clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

Exploring the crowds that gather for Trump — and dream of civil war

In ‘the undertow,’ jeff sharlet examines the anger powering american politics today.

“The future belongs to crowds,” Don DeLillo wrote in his 1991 novel, “ Mao II .” Massive crowds of faceless people banding together to heave their collective shoulder against the wheel of history. In DeLillo’s telling, those crowds existed elsewhere — in the Mideast, in Southeast Asia. Places where American individualism found less purchase. Decades later, in an irony DeLillo might appreciate, they’re coming home.

Maybe not entirely faceless, though. One face, sporting a pale forelock, looms large. One name, deployed as a verb, whips and snaps. You know it, I know it: Trump. I’m writing this in rural Indiana, where I’m visiting family. Out the window I can see the neighbor’s house, where a TRUMP flag flies at full-staff. Even a house on a country road can become part of a crowd.

That’s the phenomenon Jeff Sharlet captures in his new book, “ The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War . ” Sharlet has spent much of his career covering the intersections of religion and right-wing politics, most famously in “ The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power .” A look at the Christian organization that hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, among other activities both domestic and international, “The Family” found new life during the early Trump administration, when a documentary based on the book aired on Netflix.

Trump, and Trumpism, benefited more than anyone could have guessed from this fusion of personal faith and political action. Sharlet has chronicled that rise in his dispatches for Vanity Fair, traversing the country to visit the faithful. “The Undertow” gathers that writing, along with some new material, to form a travelogue that tarries with furious people in forgotten places, all of them convinced that civil war of some sort is in the offing. This marks a difference between his earlier work on “The Family,” which involved deep dives into the organization’s history and hierarchy, and “The Undertow.” To put it in religious terms, one could say he’s turned his attention from the pulpit to the congregation. Less the leaders and more the crowds, whether physical or virtual, sitting in pews or staring into screens.

How the right wing’s delusions went from ‘not normal’ to ‘dangerous’

It’s almost too easy to mock those who join such gatherings. I know I’m guilty of that. But Sharlet urges the reader to take their fantasies seriously, as they have produced consequences that are all too real. The realest, of course, arrived on Jan. 6, 2021 . At the time, the storming of the U.S. Capitol felt unbelievable. Reading “The Undertow,” it feels inevitable.

A hipster megachurch in Miami fills the sanctuary to capacity with a message of prosperity, and nothing else. A men’s rights conference held outside Detroit draws a host of men, and a surprisingly formidable contingent of women, to discuss the supposed dangers of feminists entrapping men with false accusations of sexual assault. The women’s presence highlights a running theme of the book: Look at these crowds, and you will see faces you never expected to find there. A bravura sequence finds Sharlet in Sacramento at a rally for Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed by Capitol police on Jan. 6 . He then journeys across the country, from churches to American Legion posts to Shooters, the now-defunct “open-carry” restaurant owned by Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Everywhere, from everyone, he hears talk of civil war, the term never quite achieving definition. “When I asked, civil war , when the believers answered, civil war , we were speaking in metaphors we could barely comprehend. We were describing a feeling that frightened or exhilarated us: a body coming apart.”

But if a war is coming, even a metaphorical one, what are its terms? What are the grievances these crowds seek to address? Based on the signs waved at rallies and the hashtags gone viral on social media, their complaints include, but are not limited to, immigration, mask mandates, gun rights, gender identity, abortion . But there’s not even consensus on which of these issues matters most or in what way. One darkly funny scene finds a Trump-flag-waving homeowner in Wisconsin incensed with the Democrats for overturning Roe v. Wade . Anger searching not for a target but a pretext.

Yet Sharlet believes there is a deeper fear, a deeper grievance, roiling beneath the copy-pasted outrage. The underlying cause of this potential civil war is not so different from that of the actual civil war of the not-so-distant past: race.

“They are angry about their own bodies, about how other people’s bodies make them feel,” Sharlet writes about these mostly White crowds. And how do other bodies make them feel? In a word, uninnocent. The very awkwardness of that term suggests the mental gymnastics these crowds struggle to perform. The crowds revere innocence, purity, blamelessness. Ashli Babbitt is transformed from a troubled young woman into a flawless saint, a martyr for the cause of freedom. “Be proud White Americans!” Babbitt’s mother exhorts the crowd at a rally for her daughter. Proud they are innocent of racism, prejudice, guilt. Yet even the presence of non-White people is a reminder of the bloody, guilt-ridden history of the land they live on. None can escape it, no matter how hard they might try, no matter how much of the past they forget.

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If “The Undertow” lacks anything, it’s a sense of the grim economic landscape. Prices are going up everywhere while wages are going down. Many of the people at these crowds — the “beautiful ‘boaters,’” as Trump so appositely calls them — are quite prosperous, yet they live in the least-prosperous areas, the exurbs and the small towns of flyover states. Such proximity to immiseration probably contributes to the sense of desperation on display at these gatherings. The blight is at the door, and they raise their flags to keep it at bay.

But that’s a minor quibble. I deeply appreciate Sharlet’s mythic-religious approach and how it enables him to capture what other journalists miss. Data can tell only half the story, and usually the half that’s less interesting. Add to that the book’s welcome ambition, both as journalism and literature. This is no mere compilation of bullet points. This is journalism-as-art, attempting to capture the mood of the nation at this fraught moment, so that others in the future may know how it felt to live through the present. Hopefully there will still be readers then.

Adam Fleming Petty is a writer in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Undertow

Scenes From a Slow Civil War

By Jeff Sharlet

W.W. Norton. 337 pp. $28.95

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the undertow book review

How to Tell Stories About Fascism Now

According to author and journalist Jeff Sharlet, "the old ways aren't going to work."

jeff sharlet

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Jeff Sharlet has made a career out of writing about “bad people.” In a way, writing about horrible people gives him some control. They influence our lives, whether we like it or not, and by seeking them out, Sharlet can see them for who they are, grounding the harsh truth that this is our world and these people aren’t that different from us. Someday the mirror could be held up, and that could be you on the other side of the divide.

But there is hope in The Undertow . Sharlet bookends the book with stories about Harry Belafonte , the famed singer and actor who was also an activist. Sharlet thought Belafonte was a worthy subject as he tried to veer away from “bad people” after spending years uncovering the dark truths lingering behind closed doors. The book then ends with a story about the short-lived 1950s folk group the Weavers and its booming big man Lee Hays .

I met Sharlet one evening in New Hampshire, where he teaches at Dartmouth College. Snow fell and the streets filled with the brown mush from the wintry mix. We wandered in search of a place for a drink and eventually found a nearly empty sports bar in the midst of preparation for a sorority party. As the snow fell, we talked about what Sharlet calls a “civil war” that’s already underway.

Sharlet is an energetic man. Under the layers of jacket and hat, he comes across as warm, not some staunch academic or prideful journalist. He somehow scrapes into both worlds as a literary anthropologist looking at society and its ills, pondering what it means and how we got here. It’s that curiosity and energy that comes across in his writing, both smart and easy to read while also packed with context and information.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ESQUIRE: I found it interesting that you write "we" throughout the book whenever you are in the crowd. You don't look at this segment of America from a distance; instead, you write from within this group.

JEFF SHARLET: We're not far apart from it. The thing that interested me on and off is monstrosity. I've written about some bad people. Folks want to see them as monsters, and I'm fascinated by the whole concept of monsters that we've lost. I’m going to do that fake erudition thing: I was reading about werewolves in the Middle Ages and thinking about how what makes a monster monstrous is that they're part human and part us. Godzilla is an entertaining character, but he’s not the monster a vampire or a werewolf is—the kind of profane combination. And, yet, when we say these people are monsters, Trumpers, or whatever, we imagine that we're not connected and that we're not complicit. If these folks are monsters, they're human; I'm human. They can do this; I could do that. That should be obvious to us from the lessons of history and it's not.

It has always been about “we” throughout my whole writing life, because I am part of it. The whole point is not to figure out how those people are different than me. The point is to figure out: we are on the spectrum, and if they can do this poison, I can too, and I am complicit.

There’s something about allowing someone off without the tough questions, where you're not allowing them off, but you're not judging them on the page. You're not making them any less than us.

It's a chemical reaction and I'm not immune to it.

I had resolved to not write about monsters anymore because I was spending a lot of time on them. I first got this job at Dartmouth in 2010. I'm doing my job and within the first few weeks, somebody came around from this organization to interview my colleagues, which actually worked out great. They were all titillated. Then I got a letter threatening a lawsuit. I took it to a friend, a First Amendment lawyer, who said, ‘They’ve got nothing. They're going to bleed you; that's the plan. They know they have bottomless pockets and you don't.” I was like, fuck, I can't do this anymore. I have a young kid. So I resolved not to do it. The Harry Belafonte story came to me at that time. I'm like, I'm going to write about good people. Then Eric [Sullivan, at GQ then and now an editor at Esquire ], who I didn't know, called up and said, “Do you still write magazine stories?” I felt so bad. Yes, I just haven't in a while . He said, “What do you want to do?” And I said, send me some place with bad people, because that is what I want to do . I felt comfortable with it. There’s something about it. If you can get close to these scary people, it's counterphobic. If someone is scary, pull it close.

Why do people let you in? There are references to the cages reporters were penned in, and you had to put on a MAGA hat because of the rain. Why did they talk to you and other reporters?

I've never had a press pass in my life. I don't know why you would want one. Why would I want to go and get the story everyone else is getting? Trump was the first thing I was writing about that other people were writing about. I don't like to write about things other people are writing about—not because I’m so original. It just makes me anxious. I'm not interested in the scoop. It's great, and I love reading it, but it's not for me.

If I want to understand what’s going on at those rallies, that means I need to get my ticket. I need to wait in line for six hours, or whatever it takes and stand around on the concrete. I need to be jostled around. This is the experience. You would see these preachers at these Trump rallies—the hardest right fundamentalists I've ever heard, and I've heard a lot. I've been to a lot of churches, and this was goddamn . You look at the press and they're like, “This is not the main event.” They're checking their phones. I'm like, that's fascism right there.

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You write about faith a lot. Everyone here has faith, and you also have faith in writing and in humanity, which is interesting to read in a book that’s dark in a lot of places. But even when you write about people threatening you, you hope for the best.

This is what I mean. This is the solace.

There’s a guy in this book, Rob Brumm—he comes in the Wisconsin section . He is a militia commander. I was driving around in Wisconsin because my kid is in a program there—that's why I was in Wisconsin—and I was taking pictures of flags. I stopped to take a picture of his “Fuck Trudeau” flag, which is weird in Wisconsin. I ended up spending maybe about three hours talking to that guy and more time with his family. He's a fascist, but he was desperate to talk. He is surrounded by manly men, but he's not quite a manly man, because he loves to talk and think about history and so on. You find these connections, these people; they want to talk as much as you do. I think of it as you're leaning on each other.

There is a woman in the Trump stories: Diane G, Gnostic Diane. I was wandering around with the crowd, experiencing what the crowd was experiencing. I wanted to do that because I wanted to understand why you think this is funny. The reason they think it's funny is because it's funny. That’s a whole other thing about Trump: his timing, it's amazing. When he is on, he is one of the great orators of our time. I've seen Obama and I've seen Trump, and those are the two best of our time. He’s not always on and the language doesn't make sense, but that doesn't matter, because a good orator doesn't need that.

Then you find these individuals, and for whatever reason, Diane and I kept talking in the parking lot afterwards. The great advantage of having a heart attack is that they're like, oh I have heart issues too . Sitting there in a parking lot, we talked. Everybody left. It’s that strange intimacy. If you want to tell stories about fascism, the old ways aren't going to work. I know this because they haven't. It doesn't mean that we have to do this bullshit thing, like, what unites us? Me and Rob Brumm, we're not united. We're on different sides; let us talk honestly, now that we know that. None of these people think I am with them. I don't lie and I argue.

