The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘novelists’

No Judgment, No Message, No Mercy

October 16, 2015 | by

At ninety-five, Maria Beig remains deeply underread in America.

Maria Beig in her garden, sometime in the 1980s. Photo: Rupert Leser

No one captures the brutality and pragmatism of rural life like Maria Beig, who turned ninety-five last week. One of thirteen children, she was born in 1920 on a farm in Swabia, a few miles from Lake Constance, a landscape that informs her startling fiction. She didn’t publish her first novel until she was sixty-two, after a lifetime of teaching knitting and home economics in provincial schools. (Young writers, take note—there is another path, if an unglamorous one.)

Her debut, Rabenkrächzen (Raven’s Croak), has never been published in America, but it unleashed a good bit of venom in Germany: Beig’s treatment of Swabia was an arrow that struck the bone, jolting the skeletal structure of a closed society. Those who know Beig’s work like to mention the crowd at an early reading in Ravensburg, not far from her home village, who shouted her down with cries of “liar!” and “nestbeschmutzer!”, which translates roughly to “spoiler of the nest.” She took herself out of the reading business after that. Jaimy Gordon, who has translated two of her novels into English, writes that “as a result, the brother who had inherited the family property forbade Beig not only his house but even the small village where she had grown up.” Read More »

Mein Scheisse

April 28, 2015 | by

Knausgaard’s fecal fixation.

Kinderen die hun behoefte doen

Gesina ter Borch, Kinderen die hun behoefte doen (Children Relieve Themselves), ca. 1650.

“I’ve been reading Knausgaard,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion, over this Scandinavian-grade winter, from a friend across a barroom table. And a few minutes into the conversation, almost inevitably: “There’s this part in the third book about taking a shit … ”

It came as no surprise that my friends wanted to talk My Struggle, the Norwegian novelist’s opus on the everyday in six volumes. (The fourth is out in English translation today.) But the number of those friends who zeroed in on Knausgaard’s excretory musings was another matter.

And it’s not just My Struggle. The subject reemerged earlier this year when The New York Times Magazine published “My Saga,” Knausgaard’s two-part North American travelogue, in which a jaunt on the john in a Newfoundland hotel leaves him with a hopelessly clogged toilet. He recounts the aftermath at length. The episode was at the center of Knausgaard talk.

Lest readers think this focus is a factor of the company I keep—that I surround myself with prudish types offended by bathroom scenes, fetishists attracted to them, or the scatological-humor crowd—I direct them to James Wood, a critic at a venue no less proper than The New Yorker. In an interview with Knausgaard published in the Winter 2014 issue of The Paris Review, Wood says, Read More »

Signing Off, and Other News

April 21, 2015 | by


The Brox Sisters tuning a radio, ca. 1920s.

  • Historically, U.S. novelists have made their subject “the American dream,” starry-eyed and ambiguous as it may be—but “has the American dream run out of road? Perhaps an exhaustion with national myths explains the recent advent of post-apocalyptic literature … When the dream has been blown to bits for more than a century, all that’s left is to tell bleak stories of human survival set in the wreckage of a junkyard.”
  • Today in blunt, clear-eyed statistics: one in six writers did not earn any money from their writing in 2013, a new report from The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society said, “though 98 percent saying their work had been published or used in other ways. 11.5 percent of authors now earn a living solely from their writing—down from 40 percent a decade ago.”
  • Norway has announced that it will cease FM radio broadcasts in 2017, and others are expected to follow suit—meaning the age of analog may be drawing to a close.
  • Critics, Saul Bellow felt, “ought to provide useful encouragement and then get the hell out of the way. This … helps to explain the lifelong tension between Bellow and Lionel Trilling, the leading critic of his time … Bellow greet[ed] Trilling at a party: ‘Still peddling the same old horseshit, Lionel?’ ”
  • “I feel about so-called intellectuals, especially academics—English professors in particular—almost the same way I once felt about my rural townsfolk: that I can’t get far enough away. At least, I have come to learn, there was among my fellow country dwellers an engaging suspicion of pomposity, a strange verbal lyricism, a physical vigor, and the deep lonesomeness of Celtic immigrants who sense ‘I shouldn’t really be here.’ ”

You’ve Been Fictionalized!

December 26, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!


Is this really what you think of me?

The shock of recognition.

Twenty-odd years ago, T. C. Boyle asked me about the artists’ colonies I’d been to—he was writing a novel. I described the lunches dropped off on the residents’ porches, the nightly readings and revels. When his book, East Is East, came out, I read a few chapters, then stopped, gut-socked and mortified. Yes, there, sprinkled in, was the material I’d given him, along with an added surprise—Wasn’t that me in those pages, and cast in a none-too-flattering light?

In real life, T. C. called me La Huneven, and here he called his heroine, Ruth Dershowitz, La Dershowitz. Ruth was a talentless writer who aspired to literary fiction while writing restaurant reviews and articles for Cosmo. Hey! I wrote restaurant reviews! And I’d once written an article for Cosmo! Was this, then, what Tom really thought of me? That I was a talentless airhead poseur trying to break into the hallowed world of literature?

This was my first experience of being fictionalized. I still recall the yellow-white flash of queasiness, the mortification: a sense of powerlessness and an utter lack of recourse. Read More >>

How She Knows

December 17, 2014 | by

Penelope Fitzgerald’s shifting reputation.


From the cover of Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Penelope Fitzgerald would have been ninety-eight today. We should mark the occasion by remembering that it is not extraordinary that she became a prize-winning novelist, though you may have heard otherwise.

In 2008, Julian Barnes described Fitzgerald as a jam-making grandmother, carrying a plastic, purple handbag. “Many readers’ initial reaction to a Fitzgerald novel,” he wrote, is, “ ‘But how does she know that?’ ” He said that he has reread the first scene of her book The Blue Flower (2000) many times, “always trying to find its secret, but never succeeding.”

And most everyone knows the story of the Booker dinner in 1979, to which Fitzgerald supposedly wore a flannel housedress. When she beat out V. S. Naipaul for the prize with Offshore, Robert Robinson of Book Programme proposed that the judges had made the wrong choice.

Then there’s Michael Dibdin, who once compared Fitzgerald to Jane Austen, of whom Lord Grey of Fallodon said something like, How astonishing that, despite the dullness of her life, she should write not only one novel, but several, and they are very good, too. Didbin was also incredulous of The Blue Flower: “How on earth was this done?” Read More »


It Changes Nothing

December 10, 2014 | by

If you’ve never seen it, watch Clarice Lispector’s first and only TV interview, from February 1977, when she appeared on TV Cultura in São Paulo. She’d arrived intending to appear in a program about film, apparently, when the station’s director summoned his nerve and asked for an interview. She died later that year.

Lispector is restless, and charmingly curt, throughout the interview—it seems as if she really, really doesn’t want to be there. Even under duress, though, she gives stronger, more meaningful answers than many writers give at their most accessible. “I write without the hope that what I write can change anything at all. It changes nothing … Because at the end of the day we’re not trying to change things. We’re trying to open up somehow.”

At one point, the interlocutor asks, “What, in your opinion, is the role of the Brazilian writer today?”

“To speak as little as possible,” she says, her head tilted, her thumb half-massaging her temple, a cigarette between her fingers.