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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

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 »

Now in Bloom: Our Spring Issue

March 2, 2015 | by

212The cherry blossoms on the cover of our new Spring issue augur the end of winter—even if they’re made of paper. They’re part of a portfolio by Thomas Demand, accompanied by poems from Ben Lerner.

We also have the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, on the art of fiction:

As a girl—twelve, thirteen years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me … At fifteen I began to write stories about brave girls who were in serious trouble. But the idea remained—indeed, it grew stronger—that the greatest narrators were men and that one had to learn to narrate like them … Even when I wrote stories about girls, I wanted to give the heroine a wealth of experiences, a freedom, a determination that I tried to imitate from the great novels written by men.

And Lydia Davis, on her approach to the short story, to translation, and to naming:

I’ve always felt that naming was artificial. I’ve done it. I wrote about one woman and called her Mrs. Orlando, because the woman I based her on lived in Florida. Recently I wrote a story called “The Two Davises and the Rug” because I have a neighbor named Davis and he and I were trying to decide which one should end up with a certain rug, and I was very fond of using that name, even though it wouldn’t make much difference to anybody if I called it “The Two Harrises and the Rug.”

Plus, Hilary Mantel discusses her Cromwell books and the difference between historians and novelists:

Nobody seems to share my approach to historical fiction. I suppose if I have a maxim, it is that there isn’t any necessary conflict between good history and good drama. I know that history is not shapely, and I know the truth is often inconvenient and incoherent. It contains all sorts of superfluities. You could cut a much better shape if you were God, but as it is, I think the whole fascination and the skill is in working with those incoherencies.

There’s new fiction by Angela Flournoy, Ken Kalfus, and Mark Leyner, the winner of this year’s Terry Southern Prize; a novella by James Lasdun; and poems from Charles Simic, Peter Gizzi, Major Jackson, Stephen Dunn, Susan Stewart, Shuzo Takiguchi, Craig Morgan Teicher, and Sarah Trudgeon.

Mel Bochner, who designed a cover for the magazine back in 1973, is back with a portfolio of thesaurus paintings. And last, there’s “Letter from the Primal Horde,” an essay by J. D. Daniels about a fateful experience at a group-relations conference.

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Hey, I Got You This Meaningless First Edition, and Other News

February 19, 2015 | by

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From The Boy Next Door.

  • Feeling anxious? Depressed? Full of foreboding? Use fiction to overmaster your fears, and experience instant results. “In my books I get to create anxiety on my own terms. I can moderate fear and pass it on to other people. This creative, oddly communal form of anxiety feels very different from the kind I have in the back of my mind always—the fear about what will happen to my sight. There is something delicious—that’s the only word I can use to describe it—about recreating apprehension on the page.”
  • Jennifer Lopez’s terrible new movie The Boy Next Door has inspired a misguided quest for first editions of the Iliad. “Lopez plays a divorced English literature high school teacher who has a one-night stand with her younger neighbor played by Ryan Guzman. In one scene, Guzman’s character gives Lopez a copy of The Iliad, which is described as a ‘first edition’ and apparently found for ‘a buck at a garage sale.’ ” Problems: no one knows for certain when the Iliad was even written. It was passed down by oral tradition first. It’s at least three thousand years old. It wasn’t composed in English for first publication in a handsome hardcover.
  • On André Brink, a South African novelist who died last week: “Brink could write in a blocky, slightly cumbersome way, and some of his overlong later novels needed more editing. But the combination of his moral vision, psychological acuity, and insistent narrative force puts him, in my mind at least, in the company of Theodore Dreiser and Russell Banks.”
  • I’m not sure if Victoria Sambunaris’s pictures amount to “a photographer’s version of the Great American Novel,” as the headline says they do—but they’re an affecting record of an American phenomenon: “the recurring sprawl of massive development and junctures where nature meets culture unexpectedly and surprisingly sublimely.”
  • Supposedly, we’ve entered a new golden age for television, and for architecture, and some might say even journalism—what about art? “This is how we know precisely that we’re not in any Golden Age for visual art: There’s the spectacle of obsessive, laser-like bidding on lonely, singular canvasses by the few, but no broadly shared delight and conversation. ‘Excess of excellence’ or ‘intellectual credibility’ wouldn’t exactly be the first words from anyone in Contemporary art describing their own field, much less Miami art fairs.”

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My Mother Taught Me

February 18, 2015 | by

A poet’s misadventures in erotica.

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GILBERT

I’ve written prose. I’ve written several novels that no one has seen. Well, one was published.

INTERVIEWER

My Mother Taught Me, an erotic novel, wasn’t it? 

GILBERT

It’s about sexuality. You have to understand, people were writing sex books but no one was writing them well. I thought pornography should be as much of a genre as cowboy stories. But pornography is boring. Childish. Unhealthy. I thought, Why not have a novel of sexuality that’s not paralyzed by the need for orgasm? So I wrote a good pornographic novel to show it could be done. An enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement. There were so many pornographic novels written; why weren’t they effective? A momentary spasm. Some people will have an orgasm if you say a dirty word or say, What he did to her body was . . . But what if you approach it as a real novel? The idea of entertainment intrigued me at the time—so I wrote one.