If you want to tell stories about fascism, the old ways aren't going to work.

There has been a change, though.

The Undertow is the change. I could go anywhere partly because I am a straight white guy and being bald helps—it somehow makes me whiter and straighter and middle-aged non-assuming. It used to be that I could talk to anyone. You used to be able to talk to any fascist and they'd always want to talk to you, because they wanted to share their story and because they really believed they could convert you. I’ve been to so many churches, temples, and compounds, and for years people thought they could convert me. This is the first time, [while writing] The Undertow , I couldn’t.

The first militia church welcomed me. The second militia church in Omaha—they didn't draw a gun, but I thought, if I stay here for a moment longer I am in trouble, and this is going to be bad, and they do not care. They were not interested in converting me. They were not interested in using me. Fuck platforming. They didn’t care. The lines were absolutely drawn.

I believe it is because we are in a slow simmering civil war and headed towards a real war. I don't want this to be misread. We’re in a time when it is vulnerable and it's like, Sharlet thinks it's nice to talk to these people. It was clear that when I was in Wisconsin and I would drive around the state that a lot of these folks are lovely and they're fascists. Both are true. I use the word fascist and I don't use it glibly. In my first book The Family, I wrote a chapter called “The F Word”; the F Word was fascism. I was writing about the family's recruitment of Nazi war criminals after World War II. Until recently, I never used it like a lot of folks. I said, look there is more than one kind of bad under the sun, and this isn't fascist, and you need to build perspective. Now we have fascism. And it's not just here; it’s a global fascist moment.

The other thing about these guys is that they believe in magic, which is fascinating. Fascism is a magic system of belief. The gnosticism of Diane; Rob Brumm's whole white supremacist rant. Ashli Babbit is someone who fell into the magic, and her husband has since. Her husband could care less about this stuff before, and now he is horrific.

Will it come to violence?

Will it come to violence? What do you mean will it come to violence? We are in violence. Violence is happening all over the place, and not just in the Proud Boy and drag queen story hour brawls that you read about on Twitter. There are all these little things of people doing violence and their families doing violence. It’s already here. Will it blossom into this larger thing? That I don't know. For years, because I wrote about the Family, people said, “Sharlet is a hysteric,” and so on. I was the one saying they're not a conspiracy. It’s a social movement. I don't like it, but it’s a social movement. And now we are here. Nothing has changed and we're in such a tide of grief.

I hope the grief comes through. Fascism was growing, but we wouldn't have gotten to this point without COVID, without grief, without people denying the loss, and people accepting the loss.

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Jeff Sharlet predicts fascism in America. He’s still an optimist

Jeff Sharlet's 'The Undertow' is an alarming travelog of America's intertwined extremist movements.

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On the Shelf

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

By Jeff Sharlet Norton: 352 pages, $29 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.

Jeff Sharlet is an optimist ... of sorts. That’s why he included so many detailed scenes from Donald Trump’s election rallies in his new book, “ The Undertow : Scenes From a Slow Civil War.”

In a video interview from his home in Vermont, Sharlet describes his latest book as “the awful fruits” of two decades of covering religion and the far right. Written across the better part of a decade, these essays spend time with hard-core militias, armed evangelicals, men’s rights activists and even some ordinary citizens who, in 2016 at least, had some legitimate reasons for buying what Trump was selling.

But the question arises, reading his book: Do we need to relive Trump’s demonic performance art, to hear his ranty hostilities, even on the page?

“I’m sympathetic to that,” says Sharlet, whose previous book was “ The Family : The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” But he has his reasons. Sharlet imagines a reader stumbling onto his book decades from now in the kind of used bookstore he likes to frequent — where he recently found, for instance, Matthew Josephson ’s 1934 history, “The Robber Barons.”

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“I’ve got to keep this stuff in or it will disappear,” he says. Therein lies the optimism: the projection of a future when the convulsions of the present will feel alien — and when people will still be reading books.

He may be unusually hopeful for an author invoking civil war in his subtitle, but Sharlet is not deluded. “I think we’re going to go through a period of fascism,” he says. “Right-wing intellectuals have actively rejected democracy now. Trump’s emails are getting scarier, talking about, ‘This is the final battle.’ Our job is to hold on as long as we can, but we’re going forward into the desert. The terror is about how much hurt and how much pain happens.”

'The Undertow,' by Jeff Sharlet

Even if we do succumb to a full-fledged fascist takeover, Sharlet believes it will be temporary — a mania “that burns its life force very quickly.”

The heart of his book tracks our gradual descent into the madness. But first, a musical number. The opening chapter poignantly captures the life of Harry Belafonte — his music and politics, his perseverance and resilience. It’s a fascinatingly odd choice.

“There’s a calculator somewhere that could figure out how many fewer books I’ll sell by starting with this chapter,” Sharlet says with a laugh. “People will come to the book because they’re alarmed and distressed and then they’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, first I have to read about this? If I want a book about 1950s music I’ll get it.’”

Nevertheless, Sharlet insisted the chapter belonged up front. “I don’t want people to encounter the book as a form of doomscrolling. So you start with Harry’s endurance and his hope.”

Then things fall apart. Sharlet worries that the U.S. military will fracture, “base by base,” pointing to the way National Guard commanders in some states refused to enforce vaccine mandates, as well as the actions of governors like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott who “want to stand in the schoolhouse door” against the federal government, like the segregationist governors of the civil rights era. “Either troops come and they’re a hero,” he says, “or troops don’t and they won.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 01: Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte attend the 44th NAACP Image Awards - show held at The Shrine Auditorium on February 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

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“The Undertow” is generally closer to the ground — a dark travelogue of a nation of “simmering violence” in which QAnon-influenced rabbit-holers stalk perceived enemies, often without making headlines.

Of those he encountered, Sharlet found the men’s movement activists the most deplorable. “You’re always looking for complexities beyond the caricatures,” he says. “They were the only ones worse than their caricature, and their caricature is dumb. They really are a bunch of sniveling guys pissed off at their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends. You don’t like your isolation and incel status? No better way to keep that going than to join them.”

Most frightening, however, was a threat he received in an Omaha church for trying to hold unauthorized conversations. “Once it was, ‘You’re damned, but we’ll talk to you,’ because they wanted attention or thought you might convert,” he says. “Now it’s, ‘How do you know I don’t have a gun?’ I didn’t think they’d shoot me, but they were baring their teeth and they were definitely going to hit me or call the cops, who would definitely be on their side.”

Sharlet also writes in detail about Ashli Babbitt , the insurrectionist killed at the Capitol on January 6th. But his viewpoint may not be what you’d expect. “She was a domestic terrorist, but that shooting was at best questionable,” he says. “I don’t like it when cops kill people.”

Babbitt was a victim of the rabbit hole, he says — and her husband, Aaron, was an apolitical “lunkhead” before grief fueled his evolution into “a very sad character” co-opted by the extreme right wing. Ultimately, Sharlet sees it as a tragedy that’s been flattened in the public discourse. “I find it grotesque both when she’s trending online among right-wingers as a martyr and when people who think of themselves as liberals are celebrating her death.”

He wants readers to feel empathy for the Babbitts and those he met along the way. Some of them might be “worst of the worst,” but ultimately we need to understand the right and its vulnerabilities. “We should have empathy for the devil, not sympathy.”

This driver's license photo from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), provided to AP by the Calvert County Sheriff's Office, shows Ashli Babbitt. (Maryland MVA/Courtesy of the Calvert County Sheriff's Office via AP)

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Jan. 3, 2022

In any event, Sharlet’s goal isn’t to persuade people like Babbitt. “I’m not into converting people,” he says. To counter the rise in white supremacist propaganda, we need a different path. We might look back to Harry. “Belafonte is not trying to talk people back, he’s trying to make something beautiful that people will want to be a part of. We must build a vibrant democratic culture and take seriously the critiques of it.”

He knows some on the left will disagree with his perspective but argues that those fighting for democracy must stop squabbling over methods. In prewar Germany, he notes, liberals were bashing each other as fascism took root.

“This is all-hands-on-deck time,” he says. “We don’t know what’s going to work. You want to make jokes or write a long political science essay or do earnest union organizing or create beautiful art and poetry — it’s all good.”

Sharlet never saw himself becoming a veteran of the extremism beat. Years ago, he had declared himself done with covering white extremism — “it’s so poisonous” — but now he calls up the famous Michael Corleone line about being pulled back in by Trump’s ascension.

“I had to write to try and make sense of this,” he says. “I have some agency and I can tell these stories. I have kids that I’m scared for. This book isn’t going to help, but it lets me imagine that I’m doing something. To me it’s much scarier to be looking away. No blue pill for me.”

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THE UNDERTOW

Scenes from a slow civil war.

by Jeff Sharlet ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2023

A frightening, wholly believable vision of an American cataclysm to come—possibly soon.

Nightmarish dispatches from the camps of the “Trumpocene.”

At the epicenter of Sharlet’s account is Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was killed while attempting to breach the Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. She was, writes the author, “a fool who pursued her own death,” but then adds, “And yet, the rest of us might say the same of ourselves.” That’s a debatable proposition, but what isn’t debatable is how Babbitt, wholly committed to Trumpism, has been converted into a martyr, a symbol of MAGA vexillology: “Ashli Babbitt was processed, made productive, almost immediately after her death, transformed right away into yet another flag, like a new tarot card in the deck of fascism.” If Sharlet tries to give her a touch of a pass—she was someone’s daughter, once a little girl who loved horses—it comes back to doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Babbitt is the subject of constant debate and remembrance among the people Sharlet encountered as he traveled around the country, a journey that led him to lay out a sharp, distressing portrait of a chaotic future: MAGA America is pumped up for, even eagerly anticipating, civil war, egged on by self-serving fundamentalist preachers, undergirded by antisemitism and QAnon dogma, and manipulated by Trump, who “fused his penchant for self-pity with the paranoia that runs like a third rail through Christian conservatism, the thrilling promise of ‘spiritual war’ with dark and hidden powers.” It seems perhaps an odd digression for Sharlet to begin his account with a meditation on the subversive hidden meaning of the Harry Belafonte song “Day O!” but in the end, it all makes sense—far more so than the MAGA devotee who cursed Democrats for, as he confusedly asserts, “outlawing abortion.”

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9781324006497

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2023

CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES | HISTORY | PHILOSOPHY & RELIGION | UNITED STATES | U.S. GOVERNMENT | POLITICS | ISSUES & CONTROVERSIES | GENERAL CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES

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WHO'S AFRAID OF GENDER?

by Judith Butler ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 19, 2024

A master class in how gender has been weaponized in support of conservative values and authoritarian regimes.

A deeply informed critique of the malicious initiatives currently using gender as a political tool to arouse fear and strengthen political and religious institutions.

