REVIEW | ‘Perennials’: Mandy Berman’s stunning debut novel

American Summer camp seems to have acquired a mythical status. At some indeterminate point in recent history, the logistical convenience of sending children away to supervised camp grounds transcended its evolution out of necessity, and became a cultural touchstone. Best friends, first kisses, emotional awakenings, early sexual encounters… for so many, this is what Summer camp means. In Perennials, the debut novel of author Mandy Berman, this version of camp is explored in intimate detail. Through the eyes of campers, counselors, parents and managers, the reader experiences the lives of two girls, as defined by their Summer Camp experience.

Rachel and Fiona grew up seeing each other every summer at Camp Marigold. Fiona is an awkward and anxietous child of modest suburban privilege, and Rachel is the more daring, city-raised daughter of a single-mother. Now they return to Marigold as counselors on the verge of their twenties. Their relationship has grown more complicated since their youth, and they have difficulty reconciling their childhood friendship with the college age women they are now. The lens of the story jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint, and slowly we see their childhood mythicizing of camp-life melting uncomfortably in to the imperfections and tragedies of adulthood.

Author Mandy Berman

Berman’s command of prose is astounding. The more you read, the more difficult it is to believe that this is a debut novel. As she writes she appears to actively play with readers’ expectations. Her work lulls you into a false sense of complacency with a conventional lexicon and linear sentence structure, only to then rip the carpet out from underneath with a phrase or paragraph so devastatingly shaped and stylized that it demands to be read again and again for its sheer emotional purity.

“Perennials is a novel that simultaneously basks in the sunshine of its own glorious nostalgia and fumbles in the boat-shed with its seamier underside”

What is perhaps most striking is her use of perspective. Berman writes the novel in the empathic third person, allowing us a look into the minds and lives of somewhere in the range of ten different characters. Each of them is so wonderfully detailed, realized, and full of the aches and pains of life that, on first meeting them, you spend several pages convinced that you have finally stumbled upon the author-insert character. Only then do you remember that you have felt this way about every person this book has introduced you to. It is quite astonishing.

Clearly borne of real-world camp experience, Perennials is a novel that simultaneously basks in the sunshine of its own glorious nostalgia and fumbles in the boat-shed with its seamier underside. It alternately fills you with a youthful joy of life, and a wistful, all-too-present melancholy. Whether you remember your camp days, or are a stranger to the experience, this book will leave you believing that you too were once a thirteen year-old girl at Camp Marigold. Charged with hope, longing, an unexpected sensuality, and a bruised tenderness, Perennials is a book you should most definitely put near the top of your reading list.

‘Perennials’ will be in stores June 6th

GOV BALL | ​MICHAEL BLUME is loud, proud & ready to freak you out

There’s a fifty percent chance of rain this Friday but that doesn’t mean that the skies will be barren of soul: one of the folks kicking open the only New York music festival with a four course mini golf link will be New Jersey-native and man-bun enthusiast Michael Blume.

After graduating Yale with a degree with Latin American studies and spending some time in Brazil, Blume hoofed it to the soul-singing quarters of Harlem, where he decided to try his hand at that whole centuries of musical tradition they got going on there. Last year, he dished some of it out on When I Get It Right, his debut EP on S-Curve Records, a major label sticker famous for discovering “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Who let them out? Who, who?

A record of strung-out soul that has been favorably compared to British people like Sam Smith and James Blake, When I Get It Right is a five song collection of romantic agony and queer self-possession that threaten to overwhelm each other in a flurry of soul-pumped choruses and operatic lament. It’s the good stuff, surely, and Blume tells me that he’ll be at Randall’s Island with an eleven piece band of ” some of the baddest cats” in the city and ready to freak you out. Check out our conversation below.


POPDUST: Gov Ball! You’re playing it! What acts should we be excited to see besides yours?

MB: There are so many amazing acts this year. I’m definitely super excited for Chance. He’s just the man of the hour right now and I’m sure he will bring fire to the set.


“It’s definitely frustrating to combat that kind of subtle homophobia as folks consume my work”

PD: Something I really dug about your songs on When I Get It Right is the frankness you talk about gay sex. As someone who makes pop music, how do you reconcile writing songs for audiences with largely heteronormative expectations?