The Art of Poetry No. 91, 2005

Jack Gilbert, who would’ve been ninety today, actually published two erotic novels: My Mother Taught Me and Forever Ecstasy, both coauthored with Jean Maclean and published under the opaque nom de porn Tor Kung. Olympia Press, a short-lived purveyor of smut and other wonders, foisted both titles upon the unsuspecting public, and in time they became the most requested books in the publisher’s oeuvre.

The premise of My Mother Taught Me, which appeared in 1967, is absurd, even farcical—and in its outlandishness, it seems designed to effect what Gilbert called “an enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement.” But what kind of enjoyment? Our hero is Lars, a naive Swedish schoolboy who was raised in an all-male orphanage. The place was so strict, so straitlaced, that Lars in his nonage had never so much as laid eyes on a woman—not even a photograph of a woman. Read More »

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by

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Matt Sumell

In Spring 2012, The Paris Review published Matt Sumell’s short story “Toast,” in which the narrator, Alby, humiliates his girlfriend so creatively, and so often, that she ends the relationship. “Over the next few years,” Alby says in a typical passage, “I changed from a mostly passive prick to a mostly aggressive one, sexing a lot of girls and I’m pretty sure contracting HPV in my throat.”

“Toast” appears in Making Nice, Sumell’s first book, a collection of linked stories all told from Alby’s perspective. He’s a thirty-year-old having a hell of a time navigating the world since his mother died from cancer. Sumell’s stories are pugnacious, figuratively and literally. In “Punching Jackie,” Alby spars with his sister; in “OK,” he pushes his one-legged father over the side of a boat. Even when he isn’t taking anyone to task, the stories are full of fighting words: bitterness at the world, anger with fate, and misunderstanding of circumstance. Alby is lost. His outlets for self-discovery and definition are few and far between. Making Nice is hilarious in its prose, but painful in its nakedness.

Sumell and I met up to talk fighting, writing, and being named Matt on a freezing January afternoon. We ended up in Chelsea, at Barcade, a bar lined with arcade games where the tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces. When we walked through the door, Sumell took a quick survey of the room and jetted from my side, making a beeline directly to Punch Out!! Nothing could seem more apropos.

You just returned from a trip to Manila with your father, Albert, to whom your book is dedicated. Your main character is also named Alby—which doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. What’s your relationship with your dad?

Oh, we’re going straight there, are we? Well, the funny thing about my father having that name—I’m the first born, but my great-grandfather’s name is Alby, and my grandfather’s name is Alby, and my father’s name is Albert. Read More »

Ordinary Human Love: An Interview with Clancy Martin

February 12, 2015 | by

Martin, Clancy (c) Greg Martin

Clancy Martin. Photo © Greg Martin

I first encountered Clancy Martin’s writing in NOON sometime in 2006 or 2007. He became one of my favorite writers. I looked forward to new work from him, wanting to add to the world he'd created in my imagination—a world I found endearingly and distinctively full of vulnerabilities, awkwardness, psychology; bleak, funny, and extreme situations; emotional, considerate, out-of-control characters; and other things I enjoy. I liked his calm, detached, careful, slightly deadpan narrators, and the stories they told—in his novel, How to Sell (2009), and his novella, Travels in Central America (2012)—were dark and moving and, in certain moods, funny on several different levels. 

Martin’s new book, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love, is moving and funny but not, in my view, dark. It’s actually very optimistic, though maybe not in the way one would expect from a book about love. “To choose to fall in love is, we might think, in some way to fabricate or even to falsify love,” Martin writes. “But that’s the very notion I’m combating. I want to challenge the idea that love forces itself upon us with all the strength of truth.” He expands his argument by examining Plato, the Kama Sutra, Nietzsche, Freud, Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir, James Joyce, and dozens of others, as well as his memories of his personal experiences with his wife, two ex-wives, and three daughters. I asked Clancy some questions about love and lies via e-mail. 

One of the quotes in your book is from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—“Love is mutual loneliness, and the deeper the loneliness, the deeper the love.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche recognizes that we are alone, and that the need for love is a mutual recognition that we are alone. Both the desire for and the desire to love—giving and receiving love—spring from this profound, unavoidable, so often avoided fact about human life. We are alone. I can’t get into your head and you can’t get into mine. Many of my memories and thoughts and feelings remain entirely private to me. But it is precisely this fact that informs our need for love. In some ways, the more I love you, the more urgent my need to know you and to reveal myself to you, the beloved, becomes, and so our separation becomes that much more intense. In Freudian terms, it’s as though we all desperately wish to climb back into the womb. And I don’t think we should underestimate the profundity of Freud’s insight on these questions, even though it’s the tired, tiring fashion lately to take him less seriously than we used to do. Read More »