In their latest book, following The Force of Nonviolence , Butler, the noted philosopher and gender studies scholar, documents and debunks the anti-gender ideology of the right, the core principle of which is that male and female are natural categories whose recognition is essential for the survival of the family, nations, and patriarchal order. Its proponents reject “sex” as a malleable category infused with prior political and cultural understandings. By turning gender into a “phantasmatic scene,” they enable those in positions of authority to deflect attention from such world-destroying forces as war, predatory capitalism, and climate change. Butler explores the ideology’s presence in the U.S., the U.K., Uganda, and Hungary, countries where legislation has limited the rights of trans and homosexual people and denied them their sexual identity. The author also delves into the ideology’s roots among Evangelicals and the Catholic Church and such political leaders as Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán. Butler is particularly bothered by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), who treat trans women as “male predators in disguise.” For the author, “the gap between the perceived or lived body and prevailing social norms can never be fully closed.” They imagine “a world where the many relations to being socially embodied that exist become more livable” and calls for alliances across differences and “a radical democracy informed by socialist values.” Butler compensates for the thinness of some of their recommendations with an astute dissection of the ideology’s core ideas and impressive grasp of its intellectual pretensions. This is a wonderfully thoughtful and impassioned book on a critically important centerpiece of contemporary authoritarianism and patriarchy.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780374608224

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

POLITICS | GENERAL CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES | CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES | ISSUES & CONTROVERSIES | PUBLIC POLICY | WOMEN & FEMINISM | LGBTQ | U.S. GOVERNMENT

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 12, 2019

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty , 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

GENERAL CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES | GENERAL BUSINESS | CURRENT EVENTS & SOCIAL ISSUES | BUSINESS | PUBLIC POLICY | ISSUES & CONTROVERSIES | ECONOMICS

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June 07, 2023 Arts + Culture » Culture

Seeing Is Believing: In 'The Undertow,' Journalist Jeff Sharlet Takes Readers Into the Trump Fever Swamps 

Published June 7, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated June 14, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

Jeff Sharlet in front of a mural by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco titled "The Epic of American Civilization" in Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College - ALEX DRIEHAUS

  • Alex Driehaus
  • Jeff Sharlet in front of a mural by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco titled "The Epic of American Civilization" in Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College

The idea — Sharlet's — was that I would sit in on the interview and perhaps learn something about him and his work. Then we would wander around Burlington and do one of his favorite things, which is to talk to strangers and take their pictures. The other idea — mine — was that Sharlet could do the interview in his car, which, I'm told by people who work in radio, can make a good sound booth in a pinch. 

Sharlet logged on to Zoom from his MacBook, and his reflection stared back at him: a bald guy in his early fifties; salt-and-pepper stubble on his sideburns and his chin; horn-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses. Sharlet, who lives in Norwich with his wife and two kids, has been a professor of creative writing at Dartmouth College since 2010. He's been immersing himself in the world of the religious right, for magazines such as Harper's , GQ and Vanity Fair , for two decades, and he has covered Trumpism as a kind of death cult, an apocalyptic faith whose adherents believe themselves to be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Sharlet himself is a devout skeptic, the son of a Jewish father, a Soviet Union expert who taught at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and a Tennessee-born mother, who was raised Christian and embraced an evolving pantheon of deities and spiritual traditions. His desire to understand the outer edges of the human experience has led him into situations that most people with intact self-preservation instincts would endeavor to avoid.

A smoky sky in Nevada - COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

  • Courtesy Of Jeff Sharlet
  • A smoky sky in Nevada

Long before his work on Trumpworld, he spent a month at the northern Virginia compound of a secretive Christian nationalist group known as the Family, whose sphere of influence includes some of the most powerful people in the U.S. and foreign governments. That reporting led to his breakout 2008 book by the same name, which eventually became a Netflix documentary series and, Sharlet suspects, got him his teaching job at Dartmouth. He has traveled to Russia and Uganda to write about the brutal suppression of LGBTQ rights activists, for which he won a handful of national awards; he has hung out on Los Angeles' Skid Row to piece together the life of a homeless man from Cameroon named Charly Keunang, who was shot and killed by police. 

This work has exacted a toll on Sharlet, in mind and body. In 2016, he was working at a frenetic pace, attending Trump rallies and watching the crowd rejoice at the future president's pantomimes of rape and violence. Then, that fall, at the age of 44, Sharlet had two heart attacks, or maybe it was one, drawn out over several days — the doctors weren't quite sure.

For a while, he told himself he was going to slow down and stop writing about terrible things. But by 2019, he was back at the Trump rallies, he said, "out of management of fear and anxiety." As QAnon and other conspiracy theories seeped into the lexicon of the right-wing establishment, the material, for Sharlet, had become irresistible. "For a person who has always been interested in magical thinking, there was some real rich magical thinking happening," he said. "On the one hand, I thought, I shouldn't go near that. On the other, I thought, Maybe it'll be good for me. It'll be invigorating. " That tension simmers throughout The Undertow : how badly Sharlet can't look away.

His podcast interviewers, Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Ben Austen, appeared on the screen. "That's a man who's used to being on the road!" Austen said, taking in Sharlet's environs. 

The Undertow among books in Jeff Sharlet's office - ALEX DRIEHAUS

  • The Undertow among books in Jeff Sharlet's office

The word "mess" does not accurately describe the state of Sharlet's vehicle, which he didn't even use for most of the cross-country driving he did while reporting the stories in The Undertow . It would be more precise to say his car is a museum of dirt. On the passenger door: a faint ocher smear of a substance that had once been wet and, by the looks of it, chunky. In the cupholders and crevices of the upholstery: pre-dirt, crumbs, strands of hair and tiny pebbles. On top of the dashboard: dust on its way to becoming dirt, a film of fine particulate matter that, with time and moisture, had begun to acquire a stately permanence. 

To minimize noise from outside, we kept the windows closed. Forty-five minutes into the interview, I could feel my pores opening in the humidity of Sharlet's aerosolized talking points. Around this time, the hosts asked Sharlet what he meant by "slow civil war." 

"The slow civil war that I imagine — imagine," Sharlet caught himself, hearing the weakness of the word, " believe is happening right now — it's not coming. People say, 'Could there be violence?' and it always stuns me. What do you mean, could there be violence? There is already violence." At this point, the fan in Sharlet's MacBook sounded like it was running a marathon. "Now, what has been a simmer is coming to, perhaps, a slow boil. And maybe what it looks like is the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Or maybe what it looks like is what we're living through right now." 

A Trump supporter photographed by Sharlet - COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

  • A Trump supporter photographed by Sharlet

Sharlet was talking here about the steady drip of mass shootings, "every pregnant person who's dying for lack of reproductive rights right now," "the wave of queer and trans kids' suicides," all of which, Sharlet told his interviewers, should be viewed as fatalities of this slow civil war. 

Since The Undertow 's release in March, Sharlet has been making these arguments frequently, on TV and radio shows and in print. He is not a historian or political scientist, nor does he write like one. Sharlet considers himself first and foremost a storyteller, and his main interest in The Undertow is how the dream, or nightmare, logic of Trump works upon individual people, warping their sense of reality until they come to see themselves as combatants in a fight they believe is inevitable, is upon them already. 

"When I asked, civil war , when the believers answered, civil war , we were speaking in metaphors we could barely comprehend," Sharlet writes. "We were describing a feeling that frightened or exhilarated us: a body coming apart."

Sharlet's need to understand the fracturing of the American body politic, he said, no longer has anything to do with personal ambition. When he talks to journalists about why he wrote The Undertow , he often talks about his oldest child, who is queer and nonbinary and struggling to cope with the daily violence against transgender people, with the fact that so far in 2023, 45 states have introduced or passed anti-trans legislation. In Sharlet's school district, which serves Norwich and Hanover, N.H., a group of parents has been trying to repeal a policy that protects the privacy of transgender students. The parents aren't fringe right-wing activists, Sharlet said. At least one of them went to Dartmouth, and their lawyer is the legal counsel for the New Hampshire state Senate.

So Sharlet drives around with a bottle of aspirin in his cupholder, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. "I'm too anxious to do anything else," he told me. "This is what I can do, and it's nowhere near enough." 

Nothing to Fear

Jeff Sharlet in his office - ALEX DRIEHAUS

  • Jeff Sharlet in his office

The Undertow is not the first book to detail the horrors of "the Trumpocene," a phrase coined by Sharlet's Dartmouth colleague, documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Ruoff, but it might be the first to do so with literary ambitions. Most of The Undertow 's reviews have been positive, even reverent: the Washington Post called it "journalism-as-art"; the New York Times declared it "a riveting, vividly detailed collage of political and moral derangement in America, one that horrifyingly corresponds to liberals' worst fears." 

Only the Los Angeles Review of Books was dubious, accusing Sharlet of falling under the doomsday spell of the far right. "Projection is a powerful force; if not careful, Sharlet and others will metastasize an otherwise provincial development into an international global menace," read one particularly spicy passage from religion scholar L. Benjamin Rolsky. (After Rolsky tweeted his review, Sharlet promptly blocked him.)

The Undertow is not entirely grim: Sharlet begins with a chapter on the late singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, whose anger — this is, after all, a book about anger — fed his art and his political commitments. The final essay, still pugilistic in its title — "The Good Fight Is the One You Lose" — is a meditation on the life and resistance ballads of folk singer Lee Hays. In between, though, the anger Sharlet documents is the kind that devours as it claims to redeem.

He attends a rally in Sacramento, Calif., for Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a U.S. Capitol police officer during the January 6, 2021, insurrection, and tells the story of how she went down the rabbit hole. He goes to a megachurch in Yuba City, Calif., where the pastor proclaims that Hillary Clinton has been executed and that Trump remains the current, and 19th, president, the other 26 all being "illegal presidents." At another megachurch in Omaha, Neb., an usher and an armed security guard catch Sharlet talking to people in the parking lot and tell him that he isn't allowed to conduct interviews on church grounds. When Sharlet protests that he only has a pencil, and the security guard has a gun, the usher leans in and asks him, "How do you know that I don't have a gun?" 

A house in Cecil, Wis. - COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

  • A house in Cecil, Wis.

Sharlet's writing sometimes takes on the hallucinogenic quality of his subjects' delusions. In a chapter on a men's rights conference at a VFW in St. Clair Shores, Mich., from a piece Sharlet reported for GQ in 2014, he writes: "We were high in the manosphere now, the great phallic oversoul, the red pills were working, the rape jokes no longer landing like bombshells, they were like the weather, ordinary as rain." Sharlet had been drinking mudslides in a hotel room with the men's rights activists, people — men, yes, but also some women — who believe that feminism has personally ruined their lives, because women don't want to sleep with them. 

The GQ story infuriated the men's rights activists. After it ran, some of them called for retaliation against Sharlet and his family. Michael Lesy, Sharlet's thesis adviser at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., who has been a lifelong friend and mentor, told me: "He's often in the middle of people who would be described as extreme in their beliefs, but they see him not as something to be feared, but someone to be converted, and they're not frightened of him. And in the end, when he writes the story, they feel betrayed." 

The men's rights activists sent him hate mail and death threats, accused him of being a pedophile and made memes of his face photoshopped onto the body of an extremely obese man, which they plastered all over the online manosphere. (Sharlet was heavier at the time, but not that heavy.) For a few weeks, Norwich police cased Sharlet's house in case anyone showed up to menace him. It's a fun story, how Sharlet finally got the harassment campaign to stop, but he won't tell it on the record for fear of pissing off the men's rights guys again.

Around this time, Sharlet said, he was slowly doing himself in. He slept about four hours a night and polished off whole bottles of Scotch while he worked. "I wasn't thinking, I should stop this ," he said. "I was thinking, I'm going to burn myself up ." Not long after he wrote about the incels, he went to Skid Row to report the Charly Keunang story. "I was very, very comfortable in that milieu," he said. Extremity has always been clarifying to him. Back then, he thought he could outrun, or outwrite, the reckoning with his own body. "The real danger is to make the mistake of absorbing all these stories as sequential, not cumulative," he said. His heart attacks would soon teach him that, but first, there was Trump.

Sharlet saw the way the media was covering Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, and he felt like everyone was getting it wrong.

"To say I felt an obligation is very pretentious. But the bar was so fucking low, because the press was so goddamn stupid," he told me. "They just sit there in their pen. And when the preachers preach at the rallies, they look at their phones." He wanted to write about the rise of Trump not as a political phenomenon but a religious one. His first magazine story on Trump, published in the New York Times Magazine in April 2016 and included in The Undertow , was titled: "Donald Trump, American Preacher."

Sharlet is sharply critical of the tendency among well-meaning liberals to "fact-check the myth," the notion that one can simply point out the errors in logic and blatant lies promulgated by Trump and his followers and thereby strip the myth of its power. Instead, Sharlet's approach is to try to enter the consciousness of the people who are under its sway, to understand their psychological investment in the promises of Trumpism.