MB: This is such an awesome and refreshing question and I first have to thank you guys for asking a question like this. It reflects a bravery and depth on your part that not all publications have had when responding to my work. Thank you.

That aside, it’s definitely a tricky space for me to navigate. I’ve had a lot of people say to me “why do you haaaave to talk so much about sucking dick on the EP? We know your [sic] gay but isn’t enough enough?” And the truth is that I do mention sucking dick explicitly… On two out of six songs. I compare this to many albums by my straight contemporaries where song after song has a reference to pussy-this, booty and titties-that. So it’s definitely frustrating to combat that kind of subtle homophobia as folks consume my work. There is a tendency in our collective heteronormativity to silence/privatize gay experiences, and I actively aim to combat that.

Now, as far as audiences with heteronormative expectations, that work is on them. That’s not my problem. All I can do is talk about my experiences, some of which relate to sex with men. That said, the explicit references to sex are never meant to alienate my straight listeners. I think my experiences are totally relatable and I definitely drive to make my work at once honest and true to me but also connectable to others’ truths.

PD: The song, “Relationships” also uses a lot of gospel music choruses and you talk about a prophet in “Colors.” Do these religious references reflect any particular beliefs of yours?

MB: My religious beliefs are really a hodgepodge of different things. I was raised Jewish and definitely identify culturally and spiritually [with that], though I don’t practice Judaism in any traditional way. In college, I became very close with some Christian leaders on campus and became super into the idea of Jesus. The concept that there is one truth/love and he wants to accept us all no matter who we are — I love that! And then just humanism. Love each other be good, etc.

I’ve also done my share of hallucinogens and had some powerful spiritual experiences there as well. Other spiritually informing events: Sky-diving, international travel, the death of a close young friend.

All of these things have led me to recognize my own tinyness in the larger beauty of the universe. The prophet for me represents whatever it is – Jesus, spirit, power, God, Plants, The Mother. At the end of the day my relationship w her is very personal and not so much about a larger traditional religious narrative, but the point is that there is something bigger than me — bigger than all of us. And recognizing her and honoring her is essential to my work.

PD: In an interview you did on ABC, you identified as a “community facilitator and community leader first.” As a Harlem-based musician, how do you approach facilitating and leading a community many believe is undergoing rapid gentrification?

MB: I approach it by making honest music. The community I want to facilitate isn’t necessarily a geographic based one. I aim to facilitate a community of young thinkers and non-traditionalists. Folks that think about love and peace and respect and human dignity as central to the ways they build their own more discrete, and perhaps geographically specific, communities. I think my music gives members of this larger, less tangible community some skills — and perhaps more importantly, some questions — to bring to the table as they tackle difficult questions like gentrification.

PD: I also love that hat you’re wearing in that interview. Any outfits lined up for your Gov Ball debut? As a performer, what are your aesthetic inspirations?

MB: Not sure yet on the Gov Ball outfit! [But] I’m aesthetically inspired by so much. I love contradiction — it exists all around us all the time so I think honoring it is important. In terms of my style, that often ends up looking like mixing traditional with progressive, masculine with female, tight with lose.

PD: Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, can you talk about what drew you toward Latin American and, later, African-American-inspired music.

MB: I was a nerdy kid and became super interested in the Spanish language early on. I had a knack for languages and got pretty fluent in Spanish by the time I was 15 or 16, through watching a ton of Spanish TV and taking every chance I could to practice. This initial language interest lead me down to line to major in Latin American Studies.

The summer after 9th grade I did a program called Anytown. The program brought together high school leaders from all over NJ to do a week long workshop on diversity and identity. That week honestly changed my entire life and was the beginning of my interest in intersectionalism, identity politics, and activism. It informed my studies, it informed my music, it informed my coming out process. It just totally opened me up to diversity for diversity’s sake. In terms of Black culture, I’m a musician in America. American music is Black music so I would say anyone who listens to or makes American music is “drawn to black culture.”

PD: You’ve got a pretty early spot this Friday. Tell me why we should wake up that early.

