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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Leyner’

Exploding Autobiography: An Interview with Mark Leyner

April 14, 2016 | by

Photo: David Plakke Media NYC

When The Paris Review last interviewed Mark Leyner, in 2013, he announced his next book. “Gone with the Mind is my autobiography in the form of a first-person-shooter game,” he said. “You’ll have to blast your way back into my mother’s womb.”

Now, three years later, Gone with the Mind has arrived, and it’s … almost nothing like that. The autobiographical elements are intact, yes, and Leyner’s mother appears early and often—but the notion of a first-person shooter is unceremoniously jettisoned on page forty-six. (“Pretty much everyone I mentioned it to thought it sounded really cool, but what is that, actually? What would a book like that actually be, y’know?”) In its place is a loose frame story in which Leyner appears at the Nonfiction at the Food Court Reading Series at Woodcreek Plaza Mall, where he reads before a crowd of precisely three: a Panda Express employee on break, a Sbarro employee on break, and his mom.

The introductory speech he gives comprises the bulk of Gone with the Mind, a discursive farrago that touches on Freudian mother-son dynamics, constructivist aesthetics, fascist metaphysics, Twizzlers, women’s antiperspirant commercials, prostate cancer, and formative episodes from his youth. In earlier novels, Leyner cast himself as a paranoid egomaniac (Et Tu, Babe) or a feckless, oversexed adolescent (The Tetherballs of Bougainville), but the Mark Leyner we meet in these pages is transparent, erudite, self-deprecating, even tender. This is an autobiography that dramatizes its own creation—the pathos in attempting to express “the chord of how one feels at single given moment, in this transient, phantom world.”

I met Leyner at Marco & Pepe, a restaurant in Jersey City, where he arrived with a copy of Gershom Scholem’s The Messianic Idea in Judaism tucked under his arm. We began our conversation by learning, courtesy of our waitress, what a Portuguese muffin is.

So it sounds kind of like an English muffin, but bigger.

Does that mean anything called Portuguese is just a bigger variant of the English version?

Yes. Portuguese-breakfast tea is just a vat of English-breakfast tea. Anyway—it’s been three years since your last interview with the Review. I gather there’s been a sort of formalist struggle for you since then.

I waited on the idea for this book for a very long time. It’s important to me that each book is starting from scratch. I’m trying to think of a vital, unprecedented idea for a book that I haven’t seen. It’s not because I’m so ambitious—it’s just the way I’ve always worked. I have a feeling it comes from my being most engaged and inspired by visual artists when I was younger. Duchamp, Picabia, all the Cubists, Apollinaire and his people, André Breton, his people. And then all the great Abstract Expressionists, whom I adore still. I’m a big Clement Greenbergian. I’m a high formalist. I would always say that when, back in the day, people talked about postmodernism and things. I thought, No, I’m a card-carrying modernist, and I’m proud to say it. I approached this book in a formal way. How does one represent an autobiography, which in itself is a representation of confabulated memories? I began thinking about my mother—the meals we used to have at various restaurants and how we’ve always been so keen to make an audience out of each other. And that’s one of the really fundamental themes of this book—how intimates make audiences of each other. I really do think there’s a reading of this book that sees it as just me and my mom talking, and the rest of it being some kind of wonderful filigreed delusion—this pathetic event. Read More »

Staff Picks: Back Waiters, Blackouts, Bulletin Boards

March 18, 2016 | by

From the cover of Sweetbitter, out in May

In its first chapter alone, Jean Stein’s West of Eden: An American Place sees a fortune made and squandered, a dubious murder-suicide, a media blackout, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe money, and a death by battery acid. And this isn’t fiction—it’s an oral history of Los Angeles, full of myth and rancor and especially desolation. Focusing on just five addresses, including the Dohenys’ fabled Greystone Mansion and Jack Warner’s Beverly Hills monstrosity, Stein excavates an LA counternarrative that’s been buried for decades in the city’s foundations, obscured by those who insist on marketing the place as paradise. The Los Angeles that emerges here is anything but a dream factory—its denizens are so felled by corruption and hubris that their lives take on the dimensions of Greek tragedy. West of Eden is a stunning accomplishment. Strange that it comes at roughly the same moment as the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar!, which tells, beneath its frothy surface, another sad story of old Hollywood’s bitter power-brokers. —Dan Piepenbring

