Fiction and Drama
Kylie Wears Balmain
Behold, the whole of America
The summer passes in an ordinary way. Maria applies sunscreen on vacation in Montenegro. Nikki collects trash on a beach in Santa Monica. Megan ditches Brian to go it alone, she’s always been so independent. Sandra scores a superhot and supernormal boyfriend. Selena wears a vintage cotton scarf; Taylor wears a cotton crop top. Whitney uses an electronic kiosk at Best Buy. Kylie celebrates her birthday — she’s 18! — in a $9,000 Nicolas Jebran minidress. Kevin stretches his quadriceps before taking off on a run. Hope marries Robert at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy, as their 8-month-old son floats by on a cloud (thanks, Cirque du Soleil). Miranda replies to Blake on Twitter! Minka and Vanessa don the same striped off-the-shoulder midi from Reformation (it looks better on Vanessa). Michelle and Jonathan begin dating; they met through mutual friends. Kim wears custom Alexander Wang for an “LA art discussion.” Jenna and Henry welcome their new daughter, Poppy, her name the childhood diminutive of her great-grandfather George (yes, that George). Britney debuts her total body makeover (she still eats fast food!). Ben fucks the nanny, and Jen, “in shock,” escapes to Atlanta for downtime with friends.
Elsewhere, a woman is asked to leave her apartment. The landlords are expecting a baby. She relocates.
The woman’s new apartment is dark, dank: a basement with seven-and-three-quarter-foot ceilings. She decides she cannot stay for long. She unpacks only what she needs, leaves the rest in boxes, lives amid a maze of cardboard. She nurses a chronic cough. She reads the first thirty-seven pages of My Brilliant Friend and then she doesn’t read anything at all. She does her laundry obsessively, determined to exploit the apartment’s one redeeming feature, a washer-and-dryer set in her kitchen. (The buildings’ two other tenants use the appliances when she is not home.) She subsists on yogurt and teff and prepared salads she buys from LifeThyme after 9 PM when the food bar is half price. She goes to bed late and wakes at 6 AM when an alarm clock sounds in the apartment upstairs, and then again every eight minutes until her neighbor stops hitting snooze. This goes on for weeks, then months. She already has two jobs; still, it is clear that she needs to make more money. She is tired of moving, and she is tired of being broke. She devises a plan. She applies to work at The Magazine.
For the initial interview she faces S., who is research chief of The Magazine. They sit in a glass-paneled conference room at a wood table built for thirty. The table is a dark reddish brown. It reminds the woman of the kitchen and bathroom cabinetry in the cheap renos she has visited throughout Brooklyn. CNN plays on mute on a large flatscreen television suspended from the ceiling. (Breaking: Twenty-two firefighters free an unnamed student from a marble vagina sculpture in Germany.) S. examines her CV, says, “The work here can be slow, and there is a lot of downtime. Are you sure this is for you?”
Downtime appeals to her. The woman also likes the job title she will have: researcher. She thinks it has an eminent quality.
The woman takes the job. As she is leaving, S. hands her a copy of the most recent issue of The Magazine.
At home, now, the woman takes The Magazine from her bag. She pages through it. There are many pictures. Words take up less space. The woman has seen many of the people in The Magazine before — that is, she has seen their images before. These people are real insofar as they exist in the “real world.” The woman had vaguely understood that this world consisted of Los Angeles and New York and sometimes London or the finer beaches of continental Europe. But there are new cities she did not expect: Tontitown, Arkansas; West Monroe, Louisiana; and Anderson, Indiana.
The stories in The Magazine are about a certain set of people doing things. The stories are also about how these people look while doing these things. More precisely, they are about how these people look when photographed doing these things. There are more women than men, and they look really good, usually — their skin luminous, their hair lustrous, their shapewear flattening in all the right places. And if they don’t look good then the fact that they don’t look good is (at least part of) the story.
When the woman was young, her mother subscribed to a magazine that was like this magazine but not this one. Her mother kept it in her room, on her nightstand, to read before bed. The woman, then a girl, never went looking for the magazine, having resolved somewhere around the age of 11 or 12 to be the kind of person who would care only about “important” things. Probably she just wanted to be different from her parents. As she grew older, the feeling stayed the same.
But here, looking through The Magazine, she worries this may have been a mistake. Behold, inside, the whole of America: fashion knockoffs, “diets that work,” stratified wealth, divorce, couture latex, infidelity, single moms, contouring, God, fame, infamy.
She thinks, All I have to do is check the facts.