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Posts Tagged ‘novel’

One More for James Salter

June 29, 2015 | by

Photo: Lan Rys

We’re concluding our week of James Salter remembrances with this interview by Kate Peterson from 2010. She recalls the experience fondly:

Among writers, James Salter was my first hero. Maybe it’s outmoded in 2015 to call someone your hero, but then, if any recent American writer took the idea of heroism seriously, it was Salter. I found his story collection Last Night ten years ago on my own, by chance—no friend or teacher had recommended it, and no social media list of must-reads existed then, at least on my radar. As discoveries go, it was a deliciously private one. The authority of his sentences and paragraphs came from their music, but not only from that. His descriptions seemed to draw power from what had been relinquished. I was dazzled, puzzled. Discipleship is fueled, in part, by mystery; at least mine was.

We met for this interview at the University of Minnesota in October 2010. I turned on my tape recorder and flipped to a fresh sheet of notebook paper, but before I could ask my first question, Salter asked one of his own: Bob Dylan had played near here, hadn’t he? I said he had. Did I know his songs? Not well, I admitted. He asked, could I sing any? Though I crossed Fourth Street every day, I confessed I couldn’t; I had been raised on show tunes. Like Rodgers and Hammerstein? Yes, I said. And so, before I knew what was happening, I was singing James Salter a few bars of “Oklahoma.”

That evening, Salter read from what became All That Is, his last novel. Then the working title was To Live It Again. It’s a promise at once retrospective and infinitive, and one, Salter often argued, that only books could honor.

To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.

Tell me about your new novel.

I’ve been working on it for some years. I’d had the idea for a long time, but I was unconsciously waiting for a line from Christopher Hitchens. He wrote somewhere that “No life is complete that has not known poverty, love, and war.” That struck me, and I began with that.

I haven’t followed it through. Poverty doesn’t play much of a part. Betrayal does, and it’s a book that has a little more plot than other books of mine. It’s about an editor, a book editor, it’s the story of his life. Read More »

Franzen on Kraus: Footnote 48

September 5, 2013 | by

Oskar Kokoschka's 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Oil on canvas, 65 x 100 cm, Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

Oskar Kokoschka’s 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

This week, to celebrate the launch of our Fall issue, we will preview a few of our favorite footnotes from “Against Heine,” Jonathan Franzen’s translation of the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Click here to get your subscription now!

And Heine had a talent for being embraced by young souls and thus associated with young experiences.48 

(p. 210)

48 J. D. Salinger might be an example of an American writer whose reputation has similarly benefitted from being read in people’s youth. But consider here, too, the periodic arguments from Bob Dylan fans that Dylan deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature.



Document: Nabokov’s Notes

February 29, 2012 | by

When Vladimir Nabokov started teaching Russian literature at Wellesley College in 1944, he was frustrated by the lack of an adequate literal translation of Eugene Onegin, which he referred to as “the first and fundamental Russian novel.” He prepared his own extracts for class use and invited Edmund Wilson to work with him on a full translation.

Wilson had nurtured Nabokov’s early career in the States, and Nabokov had reciprocated with many generous hours of patient tutorial—often via letter—on the finer points of Russian literature, history, politics, and scansion. The two had grown to be great friends but never collaborated on a full-length work. The 1964 publication of Nabokov’s solo translation of Onegin effectively ended their friendship and sparked one of the best-known intellectual debates of the last century.

The project began promisingly enough for Nabokov, though Wilson had misgivings from the get-go. When Nabokov first decided to prepare a prose translation of Onegin, “with notes giving associations and other explanations for every line,” Wilson and Nabokov had been exchanging letters about Russian poetics for a decade, often with barely masked stridency on both sides. In 1950 Wilson expressed fatigue: “I am getting rather tired of all these topics and think we ought to start something new.” When he learned that Nabokov has decided to devote his Guggenheim Fellowship—achieved, in part, through Wilson’s recommendation—to the Onegin project, he complained: “I wish you had given them some other project—it seems to me a pity for you to spend a lot of time on Onegin when you ought to be writing your own books.” Nabokov, however, wasn’t worried: in his application he wrote that it would take “a year or so,” and told Wilson the work could be “quite smoothly combined with other pleasures.”

A year later he wrote how much more arduous a project it had turned out to be: “I was … on the verge of a breakdown and not fit for company. For two months in Cambridge I did nothing (from 9 A.M. to 2 A.M.) but work on my commentaries to EO.” Still later, it seemed he had met his whale. He wrote to Katharine White, his friend and New Yorker editor, that the “monster” had “grown far beyond whatever I planned originally.” He told Wilson, “I have at last discovered the right way to translate Onegin. This is the fifth or sixth complete version I have made.” At the end of the summer of 1957 he admitted more confidentially to his sister, “I hope that I can finally, finally finish my monstrous Pushkin … I am tired of this ‘bookish exploit’.” Read More »


A Father, A Daughter, A Novel

September 26, 2011 | by

Photograph by Christa Lohman.

