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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

November 16, 2015 | by

John O’Hara’s Pal Joey remains an exemplar of a rare form: the epistolary novella.

From Robert Jonas’s cover for an early paperback edition of Pal Joey, ca. 1946.

Ever see the movie? Well, do yourself a favor and don’t. You should pardon me for bringing this up right off the bat, but it’s so beyond being a mere stinkeroo that I get ahead of myself and must apologize. But you can trust me; I shall get back to it later.

It’s hard not to start sounding like Joey Evans after listening to him come up off the pages of John O’Hara’s novella. In fact, even if you’re holding paper and ink, Pal Joey is always an “audio book” in some other, fundamental sense of the term. The osmotic nature of Joey’s voice affects even the other characters. Vera—the rich older woman whom O’Hara added to the theatrical adaptation—says, in a moment of amazed exasperation: “Good God, I’m getting to talk like you.”

Joey’s is an American voice from the second act of the American century, a time when the country’s wisecracks and slang, thanks to movies and even to books, wrapped themselves around the thoughts and vocal cords of half the world. O’Hara had the upwardly mobile luck to be in possession of the best ear anybody had for catching and transmitting the national lingo.

Frank MacShane, one of the author’s biographers, explains that the first Pal Joey story, published in The New Yorker on October 22, 1938, got written after O’Hara went off on “a two‐day bender” instead of the stretch of work he’d pledged to his wife: Read More »

The Dog Wants His Dinner

November 9, 2015 | by

From the first-edition jacket of The Crystal Lithium.

“The Dog Wants His Dinner,” a poem by James Schuyler, first appeared in our Winter 1972 issue; it’s part of his collection The Crystal Lithium. Schuyler was born on this day in 1923. He died in 1991. Read More »

Colossally Sordid: An Interview with Luc Sante

October 27, 2015 | by

Luc Sante. Photo © Laura Levine

With the publication of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, in 1991, Luc Sante established himself as one of New York City’s most imaginative elegists. The book was a shrewd chronicle of Lower Manhattan abjection from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries—but also a call for a more expansive sense of historical memory, one with room not just for the banking magnate and the besooted proletarian behind him but for the guy behind him, too, with the chewed-off ear and the shiv. Sante followed Low Life in 1992 with Evidence, a collection of startling and often sublime crime-scene photographs taken by the NYPD in the 1910s, a project in which Sante afforded his poor tenant-dwellers more dignity than many of them could claim in their abbreviated lives. Since then he’s contributed regularly to The New York Review of Books; written the liner notes of the Anthology of American Folk Music and translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines; published an autobiography of sorts, The Factory of Facts; and released a collection of essays, Kill All Your Darlings. 

His new book, The Other Paris, magnifies the crime, grime, and scrappy, world-reverberating insubordination of Parisians down through history. Sante’s Other Paris is the one that belongs to le Peuple and always has—to the prostitutes, the ragpickers, the laundresses, the pickpockets, the North Africans, Roma, and Jews, the pop singers and tattooed gang members (the apaches, many of whom “had a dotted line around their necks, to guide the blade of the guillotine”), the insurgents on the barricades and the Illegalist bomb throwers, the ones who got their heads cut off and the ones who physically did the cutting. Perhaps most of all, the Other Paris belongs to the flaneurs, the original dandies in the underworld, in whose tradition Sante has followed as a first-rate observer and reassembler of Paris, making this book the most recent contribution to the venerable body of literature that has sought to capture Paris the way it really was and is, from the vantage of the street rather than the street view.

Flaneurie is a huge part of The Other Paris—you call the flaneur the “exemplar of this book.” Since flaneurs have been the truest historians of Paris, did you find the act of walking at all important to your research? For as much consideration as you give to the social consequences of the built environment, it seems like a dérive or two might go a long way toward finding the essence of Paris from “the accumulated mulch of the city itself,” to borrow a phrase from Low Life.

When I wasn’t at the movies, I was walking. I walked all over the city, repeatedly—I kept journals of my walks, which are actually just lists of the sequences of streets. Even though the city isn’t as interesting as it once was—modern construction and commercial real-estate practices have wiped out so much of the old eccentricity—there are still hidden corners and ornery survivals, and of course the topography is such a determinant. New York City is more or less flat and what isn’t was mostly leveled long ago, so it’s missing that aspect of accommodation to hills and valleys and plateaux, not to mention the laying out of streets on a human scale long before urban planning scaled things to the demands of machines. Read More »

How I Got Millayed

October 22, 2015 | by

A day in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s gardens at Steepletop.

Millay at Mitchell Kennerly’s house in Mamaroneck, New York, 1914.

In high school, I had a simple assignment to write a report on a poet. I searched aimlessly for the right one: more than a poet of some specific literary achievement, I wanted one who had died by suicide. Not to say I was a morbid teen—I was just fascinated by the arresting drama of that narrative. Strangely, my search led me to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, which was poor research: she didn’t kill herself. She fell down the stairs of her home at Steepletop very early on the morning of October 19, 1950, sixty-five years ago this week. And if you believe the coroners, she suffered a heart attack first. I chose her anyway.

I read as many of her poems as I could find, printing out my favorites—like “Afternoon on a Hill,” “Witch-Wife,” and “The Little Ghost”—in colorful, elaborate fonts and hanging them on my bedroom wall alongside photos of Millay. Poetry had never spoken to me before. It had always left me feeling like an outsider—an especially undesirable experience for an adolescent. But reading Millay was a new kind of encounter. Her work was understandable, relatable: melodic, even. When other kids were putting up posters of shirtless pop stars, I was taping up photos of Millay with tousled hair, laying in a grassy field, her arms and legs tangled with her companions’. This is what I thought life should look like. It was, as Michael Minchak put it, how I got “Millayed.” Read More »

Getting the Boot

October 1, 2015 | by

An 1881 boot ad.

There is a part early in Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy in which the eponymous heroine is told that “there are more important things to think of than one’s dresses.” To which the redoutable Sophy replies, “What a stupid thing to say! Naturally there are, but not, I hold, when one is dressing for dinner.” 

This is some of the soundest advice in literature. The necessary frivolities of life may as well be approached with seriousness—you’ll be dealing with them anyway. 

It is my personal and firmly held conviction that if one shops thoughtfully, the actual process of dressing doesn’t demand much of one’s time; all the work has been done on the front end. But it is a sad fact of life that, in the buying, some things will take up a lot of time. Read More »


September 24, 2015 | by

A still life by Ernest Blaikley, 1916.

Last week, we finally took the jacket and the boots to be repaired. I bought the jacket and the boots about ten years ago, and they were already a good thirty years old by then. For a long time now, the lining of the jacket has been so tattered it’s hard to get your arm in the sleeve for the web of fraying nylon. And the boots are infirm: bowed and unsteady, with a distinct wiggle to the heel. 

“Let’s get those repaired,” said my husband. 

“Oh, I will,” I said vaguely, knowing I would never do anything of the kind. Read More »