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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Cunningham’

The Hatchet Falls

January 9, 2013 | by

The Omnivore brings us the Hatchet Job of the Year Awards 2013. In their words, this pan-centric prize rewards “the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months” and “aims to raise the profile of professional critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.” View the shortlist here: few will be surprised to find Zoë Heller’s NYRB evisceration of Salman Rushdie’s Josef Anton, or that Naomi Woolf’s Vagina rated a few screeds. But who will win the year’s supply of potted shrimp? And has Adam Mars-Jones, 2012 winner for his Observer takedown of Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall, done justice to his prize?




Stephen King: The Musical, and Other News

November 21, 2012 | by

  • It’s a David and Goliath story, if David were also pretty tall: the Tolkien Estate is suing Warner Brothers for a cool eighty million dollars over online slot machines and other digital merch that they claim violates copyright.
  • In more literary retirement news: Hungarian Nobel laureate Imre Kertész is also calling it a day.
  • Jennifer Egan, Roxana Robinson, Philip Gourevitch, John Burnham Schwartz, Jane Green, Michael Cunningham, Nick Flynn, Mary Morris, and Darin Strauss all have a mammoth group cameo in Michael Maren’s forthcoming film, A Short History of Decay.
  • Because numerous bookstores are refusing to stock titles from the Amazon imprint, one of its authors claims that his book The 4-Hour Chef is “poised to be the most banned book in U.S. history.” Dubious.
  • Presented sans comment: “Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow will both be singing on the soundtrack of a ghostly musical written by Stephen King and John Mellencamp.”


    Hatchet Job: When Bad Reviewers Go Good

    November 19, 2012 | by

    In February of this year, Adam Mars-Jones, an English writer not much known in this country, won the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year award for his review of Michael Cunningham’s Nightfall: “And a two-person epiphany has to outrank the single kind. Two comely young people standing in the lake shallows, ‘looking out at the milky haze of the horizon’—that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard.”

    Geoff Dyer, another English writer, much better known since 2008’s Death in Venice, Jeff in Varanisi brought most of his strange work back into print, was nominated for his attack on Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending:

    Later, after Tony has broken up with his girlfriend, Adrian commits suicide. This would be my first objection. Obviously people commit suicide, for a variety of reasons, but in fiction they tend to do so primarily in the service of authorial convenience. And convenience invariably becomes a near-anagram of contrivance.

    The impulse behind good bad reviews is not much understood, and whether understood or not, is usually disliked or dismissed. It’s considered ungenerous, as though generosity could never be misplaced. Read More »


    What We’re Loving: Sake Bars, Met Balls, and Rhubarb

    May 4, 2012 | by

    I’m hooked on The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami, a sentimental novel about the friendship, formed over late nights at a sake bar, between a Tokyo woman in her late thirties and her old high school teacher. It’s interesting enough to read about an aging woman drawn to an older man; when this attraction comes wrapped up in Japanese nostalgia for old fashioned inns, mushroom hunting, refined manners, and Basho, how can a person resist? I can only imagine what wizardry must have gone into Allison Markin Powell’s translation. —Lorin Stein

    There are so many intriguing events associated with the PEN World Voices Festival this week. One I’ll be catching for sure is this little-seen documentary on Diane Arbus, actually a taping of the photographer discussing a slide show of her work in 1970. The viewing will be followed by readings from Diane Arbus: A Chronology by Francine Prose, Michael Cunningham, and Arbus’s daughter, Doon. —Sadie Stein

    The PULSE Contemporary Art Fair is here! Today through Sunday at the Metropolitan Pavilion, galleries from around the world are exhibiting the best of contemporary art. Whether your interest and pockets are shallow or deep, you could easily be held captive for hours, lost in the endless spectacles and hidden nooks. It’s an adventure, so may I suggest comfortable shoes? —Elizabeth Nelson

    Two years ago I started reading (and devouring) the Smitten Kitchen blog. I have since made more than thirty of her recipes and have been waiting for her forthcoming first cookbook. This week she posted a sneak peek, so time to start some seasonal cooking—especially as farmer’s markets everywhere have the first spring produce, like asparagus and rhubarb! —Emily Cole-Kelly

    Most people will eat fifteen hundred PB&Js before graduating high school. I’ve easily consumed twice that since then. I love peanut butter. I love the taste of it mixed with a good jam. Statistics about the sandwich are always fascinating: women prefer creamy and men crunchy (I only eat crunchy); the vast majority of people put the peanut butter on first (I do, too, but it just makes sense, right?). Leave it to Ruth Reichl to make a great thing even better. Who knew that a little salt and heat could improve upon perfection. —Nicole Rudick

    My invitation to the Met’s Costume Institute Ball seems to have been mysteriously lost in the mail, but reading through the gorgeous companion volume to the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition is (I’m sure) every bit as interesting, and nearly as glamorous. —S.S.


