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Posts Tagged ‘Donald Antrim’

Coming Soon: More Vengeful Deities, and Other News

November 13, 2014 | by

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The wrath of God.

  • Everyone’s going nuts for Serial, an impeccably reported (and very self-aware) true-crime podcast spun off from This American Life. But Janet Malcolm was up to something similar many decades ago, wasn’t she?
  • Then again, this should come as no surprise. “Hasn’t it all been done before? Perhaps better than anyone today could ever do it?” Why should any of us bother with the new when so much of the old is out there waiting for us?
  • Actually, why should any of us leave our houses at all? We’re just going to encounter the absurd—a bunch of loony scholars, for instance, tooling around town with a life-size statue of Jane Austen in tow …
  • And even the best literature offers no respite from the absurd and the terrifying. Quite the opposite. “In August a man in the Bronx tied a chain to a pole, wrapped it around his neck, got behind the wheel of his Honda and stepped on the accelerator. The chain severed his head from his body, which crashed through the windscreen and landed on the street when the Honda slammed into a parked car … It put me in mind of a passage early in Donald Antrim’s first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.”
  • But it’s all right. As the world grows more confused and tempestuous, we’ll at least find ourselves with more righteous, awesome, angry gods. A new study finds that “belief in moralizing high gods is ‘more prevalent among societies that inhabit poorer environments and are more prone to ecological distress’ … In societies that exist in places with violent monsoon seasons or periods of extreme drought, cooperation is more important than it is in temperate areas … And what better way to promote cooperation and fair play than the idea of an all-seeing god who demands it?”

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Staff Picks: Thirteen Days, One Hundred Brothers, Five Cars

October 3, 2014 | by

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“We build excitement”: a still from an oddly captivating old Pontiac ad.

The latest issue of Guernica includes Richard Price’s tragic history of New York public housing; he begins in a state of noble objectivity and then goes brilliantly, subjectively off the rails, telling of his own childhood in the north Bronx’s Parkside Houses: “The women played gin rummy, mahjong, coming to each other’s apartments in quilted housecoats and curlers, clutching vinyl-covered packs of Newports and Winstons. Many a kid, myself included, fell asleep to the clack of ivory tiles or the riffle of cards, nodded off to a non-stop soundtrack of laughter, blue language, and hacking coughs coming from the game in the dinette, our bedrooms comfortingly wreathed in cigarette smoke.” From here, he tells what should be a familiar story uniquely well—how the projects, one of the early triumphs of city governance, went from having a waiting list of 160,000 families to serving as a symbol of “the truly hopeless and disenfranchised.” —Dan Piepenbring

Editors are often asked to describe, in a word or two, what kind of fiction they like. I’ve never known what to say—but “low concept” would be a start. The less describable a novel is, the less it depends on a premise, the more apt I am to like it. This makes it hard for me to recommend Donald Antrim’s 1997 novel The Hundred Brothers. It really is about one hundred brothers (Phil, Angus, Walter, Virgil, Barry, Seamus, Arthur, and ninety-three more) who gather in the vast library of a crumbling estate to work out their sibling rivalries and put their father’s memory to rest. The strange thing about the book, or really, one of the many strange things about it, is how cinematic it is. It’s incredible that dozens of middle-aged white guys making small talk and waiting for cocktails could leap so vividly to life, in just two hundred pages, or descend so concretely into mayhem.  —Lorin Stein

Once this unseasonably warm weather comes to an end, I look forward to using my oven again. Treacle tart in particular holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first dessert I ever baked—which is fitting, because “Treacle,” by the Liverpudlian Paul Farley, is the first poem in recent memory to stick solidly in my mind. Farley has gained a steady following in the UK, but remains virtually unknown in America, where only one volume of his work has been published. This will come as a surprise when you hear him read this haunting poem. His appropriately chewy diction leaves me awed and disturbed; he describes that chilling moment when you “lever the lid” of a tin of treacle and “it opens with a sigh / and you’re face-to-face with history.” —Charles Shafaieh
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Double the Pleasure

September 22, 2014 | by

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New York: this week, you can catch our editor, Lorin Stein, in conversation with two great writers, at two different independent bookstores, on two separate occasions.

First, on Wednesday at seven thirty, he’ll talk to Donald Antrim at Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore, about Antrim’s new story collection, The Emerald Light in the Air: “No one writes more eloquently about the male crack-up and the depths of loneliness,” says Vanity Fair, “than Donald Antrim; the stories in The Emerald Light in the Air, hopscotching between the surreal and ordinary, comic and heartbreaking, are dazzling.”

Then, on Thursday at seven, join us at McNally Jackson, where Lorin and Ben Lerner will discuss the latter’s new novel, 10:04, which Maggie Nelson has called “a generous, provocative, ambitious Chinese box of a novel … a near-perfect piece of literature, affirmative of both life and art.”

We hope to see you there!