Narratively and physically, Sharlet doesn't position himself above the fray when he is in the territory of the far right. He sweats and lurches with the rest of the crowd at Trump rallies, the better to see his followers' ecstasy. In these situations, Sharlet has the indisputable good fortune of being white, male and bald — nerdy enough to appear harmless, goonish enough to discourage people from trying to fuck with him. When he talks to people on the far right, he said, they tend to assume a kind of sympathy, even as he makes no secret of his disagreement with them. Right-wingers will open up to him, because they, too, see themselves as outsiders, as persecuted seekers of a higher truth. 

"Jeff doesn't pretend to have opinions he doesn't have," said the writer Blair Braverman, a friend who accompanied him on several reporting trips for pieces that appear in The Undertow . "But he does it in such a way that people feel really seen, and they tell him all sorts of things that you wouldn't expect them to say. There's just something really disarming about him." 

Roaming Charges

Guns and a cat in Rob Brumm's living room - COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

  • Guns and a cat in Rob Brumm's living room

Sharlet's preferred journalistic method is talking to strangers. In The Undertow , he drives around and knocks on doors if he sees an interesting flag out front, which, to Sharlet, means anti-Biden, pro-Trump, pro-gun, pro-Nazi. In a chapter on Marinette, Wis., he goes up to a house with a "Fuck Trudeau" flag, and a guy named Rob Brumm invites Sharlet inside after determining that he is neither a Fed nor an intruder but "a fool." On a pool table in the living room is a massive pile of guns. In the midst of the guns — somehow even more unbelievable than the guns — is a cat.

Brumm, who claimed that he had participated in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and also that January 6 was a hoax, is Sharlet's ideal subject: someone who contains irreconcilable multitudes, whose sense of the world is shaped by an esoteric logic. Sharlet likes to read his subjects like tarot cards — they mean one thing if you look at them one way, something else if you look at them another — and there is nothing more occult than a chance encounter. So after we had hotboxed his podcast interview, we took a walk to find some strangers. Sharlet was vaguely on the hunt for material for future books, but future books were not the driving force of this expedition. Searching for material is his basic condition, of which books are sometimes a consequence.

As we approached Battery Park, Sharlet told me about a call he'd recently received at 11:45 one night from two students in his creative nonfiction class, who'd come to Burlington to do a story about heroin. They'd met a dealer who needed to get to Winooski, his students told him, and they wanted Sharlet's advice: Should they offer the guy a ride? "Thank God the call dropped just at that moment, so I didn't have to give an answer," Sharlet said. "Because the answer, of course, is 'Yes, you should totally go! But no, I didn't tell you to go!'" 

Just then, a woman sitting on a bench in the park called us over. She wanted to know if we could help her use her "Obama phone" to call her a cab home, because she couldn't see the screen.

"Glaucoma, real bad," she explained. Later, Sharlet would tell me he'd learned what an "Obama phone" was while reporting on Skid Row: "The right had this big issue that Obama was giving out free phones to the homeless. And liberals were like, 'That's ridiculous. That's insane. That's not true!' And you get to Skid Row, and there's a big table where the government's giving out phones to the homeless. As they should!"

The Skid Row story ended up in This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers , which was published in February 2020. The book broke the format of Sharlet's previous works, combining narrative fragments with images he'd snapped with his iPhone during a period in which he'd lost faith in his work, the time after his father's 2014 heart attack and his own, two years later. After these intrusions of mortality, Sharlet began to suspect that the meaning he was searching for existed outside the precisely ordered world of the stories he told: "Plots that hurtled ever faster from beginning through middle to end — a brightly lit room in which all stories looked the same," he wrote.

So he turned to the dark. During his late-night drives between Vermont and Schenectady, where his father was recuperating, he stopped and talked to night bakers at Dunkin', road flaggers on the graveyard shift, guests at transient motels. Sometimes he took their pictures. These encounters became the stories in This Brilliant Darkness , a book that is as much about the people Sharlet met as his attempts to see them. His photos are deliberately amateurish, moments that Sharlet captured as they were already vanishing; the point is, Sharlet was there. 

Shirley - COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

The woman in Battery Park, whose name turned out to be Shirley, handed me her Obama phone, and Sharlet looked up the number of a cab company. While I called, he took a photo of an empty can of Natty Daddy beer on the ground nearby. The cab transaction became more complicated: The dispatcher needed an actual address for the pickup, not just "Battery Park." Sharlet gave them the number of a duplex across the street, but Shirley, due to the glaucoma and, Sharlet speculated, what was in that Natty Daddy can, was not up to getting herself over there. So Sharlet offered her a hand and helped her off the bench, and I took the black tote Shirley had been carrying. "God musta sent you people," Shirley said, steadying herself on Sharlet's right arm. 

This is a sentiment Sharlet has heard with perhaps uncommon frequency throughout his career. Most of his work, in one way or another, is about believers. In his early twenties, he and his friend Peter Manseau drove across the country to chronicle the varieties of religious experience in America, in ashrams and gas stations and bars where bras hang from the ceiling, and almost everywhere they went, people told them they'd been meant to come this way. In The Undertow , Sharlet shares what could only be described as a tender moment with a woman he calls Diane G. — she would only let him use her last initial, he writes, "for fear of Democratic retaliation" — outside a Trump rally in Sunrise, Fla. 

Diane G., Sharlet writes, might be "closer to the new center of American life than you are." Sitting together in her white Cadillac SUV, Sharlet and Diane G. discuss her church, the church of Trump, in which Trump's seemingly random capitalizations in his tweets, his references to particular dates and numbers, are in fact an elaborate code meant for his followers. She tells Sharlet that the Clintons eat children. And then Diane G. tells Sharlet that her awakening to the true nature of the world coincided with a heart attack she'd had about a year earlier. Sharlet confides in her about his own damaged heart. Their meeting was no accident, Diane G. insists: "You were meant to run into me tonight."

Diane G. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEFF SHARLET

  • Photos Courtesy Of Jeff Sharlet

So there we were with Shirley, who gripped our arms with astonishing strength as we helped her across the street and onto the nearest stoop. The cab, as it turned out, would not be coming after all, so Sharlet paid for an Uber instead. Shirley seemed to be in a cheerful mood now. While we waited for the Uber to arrive, Sharlet asked her how old she was; she would be 80, she told us, on May 29 — "a Taurus!" she crowed. (Actually, a Gemini, but whatever.) Sharlet told her that his birthday had been May 7, which also made him a Taurus. He told her that he and I were both journalists, working on a story together — were we? — and asked if he could take her photo. "Absolutely!" Shirley said. She beamed. "Cheeks up!" she told us. "Gotta keep your cheeks up."

The Uber arrived, and Sharlet helped Shirley inside. As the car drove away, I realized I was still holding her tote bag. Another mission! Sharlet was stoked. As we headed back to his car, he spotted a boy on a front porch, donning a fur hat and holding a Nerf gun. "Hey, little dude!" Sharlet said. "I'm a photographer. I love your hat and your gun. Can I take a picture of you with your gun and your hat?" 

"Do you know what this hat is called?" the kid asked. We did not. The kid told us: "A ushanka." "Ah, the Russians!" Sharlet said brightly. The kid agreed to having his photo taken, but first he wanted to reload the ammunition in his Nerf gun. "All right," Sharlet said, taking the kid's photo, "you're ready to battle, man." After we'd gotten into Sharlet's car and started driving toward Shirley's apartment complex, Sharlet was still thinking about the ushanka boy. "That's one of my favorite types, the beefy kid with the high voice, who knows lots of information." Jeffrey Sharlet: former beefy kid full of information.

After we'd delivered the bag to Shirley's, Sharlet said: "This is why we're both crap journalists, but not total crap people — a good journalist would have gone through that bag." 

It had never occurred to me to go through the bag. If Sharlet had left me with an open bag, would I be tempted to sneak a peek? Maybe, but only because I was writing about him, and then I would only open it ever so slightly, just to see what could be ascertained at a glance. No rummaging. I draw the line at rummaging. Shirley and her tote bag, on the other hand, never asked to be part of this story. "She's a bystander," I told Sharlet.  

"Oh, no," Sharlet said. "She's a main character." 

'Let's Go Look'

Jeff Sharlet - ALEX DRIEHAUS

  • Jeff Sharlet

As we kept walking, I tried to ask Sharlet the kinds of questions that most journalists ask people they're profiling, such as: What was your childhood like? When did you realize that you wanted to do the thing you're doing with your life? He would start to give an answer, and then invariably he would become distracted — by Jehovah's Witnesses on Church Street; by a young person with hot pink eyebrows photographing dead lilacs on the ground; by a putty-colored wall, which, to Sharlet's mind, was no ordinary putty-colored wall, but a backdrop against which a subject might come to life. 

Sharlet's longtime friend, the writer Quince Mountain, thinks this distractibility is a function of Sharlet's extreme openness to the world. "You can't walk down the street with him, because you'll lose him," Mountain told me. "He'll just start talking to Nazis or taking pictures." 

As someone trying to obtain information from him, I found this tendency by turns irritating and endearing. "'You are as good as the last thing you wrote, and you are also not defined by that,'" Sharlet was telling me at one point, paraphrasing something Lesy, his college professor and mentor, had told him. "And I think that relieves me of that diva-ness — wow, letterpress printing? Let's go look." 

We peered inside the darkened windows of Star Press on North Avenue. I saw a dim, cluttered room, but Sharlet, through his iPhone camera, saw something else. "That light becomes yellow," he said, pointing to a fluorescent fixture on the ceiling, "and then you get that blue stripe, the yellow stripe, this perspective, and that wire — that's pretty nice," he said. I had to agree. The wire was nice.

Sharlet's receptivity to the world — his desire to see the pain and the beauty in it — is also what makes him vulnerable. His next book is supposed to be about books that never got finished. But naturally, he doesn't want to finish that book. Instead he wants to do a book called Other People's Churches , an idea that came to him last summer when he was in Milwaukee, where his oldest kid was in a mental health treatment program. While he wandered around, he saw so many storefront churches, churches with boarded-up windows that stood only because it would be too expensive to bulldoze them.

"That's the undertow of The Undertow — this question of grief and mourning," he said, meaning his grief and mourning, over his kid and the state of the world. "I don't find my hope from light, airy places." We'd ended up at the Olde Northender Pub, where "Jeopardy!" was playing on the TV. The only question Sharlet answered correctly was about the 2019 mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand. "On theme," he said. He's read the gunman's manifesto.

"People keep saying in the reviews that I have high blood pressure," Sharlet said. (By my count, only the New York Times mentioned high blood pressure.) "I do not have high blood pressure. I have the blood pressure of a lizard." Another thing he insists he is not: a "common grounder," someone who believes that if he only sat in a room long enough with, say, the Hanover parents who want to repeal the school district policy that protects trans kids, or with Diane G., the true believer in Sunrise, Fla., who thinks the Clintons eat children, they might discover some shared principle that zeroes out their differences.

Then what can be possible between two people? Sharlet answered this question, as he'd answered most questions, with a parable. He told me about The Boxer , a 1997 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis. ("I'm manly, giving a boxing metaphor, and I don't know anything about boxing.") There's a scene in the movie where Day-Lewis is in the ring with a Black man, Sharlet said, and instead of fighting for the entertainment of the spectators, the two men lean into one another, their bodies locked in a clutch. 

"They just hold each other up," Sharlet said. "Like this." He wove his fingers together. "I cannot stand on my own." 

"A fact of physics," I offered. 

He smiled. "Wow," he said. "A fact of physics. That's it."

