The Daily

Our Daily Correspondent

Heartbreak

March 3, 2015 | by

Its legacy lives on.

One day, when I was around fourteen, my dad was invited to a black-tie fund-raising dinner. And so he broke out the tuxedo my mom had found for him at the Salvation Army and clipped on his bow tie, and took the Metro-North into Manhattan. He returned bearing gifts: the favor bag included a cookbook of light French cuisine and a gadget that was the most wonderful thing we had ever seen.

It was a wine stopper. Two, actually, identical to each other. Its bottom section was conical, covered in rubber, and its top was a large metal heart. It was indisputably ugly, we all agreed—but how ingenious! My mom was delighted. “If we have leftover wine,” she explained, “we won’t need to jam the cork into the bottle, or use tinfoil.” (Screw-tops were still a novelty in the midnineties.) What a marvel of thrift and engineering! Read More »

The Revel

Atticus Lish Wins Plimpton Prize; Mark Leyner Wins Terry Southern Prize

March 3, 2015 | by

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Left, Atticus Lish; right, Mark Leyner

Each year, at our Spring Revel, the board of The Paris Review awards two prizes for outstanding contributions to the magazine. It is with great pleasure that we announce our 2015 honorees.

The Plimpton Prize for Fiction is a $10,000 award given to a new voice from our last four issues. Named after our longtime editor George Plimpton, it commemorates his zeal for discovering new writers. This year’s Plimpton Prize will be presented by Hilary Mantel to Atticus Lish for his story “Jimmy,” from issue 210—an excerpt from his novel Preparation for the Next Life

The Terry Southern Prize is a $5,000 award honoring “humor, wit, and sprezzatura” in work from either The Paris Review or the Daily. Perhaps best known as the screenwriter behind Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, Terry Southern was also a satirical novelist, a pioneering New Journalist, and a driving force behind the early Paris Review. This year’s prize will be presented by Donald Antrim to Mark Leyner for “Gone with the Mind,” a story from our new Spring issue.

Hearty congratulations from all of us on staff!

(And if you haven’t bought your ticket to attend the Revel—supporting the magazine and writers you love—isn’t this the time?)

At Work

The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by

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Photo courtesy of the author.

There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”

The vitality of Barrett’s prosethe special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town lifehas already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fictionlike the community it describescan develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”

Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?

I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »

On the Shelf

Operation Keep Faulkner Sober, and Other News

March 3, 2015 | by

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William Faulkner, in 1954, in a portrait by Carl Van Vechten.

  • After Faulkner won the Nobel Prize, he was a hot commodity abroad—he traveled to many foreign lands to bang the drum for the U. S. of A., which would’ve been fine, had he not been such a lush. The State Department circulated a memo called “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad,” designed to help agents curb Faulkner’s drinking. Their advice ranged from the obvious (monitor his liquor cabinet) to the subtle: “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up.”
  • Twenty-five years late, a novelist has at last completed and delivered her tenth-grade term paper on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Her (perhaps convenient) conclusion: it’s about shame. “Like Tess, I spent a lot of time waiting to be found out: I worried that my adolescent failures would be exposed and that people would lose respect for me. Or love me less … Shame depends on an audience, and those who are ashamed become overly self-conscious. I’m aware, even now, of compensating for past mistakes.”
  • Why are there so many more aspiring writers than aspiring readers? “I try to take a philosophical, and I hope empathetic, view of it all. I mean, we’re all going to die, and we have a short time here on earth, and we all want to achieve distinction of some sort while we’re here. Meanwhile, we all have Microsoft Word installed on our desktops. We all already spend a lot of time typing. One way to leave one’s mark would be to, say, write a great symphony, but most people don’t know how to read music. Whereas more or less everyone does have the means to put down words on a page and save them and share them. That’s a great thing—I’m all for technology eliminating barriers to communication and expression—but it can lead to delusions. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it worth reading. And it’s depressing when people forget that you can’t be a good writer without first being a good reader.”
  • Paul Beatty has an enviable gift: he “can turn a sacred cow into hamburger with just one sentence.” His new novel The Sellout takes on race in America, sparing “no person or piety”: “The only tangible benefit to come out of the civil rights movement,” he writes, “is that black people aren’t as afraid of dogs as they used to be.”
  • René Magritte, comedian: “It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes … relying upon a simple (almost mathematical) function, like reversal or negation.”

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From the Archive

The Art of Revelry

March 2, 2015 | by

We’re gearing up for our Spring Revel here at the Review. Variously described as “the best party in town” and “prom for New York intellectuals,” it’s a tradition that stretches back … well, tens of years. In that time, archival evidence suggests, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. The fifth revel, for example, in 1969, was held on the grounds of an abandoned church on Roosevelt Island (then known as Welfare Island). It did not go as planned. As George Plimpton later recounted, “Two pianos placed out in a grove of trees were destroyed in a late night rainstorm; almost all the profits from the revel were paid to a piano rental company. The final tally showed that proceeds turned over to the magazine amounted to fourteen dollars.”

Thirty years ago, though, the revel finally became the serious, unmistakably sophisticated affair that it remains today. In our Spring 1985 issue, Plimpton et al enlisted Roz Chast to help dream up a few concepts that could really guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime Revel experience. They were riffing on the theme of “Great Moments in Literature.” Here are three of their proposals: Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

Folk Wisdom

March 2, 2015 | by

Unalion

Briton Rivière, Una and Lion, nineteenth century.

“In like a lion, out like a lamb” has always seemed a straightforward enough proverb: when March starts, it’s still winter, and by the end of the month spring has begun. True, in many climates the weather hasn’t quite reached the lamb stage by the end of the month—it’s more like a surly cat, maybe, or one of those awful territorial honking geese. But we get the idea. I have seen the phrase referred to as an “eighteenth-century saying” in more than one unreliable Internet source, while Wikipedia calls it “an old Pennsylvania” saw.

As it turns out, there are a few origin theories. There’s the stars, for one. At this time of year, Leo is the rising sign; by April, it’s Aries. (“Kid” just doesn’t have quite the same ring as “lamb,” though.) Some have pointed out that Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah. Which, weather-wise, means a false spring. Read More »