The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Mavis Gallant’

“I’ve Lived Very Freely”

March 14, 2014 | by

Getting to know Mavis Gallant.

Mavis still

A still from Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant.

The first of a few unforgettable times I saw Mavis Gallant was in 2004 in Paris. She was eighty-two and had agreed to meet me for an interview at the Café Dome in the Boulevard Montparnasse, around the corner from the apartment where she had been living for decades. When I arrived at the old fashion “terrasse” of the Dome, framed by heavy red curtains, I found Gallant already sitting at the small table where we were to order our tea. I later discovered she must have arrived early on purpose so that I wouldn’t see her walk in—her spine was bent by osteoporosis, and the condition was most evident when she was walking. She was small and smartly dressed in a purple sweater and a checkered skirt, her hair dark red, her eyes lively with multiple shades of green. The first thing she said was: “Don’t ask me how I write. I wrote an introduction to this volume to avoid discussing such nonsense.” The volume was an Italian edition of her work that included some of her most memorable short stories, such as “The Moslem Wife” and “The Remission.

“Very well,” I said, taking her challenging attitude as an invitation to play. “What would you like to talk about? Men?” She gave me a scornful but not unfriendly look.

“That would certainly be a better choice,” she answered, not meaning it at all. But it was a start, and I was determined to put both of us at ease by being relaxed and polite. I asked her about her husband, John Gallant, to whom she’d been married before the war. “When he came back from fighting, I told him: I want to go to Europe. And he said: I just returned from there, it’s the last place I want to go back to. So the marriage was over. But for the rest of his life he took pride in seeing himself in most of my male protagonists. And it was never true!”Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Opulence of Twaddle, Penury of Sense, and Other News

February 19, 2014 | by

Ambrose_Bierce_1892-10-07

Bierce in 1892, barely containing his rage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

 

1 COMMENT

Imagine Paradise

February 18, 2014 | by

mavis-gallant-0496922dfb336fbfc399813c5416e0b39e520d83

Mavis Gallant was a family friend of ours. My mother knew her well. I remember her visits when I was a child: she was so intelligent, wry, and observant—so funny and so cool, with her Parisian air of detachment. She was fascinated with my platinum-haired younger brother, Julian, whom she deemed a “changeling.” 

While passing through Paris in my late twenties, at work on my book The Fruit Hunters, I once stopped in to bring her a letter from my mother and some flowers. Not wanting to interrupt her writing, I suggested coffee or a glass of wine. She insisted we meet at Le Dome for lunch.

I arrived five minutes early, left her bouquet on the table, and went out to pick up a Herald Tribune. Workers were marching in the streets as part of a general manifestation against the government. By the time I returned, she was sitting there, beaming. She waved at the protesters, she whose May 1968 diary for The New Yorker concluded, “I am convinced that I have seen something remarkable.” Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Hungry for Details

February 18, 2014 | by

Remembering Mavis Gallant.

Mavis Gallant - Good Job for A Girl

Mavis Gallant, known for her prolific and trenchant short fiction, has died, at ninety-one. Born in Montreal in 1922, she had a brief career as a journalist, but soon after The New Yorker accepted her first short story, in 1950, she embarked for Paris, where she lived most of her life. As the Times notes, she took as her primary subjects “the dislocated and the dispossessed”: neglected children, failed parents, anyone living alone.

In her 1999 interview with The Paris Review, she gave as eloquent and persuasive an argument for the necessity of fiction as any I’ve ever encountered:

A journalism student in Germany once told me she was bothered by the fact that the most plain and simple and ordinary news stories could conceal an important falsehood. She gave me an example, say, a couple celebrating their seventieth wedding anniversary. They will sit holding hands for the photographer and they’ve had their ups and downs over the years, but the marriage has been a happy one. The reporter can only repeat what they say. But what if the truth is that they positively hate each other? In that case the whole interview is a lie. I told her that if she wanted to publish the lie perceived behind the interview, she had to write fiction. (She became a critic, by the way.)

That ironic aside, deceptively casual, is characteristic of her work. In addition to this interview, the magazine published an excerpt from her diaries in our Fall 2003 issue. The portion below—in which Gallant reacts to the death of her neighbor, the French actress Alice Sapritch—captures her matter-of-factness, her careful eye, her seemingly effortless powers of perception, and her black but empathetic humor. It reminds us what a talent we’ve lost.

