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Posts Tagged ‘Light Years’

Anthony Giardina on ‘Norumbega Park’

February 14, 2012 | by

In five novels and a collection of short stories, Anthony Giardina has written about the conflicts at the intersection of social class, family, and sexuality. Recent History explores the anxieties of a young man whose parents get divorced when his father announces he’s gay; in White Guys, a horrific murder in Boston forces old friends to consider their assumptions about where they belong in the social hierarchy. His new novel, Norumbega Park, traces the lives of the four members of an Italian-American family in Massachusetts over forty years. Richie, the patriarch, is seized by an urge to purchase a traditional house in the titular town, setting in motion a new life for his family. His son Jack breezes through high school on his charm, then runs into trouble when he moves to New York instead of going to college. Joannie, Jack’s sister, joins a convent, and her mother, Stella, struggles with that choice, as well as with her own encroaching mortality. I spoke with Giardina by e-mail about the work and experience that went into creating the new book.

Your fiction has been credited with “charting the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs.” What draws you to this story?

I was a witness, as a young boy, to my father’s desire to move us up, in our case from a working-class neighborhood to a brand-new neighborhood of houses that men built for themselves—my father and his cronies, Italian-American working-class guys who had made some money. They literally blasted into this hill in Waltham, Massachusetts, this area that had just been woods, and they built these houses that I can see now were just basic split-level structures but that seemed to me kind of magical. It wasn’t just houses these guys were building, it was a whole neighborhood they considered “exclusive.” It made them all act differently. They gave parties for themselves—they dressed up, the women wore gowns. And it was maybe the first complex social observation I was able to make, to watch a group of men and women consciously attempt to reinvent themselves.

Later, of course, I was able to see that this was a huge theme in American fiction, but before I knew it as literature, I had seen it in its raw form, and it left me with a vivid sense that this is how class works in America—that assumption of a new identity based on where you live, and how well you’ve done.

I’ve never wanted to do that for myself. I live in a modest house, and I like to assume a suburban identity where I’m just one of the neighborhood guys. Read More »

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Document: Possible Titles for ‘Light Years’

April 8, 2011 | by

At every magazine or publishing house, there’s always an editor or two with a knack for titles. But even so, rarely does one come in a flash of divine inspiration. There are iterations and themes and the same words written over and over. Here is a glimpse of what James Salter’s process was like with his novel Light Years (a book both Jhumpa Lahiri and Porochista Khakpour wrote about this week). Salter seems so close at points, circling back to light and years, sometimes on the same page but not always the same line, ranking his favorites and weighing the opinions of others.

Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center. Click to enlarge.

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Dreams and Work: On ‘Light Years’

April 6, 2011 | by

Our Spring Revel is April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Revel, click here.

I discovered James Salter just late enough, in grad school, at the suggestion of a brooding alcoholic, the best writer in the room, with whom I’d become entangled in a very Salter-esque doomed affair. I was the writer who’d gush about the stylists, steer the conversations from plot and story to diction and syntax, the one who’d make over-earnest pleas about art over mechanics, always to the rolled eyes of the Ivy Leaguers who made up most the program. Most everything I wrote failed on a story level as much as it succeeded on a sentence level, and so this writer-fling of mine one day said, “You should read Salter. Because he does that thing you like. But he also tells stories. He can help you.”

I dashed to Light Years—Salter’s fourth novel, published in 1975—as I did to any of his suggestions. Up to that point, stylists meant maximalists, hysterical realists, the breathless and the sprawling: William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Stephen Dixon. I had never encountered a minimalist I could live inside of. But as minimal as Light Years was aesthetically, it was maximal emotionally. The sentences were sharp and piercing, alarmingly brief, and yet they contained entire lifetimes rendered in stream of consciousness within three-word observations about the seasons. “I’m a frotteur, someone who likes to rub words in his hand, to turn them around and feel them, to wonder if that really is the best word possible,” Salter said in his Paris Review interview. I lived for that poet’s spirit in my storytellers. That taut and yet tender surface simplicity was applied to amplifying the elemental in this world destroyed me, as if trees and desks and fog and smoke are their own metaphors in a universe that is essentially figurative:

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Spellbound

April 5, 2011 | by

Our Spring Revel is on April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Revel, click here.

For over half my life, I have returned repeatedly to Light Years. It was the first of James Salter’s books I discovered; it has since led me to all his others. Light Years is the one I know best. The first copy was borrowed. It belonged to my college roommate and was among the handful of books she’d brought with her from home, having nothing to do with our classes. It was a beautiful paperback published by North Point Press: yellow border, rough edges, thickly woven pages, a Bonnard painting on the cover. It was 1985. The book was ten years old; I was eighteen. I was new to New York, a freshman at Barnard College. I was unsophisticated, unmoored, bewildered by college and by the city. Reading the novel was like opening a window for the first time in spring, after a long winter has passed. Something worn out was set aside, something invigorating ushered in.

At the time I had not read much contemporary literature. I had certainly never read sentences so precise, so clean, so fervent and yet so calm. I reacted to the novel as I did to the books of my childhood: it cast a spell in the same way, provoking a reaction that was visceral and dreamlike and whole. But here was a book that was about adulthood, the undiscovered country that lay on the other side of a bridge I was only beginning to cross.

I loved the mood of the book, which was sober and sophisticated, but also casual, playful. I loved its structure, restrained and orderly, while at the same time loose and unspooling. I loved its intimate texture and its images: Nedra’s hands flat on a table, her oat-colored sweater. Pigeons crowding into the R of a furniture store, a martini that is like a change in the weather. I loved the devotional rendering of meals, peoples’ faces, rooms and the objects they contained. Though it felt startlingly modern, I recognized certain ancient forms of literature I was studying in my classes: myth, elegy, ode. The five acts of Shakespeare. Long passages of conversation, as unadorned but as revelatory as dialogue in a classical play.

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