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Posts Tagged ‘Elena Ferrante’

That Was Not a Very Nice Thing to Do, and Other News

October 3, 2016 | by

From the cover of My Brilliant Friend.

  • Now, let’s divert our attention to a much less controversial story from the NYRB: Nathaniel Rich on George Plimpton. “The quintessential Plimptonian anecdote comes near the end of Paper Lion when, a year after leaving the team, he wistfully follows his old squad from afar. We find him in Bellagio, on Lake Como, chasing down a box score in a Paris Herald he has found at a waterside café. ‘When I read that the Lions had lost a game,’ he writes, ‘I rose in anguish out of my chair, absolutely stiff with grief, my knee catching the edge of the table as I came up, and toppling it over in a fine cascade of Perrier bottles’ … Philip Roth, in the extended appreciation of Plimpton that appears in Exit Ghost, identified the issue of social class as ‘the deepest inspiration for his writing so singularly about sports’ … But the technique only works because Plimpton hides this knowing quality from his readers. There is never a wink or nod in the direction of the premise’s artifice. A consummate straight man, he emphasizes how seriously he is taking matters.” 

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Is That All There Is?: An Interview with Stephanie Danler

May 24, 2016 | by

Stephanie-Danler_aup (1)

The first sentence of Stephanie Danler’s riveting debut novel is perhaps more an injunction than an imperative: “You will develop a palate.” Over the 355 pages of Sweetbitter, the narrator, twenty-two-year-old Tess, encounters a number of appetites. She arrives in New York City during the heat wave of 2006 and applies for a job at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant. The manager, a man, stares at her just a little too long—the black sundress, the pilled cardigan wet with sweat—and we sense that her education will soon begin. Oysters, Pinot Noir, lines of coke at the bar. “The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter.”  Read More »

Beware the Mean Beach Attendant, and Other News

March 21, 2016 | by

From the cover of Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

  • Our basketball columnist, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, has stepped over to The New Yorker to bid farewell to Kobe Bryant. And he’s a defender of Bryant’s poem-cum-retirement-announcement: “ ‘Dear Basketball’ was mocked by some, but it has more going on in it, from a literary perspective, than may be immediately clear. Not only is the narrative circular, with a changed perspective at the end, it’s also both an epistle and an apostrophe—a form of rhetoric in which the speaker addresses an inanimate object as though it’s a living thing. As both a basketball player and a personality, Bryant has always put extraordinary emphasis on the importance of craft. He has also always owed a debt to Michael Jordan, and this was the case here as well: Jordan, too, published an open letter to basketball in order to say goodbye to the game. But his was in prose.”
  • Today in parenting, Ferrante style: next year you can lull your sons and daughters to sleep with The Beach at Night, Ferrante’s new book, aimed at readers six to ten. It’s a sunny, feel-good story, suffused with light and hope: “The Beach at Night is a spinoff of The Lost Daughter, one of the author’s lesser-known early novels, in which a teacher goes on vacation in a coastal town and steals a doll from a child. In The Beach at Night, the doll isn’t stolen. Instead, she is abandoned by her young owner to face nighttime terrors such as the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset and his friend, the Big Rake … ‘A Beach Attendant arrives, I don’t like his eyes,’ the doll says, according to a sample translation … ‘He folds up the big beach umbrellas, the chaises. I see the hairs of his mustache moving over his lips like lizards’ tails.’ ”
  • Geoffrey H. Hartman, whose Criticism in the Wilderness took criticism perhaps farther afield than anything before it, has died at eighty-six. “In Criticism in the Wilderness, he argued that criticism should not only stand on an equal footing with literature but also be literature … In elevating criticism to the status of literature, Professor Hartman did not mean merely that it should be well written. What he also meant was that criticism should function for criticism’s sake alone. ‘The spectacle of the critic’s mind disoriented, bewildered, caught in some ‘wild surmise’ about the text and struggling to adjust—is not that one of the interests critical writing has for us?’”
  • Reminder: art and commerce don’t really “intersect” anymore. They’re running parallel toward the horizon, forever. Want to go the other way? You can’t. Just ask young artists: “A few years ago … if you were a creatively minded person, you might have become a sculptor or a painter. Now you are equally likely to become the founder of a tech startup, channeling your creative ideas and risk into what is, ultimately, a business … A lot of young startup people are viewing their companies as an artwork … I think the creativity involved in painting, say, and that of tech are getting closer. The incredible risk—with vision and values—that artists once represented is now embodied in these tech companies. That has a real resonance for me. People can make a beautiful business or a beautiful venture.”
  • What compels a writer to abandon one language for another? Beckett, Conrad, and Nabokov all traded one tongue for another: “Some do it because they are intoxicated by the possibilities offered in a new language—the words and turns of phrase for which their own language doesn’t have any equivalents, the strange new rhythms and patterns of sound … Yet the adoption of a foreign language isn’t just about looking for a fresh perspective. It can signal a vexed relationship with the original language; the psychological burdens of a writer’s previous texts, his literary reputation in that language, the entire tradition in which he is working … Writers rejuvenate themselves by fleeing to foreign tongues. They escape all the psychic associations that gather around a language and a literary tradition. In a sense, it’s an extreme cure for writer’s block.”