Sunday 25 March 1990

People I know who had no great use for Alice S. as an actress seem hungry for details. The house, and her shuttered windows, appear on TV like a celebrity. Strangers collect in the street as if visiting a shrine. She was an eccentric, a deliberate, a calculated oddity, with her wide-brimmed garden party hats and long cigarette holder, the butt of male comedians and imitators on chat shows. Once a few years ago when we were both standing in the street, waiting for taxis, I asked her why she put up with it—just like that. She said in a normal, not an affected, voice that I didn’t understand her career, that it was important to be recognized and talked about. When the car came for her it wasn’t a taxi but an open car with two young men in it, one in the backseat. The driver leaned over to open the door from the inside but when he saw me staring changed his mind and got out and came round to usher her in. His face and manner were supremely insolent: he was playing it for the fellow in the backseat and for a total stranger. Meanwhile she swept in, holding her hat. Did she have on long gloves? I mustn’t add props to the scene. Impossible not to think of Gloria Swanson, and Sunset Boulevard, except that Alice S. was in a real world every minute, every second, playing the idea of an actress, a grande dame, a monstre sacrée. I’d like to take it one further and say she knew it was a joke, but I can’t be sure.

Mme B., the concierge, tells me what happened yesterday. (Some of the friends who called me this morning kept asking if Alice S. had really died; there were contradictory stories going about.) Friends or relatives had arrived before the firemen, who were supposed to be giving first aid. The friends or relatives wouldn’t let them in. They kept issuing statement, “A.S. is alive and under intensive care.” Meanwhile the captain of the fire brigade—pronounced caption by Mme B.—sent for the police. That was how conflicting stories occurred. The capitan told Mme B. that her loved ones would not accept the truth, and that she was “dead, dead, dead.”

 

3 COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Aliens and Birds

April 12, 2013 | by

The-Neighbors

“Repressed Soviet writers had the chance to become political heroes, even when (as in the case of Joseph Brodsky, for instance) their writing was not explicitly political. Every ‘unofficial’ story or poem became an act of bravery, of protest. Illicit literature was circulated among friends and smuggled abroad; the sheer effort devoted to reading and sharing samizdat texts was a testament to their significance. America has its share of homegrown graphomaniacs, hellbent on becoming the next John Grisham or Jonathan Franzen, but it’s just not the same.” In The Nation, our frequent contributor Sophie Pinkham asks what happened to Russian writing. —Lorin Stein

Lately I have been returning to the work of John Thorne. Thorne, who has published an idiosyncratic and resolutely un-foodie newsletter for thirty years, is acknowledged in the trade to be one of our finest food writers. I think he’s one of the best essayists working, full stop: humane, eccentric, incisive. Start with his book Simple Cooking, although you can’t really go wrong. As Thorne writes in his essay “Perfect Food,” “Our appetite should always be larger and more curious than our hunger, turned loose to wander the world’s flesh at will. Perfection is as false an economy in cooking as it is in love, since, with carrots and potatoes as with lovers, the perfectly beautiful are all the same; the imperfect, different in their beauty, every one.” —Sadie Stein Read More »

NO COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Kim’s Video, Grant’s Memoirs

September 14, 2012 | by

Even if you’ve never read a book about the Civil War, the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant will grip your imagination. Dictated by Grant on his deathbed, championed and published by Mark Twain, celebrated by Matthew Arnold and Edmund Wilson (who compared it to Walden and Leaves of Grass), the Memoirs were cited by Gertrude Stein as a main influence on her own prose. However you may write, you'll find their power is contagious. Every page is a lesson in force, clarity, and grace under pressure. To read Grant’s description of a military problem, then to read the orders he gave, is, among other things, to see a great modern writer at work. —Lorin Stein

Have you ever imagined a music video as you listen to a song? Sigur Ros asked a dozen filmmakers to do just that with songs from their new album. The results are pretty great, but my favorite—and I’m hardly impartial—is Dash Shaw’s animated (I mean that literally) take on “Valtari.” Penned with Shortbus and Hedwig writer John Cameron Mitchell, the video features backgrounds by Frank Santoro, whose colors are, as ever, divine. —Nicole Rudick

If you’re in agreement with a friend of mine who considers most recent American covers of Cormac McCarthy’s novels “oversaturated Windows wallpapers” (why yes, Cormac, that horse is very pretty), then perhaps you will be both pleased and envious to know that the British ones now look like this, and apparently have for some time. Thanks to the now-defunct Aesthetic Book Blog for this gritty eye candy. And check out The Millions’ annualish comparison of American and British book covers for further contemplation.  —Samuel Fox

Read More »

3 COMMENTS