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Posts Tagged ‘novels’

Watch Out for Hidden Skulls, and Other News

May 6, 2016 | by

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533.

  • With Zero K out, Don DeLillo is doing that most un-DeLillo of things: giving interviews. He told Mark O’Connell, “The novel still exists. And to my mind it still can be called a flourishing form. There are so many good younger writers. It’s clear people are drawn towards the form—people who want to write are drawn toward the novel. It’s the most accommodating form, certainly within fiction, and the most challenging. And it’s very heartening to see so many good young writers. Don’t ask me for names. But I do know the work of some of them, and I do know the opinions of people I respect who read more than I do. So I don’t feel any dismay concerning the form itself … I find that being active as a fiction writer propels one toward the future, in a way.”
  • While we’re on DeLillo: it’s comforting, in some small way, to know that Ben Rhodes, the nation’s deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications, has or has had DeLillo on his mind. “He saw the planes hit the towers, an unforgettable moment of sheer disbelief followed by panic and shock and lasting horror, a scene that eerily reminded him, in the aftermath, of the cover of the Don DeLillo novel Underworld … He was in the second year of the M.F.A. program at NYU, writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned twenty-six. He saw the first tower go down, and after that he walked around for a while … ‘I immediately developed this idea that, you know, maybe I want to try to write about international affairs,’ he explained.”
  • The Crucible is sixty-three years old, and for all its heavy-handedness it’s still a great way to rile yourself up about despotism, especially when it’s set, as a new production is, in a contemporary elementary school: “For viewers around the globe, the play evokes frustrations with tyrannical, violent political leaders. As election season engulfs us, Ivo van Hove’s production urges us to consider our country’s currently campaigning personalities … Times never really change, Van Hove suggests. We’re all still schoolchildren, feuding and petty and hesitant to admit our mistakes. There’s a thin line between theatrics and rabble-rousing and the human inclination to follow spectacular reasoning, regardless of its truth. What matters more is what’s being taught and what’s been learned.”
  • Optical illusions can save your life, man. And your soul. India’s transport ministry has used some sleight of hand to make their crosswalks seem to levitate from the street, which reminds Kelly Grovier of a memento mori from the sixteenth century: “When it was unveiled in 1533, the double portrait The Ambassadors by the German and Swiss artist Hans Holbein the Younger must have struck observers as a road bump for the soul. Looked at straight on from the front, the huge oil-on-oak painting is enigmatic enough, presenting to the observer a pair of distinguished diplomats caught in a clutter of worldly amusements: musical instruments and scientific whatnots scattered about the shelves on which they lean … But pass by the painting at a shallow angle from the left, such that your eye catches the work by chance in the periphery of its vision, and a mystery tucked into the center of the painting stops you cold. Only from that askance vantage do you see the optical illusion Holbein has secretly positioned into the foreground of his work: the cracked cranium of a spooky skull grinning back you.”
  • Today in correlations that seem absurd on the face of it, but then you give them a little thought and you’re like, Oh, yeah, that kind of makes sense: Ping-Pong-table sales are tethered to the fate of the tech industry. As goes tech, so goes Ping-Pong. “Is the tech bubble popping? Ping-Pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning … Table buying ‘tracks most closely with start-ups that hit that threshold where they’re taking out office space,’ says Russell Hancock, chief executive of think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which follows economic trends. ‘That’s when you’re going to get your first Ping-Pong table.’ Table sellers seeing a decline include David Vannatta, sales team leader at Sports Authority in San Francisco. The store was getting a ‘good flow of tech companies’ buying tables, he says, but sales have fallen since Christmas.”

The State of the Political Novel: An Interview with Édouard Louis

May 3, 2016 | by

Édouard Louis

Édouard Louis, born in 1992, grew up in Hallencourt, a village in the north of France where many live below the poverty line. Now his account of life in that village, written when he was nineteen, has ignited a debate on class and inequality, foisting Louis into the center of French literary life.  

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule) is unsparing in its descriptions of the homophobia, alcoholism, and racism that animated Louis’s youth in Hallencourt. “We thought the book would be as invisible as the people it describes,” said Louis, who rejects any romantic views of the “authenticity” of working-class life. His publisher thought the first edition, two thousand copies, would last years. But hundreds of thousands of copies have sold in France, and the book is being translated into more than twenty languages. The novel, which has earned Louis comparisons to Zola, Genet, and de Beauvoir, is set to appear in English later this year.

Eddy Bellegueule can be read as a straightforward coming-of-age story, but beneath its narrative is an almost systematic examination of the norms and habits of the villagers—inspired, Louis has said, by the theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It’s as if he’s taken the whole place and put it behind glass—like observing the inner workings of an anthill.

