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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Hoffman’

What We’re Loving: Gremlin Jokes, Spiritual Paths, Sundae Ire

January 17, 2014 | by

Backgammon (1982) by Jane Freilicher

Jane Frelicher, Backgammon, 1982.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Akhil Sharma published his first novel, An Obedient Father. This terrible, improbably funny book—about a single mother forced to share an apartment with the father who raped her as a child—won Sharma a PEN/Hemingway prize, a Whiting Award, and praise from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates. (I remember because it was the first novel I had the honor of editing.) Now Sharma is back with Family Life, the tale of an Indian American boy coming of age in the shadow of a family disaster. It too is terrible and improbably funny, and is excerpted in this week’s New Yorker. With acid, deceptively artless prose and a faultless ear for dialogue, Sharma strips his characters bare from page one and dares us to love them in their nakedness. I cannot think of a more honest or unsparing novelist in our generation. —Lorin Stein

Michael Hofmann is the only translator whose work I would read no matter what he decided to English—if only I could keep up with him! In the excellent new issue of Asymptote, he tells a story about interviewing Wolfgang Koeppen in 1992, four years before the German novelist’s death. (“With my English reticence and youth, I met Koeppen halfway: in other words, we were both barely out of our shells.”) He also writes of the Joseph Mitchell–like silence that Koeppen fell into after the publication of Death in Rome (1954) and lauds the still-untranslated last book, Youth (1976)—giving us reason to hope he might be at work on an English version. The final remarks on Koeppen’s sentences—continually “sidestepping into freedom,” “scrupulously managed, supple, cadenced, sumptuously lexical, expressive prose”—double as a description of Hofmann’s own writing. —Robyn Creswell

Poetry’s January issue contains a thirty-page feature on Jane Freilicher: her artwork and her close friendships with a number of poets, among them Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. The section is adapted from Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s wonderful exhibition, last summer, “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets” (it’s currently on view at the Poetry Foundation, in Chicago). I remembered having glimpsed the show’s catalogue in Lorin’s office. I liberated it, and I’m not sure I’ll give it back. It’s like having a scrapbook made by the people whose work you most admire, and it shows that they had as good a time in one another’s company as you’d imagined. “Some little gremlins seemed to have popped loose in my idea factory and I think they may have been sent over from Koch’s brassiere factory,” writes Freilicher to O’Hara. And in what may be my favorite letter in the whole book, from Jane to Frank on a poem of his: “it just don’t seem to have that real low-down smelly sexy everyday Olympian quality your admirers depend upon.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »


Peter Stamm; Coping Without DFW

March 11, 2011 | by

I really loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and am looking to read more contemporary literature in translation. Are there any books you would recommend for starters?

Well, I’m in the middle of a new translated novel that I can’t wait to go home and finish: Seven Years, by the Swiss writer Peter Stamm. I had never heard of Stamm—I picked the book up because the translator is Michael Hofmann. If Michael Hofmann thinks a book is worth spending that much time on, I’m always happy to read it. So far I am not disappointed. Seven Years begins like a Turgenev novella, in the present day, with a slightly disillusioned architect looking back on the youthful love affair that became his marriage, and on another love affair that didn’t. Just the kind of thing I like. And (as my friend Eric Banks pointed out last night—because it turns out he’s read it, too), Stamm deals convincingly with architects and architecture, something you don’t find in a novel every day.

David Foster Wallace is my favorite writer, but I now find it hard to read him without becoming desperately sad. Please can you suggest ways of coping? —Hermione

The last time I tried to reread Infinite Jest, I had the same feeling, and stopped. Then I got a note from a friend who, like Wallace, has suffered over the years from debilitating depression. My friend described how her last depression lifted. I can’t resist quoting her here, because what she wrote struck me as beautiful but also because it reminded me that Wallace overcame and overcame his sense of isolation, not only in life, but in his fiction, too—in Infinite Jest, for starters, the least solipsistic of contemporary novels, or even at moments in his last collection, the one my friend was reading:

One day in late summer, I decided to give Oblivion another try, or rather to give this one story “‘Good Old Neon” a try. It was a collection I’d previously struggled with. But that story, reading it at the time I did, truly gave me this surge of Spirit—life force—that I doubt I would have found anywhere else. The story’s antihero trapped in various self-created hells of bad faith, and the narrator explaining to him that while we all get hung up on being untrue to ourselves, or faking our way through life, the vastness and complexity of our selves is such that we really couldn’t begin to fake them ... We’re tied to the mast of these huge crazy ships, ploughing into dark, icy seas, and our only recourse is an occasional change of hat ... He puts it about a million times more elegantly than that. It was one of the moments of the year.

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