We’re not spying, but it feels like we are. Each moment is tracked on surveillance monitors, recorded, studied. On one screen, a man, dressed moments ago in cowboy gear, is now postcoital with a robot prostitute. She soon makes herself scarce, heading back to recharge her circuits in the break room. The cowboy stares up at the ceiling, his six-shooter cooling in a holster draped over a chair. He’s luxuriating inside a simulacrum of an 1880s Western whorehouse, one situated within a network of amusement parks in an unnamed desert expanse. It’s the end of the first act of the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, a master of the techno-thriller novel whose occasional forays into filmmaking—he directed a half dozen features over two decades—yielded more modest, earthbound results than the fantastical predictions he packed into his paperbacks. But Westworld, his feature debut, continues to haunt. Its vision of a pleasure dome with exploited, humanlike robots as moving targets has been reprogrammed into a highly anticipated HBO series, premiering Sunday. Read More
Ever since Mike Nichols died in 2014, I’ve wished and wished we had interviewed him in the Review. The HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols—an eighty-minute interview conducted by his friend Jack O’Brien—only sharpened my regret. Nichols wasn’t just one of the most important and wide-ranging directors of the last century (and half of the pioneering comedy duo Nichols & May), he was a brilliant explainer of what he did. He and O’Brien discuss his earliest stage productions (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) and the filming of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, giving glimpses of his childhood and education and his comedy routines. I could have watched them talk for hours. —Lorin Stein Read More
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
- HBO has apologized for allowing Game of Thrones to display a decapitated head that bears a striking resemblance to President George W. Bush.
- Penning Perfumes: when words make scents.
- Choose your Highsmith.
- The OED: Not infallible?
- The dialectics of Twitter.
- Color me royal: what’s on our art editor’s bookshelf.
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
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 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: children’s 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