Then it was getting late, almost 9 p.m., so we parted ways. I went home, but Sharlet decided to wander around some more, even though he had a long drive home, to see what other words the night could give him. Correction, June 10, 2023: A previous version of this story misstated the number of states that have successfully passed anti-trans legislation and the year Sharlet's book, The Family , was published.

Tags: Culture , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Seven Days Aloud , Jeff Sharlet , The Undertow , Donald Trump , Trumpism , Seven Days Aloud , Video

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On the Road With the Ghost of Ashli Babbitt

Jeff sharlet saw close up how the far right has used grief and bitterness to grow its ranks..

the undertow book review

Jeff Sharlet has spent much of his career talking to strangers and finding authenticity in encounters at typically American way stations on the road. His 2020 book,  This Brilliant Darkness , stitches together vignettes of a night-shift worker, a motel boarder, a Cameroonian immigrant, and many others, as he drove from place to place, taking in the mood of the country in the Trump era.

His latest book,  The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War , also takes the form of a road trip, but it is a journey on which he finds fracture rather than connection. From Sacramento to Rifle, Colorado, to Buffalo, New York, at Trump rallies, in bars and diners, and at an International Conference on Men’s Issues, he finds paranoia and unrest. When he visits Vous Church, a hub for televangelism in Miami, he interviews a pastor who proposes they “just stage” the whole conversation. A woman in Sunrise, Florida, tells him she believes their meeting is divinely ordained. And when he tries to understand churchgoers’ views on critical race theory in Omaha, Nebraska, a security guard brings out a man with a gun to threaten him. A theme among his interviewees is dislike of journalists—the “evil media,” as the guard calls it—and a belief that civil war is on the horizon.  

the undertow book review

The undertow—a current of water that lies just below the surface, pulling in the opposite direction—is Sharlet’s metaphor for the “season of coming apart” that he believes the United States is undergoing. He observes people swept up by the “myths” and the “dreams” of the far right, anxiously relating their premonitions of impending civil war .  I recently spoke with Sharlet about his book. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the right’s use of grief and bitterness, the dynamics of the mob, and the future of democracy.

Jasmine Liu: You frame the book—and the road trip across the country that constitutes its backbone—as an attempt to follow Ashli Babbitt’s ghost. What got you interested in her story?

Jeff Sharlet: The book is about grief—and that, to me, is Ashli Babbitt. I remember the minute I saw January 6 , I was in the other room; my wife was with our kids sledding. I was texting her as it was happening: “They’re walking toward the Capitol—oh my God, they’re around the Capitol—oh my God, they’re in the Capitol—oh my God, that woman is dead! Oh, it’s a white woman.” And very quickly, we saw the video. I remember thinking, Birth of a Nation, they’re going to tell that story again. Very quickly, they got into Black man kills white woman.

White supremacy feeds on both the perception and the reality of loss. Ashli was this person trying to be a good person, and Donald Trump is that white supremacist saying, it’s OK to be white! It’s OK to be bad! What if you were just pissed? What if you’re in over your head with debt? What if you gave in to the hate? And she did.

J.L.: Why do you see Babbitt as a case of grief and not mourning? What’s the distinction between those two things for you?

J.S.: What happens to unexamined grief is it can become bitterness. There was a men’s rights activist who burned himself to death on the courtroom steps near Keene, New Hampshire, and he was losing a custody battle—as he should have—because he was a violent abuser. That’s curdled grief. He has done something wrong, he has lost a lot for it, that loss is real. The bitterness—for Ashli—it flips into ecstasy, with a kind of mania to it.  

J.L.: What do you notice about the right-wing response to her death?

J.S.: What’s interesting is what happened with her husband. Her husband wasn’t really a particular right-winger until she died. And now he is because his wife is dead and he can’t understand it. Now he’s become this really dangerous guy, as she became a dangerous person.

There’s that sentiment of, “Wherever there’s an injustice, I’ll be there! Wherever there’s a guy getting beat up, I’ll be there!” That’s what Ashli Babbitt came to be for the right, and that’s a ghost. They’re embracing a haunting. I don’t think fascism would have accelerated as quickly had it not been for the pandemic and for an inability to process—what a weak word—to mourn together.

J.L.: You’ve been reporting on the right for many years. What struck you about the rallies you reported on for this book?

J.S.: There is this interesting thing of democratization without shape, so it becomes a mob rather than a society or collective. The middle section of the book is called “On Vanity,” and a mob is vanity—it’s the imagination of more agency than you have, and you do this by erasing the complexities of the individual in concert with another. I don’t mean the individual reigns supreme: That’s the old right. The new right is the mob.

J.L.: One of the disturbing things in The Undertow is how basically in every single interaction you’ve had, the far-right activists you meet are totally convinced that we’re accelerating toward civil war. What do you make of this?

J.S.: Even when I started this book, in the spring of 2021, there were historians talking about it, but it was not a reputable thing. Now David French is over here in The New York Times , instead of  National Review, writing an op-ed saying civil war, or the “national divorce,” is serious . And underneath, the editorial board is saying, “Holy shit, what DeSantis is doing is serious.” There’s a little bit of “I told you so,” and everybody has been on this for a long time.

A little bit of anger too. The week after the election, there was a bunch of people—I was one of them—saying, this is a slow-motion coup. We were derided for that. It’s like saying, “Do you think there could be violence?” What do you mean, “could?” There already is that.

If you read Kathryn Joyce , she’s understanding all these intellectual rifts within the right. What makes the right a powerful movement now is many tributaries that were once opposed to one another—there was a time when evangelicals would have had nothing to do with Proud Boys—are all like, fucking let’s go, let’s all flow into one another.

J.L.: You note throughout how hostile your interlocutors are about you as a journalist. How did you navigate that aspect of your reporting?

J.S.: I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s never been like this. In 2016, everybody talked to me. I did tell people I was a writer, and I would be sitting there writing things down. But now everyone’s so excited for the possibility of ferreting out a journalist.

At Trump rallies, if you had a volume meter, attacks on the press get the loudest volume. The weird thing was like— The press, why do you keep going to that pen?

J.L.: I’m curious what you think of this whole genre that really cemented itself during the Trump years, of liberal journalists covering rural Americans who voted for Trump, trying to understand their mentality. Your work in this vein predates the recent surge in this kind of writing and reporting. How do you situate yourself in this new landscape?

J.S.: This is what I’ve been doing for 30 years. I’m not parachuting in, but I’m also not immersing, which is something I’ve done in the past. We’re in the undertow, wherever you are. I use this phrase “We’re in it now.” It’s a little bit of church speak. We’re in it wherever we are. You’re in New York, for instance—there are more Trump voters in New York City than there are people in Vermont.

J.L.: Toward the end of your book, you write, “Democracy is a practice. It may not be real yet, but it is not a dream.” How do you understand that space in between?

J.S.: The fascinating thing to me about the dream is also the brokenness. You keep trying to imagine this better world. We do not have a plan right now. I don’t have the solution—this is not a book with solutions. I dislike those and distrust those.  

The last line, which I always knew was going to be the last line of the book—“for a while it was possible not to be scared even”—some people say, “That’s your hope?” Yeah, that’s the hope. The hope is not “We can do it.” There’s no “arc of history bends toward justice.” It doesn’t just do that. Democracy doesn’t just happen.

The noise of democracy is not agreement, isn’t civil, is not a common ground. Tolerance is not like, Hey, I approve of you. Tolerance is like, I fucking hate you, but I’m not going to smash in your door. Tolerance can even include shouting down the speaker. It’s not like, Let’s hear out these thoughts on how people of color have lower IQs —and now you want free speech, you want tolerance. I’m going to say, “Fuck off.” That’s free speech. That’s the democracy I want to have. I don’t think we’ve ever had it.

Jasmine Liu is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic .

the undertow book review

J.K. (Jim) George

Book Review: The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, by Jeff Sharlet

A gift from my son, who heard the author interviewed on NPR, this book is 333 pages and includes numerous small to large B&W photos. The author has written six previous books and edited one.  This book is difficult to read. My notes on the text state "hard to follow" or similar comments at several places. It is disjointed at times, but generally highlights the tragic death of Ashli Babbitt along with her radicalization into a true believer in extreme conspiracy tenets when she attempted to crash violently through the main door to the Capitol Building during the January 6 riot. She has become a Talis(wo)man for conspiracy beliefs among true believers in extreme elements in the U.S.

One core tenet is that the election of 2020 was stolen, even though every single post-election investigation and voting review has confirmed the results. Many of the most contested results were in normally Republican states such as Georgia and were conducted by Republican Governors and elected officials, yet these do not satisfy the conspiracy believers, fueled by continuing false claims by Donald Trump. As references to Ms. Babbitt continue through the book, several powerful evangelical preachers are featured with their "Praise Services" heavy on emotion and rock and roll music along with conservative political messaging.

Former President Trump is characterized by his lack of putting much of anything in writing, speaking in a way that is understood by those he wants to reach, yet is done in a way that is hard to pin down - spiritual truths, "true meanings" - and things to be feared. The "Trumpocene" has its own sign (index finger and thumb touch, with the middle three fingers splayed), recognizable as a "WP" symbol, for White Power. At numerous Trump rallies and evangelical sessions across the U.S, the author watches the Prosperity Gospel and Evangelical Coalition of the Willing in full swing, with the enemies clearly understood to include Liberal TV Networks, "The Media," Journalists, and Gays.

The author interfaces with many at numerous evangelical and political rallies, and reports on the "undertow" of discontent and combination of violent actions (the attack on the Capitol and death of Ashley Babbitt) and rising religious fervor. He believes a civil war is underway - not a shooting war like the last, but an "undertow movement" with gerrymandered political pockets of witnesses, and a deep-seated psychological operation.

the undertow book review

Written by JK James George

View all posts by: JK James George

6 Responses

  • JK James George From Anon-1: Wow ! You’re up late! Reading something exciting or mind blowing? Sure;) not on your life! Right? Honestly it been one of those days! Reply July 24, 2023
  • JK James George From Anon-2: I got up this morning at 5am for a drive to San Antonio for chemo. That has not put me in the best frame of mind. Learning about the dogged insistence in believing a self-serving lie created for and by our 45th President has reached a point of no return. Who cares what they think? Everyone enjoys a good conspiracy story. I still grapple with the idea that a man who was unable to shoot Gen. Walker from the Generals backyard privacy fence [ distance of 100 feet?] was able to climb six floors of the Dallas Book Depositary building and pull off two head shots on a man riding in a moving vehicle. If true, that incident displayed a remarkable improvement of a man's skills during the greatest stress shot of all time. Not all questions have answers. I have listened to televangelists explain to their congregation why God wanted them to have five airplanes, not four. Their logic was an insult to anyone who held a religious belief in Jesus Christ. How did we get from a religious leader who walked the face of the earth and never took an interest in material things to an over-weight preacher from Louisiana who needs five airplanes to do the same job? The preacher got his new jet. The congregation dug deeper and came up with a "love offering". " Explain me that, Johnny Budro?" Not all questions have answers. Reply July 24, 2023
  • JK James George From Anon-3: Jim: Thanks for slogging through this book. I found it extremely painful to listen to (read by the author). At times – most of the time, actually, -- I heard his conversations with rally attendees, church goers, bar and café customers seated around tables, as though I was hearing people from another planet expressing inconceivably crazy ideas and opinions. I know, I know, Trump has played into a large well of dissatisfaction and malaise, of people who think they’ve been left behind, with nothing but shitty jobs, cigarettes, beer, and unhealthy, fattening food to look forward to. But the undeniable fact, the indisputable fact, is that these people are compliant, deep believers in the BIG LIE, the whackier the better. Why do they so readily believe the nonsense they utter or hear? What is the confirmation bias here? I think it’s confirmation of their belief that they are worthless and failures and, so, find solace in tearing down everything that stands for reasonableness and stability, competence and intelligence. They just want to tear it all down. Like a frustrated or frightened infant throwing a tantrum. Reply July 24, 2023
  • JK James George From Anon-4: I enjoy reading your book reviews. This most recent one has a grammatical error in one place. This is not a sentence, since it has no verb: "He believes a civil war, not a shooting war like the last, but an "undertow movement" with gerrymandered political pockets of witnesses, and a deep-seated psychological operation." (This sharp-eyed person, an old pal from Pennsylvania) got it right. I've already gone back in and edited the last part to add a verb. Sorry about that, (Now slinking away.) Reply July 24, 2023
  • JK James George From Anon-5: What a kind gift from your son! I also think it’s kind of you to read it all even though it was difficult, and perhaps not your cup of tea? I also admire you for giving credit to writers both pro and con. You are such a good source of knowledge when you write reviews and really go the extra mile, not just for yourself but for your readers as well. Thanks for the memories of the books we will read because you cared to read them First! (Personal note... thank you!) Reply July 24, 2023
  • JK James George From Anon-6: Not fun at all. The whole business is just too much. These people are crazy. Reply July 24, 2023

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9781324074519

Jeff Sharlet

W. W. Norton & Company

21 March 2023

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An Instant New York Times Bestseller. A National Book Critics Circle Finalist for Nonfiction One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2023 One of The New Republic's Best Books of 2023 "A riveting, vividly detailed collage of political and moral derangement in America." —Joseph O'Neill, New York Times Book Review One of America's finest reporters and essayists explores the powerful currents beneath the roiled waters of a nation coming apart.