MB: (laughs)

Damn. I mean, my set is poppin’. We make real music and tell real stories. I have an 11-piece band of some of the baddest cats in NYC. Promise ya it won’t be like anything else you’ve seen.

Ariana Grande taps Katy Perry, Justin Bieber & others for Manchester benefit concert

The lineup includes Miley Cyrus, Niall Horan and more.

In the aftermath of the tragic Manchester terror attack on May 22, pop star Ariana Grande has announced she will play a benefit concert on Sunday (June 4) to honor the victims and with proceeds going to a fund established by the British Red Cross and the city of Manchester. The concert, dubbed the “One Love Manchester,” will also feature performances by Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Pharell Williams, Niall Horan and Usher. Tickets go on-sale this Thursday (June 1), via Ticket Master.

The concert it slated to air live on BBC TV, BBC Radio and Capital Radio Networks. A streaming partner is expected to be revealed soon.

In a statement, via The Hollywood Reporter, Grande stated: “We won’t let this divide us. We won’t let hate win. Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before. From the day I started putting the Dangerous Woman Tour together, I said that this show, more than anything else, was intended to be a safe space for my fans. A place for them to escape, to celebrate. To heal, to feel safe and to be themselves. This will not change that.”

The terror attack was led by Salman Abedi, a British man of Libyan decent, who, reportedly, “used government dole-outs and low-interest education loan dollars” to launch his attack, as Washington Post reports. 22 people were killed in the attack and another several dozen severely injured. 14 people have, so far, been arrested in connection to the attack.

Following the tragedy, Grande took to Twitter to express her sorrow. “Broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words,” she tweeted. A few days later, she then posted a lengthy, heartfelt note, in which she avowed a return to the city soon. “My heart, prayers and deepest condolences are with the victims of the Manchester Attack and their loved ones,” she wrote. “There is nothing I or anyone can do to take away the pain you are feeling or to make this better. However, I extend my hand and heart and everything I possibly can give to you and yours, should you want or need my help in any way.”

“The only thing we can do now is choose how we let this affect us and how we live our lives from here on out. I have been thinking of my fans, and of you all, non stop over the past week. The way you have handled all of this has been more inspiring and made me more proud than you’ll ever now,” the superstar continued. “The compassion, kindness, love, strength and oneness that you’ve shown one another this past week is the exact opposite of the heinous intentions it must take to pull off something as evil as what happened Monday.”

She then aimed to rally the fans and the world, writing, “YOU are the opposite. I am sorry for the pain and fear that you must be feeling and for the trauma that you, too, must be experiencing. We will never be able to understand why events like this take place because it is not in our nature, which is why we shouldn’t recoil. We will not quit or operate in fear. We won’t let this divide us. We won’t let hate win. I don’t want to go the rest of the year without being able to see and hold and uplift my fans, the same way they continue to uplift me. Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before.

Continuing, she said, “I’ll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honor of and to raise money for the victims and their families. I want to thank my fellow musicians and friends for reaching out to be a part of our expression of love for Manchester.”

You can read the entire note below:

Popdust Monday Mix #12: Boston Calling

Another Boston Calling has come and gone.

This year’s iteration of the iconic Beantown festival was held at the Harvard Athletic Complex, and the weekend was packed with the best of the best in music from Icelandic icons Sigur Rós to Chance the Rapper and rising Brooklyn indie rockers Vundabar. Not to be eclipsed by the absolutely insane lineup, all three nights of the festival included comedy from the likes of Kelly Macfarland and Nick Chambers. There’s something to be said for a festival that has so much range of entertainment, that packs Coachella-levels of excitement into a comparatively smaller space.

Boston Calling has always held a special place in my heart: it was the first festival I attended by myself, the first time I ever had the honor of seeing Neutral Milk Hotel and The National live. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t go this year, but it was through Boston Calling that I got to see a very different, organized part of Boston’s music scene, and I got to see what the festival circuit is like up there. As a novice festival-goer at the time and someone who would go on to a career in the music industry, it was a formative experience.