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Antrim Returns, and Other News

September 18, 2014 | by

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  • John Jeremiah Sullivan on Donald Antrim and his new collection of short stories, The Emerald Light in the Air: “That last story [‘The Emerald Light’] does something special, something very quiet that demands extremely close brushwork, something that exceedingly few writers can do … The technique is one of illusion and happens at the level of the text itself. It’s a way of rendering permeable the surface lens that divides the underworld of fantasy from the ‘painful realism’ hovering above it, so that writer and reader at moments seem joined in not being totally certain whether what’s happening on the page should be taken literally and naturalistically or as mythical, otherworldly.”
  • “It is almost unheard-of for the same writer to have a byline on the lead item in rival newspapers. But it has happened in Britain today—to a man who last picked up his pen in 1796.” (Hint: think New Year’s Eve.)
  • Apple’s iOS 8 includes QuickType, a predictive typing feature that suggests words you might want to type next. Followed to its extremes, it takes one’s sentences to strange and arguably poetic lands: “I have a great way of saying the government has ordered a pizza./ Yes, you do that for the rest of the day before I go to sleep.”
  • Ben Lerner and Ariana Reines in conversation: “For me, the cow is a real modernist figure. I feel like after God died, the cow became the onlooker in great works of modernism. It’s the witness in Joyce, it shows up again and again—for me, it’s like the residue of the divine in the twentieth century.”
  • In the eighties, Michael Chabon had a punk band in Pittsburgh. They were called the Bats. One of his bandmates said, “I just remembered being very impressed with his stage presence, like he’d been waiting all his life to do this.”

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What We’re Loving: Antrim, Glynn, a Massive Sugar-Woman

May 16, 2014 | by

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Kara Walker, A Subtlety

In the last few years one of my favorite novelists, Donald Antrim, has devoted himself to short stories—not as finger exercises, but with a combined intensity, delicacy, and feeling for tradition that set him apart from any writer of his generation. This morning I finished the galleys of his long-awaited collection, The Emerald Light in the Air, and immediately started reading them again. What is it about Antrim? He writes as if prose were his native language: his sentences have the matter-of-fact pathos and absurdity of dreams. Also, they are often very funny: “An Actor Prepares” remains, after fifteen years, one of the funniest short stories I have ever read. Nowadays the comedy is quieter and darker, with protagonists who struggle to remain within the ranks of the worried well. It’s all up-to-the-minute (you could write a paper about the evolution of cell phones in Antrim’s work), but his themes are the Chekhovian classics—ambivalence toward the life at hand; yearning for the life that might have been—and he evokes unhappy love with a sensuousness and a subtle, plausible magic that recall Cheever at his best. —Lorin Stein

Go see Kara Walker’s massive installation, “A Subtlety,” at the doomed Domino Sugar Factory. The space was once a warehouse for unrefined sugar that arrived from the Caribbean. Now, the air is sticky with molasses; it drips from the ceiling, staining the floor and the factory’s newest resident, a thirty-five-foot sugar-woman in sphinx form, naked but for a headscarf and some earrings. She presides over thirteen boys of molasses and resin who labor on the concrete. And she watches, and whatever she’s watching seems not in this room, seems elsewhere, ahead and behind and beside us. —Zack Newick

Since the death of Thomas Glynn earlier this month, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of sorts: I’ve tried to locate many of the author’s obscure works, including an 1,800-page unpublished manuscript on the first 150 years of the Dannemora prison, a much shorter history of New York State, an array of short stories, and the occasional essay (don’t miss this great 1975 profile of Frank Zappa from Modern Hi-Fi & Music). Glynn self-published A Child’s Christmas in Chicago in 2002, and while the title may come across as more sentimental than most of Glynn’s oeuvre, think twice after reading the novel’s opening line: “Hey, it’s Christmas for Christ’s sake.” With a touch of the raconteur Jean Shepherd and the voice of a young Gulley Jimson, the story is a mix of oddball characters, whimsy, and the kind of heartbreak that only the Christmas season can bring. —Justin Alvarez

It can be a real relief to read something that isn’t stylized, or even something badly written, after reading Proust, which I have been doing on and off this week. In his excellent essay on volume three of Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, Ben Lerner celebrates Knausgaard’s unquotability and his sloppiness. Moreover, Lerner provides the best answer I’ve yet read on what Knausgaard’s writing does to us, and why we’re so obsessed with it, why “we can read it compulsively while being uncertain if it’s good.” —Anna Heyward Read More »

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Youth, Eternal Life, and Other News

March 19, 2014 | by

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Garuda, the “vahana” of Vishnu, returning with a vase of Amrita, a nectar thought to bestow immortality. A drawing by an unknown artist, ca. 1825.

  • Some writers—the white male ones, mostly—expect to attain immortality through their work. Others simply write about eternal life.
  • And others still must wait for the afterlife for their work to get the attention it deserves. Walter Benjamin, for instance, was “all but forgotten in the years leading up to his death … his name had been kept alive by a small number of friends and colleagues, the kind of trickle of a readership that hardly suggested he would one day be counted among the most significant and far-ranging critics, essayists, and thinkers of the past 100 years.”
  • But the ebb and flow of critical reputation is almost a given these days, when we’re always developing provocative new rubrics with which to classify our writers. E.g.: “As novelists spend much of their day watching the grass grow, it is only logical that they can be defined according to their landscaping technique. Thus Donald Antrim is a push-mower novelist, while Rachel Kushner is a ride-mower novelist.”
  • There were not always “teenagers.” A new documentary examines the peculiar history of the concept, which was “the result and invention of adolescent girls … There is a kind of sexist quality to it as well, a crucifixion of the young female figure.”
  • As Ukraine becomes the nexus of geopolitics, pickup artists worry about the implications for getting laid. Would EU membership make Ukrainian women more independent, and thus more difficult to seduce? “Kiev’s pussy paradise potential has been permanently damaged … It’s very sad.”

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