An unmatched guide to the religious dimensions of American politics, Jeff Sharlet journeys into corners of our national psyche where others fear to tread. The Undertow is both inquiry and meditation, an attempt to understand how, over the last decade, reaction has morphed into delusion, social division into distrust, distrust into paranoia, and hatred into fantasies—sometimes realities—of violence.

Across the country, men "of God" glorify materialism, a gluttony of the soul, while citing Scripture and preparing for civil war—a firestorm they long for as an absolution and exaltation. Lies, greed, and glorification of war boom through microphones at hipster megachurches that once upon a time might have preached peace and understanding. Political rallies are as aflame with need and giddy expectation as religious revivals. At a conference for incels, lonely single men come together to rage against women. On the Far Right, everything is heightened—love into adulation, fear into vengeance, anger into white-hot rage. Here, in the undertow, our forty-fifth president, a vessel of conspiratorial fears and fantasies, continues to rise to sainthood, and the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, killed on January 6 at the Capitol, is beatified as a martyr of white womanhood.

Framing this dangerous vision, Sharlet remembers and celebrates the courage of those who sing a different song of community, and of an America long dreamt of and yet to be fully born, dedicated to justice and freedom for all.

Exploring a geography of grief and uncertainty in the midst of plague and rising fascism, The Undertow is a necessary reckoning with our precarious present that brings to light a decade of American failures as well as a vision for American possibility.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Book review of 'the undertow: scenes from a slow civil war' by jeff sharlet.

  Adam Fleming Petty is a writer in Grand Rapids, Mich.wrote this review of Jeff Sharlet book, “ The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War ”  in the Washington Post.

The future belongs to crowds,” Don DeLillo wrote in his 1991 novel, “ Mao II .” Massive crowds of faceless people banding together to heave their collective shoulder against the wheel of history. In DeLillo’s telling, those crowds existed elsewhere — in the Mideast, in Southeast Asia. Places where American individualism found less purchase. Decades later, in an irony DeLillo might appreciate, they’re coming home.

Maybe not entirely faceless, though. One face, sporting a pale forelock, looms large. One name, deployed as a verb, whips and snaps. You know it, I know it: Trump. I’m writing this in rural Indiana, where I’m visiting family. Out the window I can see the neighbor’s house, where a TRUMP flag flies at full-staff. Even a house on a country road can become part of a crowd.

That’s the phenomenon Jeff Sharlet captures in his new book, “ The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War .” Sharlet has spent much of his career covering the intersections of religion and right-wing politics, most famously in “ The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power .” A look at the Christian organization that hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, among other activities both domestic and international, “The Family” found new life during the early Trump administration, when a documentary based on the book aired on Netflix.

Trump, and Trumpism, benefited more than anyone could have guessed from this fusion of personal faith and political action. Sharlet has chronicled that rise in his dispatches for Vanity Fair, traversing the country to visit the faithful. “The Undertow” gathers that writing, along with some new material, to form a travelogue that tarries with furious people in forgotten places, all of them convinced that civil war of some sort is in the offing. This marks a difference between his earlier work on “The Family,” which involved deep dives into the organization’s history and hierarchy, and “The Undertow.” To put it in religious terms, one could say he’s turned his attention from the pulpit to the congregation. Less the leaders and more the crowds, whether physical or virtual, sitting in pews or staring into screens.

It’s almost too easy to mock those who join such gatherings. I know I’m guilty of that. But Sharlet urges the reader to take their fantasies seriously, as they have produced consequences that are all too real. The realest, of course, arrived  on Jan. 6, 2021 . At the time, the storming of the U.S. Capitol felt unbelievable. Reading “The Undertow,” it feels inevitable.

A hipster megachurch in Miami fills the sanctuary to capacity with a message of prosperity, and nothing else. A men’s rights conference held outside Detroit draws a host of men, and a surprisingly formidable contingent of women, to discuss the supposed dangers of feminists entrapping men with false accusations of sexual assault. The women’s presence highlights a running theme of the book: Look at these crowds, and you will see faces you never expected to find there. A bravura sequence finds Sharlet in Sacramento at a rally for Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed by Capitol police on  Jan. 6 . He then journeys across the country, from churches to American Legion posts to Shooters, the now-defunct “open-carry” restaurant owned by Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Everywhere, from everyone, he hears talk of civil war, the term never quite achieving definition. “When I asked, civil war, when the believers answered, civil war, we were speaking in metaphors we could barely comprehend. We were describing a feeling that frightened or exhilarated us: a body coming apart.”

But if a war is coming, even a metaphorical one, what are its terms? What are the grievances these crowds seek to address? Based on the signs waved at rallies and the hashtags gone viral on social media, their complaints include, but are not limited to, immigration, mask mandates, gun rights, gender identity,  abortion . But there’s not even consensus on which of these issues matters most or in what way. One darkly funny scene finds a Trump-flag-waving homeowner in Wisconsin incensed with the Democrats for overturning Roe v. Wade. Anger searching not for a target but a pretext.

Yet Sharlet believes there is a deeper fear, a deeper grievance, roiling beneath the copy-pasted outrage. The underlying cause of this potential civil war is not so different from that of the actual civil war of the not-so-distant past: race.

  “They are angry about their own bodies, about how other people’s bodies make them feel,” Sharlet writes about these mostly White crowds. And how do other bodies make them feel? In a word, uninnocent. The very awkwardness of that term suggests the mental gymnastics these crowds struggle to perform. The crowds revere innocence, purity, blamelessness. Ashli Babbitt is transformed from a troubled young woman into a flawless saint, a martyr for the cause of freedom. “Be proud White Americans!” Babbitt’s mother exhorts the crowd at a rally for her daughter. Proud they are innocent of racism, prejudice, guilt. Yet even the presence of non-White people is a reminder of the bloody, guilt-ridden history of the land they live on. None can escape it, no matter how hard they might try, no matter how much of the past they forget.

If “The Undertow” lacks anything, it’s a sense of the grim economic landscape. Prices are going up everywhere while wages are going down. Many of the people at these crowds — the “beautiful ‘boaters,’” as Trump so appositely  calls them  — are quite prosperous, yet they live in the least-prosperous areas, the exurbs and the small towns of flyover states. Such proximity to immiseration probably contributes to the sense of desperation on display at these gatherings. The blight is at the door, and they raise their flags to keep it at bay.

But that’s a minor quibble. I deeply appreciate Sharlet’s mythic-religious approach and how it enables him to capture what other journalists miss. Data can tell only half the story, and usually the half that’s less interesting. Add to that the book’s welcome ambition, both as journalism and literature. This is no mere compilation of bullet points. This is journalism-as-art, attempting to capture the mood of the nation at this fraught moment, so that others in the future may know how it felt to live through the present. Hopefully there will still be readers then.

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Episode 146: No more kids movies, Undertow and Bill tries to cook

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This week, we talk about spoof bands and movies. We kind of review Elemental until Eric pulls the plug. The onto Tool&#39;s Undertow.

We close out with Sting&#39;s last match and Bill&#39;s kitchen misadventures

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“People said, ‘Oh, you’re a metal band’. I thought that was kind of lame”: the story of Tool’s Undertow, the debut album that introduced the world to a new kind of noise

Tool’s debut album was released on April 6, 1993. This is the story behind it

Tool in 1993

Thanks to the quality shown on their debut EP, 1992’s Opiate, some well received live performances with the likes of Rage Against the Machine , White Zombie and Rollins Band and frontman Maynard James Keenan ’s memorable cameo on RATM’s Know Your Enemy , Tool went into 1993 routinely namechecked as one of the most promising young bands in alternative music. Not that it was a description that they were particularly happy with.

“Look at bands like Pearl Jam,” drummer Danny Carey grumbled at the time. “That’s not alternative. Their songs are just as poppy as anyone else’s.”

Against the backdrop of alternative rock and grunge as the dominant musical force of the time, Tool were determined to create something different and unique when they entered LA’s Grandmaster studio in October 1992 to record their debut full length album, Undertow . The songs they had written were far darker and more unsettling than most alternative rock that was in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV.

“When we did Opiate, we picked all our heaviest songs,” guitarist Adam Jones told the L.A. Times in 1993. “People said, ‘Oh, you’re a metal band’. I thought that was kind of lame. We try and branch off into different directions.”

On Undertow Tool’s exploration of sound, and of themselves, truly began. Keenan cited a deliberate step away from what he called the “totally-male, angst-filled energy” coming from many of Tool’s peers as an important part of its creation.

“As far as the vulnerability element of my approach goes, I listen to Joni Mitchell , so draw your own conclusions,” he told WARP Magazine about his lyrical approach. “Most hard-rock or hard-alternative bands have a very masculine, linear approach, while I think there's more of a feminine balance to our point of view. I think that our softer, more compassionate edge is missed a lot of the time”

Keenan would tackle numerous topics on Undertow from that were largely untouched in metal or hard rock at that time. The haunting, heartbreaking and ultimately controversial Prison Sex tackled domestic abuse and sexual molestation from the perspective of the abused.

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"This song is about recognizing, identifying, the cycle of abuse within yourself.” he said onstage in Montreal in 1996 when introducing the song.

Unfortunately, it was too complex a subject matter for MTV, who banned the Jones directed, stop-motion animation video clip that accompanied the song, believing the symbolism of child abuse to be too graphic for their audience.

“You have these other videos where [Aerosmith singer] Steven Tyler's daughter is stripping in front of old men, or where Janet Jackson is practically having oral sex,” shrugged Maynard when asked about the banning by the San Francisco Chronicle . “I find that disturbing, yet it's something that's just thrown in people's laps and they don't think twice about it. So, I guess anything that deals with that sort of subject matter is going to end up hitting roadblocks.”

Despite that, Tool proved to be a genuine alternative to the alternative scene. When Undertow was released on April 6 1993, their utterly unique style and approach caught the attention of fans looking for something distinct from the rock and metal scene, making them a cult favourite almost overnight.

Reviews were mainly positive, even though there were a few that lazily mistook the dark, bleak mood of the record for yet another bunch of chancers jumping on the grunge gravy train.

"When the wind blows over and all is said and done, those albums will be able to stand on their own," Maynard said, when asked by the L.A. Times about Undertow’s relation to recent albums by the likes of Soundgarden and Nirvana . “It's all going to come down to writing good songs. I'm hoping we can maintain the focus on the music and have a career… whatever they want to call our style."