A basic but serviceable simile for memory is the mirror: you look into it and it shows you as you once were. Most of us recognize that the analogy is simplistic at best, and the novelist reaching into his past for material knows it better than most.

I was a fifty-year-old writer trying to breathe life into the character of a seventeen-year-old boy. It was a daunting prospect, perhaps, but I was not to be put off by the presumptuousness or difficulty of the task; after all, inventing people is what I’m (occasionally) paid to do. I naturally intended to draw on my every memory of myself as a seventeen-year-old. Like me, my protagonist would be somewhat bookish but in no way a nerd; deeply introspective but not withdrawn; a peripheral figure on the margins of the in-crowd, longing to be admitted yet vaguely contemptuous of the object of his desire; chaotically libidinous but physically uncertain of himself; and above all a strenuously ethical being, ever seeking and ever falling short of the moral high ground. He would make a rather handsome character, I thought. Read More »


Jennifer Egan Fever

July 12, 2011 | by

Photograph by Pieter M van Hattem/Vistalux.

Did you know that Jennifer Egan was robbed by a motorcyclist in Spain at the age of twenty-two? That when she was little, she wanted to be a doctor, but then she tried to be an archeologist? That she’s written exactly one celebrity profile and it’s of Calvin Klein? And that she received a gratuitous amount of CK1, which she wore until it ran out? That her first apartment in New York City was on West 69th Street but she has also lived on East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A) and West 28th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), but now she lives in Fort Greene? That she wrote her first (and unpublished) novel while studying abroad at Cambridge? That she was a reader for The Paris Review? That she writes her first drafts by longhand? And her second?

I have Jennifer Egan fever. I caught it at the beginning of last year, when I read “Ask Me if I Care,” a short story of hers that The New Yorker had excerpted from her then-forthcoming novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read the other two stories The New Yorker had published on my iPhone while getting a pedicure. It’s a banal admission only worth recalling because I remember sitting in the salon’s lounge long after the polish had dried and it was time to leave—I had to read it all, right then and there. After that, I read every single story she published, every novel she had written, every interview I could get my hands on. (I knew the obsession was bad when I started picking through the Amazon reviews.)

Egan’s prose is stunning, funny, sexy—cool. Her stories reference Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. She can write about an attractive kleptomaniac on a first date, a topic that seems dangerously cliché, and yet, by the end of opening paragraph, you’re hooked. She’s transparent about her writing process; honest about what she borrows and what she invents. It’s not that she “beat” Jonathan Franzen, though I see why some feel the need to pit the two authors against one another. And it’s not that she’s perfect—I have yet to encounter someone who liked The Keep—but maybe that’s also part of the appeal.

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Chris Adrian on ‘The Great Night’

May 17, 2011 | by

Photograph by Gus Elliott.

In The Great Night, Chris Adrian recasts A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Gone are the Rude Mechanicals, replaced instead by a homeless troop staging a musicalized Soylent Green; the duped lovers are more heartbroken than confused, though they’re all lost in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on the way to a party. The faeries remain, but they’re heartbroken too (the faerie queen, Titania, mourns the death of her human child and the departure of her king, Oberon), or malevolent and vengeful (the now scary Puck). In all his work, Adrian takes stabs at figuring out what to do in a world brimming with sin, dead brothers, and broken hearts. I recently spoke with him; he called from San Francisco, where he’s a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.

This new book is a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s your relationship to the play? How does the book stand against it?

My relationship is one of abject admiration. I had it in the back of my head to do a story or a novel that’s a retelling of a Shakespeare, and I thought I’d probably like to retell A Midsummer’s Night Dream but could never figure out what the actual story would be. What could I possibly come up with that would add anything to something that was already perfect, or at least make the retold story urgent and compelling? So it took a while. I figured it out in part from walking back and forth to work through Buena Vista Park at dawn and dusk, when it’s a fairly creepy and magical place, and in part from having a relationship fall apart in just the right way to generate an obsessive need to tell a story about love.

You’ve called this a less ambitious novel compared to your other work. How so? Is that even something you should be admitting?

In some ways it felt less ambitious, though it didn’t turn out to be any less work. The story, at least when it started out, was about love, something of a lark as a topic compared to untimely death or the end of the world. Untimely death and the end of the world crept into the novel anyway, so it became just as ambitious as any of the others.

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