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Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by

colinbarrett

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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You Talk Your Book

February 25, 2015 | by

Looking rather Führer-ish, Anthony Burgess appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, where he was in rare form throughout—charming, funny, instructive, gently eccentric. The conversation ranges from England as a kind of bland utopia to Shakespeare’s “showbiz” skills and possible venereal disease, the perils of teaching writing (“The kids who want to write are usually very young, and their desire to write is usually a symptom of pubescence”), the insincerity of Milton’s Lycidas, and the distinction between pubs and bars:

A bar is not a pub. There are one or two pubs I think in New York … a real pub is a place where all the social barriers come down. You can drink with a member of the aristocracy or the local dustman. You play darts, you drink, you talk, and by this means you generate an atmosphere of genuine democratic society. You get ideas, you hear stories, you talk. And this is useful for a writer. The only pubs you must not, if you’re a writer, go to are the pubs in Dublin. Because in Dublin you talk your book. You say, I’m writing a darling book. Ah, tell us about it, they say. Then you tell them about it. And by the time you tell them about it, you’ve spent the desire to write it … The book is finished. You close it.

That Shakespeare book he mentions early on, by the way, received one of the most comically underdone blurbs I’ve ever seen, from Country Life, a magazine for which Burgess himself often contributed. “Of all the books about Shakespeare that 1964 will bring forth,” they wrote, “none is likely to make livelier reading than Anthony Burgess’s historical novel, Nothing Like the Sun.” There are small daggers in that “1964,” that “is likely to”: the most damning of faint praise.

Dan Piepenbring is the Web editor of The Paris Review.

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by

mattsumell

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 »