Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Lish’
March 23, 2015 | by Gerald Howard
How Gordon Lish’s first novel anticipated The Jinx.
Like every other sentient being with an HBO subscription, I’ve been riveted by the layers of mendacity, hypocrisy, voyeurism, manipulation, deception, dysfunction, and psychopathology on display in The Jinx. Robert Durst is as compelling a creep as has ever appeared on an LED screen; he seems like a character sprung from Patricia Highsmith’s dark imagination. (The Talented Mister Durst?) Andrew Jarecki, with his distinctly Mephistophelean facial hair, gives off his own aroma of brimstone. As I watched the series—rapt, but with a queasy feeling of complicity—I felt I’d encountered something like this before. Then I remembered what it was: Gordon Lish’s skilled, twisted, and exceptionally prophetic first novel, Dear Mr. Capote (1983).
The self-proclaimed “Captain Fiction,” Lish is most famous and/or notorious today for his writing classes, which more resembled EST sessions than workshops, and his hyperactive editorial pencil—which, depending on your point of view, either butchered or rescued much of Raymond Carver’s fiction. By 1983, Lish was riding high as an editor at Knopf, but through most of the seventies he’d been the fiction editor of Esquire, where he had almost single-handedly engineered a sea change in the style and substance of American short fiction, publishing the work of such minimalists as Carver, Joy Williams, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. Lish also convinced Truman Capote to publish the first two installments in his long bruited-about novel-in-progress, Answered Prayers. Capote had bragged that it would be his American answer to Proust, and the first of the chapters to appear, in June 1975, “Mojave,” received rapturous praise. Buoyed by this response, he gave Esquire another chapter to publish later that year, the incendiary and staggeringly impolitic “La Cote Basque, 1965,” which spilled a dump truck’s worth of dirt on his high-society friends and exiled him from the fancy circles and acquaintances he had so assiduously cultivated. Its publication sent Capote’s career into a terminal tailspin, perhaps the most disastrous miscalculation by a major writer in our literary history. Lish, too, has his Mephistophelian side. Read More »
June 23, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Gordon Lish, at eighty, lives literally in the dark, because of his psoriasis: “His apartment is a crepuscular chamber, largely unchanged since his wife died more than a decade ago. With his heavy knit sweater and wild white hair, which culminates in a braid, he wanders these rooms looking like some cross between an old fisherman and King Lear … The problem with Lish is that he is all over the place. That also happens to be the best thing about him.”
- “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Flannery O’Connor hated Ayn Rand …
- … and Rand loved trains. More specifically, she loved to write about morally unworthy people dying in fiery train crashes: “The doomed include everyone from a lawyer who feels he can ‘get along under any political system,’ to ‘an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards’ because they believed in the will of the majority …”
- Borges: not a World Cup fan. “Soccer is popular,” he once said, “because stupidity is popular.”
- Further evidence that writing may be, you know, creative: scientists tracked “the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers … The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.”
January 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Gordon Lish Bot is trolling Twitter, demanding that writers craft their 140 characters more meticulously. It’s fine invective, but masochists will wish for the sting of the real thing.
- Science has cast its formidable gaze on movie psychopaths, declaring No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh the most “realistic.” And yet no one, living or dead, has ever dared to sport that haircut.
- The curiously robust posthumous life of V. C. Andrews.
- Lewis Carroll’s “Wise Words About Letter-Writing” still apply in the lawless land of electronic mail.
- This introduction to Korean alphabet art is full of colorful translations: “Using a dustpan, the black mountain is split to form letters, and then the canvas is propped up vertically, and stains caused by gravity are left behind.”
November 19, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
December 13, 2011 | by Andrew Martin
Gary Lutz is a wholly original writer of the short story. The first thing one notices are his startling sentences, like this one from the title story of his new collection, Divorcer: “It was in a dullard four-door with a brat of a rattling dashboard that I sometimes drove to, from, and through these places, then back to my wife and other things she was a baby about.” The sentences, and the stories, in collections such as Stories in the Worst Way, Partial List of People to Bleach, and I Looked Alive, are about sad men and women and their glancing and troubled interactions with the world. Men look for love in public bathrooms and find solace in women’s clothing; relationships inevitably falter and die, leaving behind regretful and longing ex-lovers. In his best work, Lutz displays an innate understanding of the grim compromises of modern life but heightens and glorifies these with his dizzying language. He refuses to let the dreary world force him to write a dreary sentence. I recently conducted this interview with him via e-mail.
Your new collection, Divorcer, contains a number of stories about the ends and aftermaths of relationships. Did you set out to write a series of thematically linked stories?
I had no expectation that these stories, written piecemeal, might one day mingle with one another in a book. It was Derek White, the extraordinary founder and editor of Calamari Press, who convinced me that the stories added up to something. The stories were written during stretches of four summers and the better half of an autumn. The longer pieces took months and months to finish, but one of the shorter entries, “Fathering,” was written in just one week—I’d challenged myself to come up with something quick.
How do you feel this collection differs from your previous ones? To me, the stories seem a bit more narrative driven and perhaps more “accessible" than some of your previous work.
I guess it’s more accessible, or at least a little less willfully disingratiating than my other books, which had more than a touch of solipsism. Even in the lengthier of these new stories, despite their elliptical and fragmentary nature, there is something at least approximating an ongoingness of a sort, if not exactly a plot.
To what degree does your personal experience influence your stories?
To no degree at all, practically. I suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit. Not much has ever happened to me, and I have never had much luck in making anything happen myself. Anyway, my personal life seems off limits, even to me at the center of it. Somebody should sell pocket-size lifetime diaries with just a quarter-page for each entire year—I could surely get my money’s worth out of one of those. Read More »
May 13, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel has converted me back to reading short stories. Where would you go next after Hempel?
Isn’t she good! If you want to expand on that Hempelian mood of yours, I suggest—in no particular order—any of the collections of Mary Robison, the latest issue of the short-story annual Noon, David Gates’s Wonders of the Invisible World, Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, Christine Schutt’s A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer, Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive, and Gordon Lish’s What I Know So Far.
I know this person who got a fancy agent and sold a book, and, recently, I’ve noticed he has a very inflated ego. He talks about how great he is compared to other people, and how he has to network and get to know important editors. It’s a little weird, especially after years of saying he was devoted to the “craft." Maybe it's a case of sour grapes, but it’s pretty damn annoying. I also feel pretty strongly that this book won’t be making it onto the best-seller list. Nor does it mean he’s going to be published by the New Yorker. Is it my job to manage expectations here? —Sam is not my name
Well, “not-Sam,” getting a fancy agent and selling a book have been known to puff a young writer up. And it can be annoying to watch—yes, even when you know the book is going to sink like a stone in the scum pond of posterity. But really there’s no percentage in trying to manage an author’s expectations. For one thing, it simply can’t be done. No one but an academic ever believes he has written a dull book until it is too late. Even after the book fails, disappears from the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and is pulped, if your friend has invested time and libidinal energy into schmoozing editors, he won’t blame his book. He will blame all the powerful new friends who didn’t give him the review he wanted or wrangle him the blurb he deserved. He will blame his publisher for not taking out an ad on the front page of USA Today. And he will blame you (buzz starts at home).
Besides, I have found it’s hard to give good, gentle, constructive advice when you want to slap somebody upside his silly melon-head.
My advice is to be friendly and supportive. Go to the launch, ask him to sign your copy (buy a copy), and otherwise try to avoid quality time alone with him until the thing’s in paperback.
Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.