Despite MTV’s subsequent resistance to Prison Sex , Undertow’s first single, the bass heavy thud of Sober, became a crossover hit on the network. With another of Jones’ stop-animation videos utterly unlike anything else the channel were airing at that time, it was another element that elevated Tool’s standing in the eyes of fans searching for true musical auteurs. Their rise was accelerated by appearances at Lollapalooza and the UK’s Reading festival in 1993, and the usually metal-unfriendly Glastonbury the following year.  

They’ve never looked back as a band but listening back to Undertow more than three decades after its release, it’s incredible to hear how singular it still sounds. Keenan’s voice is an incredible weapon, crooning and bawling his way around the pistoning, jackhammering rhythms of Intolerance and Crawl Away . Jones’ riffs manage to be crushing, spidery and unpredictable and Henry Rollins guest appearance on the tightly wound Bottom is terrifying.

Tool would go on to become bigger, more complex and progressive, but everything you ever loved about them starts on here Undertow.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.

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the undertow book review

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New York and Hollywood Lore by Amor Towles (Martini Optional)

“Table for Two” is a collection of six stories and a novella set in two very different cultural capitals.

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The book cover for “Table for Two,” by Amor Towles, shows a black-and-white photograph of a formally dressed couple sitting at a table with drinks.

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TABLE FOR TWO: Fictions , by Amor Towles

Few literary stylists not named Ann Patchett attain best-sellerdom, but Amor Towles makes the cut. His three lauded novels — “Rules of Civility,” “A Gentleman in Moscow” and “The Lincoln Highway” — hung around on lists for months, if not years. But Towles’s commercial brio belies the care and craft he lavishes on each piece, evidenced now in “Table for Two,” a knockout collection of six stories and a longish novella.

The book spans the 20th century, bringing characters from a range of backgrounds into tableaus of deceit and desire. Beneath his coifed prose Towles is a master of the shiv, the bait and switch; we see the flash of light before the shock wave strikes, often in the final sentence.

“Table for Two” is a tale of two cities, New York and Los Angeles, cultural capitals on opposite ends of the continent but forever tracking the other’s trends and deals, a mutual voyeurism. Towles devotes the first section to New York, its wealthy and famous shuffling against strivers and innocents in La Guardia terminals, musty bookstores or immigrant communities.

“The Bootlegger” depicts a woman’s epiphany after a Carnegie Hall concert. In “The Line,” a naïve Communist builds a lucrative business that steers him to Manhattan, where con games lurk on every corner. In “The Ballad of Timothy Touchett,” an allegory of 1990s excess, a rare-books dealer with the Dickensian name of Pennybrook manipulates the sympathies of his young assistant, who forges autographs of eminent authors until he’s busted by one. “Hasta Luego” tells the unnerving story of an alcoholic snowbound in a Midtown bar on the cusp of the millennium; Towles can’t resist mentions of Motorola and Nokia flip phones, reminding us how far away the near past really is.

But the Oscar goes to “Eve in Hollywood,” a novella that unfolds during the filming of “Gone With the Wind.” Towles tricks out the Tinseltown lore in a homage to the heyday of studio moguls and the hard-boiled fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, even alluding to actual legends like Errol Flynn’s use of two-way mirrors and peepholes.

Towles plucks a character from “Rules of Civility,” Evelyn Ross, who’d vanished on a Chicago-bound train, picking up her narrative as she’s traveling to California. In the dining car she meets Charlie, a retired L.A.P.D. officer who will later prove an asset. She checks into the Beverly Hills Hotel, where she befriends an eclectic crew: a portly, has-been actor; a chauffeur with stuntman aspirations; and the rising star Olivia de Havilland. Lithe and blond, sporting an upper-class air and a distinctive facial scar, Eve is fearless, equally at home among poolside cabanas and seedy clubs where the music’s loud and the booze flows.

“From across the room you could see that no one had a leash on her,” one petty crook observes. “With the narrowed eyes of a killer, she was sussing out the place, and she liked what she saw. She liked the band, the tempo, the tequila — the whole shebang. If Dehavvy was bandying about with the likes of this one, you wouldn’t have long to wait for the wrong place and the wrong time to have their tearful reunion.”

When nude photos of de Havilland go missing, part of a larger tabloid plot, Eve vows to save her friend’s reputation. She’s a femme fatale turned inside out, matching wits amid an array of villains, including a former cop with a double cross up his sleeve. Towles is clearly enjoying himself, nodding to noir classics such as “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” The period details are nearly airtight, although I did notice tiny anachronisms about Elizabeth Taylor and the slang term “easy peasy.”

“Table for Two” delivers the kick of a martini served in the Polo Lounge — the cover art is a cropped image of a couple at a bar, dressed in black tie — but there’s more here than high gloss. Both coasts are ideal settings for morality plays about power, as Towles cunningly weaves in themes of exploitation, an allusion to Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” a bust of Julius Caesar glimpsed by Eve on the Ides of March. Whether we’re living in the era of late-stage capitalism is beside the point; money, Towles suggests, will simply mutate into another form, preying on the vulnerable. “When it moves, it moves quickly, without a sound, a second thought, or the slightest hint of consequence,” he writes. “Like the wind that spins a windmill, money comes out of nowhere, sets the machinery in motion, then disappears without a trace.” It’s on us to summon our better angels.

Sharp-edged satire deceptively wrapped like a box of Neuhaus chocolates, “Table for Two” is a winner.

TABLE FOR TWO : Fictions | By Amor Towles | Viking | 451 pp. | $32

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The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

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Jeff Sharlet

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War Paperback – March 5, 2024

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An Instant New York Times Bestseller. A National Book Critics Circle Finalist for Nonfiction One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2023 One of The New Republic's Best Books of 2023 “A riveting, vividly detailed collage of political and moral derangement in America.” ―Joseph O’Neill, New York Times Book Review One of America’s finest reporters and essayists explores the powerful currents beneath the roiled waters of a nation coming apart.

An unmatched guide to the religious dimensions of American politics, Jeff Sharlet journeys into corners of our national psyche where others fear to tread. The Undertow is both inquiry and meditation, an attempt to understand how, over the last decade, reaction has morphed into delusion, social division into distrust, distrust into paranoia, and hatred into fantasies―sometimes realities―of violence.

Across the country, men “of God” glorify materialism, a gluttony of the soul, while citing Scripture and preparing for civil war―a firestorm they long for as an absolution and exaltation. Lies, greed, and glorification of war boom through microphones at hipster megachurches that once upon a time might have preached peace and understanding. Political rallies are as aflame with need and giddy expectation as religious revivals. At a conference for incels, lonely single men come together to rage against women. On the Far Right, everything is heightened―love into adulation, fear into vengeance, anger into white-hot rage. Here, in the undertow, our forty-fifth president, a vessel of conspiratorial fears and fantasies, continues to rise to sainthood, and the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, killed on January 6 at the Capitol, is beatified as a martyr of white womanhood.

Framing this dangerous vision, Sharlet remembers and celebrates the courage of those who sing a different song of community, and of an America long dreamt of and yet to be fully born, dedicated to justice and freedom for all.

Exploring a geography of grief and uncertainty in the midst of plague and rising fascism, The Undertow is a necessary reckoning with our precarious present that brings to light a decade of American failures as well as a vision for American possibility.

  • Print length 368 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publication date March 5, 2024
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • ISBN-10 1324074515
  • ISBN-13 978-1324074519
  • See all details

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ W. W. Norton & Company (March 5, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1324074515
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1324074519
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 10.1 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • #16 in Nationalism (Books)
  • #41 in General History of Religion
  • #51 in History of Religions

About the author

Jeff sharlet.

Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times and national bestselling author of THE FAMILY and C STREET, and executive producer of the 2019 Netflix five-part documentary series based on them, THE FAMILY. His newest book is THE UNDERTOW: Scenes from a Slow Civil War (W.W. Norton, March 2023). His other books include THIS BRILLIANT DARKNESS, SWEET HEAVEN WHEN I DIE, and RADIANT TRUTHS. With Peter Manseau he wrote KILLING THE BUDDHA and edited BELIEVER, BEWARE. Of SWEET HEAVEN WHEN I DIE, The Washington Post writes, "This book belongs in the tradition of long-form, narrative nonfiction best exemplified by Joan Didion, John McPhee [and] Norman Mailer… Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters.” An article for GQ that became the beginning of THIS BRILLIANT DARKNESS won a National Magazine Award, and excerpts from C STREET were honored with the Molly Ivins Prize, the Thomas Jefferson Award, the Outspoken Award, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association's prize for feature writing. Barbara Ehrenreich called THE FAMILY "one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you'll ever read."

Sharlet is the Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and editor-at-large for VQR. He has been a frequent commentator on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," "All in With Chris," and NPR's "Fresh Air." He has received grants and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, The Nation Institute, and other organizations. His writing on music has twice been featured in the annual BEST MUSIC WRITING volume.

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London is ‘a den of thieves and chancers, bloated by Russian cash’ in Andrew O’Hagan’s Caledonian Road.

Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan review – state-of-the-nation burlesque

This Dickensian yarn of a celebrity writer heading for a fall combines the bling of an airport bestseller with an insider’s grasp on high culture

T he city itself is the star of all great London novels, and plays whatever role is required by the tale or the times. It was a semi-sentient organism in Dickens’s Bleak House, wrapped in fog and thick with mud. It was rancorous and gone to seed in Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square; gauche and adventurous in Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids cast it as a city of the blind, prowled by carnivorous walking plants. That probably remains fictional London’s lowest ebb. But at times, for dark stretches, Andrew O’Hagan’s seventh novel runs it close.

This is in no way to suggest that Caledonian Road is a drag. Quite the opposite: it’s an addictively enjoyable yarn; a state-of-the-nation social novel with the swagger and bling of an airport bestseller and an insider’s grasp on the nuances of high culture. But this bustling, boisterous burlesque has the sour undertow of despair. The London that emerges from its 600-odd pages resembles a vast, rotting carcass picked over by carrion. The people live off it, not in it, and seem to be intent on stripping the place to the bone.

Our tour guide of sorts is 52-year-old Campbell Flynn, a celebrity writer and academic who owns a house in Islington’s Thornhill Square, maintains a second home out in Suffolk and recently completed a money-spinning self-help book called Why Men Weep in Their Cars. Life is good, he’s living the dream, which is another way of saying that he’s careering towards disaster, folded in with an ensemble cast of aristocrats and human traffickers, screen actors and newspaper columnists. When O’Hagan isn’t arranging walk-on cameos for true-life personalities (Baz Luhrmann, Grayson Perry), he whips up such coy caricatures as Yuri Bykov, the preening playboy son of a Russian oligarch. This is rollicking fiction lifted from on-the-ground fact, the novel rekitted as a journalistic first draft of history. Yuri, it should be noted, is emphatically not Evgeny Lebedev. But they may once have shared the same infinity pool.

As for Campbell, he’s only tangentially related to the author himself, even if both are the sons of Glaswegian joiners, raised on council estates and now reinvented as glossy middle-aged men of letters. Campbell, for his part, is smart enough to see 2020s London for what it is: a den of thieves and chancers, hobbled by Brexit and bloated by Russian cash. But he’s compromised and conflicted, the classic working-class bind. He’s seduced by the money, the status and glamour. His lifestyle’s been bankrolled by a rackety tycoon, William Byre. Meanwhile, in the basement, lurks his angry sitting tenant Mrs Voyles. When Campbell hits rock bottom, Mrs Voyles lies in wait with her horror stories of rat infestations, broken gates and bad plumbing. In a curious roundabout fashion, it almost feels like coming home.