    Rubbish Collector; Barman

    August 23, 2011 | by

    Detail from Jean-François Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure, 1855, oil on canvas.

    Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

    Sophie Cunningham: I was once a “Do the Right Thing” girl for the Environment Protection Authority. This meant that I roamed the beaches of Victoria for an entire summer in, I think, 1985, wearing a “Do the Right Thing” T-shirt, with a robot rubbish bin controlled by a puppeteer hiding behind trees. The robot would say, “Please put your rubbish in me,” or, for larks, “Fuck you.” I would smile and hand people a “Do the Right Thing” rubbish bag.

    Michael Cunningham: I worked in bars for years. Most prominently, a gay bar in Laguna beach, which featured bartenders who all looked more or less like Michelangelo’s David and wore only slightly more by way of costumes. I, however, did not look anything like any sculpture I had ever seen.

    I learned early on that the bar manager always hired one odd man out—specifically, a boy who was more clever than he was beautiful, who functioned as comic relief, who was, as I gathered, meant not only to entertain the patrons but to assure them that the wall of air between them and the men behind the bar was at least semipermeable; to be their animal familiar in a world of robust male camaraderie they were invited to observe but not ever to enter. My predecessor had been a sweet, Rubenesque boy they called Bubbles.

    The bar sported a South Seas theme. Brown palm fronds strung with white Christmas lights curled down from the ceiling. Tiki heads scowled from the walls. The bar top was made of glass and, under it, bug-eyed Japanese goldfish swam in listless confusion over a bed of blue gravel. Every now and then one of the fish expired, which would not be good for business in any establishment but was especially unfortunate there, where reminders of mortality did not play well to the generally elderly crowd. If one of the fish went belly-up during a busy night, as they were mysteriously wont to do, we covered the corpse with a pile of napkins or a dish of peanuts, though throughout the night it was necessary to keep moving the napkins or peanuts, as unobtrusively as possible, because the deceased tended to float in unpredictable directions.

    Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.


    Michael Cunningham

    October 14, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Richard Phibbs.

    By Nightfall, the sixth novel by Pulitzer Prize–winning Michael Cunningham, tells the story of Peter Harris, a gallery owner in Manhattan whose comfortable marriage is interrupted by the arrival of Mizzy (short for “the Mistake”), the younger brother of his wife, Rebecca. Peter—a straight man—finds Mizzy’s youth intoxicating and seductive. Soon, Peter is questioning his life, his marriage, even his sexuality, and wondering if it’s worth throwing it all away. Earlier this week, Cunningham answered my questions about his book over e-mail.

    You write, “History favors the tragic lovers, the Gatsbys and the Anna K.s, it forgives them, even as it grinds them down. But Peter, a small figure on an undistinguished corner of Manhattan, will have to forgive himself, he’ll have to grind himself down because it seems no one is going to do it for him.” Why create someone like Peter and not … well, a Gatsby?

    A Peter as opposed to a Gatsby. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from reading the modernists, particularly Woolf and Joyce, who insisted that fiction depict the 99.9 percent of the population who are not Gatsby or Nostromo or David Copperfield; who insisted that part of the novelist’s job is to ferret out the epic story of outwardly unextraordinary people, who are of course extraordinary to themselves. I just don’t feel much interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

    At one point, Peter says, “I don’t know. I mean, how could I love another guy and not be gay?” “Easy,” says Uta. Why is it easy?

    Human sexuality is tremendously complicated, so much so that the designations “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual” are all but meaningless. How many of us have had crushes, and even sexual experiences, with people who fall outside our official “erotic category”? Okay, not everyone, but many of us. I’m interested in sexuality that falls outside the official lines of demarcation. As is Uta.

    The seed of By Nightfall was really Mann’s Death in Venice. Although I didn’t want to rewrite Death in Venice, I’ve always been fascinated by Aschenbach’s fascination with Tadzio, which is eroticized but not exactly sexual; it’s more about Aschenbach’s love of youth and beauty and ephemerality. If it was just a book about an old letch hungering for a young boy, what good would it be? I wanted to write about an essentially straight guy who finds himself powerfully drawn not only to a boy but to what the boy represents. If Peter had simply become obsessed with a girl, the story would have been too conventional. Read More »