christie’s auction catalog in November 2016, Six discovers a portrait attributed to a painter in the “circle of Rembrandt” – but Six is convinced a mistake has been made, and that the painting was actually painted by the Dutch master himself. The story rockets forward from there, with the extra tantalizing revelation that the original Jan Six, for whom current-day Six is named, was not only a friend of Rembrandt, but has been forever captured in Rembrandt’s well-known Portrait of Jan Six.

— Clare Boerigter

The painting dated from somewhere between 1633 and 1635. The giveaway was the particular type of lace collar, which was the height of fashion in that brief span and then quickly went out of style. What especially excited Six was not just that Christie’s had failed to see that the painting was most likely from the hand of the master, but also that the auction house had labeled it “circle of Rembrandt” — i.e., from a follower. “You see the problem, right?” he asked me. I was puzzling for the solution to the riddle when he blurted it out: “Rembrandt wasn’t famous yet in the early 1630s, so there was no circle. I knew right away Christie’s had screwed up.”

Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Creative Differences” in The Cut

I’ve been a huge fan of Sittenfeld’s work since reading her debut novel Prep when I was fifteen, so you can bet that the minute this short story showed up in my feed, I dropped everything and devoured it. Sittenfeld has a knack for skewering her characters even as she invites you to empathize with them, and her observations on the politics of gender, social class, and geography are downright brilliant. In “Creative Differences,” she turns her gimlet eye to art, commerce, exposure, and—of course—the Midwest.

— Antonia Angress

I told myself, Melissa, just enjoy this success and attention that’s probably once in a lifetime. Then, a few months later, my shaving pictures got even more attention. And I felt weird about those, too. As a feminist, for one thing, and also I was like, has the entire world really just seen my pubes? Who will ever date me now?” When Ben laughs, she says, “I’m not joking. I know there’s this idea, with social media and everything, that we all want as much attention as possible, all the time, but one of the things about my early success that’s been eye-opening is that I’ve gotten so much attention and it doesn’t feel that great. It feels strange. That’s helped me realize that my goal isn’t to find the biggest audience. It’s to be able to keep taking pictures and to find an audience who really appreciates what I do.