“We are getting / rid of ownership, substituting use. / Beginning with ideas. Which ones can we / take? Which ones can we give?” I read these sentences a half dozen times, stopping after each read to consider a new meaning that appeared before me, like an ever-expanding horizon. In fact, most sentences in John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) took several readings to get through. But these fragments of opinions and problems, worries and joys are meant to be meditative, and working through them recalibrates the reader’s perspective. Shifts between typefaces, indentations, and colors make a collage of the text, and there is little sense of where one entry ends and the next begins, which produces wonderfully unexpected juxtapositions and startles to attention odd anecdotes like this one: “In the lobby after La / Monte Young’s music stopped, / Geldzahler said: It’s like being in a / womb; now that I’m out, I want to get / back in. I felt differently and so did / Jasper Johns: We were relieved to be / released.” And to think that it’s really all just words arranged on a page. But, as Cage points out, “If we could change our language, / that’s to say the way we think, / we’d probably be able to swing the / revolution.”  —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Remembering the Revel

April 13, 2015 | by

The Paris Review Spring Revel 2015

Norman Rush receives the Hadada Award.

Our Spring Revel was last Tuesday, and it was, as Gay Talese put it simply, “a real party,” a party for the ages. About five hundred of us gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street to honor Norman Rush with the Hadada Award, presented by James Wood, who recited one of my favorite jokes from Subtle Bodies: “Pinot noir meant don’t urinate at night.”

Hilary Mantel took the stage to award Atticus Lish the Plimpton Prize for Fiction; “I am extremely fortunate to receive this award,” Lish said, “as is anyone who receives recognition in any field. Few people get much of a gold star no matter what they do in life.”

Mark Leyner received the Terry Southern Prize for Humor—which he has publicly promised to hang above his bed, like a mobile—from Donald Antrim. Never in recorded history have the words Sugar-frosted nutsack been uttered before so large and so gracious a crowd. Last, The Paris Review bade a fond farewell to our longtime publisher, Antonio Weiss, who has absconded to Washington to serve as the counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. Our loss is the nation’s gain.

It was a spectacular evening, as the photos below attest. You can read accounts of the fun from Womens Wear Daily, New York Social Diary, and Page Six—and you can see even more photos of the revelry here. Happy spring, and see you next year!

Photos by Clint Spaulding / © Patrick McMullan /
Read More »

1: “Where Was My Companion?”

March 16, 2015 | by

From “Another Disappointee” through “A Datum,” pp. 5–29


This is the first entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

Here are a few of the things we learn about the narrator of Mating in the novel’s first twenty-five pages: She is an anthropologist manqué in Gaborone, Botswana. She has a good waist and voluminous hair. She’s dreamed, since preadolescence, of becoming an intercultural confidant, someone in whom the people of many nations are willing to confide. She’s been having irregular periods. She loves the sun. She hates baboons and TV. She speaks good Setswana. She’s a gifted mimic and a mnemonist, or something near enough. She doesn’t go in for free will. She wants, and in her opinion genuinely deserves, a lifetime companion.

Her voice—this brilliant, chatty, canny, imperious, cerebral, earthly, frivolous, pretentious, earnest, glib, fluent, funny voice—is the engine of the novel, and it entices (or repels) a first-time reader almost immediately. Our narrator is, simply put, strange. Her style is singular enough that it becomes, as with the best first-person fiction, a kind of motivator, an element of suspense: we’re reading to find out who’s talking. It’s not that she’s unreliable. On the contrary, after just a few voluble pages of her company, I’m prepared to open a joint bank account with her, even if I don’t know her name. What I do want to know is, Who is this person, who tosses off such phrases as “echt mama’s boy” and “naughtiness-based lustral seizure,” who has such a firm grasp of human relations and whose life, nonetheless, is steeped in loneliness? Read More »


Atticus Lish Wins Plimpton Prize; Mark Leyner Wins Terry Southern Prize

March 3, 2015 | by


Left, Atticus Lish; right, Mark Leyner

Each year, at our Spring Revel, the board of The Paris Review awards two prizes for outstanding contributions to the magazine. It is with great pleasure that we announce our 2015 honorees.

The Plimpton Prize for Fiction is a $10,000 award given to a new voice from our last four issues. Named after our longtime editor George Plimpton, it commemorates his zeal for discovering new writers. This year’s Plimpton Prize will be presented by Hilary Mantel to Atticus Lish for his story “Jimmy,” from issue 210—an excerpt from his novel Preparation for the Next Life

The Terry Southern Prize is a $5,000 award honoring “humor, wit, and sprezzatura” in work from either The Paris Review or the Daily. Perhaps best known as the screenwriter behind Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, Terry Southern was also a satirical novelist, a pioneering New Journalist, and a driving force behind the early Paris Review. This year’s prize will be presented by Donald Antrim to Mark Leyner for “Gone with the Mind,” a story from our new Spring issue.

Hearty congratulations from all of us on staff!

(And if you haven’t bought your ticket to attend the Revel—supporting the magazine and writers you love—isn’t this the time?)

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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