Twenty Brutal Years of Tuscan Sun, and Other News

March 14, 2016 | by

A still from the film adaptation of Under the Tuscan Sun.

  • Because people are incorrigibly nosy, and because no one seems to find it enjoyable to let an author write her books in peace, an Italian professor has sallied forth with yet another dubious claim as to the true identity of Elena Ferrante. And the professor’s guess isn’t very creative, either; it’s just another professor. “The latest writer forced to deny that she is the creator of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan novels is Marcella Marmo, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Naples Federico II. ‘Truly no, I am not Elena Ferrante,’ she told Corriere della Sera, saying she had only read the first novel in the Neapolitan series and the newspaper should give her the other books as an apology.”
  • Today in super: what a shitty word super is, with its grating long u, its relentless cheer, its strange ties to start-up culture. Teddy Wayne writes “Super followed by an adjective—in other words, in adverbial form—was more than five times as common from 2010 to ’12 as from 1990 to ’94, with the biggest leaps coming in the last decade … What was once reserved for the best, the most awe-inspiring and the wondrous is now routinely deployed for the mundane, the banal and the taste of fro-yo … It is a prefix for a wealth of hard math and science terms (such as superset or superstring theory). It can imbue a nebulous proposition with what sounds like data-tested objectivity: ‘We have implemented a superaccessible user database’ comes off as more authoritative or more high-tech than ‘We have implemented a very accessible user database.’ ”
  • Eileen Myles has become that strangest of subspecies, the famous poet. Arielle Greenberg wonders why Myles’s fame has itself garnered so much attention, and what it might mean for her work: “It is weird for a poet to be famous, and no one feels this weirdness more deeply than poets themselves. It’s even more weird for a poet to be newly more famous—genuinely, glossy-magazine famous—in her mid-sixties, after writing nineteen books … Why is the media so obsessed with Myles’s ascent into mainstream celebrity? I think a host of reasons are at play: the way Americans try to get ‘cultured’ by osmosis so that stylish articles about poetry make us feel more intellectual, the ‘bootstraps’ nature of Myles’s story, the novelty of someone who ran for president as a piece of performance art getting photographed for glossy magazines. I find myself thinking about a term used a lot in my circles in the early 1990s: co-opting. Back then, it seemed that everything authentic and revolutionary and vital—the riot grrl movement, grunge music, hip-hop—was quickly gobbled up by the establishment and spat back out in clean, shiny packages for mass consumption. I worry that the hoopla over Myles is an attempt by the media to take everything underground about her and her work and use it to make itself look cool.”
  • The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Cemetery of Splendor continues his long, oblique, quiet approach to political cinema, in which characters struggle to awake from the bland dream of history: “By far the most nakedly political film of Weerasethakul’s career, it is a gentle, open-hearted story of human connection, and it is underlain at every moment by rage and dread. Midway through the film, the two main characters, Jen and Itt, go to the movies. In a slick modern multiplex, they watch a trailer for a schlocky horror flick, a fevered montage of impalements, heaving breasts, and prehensile tongues. This sequence is as close to a direct statement of intent as you’ll ever find in a Weerasethakul film. Cemetery of Splendor has no gore, no bug-eyed demons or shrieking victims, and it makes time for flirtatious conversations with the local librarian, a long sales pitch for a miracle skin cream, and several public group workouts (a charmingly inexplicable staple of this filmmaker’s work). But it too is a horror movie, all the more unsettling for its poky, daylit geniality.”
  • It’s been twenty years since Under the Tuscan Sun was published, turning Tuscany into an unseemly pastiche of luxury and authentic European living. What have we done since? Jason Wilson explains: “I have sat on Tuscan-brown sofas surrounded by Tuscan-yellow walls, lounged on Tuscan patios made with Tuscan pavers, surrounded by Tuscan landscaping. I have stood barefoot on Tuscan bathroom tiles, washing my hands under Tuscan faucets after having used Tuscan toilets. I have eaten, sometimes on Tuscan dinnerware, a Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta from Wendy’s, a Tuscan Chicken Melt from Subway, the $6.99 Tuscan Duo at Olive Garden, and Tuscan Hummus from California Pizza Kitchen. Recently, I watched my friend fill his dog’s bowl with Beneful Tuscan Style Medley dog food. This barely merited a raised eyebrow; I’d already been guilty of feeding my cat Fancy Feast’s White Meat Chicken Tuscany. Why deprive our pets of the pleasures of Tuscan living?”