If you’re like me, you really wish you could’ve gone. For those of you who are just as unlucky, the music writers and I have compiled a playlist of songs from our favorite musicians there; if you close your eyes, it’s almost like being there….right? Okay, maybe not, but it’s well-worth your time to skim through the musicians who played and seeing what they’re up to. Even New Yorkers like us can admit that our eternal rival city can put together a pretty bad-ass lineup.

Don’t forget to tune in next week for a new #MondayMix.


E.R. Pulgar is a music writer, poet, image-maker, and once cried reading Virginia Woolf. Follow him on Twitter.

REVIEW | “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” will succeed despite debut at Cannes Film Festival

Aliens, romance, punk-aesthetic: John Cameron Mitchell‘s latest really does have something for everyone, except maybe the critics at Cannes.

Being called the biggest “dud” at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival by some, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” brings Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman together in their second film of the festival to retell a classic Neil Gaiman story on screen (and by retell, I mean almost entirely adapt and expand).

Enn (a brilliant newcomer in Alex Sharp) and his friends are part of the punk-movement in England, but the awkward side of it. They have created their own zine and are perpetually trying to start their own band, that is when they aren’t working on trying to form relationships with girls — hence the film’s title. One evening, they stumble into what they believe to be a house party. It’s actually the temporary house for a number of alien colonies on their annual trip to earth.

COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Here, Enn meets Zan (Fanning), an alien not so thrilled with the restrictions of her colony. The two become rapidly smitten with one another. They even develop the same love of the punk scene together. However, complications arise when Zan is being forced back to her colony in order to save the dying species of aliens — something Enn and his friends mistake for a dangerous cult and employ their punk allies to help destroy (enter Kidman as the fierce leader of the punk music venue, Queen Boadicea).

This film is not a favorite of Cannes audiences for the reason that it is not doing anything grand or innovative. It fits in the mold of Mitchell’s past projects such as “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” with its elaborate exterior, making many feel disappointed in having waited seven years for Mitchell’s return to big-screen directing. Critics have also felt that it is too complicated to follow. Given the amount of confusing work I watched this year, those comments feel laughable.

COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Move beyond flashy exteriors and “How to Talk to Girls” is interested in showing us how we fall in love. Mitchell beautifully depicts this is numerous scenes between Zan and Enn, from their flubbed first kisses to their gallivanting around the rainy U.K. town, stealing bikes and throwing things at walls for fun. It’s blurry and nervous, and set to an appropriate-charged punk soundtrack background. It makes you feel in the way some of the open-spaces in other Cannes selections cannot. And despite the fact the characters and neither from the same time period, nor the same planet, as audiences, it still connects with us.

These feelings culminate in the final scene of the film, where Enn becomes a successful sci-fi writer (a la Neil Gaiman), and twenty years down the line is able to reconnect with the “children” he created with Zan when they visit earth — in this world, aliens become pregnant when they simply fall in love, and then start new colonies. Although Zan can never return, she sent their offspring with her regards, including one named after Enn. The smile on Sharp’s face will mimic yours, that is, if you have a heart to melt.

COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Beyond its bold hair and makeup, outrageous costumes, and odd alien premise, “How to Talk to Girls” works because of its ability to speak to a concern that all people face, apparently both in and out of the human world: the feeling of connecting with someone intensely, and the fear of having to give that up. It’s tackling love in the face of adversity. It’s discussing what it means to be different and sometimes that’s okay. Simply because it is doing it louder and with more overt feeling that many of the other films at Cannes should not discredit the body of the work as a whole.

It’s worth remembering here that the filmgoers at Cannes spend two weeks looking for something very specific, but moviegoers year-round are usually out for something more universal: the ability to feel something. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” will leave you with that, undoubtedly, starting with a tingling in your toes and going up to a warmth in your heart.

A24 is already planning a U.S. distribution of the film for later this year, ensuring there will be some life for “How to Talk to Girls” after France. I suggest you take a date and enjoy when it arrives in a galaxy near you.

A complete list of films that screened Out of Competition at the Cannes Film Festival is available on the festival’s website, as is a photo call with the team behind “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.”


Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. Follow her on Twitter.