Bounding from the penthouse to the pavements, administering to a sprawling cast of characters, Caledonian Road nods most obviously to Dickens (Mrs Voyles is self-consciously positioned as “a Dickensian crone”), although it also stirs memories of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Paolo Sorrentino’s film The Great Beauty . It’s a bold, bullish tale of hubris and corruption, a book simultaneously dazzled and disgusted by the city it depicts. O’Hagan falters slightly when he’s running alongside London’s youth, with their fist bumps and shout-outs and full-on happening parties. Elsewhere, his prose is nimble, lively and sure-footed. Caledonian Road knows how newspapers and high courts and criminal gangs operate. It knows the price in a club of a magnum of Cristal (£1.5k, if you’re asking) and two bottles of top-notch Belvedere vodka (£600). Crucially, it understands all too well that this metropolis is a bubble: that its economy is unsustainable and that its reckoning is in the post.

“The whole country is in deep,” explains Tara Hastings, the young investigative reporter who’s probing the connections between Campbell, William Byre, Yuri Bykov and the Duke of Kendal. Except that Tara should probably declare an interest as well, given that she was part of Yuri’s social set back at Oxford. “They all know each other,” says Campbell. The Russian crooks and the English lords. The flamboyant art dealers and the hard-right politicians.

Campbell, God help him, has managed to crack the class ceiling. But his place is provisional, dependent on the patronage of his social betters. In his darkest moments, the man views himself as an impostor, an outsider. He’s “a liquid presence”, we’re told, “never quite finished as a person”. O’Hagan shakes him up and deploys him as a kind of diagnostic barium meal, pouring him down through the Islington townhouses and restaurants, past the clubs, pubs and shipping containers, all the way to the basement, as the story plays out as a great dying fall.

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New poetry: John F Deane; Victoria Kennefick; Mícheál McCann; and Scott McKendry

Reviews: selected and new poems; egg/shell; devotion; gub.

the undertow book review

In her second collection of poems, egg/shell, Victoria Kennefick showcases a capacity to navigate the near-impossible while maintaining her writerly composure

To say that John F Deane is an outlier in modern poetry is to understate the case. This generous selection of his work, Selected and New Poems (Carcanet, £16.99) does several things, but perhaps chief among them is to highlight his obsessions, his touchstones and totems, by gathering work from across his many books that demonstrates a striking coherence.

There’s his attempt to “Mine the religion of poetry” as a rejoinder against “our bully-boy modernity”, to “say, in music, what cannot be said”. His “loved dead” are often invoked, or summoned; there is a throughline of lyric symbolism in which foxes become stand-ins for the Christ figure to whom many of Deane’s pleas are addressed.

This is writing in the line of, and in communion with, figures such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is directly invoked at times and alluded to at others. Objects and creatures become portentously loaded: a red gate at home, say, or the various birds of the parish, and while Deane’s newer poems seem to be channelling the later Eliot in their philosophising out loud and their more prose-driven rhythms, consistency rather than change is the keynote here.

This can lapse into “a dry stillness” on occasion; one is reminded of Allen Tate’s criticism of Robert Lowell’s early religious poetry, that its lack of “concrete experience” could make it feel “angelic”. Deane’s faithfulness is felt most in irrefutably concrete moments, a “long-limbed bobby hairpin hanging loose” on his mother, or a memory of his grandmother: “In pages of the Irish Press/she wrapped away green Bramley apples for the winter”. It’s striking that the earliest work gathered here has an undertow of violence, cruelty even, which has been all but excised over his writing life. Instead of those clashing cymbals, much of the work selected here is more in tune with “the whistle-song of the entropy bird”.

Broken Archangel: The Tempestuous Lives of Roger Casement review

Broken Archangel: The Tempestuous Lives of Roger Casement review

Best new children’s fiction, from a fairy disguised as a rabbit to a boy who turns into a dinosaur

Best new children’s fiction, from a fairy disguised as a rabbit to a boy who turns into a dinosaur

Sinéad Gleeson: ‘If I go too long without writing I feel a bit off. I can’t imagine not doing it’

Sinéad Gleeson: ‘If I go too long without writing I feel a bit off. I can’t imagine not doing it’

Victoria Kennefick ’s second collection, egg/shell (Carcanet, £11.99), is split into two parts and features a wide array of forms, styles and angles of approach while pivoting around two central wounds. Both are seismic, wrong-footing and difficult to navigate; a series of miscarriages and a partner’s transition, occasioning a voice at once shocked and desperately mourning.

A question in the opening poem, Ram, is felt throughout – “who am I supposed to be in all this”. Kennefick’s answer is often one of almost overwhelming reasonableness, an attempt to meet difficult things with levity, patience and understanding, but the most successful work here is occasioned by rarer moments when this carapace cracks.

Kennefick leans on a few central tropes – swans become a sort of spirit guide or alternative persona for the narrator, while the eggs of the title become an – at times somewhat on the nose – surrogate for other types of frailty, or creation, sometimes seeing her give into a punning instinct which acts as a pressure release but can feel a tad throwaway: “can’t you see I’m already walking on eggshells?”.

It’s hard to avoid the sense that, at times, the book is as much a frieze of grief as anything else, a means of a poet coming to terms with things in real time. This can create a sense of implicating intimacy in the reader, but on occasion spills over into something slightly more uncomfortable, especially in moments of apparent self-loathing, or outright shame: “I will be crawling along those silken, parquet floors/like an animal on all fours, a runting thing, sliding,/under the artworks I do not deserve to observe”.

That said, Child of Lir is one example of several here where Kennefick’s capacity to navigate the near-impossible, while maintaining her writerly composure, allows the poem’s rigging to reorientate her in this new world.

Mícheál McCann’s debut collection, Devotion (Gallery Press, €12.95), is a stately book – courtly, even. At its centre is a sequence, Keen for A -, which takes as its basis the 18th-century poem Lament for Art O’Leary to construct an elegy for a dead lover that is at once stiff-backed but also deeply feelingful.

[  Lament for Art O'Leary: 250 years of Ireland’s touchstone love poem  ]

McCann’s language shows a rigorous control here, a somewhat timeless diction adding depth to the bereaved’s lament: “I knew then that I had discovered the name /of my destination, and would follow you there /along puddled roads and grassy paths /into the meadows in the south of the city”. It’s a wonderful act of reckoning up, of coming to terms with grief while exploiting the lyric poem’s potential for time travel, and resurrection, the possibility of blending tenses and summoning the dead allowing for a lurch of the heart and the false hope of return: “you will beat me home,/feet up, sun lightening your eyes.”

There are fine things elsewhere, too, a Bishop-esque study of romantic grooming, in this case a haircut rather than a shampooing, while Bishop is also alluded to directly in another act of historical ventriloquism, a version of a ninth-century Irish poem, Líadan Attests Her Love, in which One Art’s heart-rending imperative is co-opted: “ Write it! – He was my heart, a soft wind/through the hedge outside”. “I write the things I am trying to forgive”, McCann notes in Adoration (Rhesus Disease) and the collection as a whole has the authority of sadness, in Larkin’s phrase, but is usefully leavened by a dogged persistence and a somewhat belligerent wit.

It’s also imbued with a thwarted belief in words themselves, as shoddy but irresistible tools: “Were it that they/could save us, and were no momentary crossing to safety”.

Another debut, Gub (Corsair, £10.99) by Scott McKendry, is a different beast entirely, full of “Eejit” vernacular, swearing, lexical swanking, a cast of oddballs, alter-egos and even a spot of minor demonology. McKendry’s gathering principle might be summed up by a line from Five Little Terrorist Boys: “a motto (something hotly obscure) and a three-to-four letter acronym”.

Gub is a book that makes hay with in-jokes, arcana and a tethering together of seemingly unlikely bedfellows, cohering by nothing so much as linguistic brio and temperamental ebullience. An easy comparison might be made to Paul Muldoon, or to Ciaran Carson – who is the subject of a tribute poem, if not quite an elegy, Gubble, a poem that demonstrates his recognisable fondness for the music, and tang, of vowels and plosives: “At the kerbside, ogle/the grey smithereens and gore, gobshite, not the lore of yore./Do an Ulster virgo version of a bomb scar. Call it Gubernica”.

McKendry is a joyful liar, a storyteller and many of the poems occur “on the Paradise side of Commonplace” – reality is just as plastic as his syntax and lexicons, while some poems have the condensed pressure of short stories, particularly the grippingly claustrophobic, and barbed Snap. “Friday nights/is raptor stew” he writes in Keepers of the Pedigree and he has constructed here a world not so much recognisable in its terrain, or cast, as its pleasure principle, both in terms of the velocity of the poems’ movement and their encyclopaedic desire to get as much of the world in as possible, from the breakfast table to the briefly hallucinated.

In A Song for Gaud McKendry writes “life’s not synonymous with pain” and it’s this sense, of a kind of all-encompassing appetite, that marks him out as fine company, and a suitably irreverent antidote to some of contemporary poetry’s more well-mannered pieties.

Declan Ryan is a poet (Crisis Actor [Faber, 2023]) and critic

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COMMENTS

  1. Book Review: 'The Undertow,' by Jeff Sharlet

    THE UNDERTOW: Scenes From a Slow Civil War, by Jeff Sharlet. The premise of "The Undertow," Jeff Sharlet's anguished new book of reportage, is that the United States is "coming apart ...

  2. Book reivew: 'The Undertow' by Jeff Sharlet

    In 'The Undertow,' Jeff Sharlet examines the anger powering American politics today. Review by Adam Fleming Petty. March 21, 2023 at 12:19 p.m. EDT. Attendees at a rally in Latrobe, Pa., on ...

  3. 'I see this as a global fascist moment': author Jeff Sharlet on

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    Here, in the undertow, our forty-fifth president, a vessel of conspiratorial fears and fantasies, continues to rise to sainthood, and the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, killed on January 6 at the Capitol, is beatified as a martyr of white womanhood. Framing this dangerous vision, Sharlet remembers and celebrates the courage of those who sing a ...

  5. THE UNDERTOW

    A nonfiction book that explores the dark side of American politics and culture, focusing on the MAGA movement and its potential for civil war. The review praises the author's reporting and analysis, but questions his use of a song lyric as a metaphor.

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    The book then ends with a story about the short-lived 1950s folk group the Weavers and its booming big man Lee Hays. I met Sharlet one evening in New Hampshire, where he teaches at Dartmouth College.

  7. Jeff Sharlet on fascist extremism, his new book 'The Undertow'

    On the Shelf. The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. By Jeff Sharlet Norton: 352 pages, $29 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees ...

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    ― Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "A grim but necessary examination of democracy's potential assassins, leavened by Sharlet's incredible storytelling and acute observations." ― Booklist. About the Author. Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times best-selling author or editor of eight books, including The Undertow: ...

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    The Undertow. An Instant New York Times Bestseller. One of America's finest reporters and essayists explores the powerful currents beneath the roiled waters of a nation coming apart. An unmatched guide to the religious dimensions of American politics, Jeff Sharlet journeys into corners of our national psyche where others fear to tread. The ...

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    Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times best-selling author or editor of eight books, including The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, adapted into a Netflix documentary series. His reporting on LGBTIQ+ rights around the world has received the National Magazine Award, the ...

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  18. The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

    Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times best-selling author or editor of eight books, including The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, adapted into a Netflix documentary series.His reporting on LGBTIQ+ rights around the world has received the National Magazine Award, the Molly Ivins Prize, and Outright International's ...

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    Directed with pace by Natalie Ibu, it is a knowing period-modern mashup, joshing in tone and taking a risk in turning Charlotte into an unlikable, albeit brutally honest, anti-heroine.

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  29. New poetry: John F Deane; Victoria Kennefick; Mícheál McCann; and

    In her second collection of poems, egg/shell, Victoria Kennefick showcases a capacity to navigate the near-impossible while maintaining her writerly composure. Declan Ryan. Sun Apr 7 2024 - 05:00 ...