How Repulsive

February 10, 2016 | by

On the merits of disturbing literature.

Frederic Leighton, Study at a Reading Desk‎, 1877.

In a letter to a reader who was disturbed by his novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If [Malte] contains bitter reproaches, these are absolutely not directed against life. On the contrary, they are evidences that, for lack of strength, through distraction and inherited errors we lose completely the countless earthly riches that were intended for us.”

Faced with a reader like Rilke’s, it can be hard for a writer to defend the need for “bitter reproaches”—to uphold the disturbing above the merely distasteful. After all, some “disturbing” books do nothing more than shock. Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands, for instance, is a litany of gross and obscene bodily functions that never adds up to more than grossness and obscenity. But good books disturb for good reasons. To disturb is, among other things, to guard against complacency: to make the reader face the underbelly of dark thoughts and actions, see how circumstances can make even good people go astray if they are not vigilant in honoring the best in themselves and in the outside world. Disturbing passages, when skillful, make a vital inquiry into the subtle causes and effects of human behavior. Read More »

Impressive Propaganda, and Other News

February 10, 2016 | by

A book designed by Klaus Wittkugel on display at P! Gallery. Photo: Sebastian Bach

  • If you’ve been holding off on reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels because there’s, like, four of them, and that’s just kind of a lot of books, and you secretly don’t even really enjoy reading that often anyway, you’re in luck: they’re being adapted for television. “FremantleMedia’s Wildside and Fandango Productions will adapt the four novels as four eight-episode series, one for each of the books—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. And just in case you were worried, The Hollywood Reporter reports that Ferrante herself will be involved in the production of the series, and it will be shot in Italy.”
  • With his Jack Reacher thrillers, Lee Child writes what are certifiably—at least according to Forbes—the most addictive novels in all of commercial fiction. In this, Christopher Tayler writes, Child owes a debt to Donald Westlake, an earlier thriller writer with a formula that varied in intriguing ways: “Westlake was hailed as a master by John Banville and Stephen King, but he never troubled the bestseller lists, and it’s part of [his series protagonist] Parker’s charm that he’s a bit of a cult property, a creature of the drugstore paperback carousel rather than the airport bookstore … Luc Sante—who published one of the first serious appraisals of the Parker books in 1985—argues persuasively that the master theme of professionalism is as much writerly as criminal. Westlake said that he devised the series because he wanted to write about ‘a workman at work’, and the books offer a double lesson, showing not only, say, each step in the process of breaking though a Sheetrock wall with a claw hammer, but also how to turn the process into mesmerizing fiction.”
  • In the fifties and sixties, you couldn’t step into an East German bookstore (and clearly I speak from experience) without encountering the work of Klaus Wittkugel, one of the GDR’s most prominent graphic designers. A new exhibition in New York collects his striking book designs and propaganda posters. If you doubt his significance, just have a look at this unstinting praise from none other than the East German State: “For nearly every important political event in the history of our Workers’ and Peasants’ State, there exists an artistic statement by Wittkugel, who, through his work, has contributed considerably to the new orientation of our applied graphics.”
  • The author photo, once the foundation of any decent book-publicity campaign, has seen some changes in the Information Age—some might wonder if there’s really any reason for it at all anymore, when you just Google an author and find pictures by the dozen. But when Matthew Shaer saw Sven Birkerts’s author photo, he felt something different. “Its anomalousness shook me: If the vast majority of author photos fit into one of a handful of standard poses—the Fist-on-Chin (conveying thoughtfulness), the Stare-Out-Window (inner depth), the Icy Stare (strength), the Hearty Laugh (confidence!), etc.—here was an author photo that threw centuries of literary convention in our face. Here was a man who was not even fully dressed in his author photo.”
  • In which Alice Gregory ventures to the shadow of Geneva, with a friend and a ten-week-old baby: “Malka is in the other room pumping, ‘like a cow.’ She returns and tells me about a Scandinavian balloon that you insert into your vagina for ten minutes per day for the last month of pregnancy. If you do this, she promises, you won’t need stitches. Malka is full of advice that I don’t need but want anyway. We talk about lots of things up there in the mountains: Buchenwald, deviant sex, how Italians sound like roosters when they try to sing lieders. They use too many vocal effects, apparently. Or, as Malka says, ‘lots of cream all over.’ ”