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Posts Tagged ‘David Vann’

Campy Fiction; Smoking Strictures

March 9, 2012 | by

Watching a marathon of Twin Peaks has gotten me thinking about camp. There are movies and television shows that we delight in, and discuss seriously, though the content may not be “serious.” What can be said about campy contemporary fiction? Please give me a list of fabulous, outlandish books, preferably with a narrator who will repulse and delight me all at once. Something bad, but well-written.

Delight may not be the operative word, but David Vann’s new novel, Dirt, is outlandish, repulsive, well-written, and utterly over the top. (In one climactic scene, the teenage hero imprisons his mother in a toolshed after she threatens to have him arrested for the statutory rape of his cousin.) True to its title, the book is down and dirty. I am not sure whether the camp is intentional—but then I often suspect that many of the best “camp” artists, as for instance Lynch and Almodóvar, do mean it. Their sincerity is their power.

If you’re looking for high camp—without the Sturm und Drang—it doesn’t get campier than James McCourt’s 1971 send-up of the opera world, Mawdrew Czgowchwz (pronounced “Mardu Gorgeous”). And if soap opera’s more your speed, try Cyra McFadden’s 1977 The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County.

Dear Lorin,

I've recently moved to Manhattan only to learn that I am actually a ghost—that I am, apparently, an apparition. Needless to say, this discovery has been rather disconcerting, but my chief worry is that the recent strictures regarding smoke in apartments and Central Park will cause me rapidly to be evicted from my apartment, and possibly excommunicated from the city outright. I have it from trusted sources that you are at once smoking, wispy, and nebulous—indeed, altostatus cumulus—and yet you seem to face little threat from the law. Lorin, my friend, how do you do it?

Spiritedly,
Spook

Dear Spook,

My secret is I don't smoke very much. It's bad for you! It's probably even bad for ghosts ...

To the wise members of The Paris Review,

The only poem I have ever memorized was for Spanish class in ninth grade. It is time to add to the repertoire, but which poem do I choose? I imagine that it would be a comfort—something inspiring about living, loving, the natural ups and downs of being human. Perhaps something about choices, or appreciation. Not too long or too short. Something to share when the moment is right, or something to keep to myself, to repeat in a chant-like form on long runs through the woods. I maintain full confidence in your advice.

Sincerely,
Julia

Dear Julia,

Once my friend Cary and I had a poem-memorizing contest. He memorized poems by Richard Hugo. I memorized poems by Keats. Each poem had to be longer than fourteen lines, and each of us had to pay the other a dollar for every line we muffed. My favorite of the poems I learned is the “Ode on Melancholy,” which I think may fit the bill. At least, I go around repeating it to myself in low moments, and it seems to do the trick. (Note that the word globed should be pronounced with two syllables.) Read More »

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David Vann on ‘Caribou Island’

February 10, 2011 | by

Photograph by Diana Matar.

David Vann’s Caribou Island is my favorite novel of the past few years. I read it last summer for possible excerpt in The Paris Review. It’s the story, set against the striking landscape of the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, of Irene and Gary, whose thirty-year marriage is collapsing. The story is disturbing; I read it quickly, consumed. I loved the book so much that I was reluctant to see that an excerpt wasn’t working. The story was so powerful as a whole—it was irreducible. I recently had the chance to talk to Vann.

You alternate between characters’ points of view, and between their stories. How did the shape of the book come about?

None of it was planned. I was writing seven days a week, a few pages every day, and those were where the chapters ended. It really was such a blind process writing the book. I didn’t know each day what the characters would do or say; I didn’t know when a chapter would end; I didn’t know what the next chapter would be or where it was headed. And so with each chapter, I felt like it had come to where it closed, and then each time, luckily, there was some clear sense of where to go next.

How long did the book take to write?

Five and a half months.

Wow.

I started it fourteen years ago when I finished Legend of a Suicide, and I only got forty-eight pages in, and then I just couldn’t figure out how to write a longer arc. I didn’t know whose story it was or where it was supposed to focus, so I put it away. That’s when I went to sea and became a captain and wrote A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea. I couldn’t get Legend of a Suicide published, so I pouted for a while and didn’t write for five and a half years. Not writing was partly pouting and partly because I was stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to do a novel. And I felt like my brain wouldn’t do a longer arc. But in January 2009, I was walking on Skilak Lake, walking out across the frozen lake toward Caribou Island, and I felt like I could see all of it. It seemed really clear that Irene had to be the focus, she had to be the main character right from the start, and that the story had to begin really late, and that their marriage would already be in trouble. The whole thing would feel like the final sequence in that way. I think that was why it was easy to get from chapter to chapter and why they’re fairly short and quick, as if they’re really all the final sequence.

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Staff Picks: David Vann, Chip Kidd, James Salter

January 21, 2011 | by

Last spring our former managing editor and I spent weeks poring over David Vann’s first novel, Caribou Island, when it was in manuscript, trying to find an excerpt we could publish in The Paris Review. Caribou Island is tough, funny, sad, scary, and hard to put down. It has haunted me ever since. The bad news (for us) was that the whole novel is so much of a piece, we couldn’t tease out one strand. The good news is that now the book is out: You can read the whole thing yourself. —Lorin Stein

I love paging through Chip Kidd: Book One, a designer’s history as told through book jackets. Visually stunning, it offers the stories behind the making of some very iconic covers. One of my favorites is a rejected cover for The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, featuring a large, black square. “I thought it was kind of cute—in an angsty, despairing, Nietzschean sort of way,” Kidd says. —Kate Guadagnino

Encountering James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime for the first time is like finally springing for that Cabernet your friends have been praising for years and knowing from the first sip the bottle will disappear much too quickly. The novel unfolds in a series of seductions familiar in their outline—lovers, friends, even France itself—but in such exquisite prose that reading each page is to suffer the pleasure of an affair that must end in the morning. Witness the treatment even of a momentary character: “She has been a famous actress, I recognize her. The debris of a great star. Narrow lips. The face of a dedicated drinker. She constantly piles up her hair with her hands and then lets it fall. She laughs, but there is no sound. It’s all in silence—she is made out of yesterdays.” Wow. —Peter Conroy

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