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Posts Tagged ‘HBO’

Dear Mr. Jarecki

March 23, 2015 | by

How Gordon Lish’s first novel anticipated The Jinx.


From the paperback cover of Dear Mr. Capote.

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 »

Perfume, Pikes, and Parsing

June 15, 2012 | by



February 6, 2012 | by

Lillyhammer, now streaming on Netflix.

My name wasn’t on the list. When I told her I was with The Paris Review, the woman in charge gave a can’t-be-bothered shrug and stuck me on the red carpet between a correspondent from the socialite party blog Guest of a Guest and a reporter from The New York Daily News. The two were in deep discussion about a monthly gathering for gay men over six foot two.

The Tall Gay Agenda, you’ve seriously never heard of it?”

“But I would never get in—I’m only 5'9''!

“It’s not just for tall gays, it’s in celebration of. Admirers are welcome!”

I was eavesdropping hard, announcing my dorky heterosexuality by wearing a backpack, revealing my red-carpet naïveté by not carrying a recording device and mumbling the name of my publication.

“Shouldn’t you be, like, hanging out with The Observer or something?”

The occasion was a screening and gala to celebrate Lilyhammer, a quirky new series starring Steven “Little Stevie” Van Zandt (of Sopranos and E Street Band fame). Stevie plays a former New York mobster removed to rural Norway after ratting out his boss and joining the Witness Protection Program. The show, which premiers today through Netflix’s Play at Home streaming service, is the company’s first foray into original programming.

Prophetic bloggers have buzzed about the inevitability of this move for years: Netflix is coming, and the masters of pay cable are terrified. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I streamed the whole thing. Read More »


Maurice Sendak on ‘Bumble-Ardy’

December 27, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Maurice Sendak. Photo by John Dugdale.

Maurice Sendak is set to publish his first full-production book since Outside Over There (1981). For the past thirty years, Sendak has been collaborating with other writers, illustrating old texts, designing sets and costumes for opera and ballet productions, creating advertisements and book and magazine covers, and making the occasional HBO cameo as an old-world rabbi. But with Bumble-Ardy, Sendak is reemerging in the form that he has, since 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are, come to define: childrens stories.

Bumble-Ardy is a pig, raised by an aunt, who is built like a house and who lives in a house that looks like a ruin. This aunt is doing her best with poor Bumble, a child who was orphaned when his parents “gorged and gained weight. / And got ate.” That tragic turn of events may have been for the best, as Bumble’s lousy parents never once got around to throwing the boy a birthday party (his birthday is June 10, the same as Sendak’s). So, on his ninth birthday, Bumble secretly invites over terrifying hordes of local swine, who arrive in disguise for a bacchanalia of “birthday cake and brine.” The party ends in hoggish chaos, in tears and threats of slaughter—and, finally, with a measure of forgiveness.

Why the decision to go with a pig? Why not a hedgehog?

I’ve always loved pigs: the shape of them, the look of them, and the fact that they are so intelligent. I think I like them more than I like little human boys. The prospect of drawing pigs was something I could look forward to, and I needed something to look forward to. This project was done under very difficult circumstances. Somebody very important to me was dying painfully, horribly, slowly, and it leaves you questioning everything. Read More »


On the Shelf

December 7, 2011 | by

Raymond Chandler.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Bad sex.
  • Bad numbers.
  • Good books.
  • Children’s books.
  • A visit to St. Mark’s.
  • “Confessions of a Plagiarist.”
  • Unrest at the Eliot Prizes.
  • Upheaval at the NYPL.
  • Tensions over Civilization.
  • The case for porn.
  • The case for gossip.
  • Gossip Girl has always had an especially soft spot for scribblers—and not just for fleeting appearances.”
  • Jane Austen?
  • It’s not TV, it’s ... Faulkner?
  • “The very nicest thing Hollywood can possibly think of to say to a writer is that he is too good to be only a writer.” —Raymond Chandler

    Chess and Madness

    June 13, 2011 | by

    Early on in Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle (A Chess Novella) the narrator, a casual chess player, expresses his worry that a serious devotion to chess might bring on madness:

    How impossible to imagine [...] a man of intelligence who, without going mad, again and again, over ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, applies the whole elastic power of his thinking to the ridiculous goal of backing a wooden king into the corner of a wooden board!

    On Monday, I settled down to watch Bobby Fischer Against the World, an entertaining new HBO documentary, directed by Liz Garbus. Besides chronicling the career of one of the greatest chess players of all time, it is also a rumination on the cold war, on political extremism, on youth prodigies and the dangers of sudden fame, and on loneliness. Finally, perhaps most hauntingly, it is about the relationship between chess, genius, and madness.

    Bobby Fischer grew up on Lincoln Place, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the son of a single mother who spent much of her time agitating for communism. A lonely, awkward, uncommunicative boy, he immediately became obsessed with chess when, at age six, he learned how to play from the instructions of a cheap set bought at a candy store below his apartment. Soon, Bobby was staring at his chessboard for hours on end, playing both white and black, engrossed in the absurd attempt of beating himself, and of not letting himself be beaten by himself.

    When he was no older than thirteen, this obsession, which at first had worried his mother, seemed to pay off. At the 1956 Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York, Bobby’s first appearance at a major chess event, he played a game of such daring and brilliance that he instantly became a sensation in chess circles. Within a year, he had won the prestigious U.S. Open; within another year, he won the U.S. Championship; and within a year after that, he was well on his way toward a lucrative career as an internationally renowned master.

    Read More »