Who is Eddy Bellegueule, and why do you want to finish him off?

Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him—he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated. The book shows how—before I revolted against my childhood, my social class, my family, and, finally, my name—it was my milieu that revolted against me. My father and my brothers wanted to finish off Eddy Bellegueule long before, at a time when I was still trying to save him. Read More »

A Maker of Mirrors

April 29, 2016 | by

Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me turns fifty.

Mimi and Richard Fariña, at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Photo: David Gahr

I am gazing, as I write, at a black-and-white photograph of Richard Fariña with his wife, Mimi (née Baez) Fariña, taken backstage at the Newport Folk Festival nine months before his death—fifty years ago this week—at the age of twenty-nine. To call the photo romantic would be an understatement. Mimi, her face a dark flower offered to an invisible sun, appears to be literally bursting out of her flip-flops as she executes some twirling, Isadora Duncan-y ballet step; while Richard, swarthy and black-haired, his eyes fondly delta’d (the Ray-Bans in his hand having apparently proven useless against all this brightness), looks like he can’t quite believe his luck, to have aligned his future with this lovely, exuberant sprite, a princess in folk’s royal family. He’s having a pretty good run of it for a guy who plays the dulcimer. And technically he doesn’t even play it that well. Read More »

Jeffrey Eugenides on The Virgin Suicides

April 13, 2016 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today’s featured writer is Jeffrey Eugenides, who discusses his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993. (An early installment appeared in the Review’s Winter 1990 issue.) “I wrote two hours every night, and on the weekends I would spend four hours,” he says. “Each book that you write, you swim a long way from the piers at a certain point—you just don’t know what’s going to happen. If I learned anything with The Virgin Suicides, I just learned if you keep going, you’ll figure out how to shape the thing.”

Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:

“The Work Is Full of Ghosts”: An Interview with Pat Barker

April 8, 2016 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’ve debuted four new recordings from the series. Today, the last of the bunch: Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy, who spoke with Michael Gorra on April 16, 2001. This interview was never adapted for the Review’s Writers at Work series, so what you hear has been essentially buried for the past fifteen years. From the start, Barker discusses why she disdains being considered a “gritty, working-class” writer because of her hailing from Northern England, and how fiction can help readers face “the past that’s not even past”: Read More »

Your Every Wish for a Home, and Other News

April 8, 2016 | by

The cover of a Cinderella Homes sales brochure, 1955–1957. From Barbara Miller Lane’s Houses for a New World. Via The New York Review of Books.

  • Did you know? Heterosexual men tend to enjoy sexual intercourse—so much so, in fact, that even when they’re not having intercourse, they sometimes wish they were. Undone, a new novel by John Colapinto, explores this fecund quadrant of the male psyche, because no one’s set foot there in a while and someone needed to mow the lawn: “By exploring heterosexual male lust, Mr. Colapinto has written the kind of novel that has gone way out of fashion. The classics of the genre—Portnoy’s Complaint (Roth), An American Dream (Mailer), and Couples (Updike), among them—are many decades old … Many critics and civilian readers would say—and have said—good riddance to priapic literature. In a 1997 essay, ostensibly a review of the late-period Updike novel Toward the End of Time, David Foster Wallace slammed the previous generation of ‘phallocrats’ for its sex-obsessed narcissism … Colapinto said he had read the Wallace essay and largely agrees with it. But on the subject of the sex-drenched novels of Updike, Roth and the other bards of the male libido, he said, ‘I couldn’t deny that I had a lot of fun reading those books when I was younger.’ In his view, there was an overcorrection.”
  • Our Spring Revel was earlier this week, and though you might have expected some kind of superficial tribute to the wonders of the written word, you should know that our writers got real. They also described “their less-photogenic days at the desk”: “Even after thirty years, Lydia Davis said she has her off days. In accepting this year’s Hadada Award at this year’s annual gala at Cipriani 42nd Street, the author admitted throwing out the written version of her speech was a big mistake, and one that left her ‘scrawling little notes in very small handwriting on a jiggling train’ en route to New York … David Szalay and Chris Bachelder, respective winners of the Plimpton Prize for Fiction and the Terry Southern Prize for Humor, also didn’t exactly sugarcoat their career choice. In fact, pretty much every table had a writer in the midst of a one-person battle with the printed page. For novelist Adam Wilson, that means having a safe to lock up his cell phone in his Brooklyn home office.”
  • A reissue of Marianne Moore’s 1924 Observations reminds of its “infectious devotion to everything small”: “A fresh reading of Observations suggests that, while Moore’s descriptive powers are formidable, she is primarily a poet of argument, which is to say that she is most primarily a poet of syntax—the convolutions of her long, charismatic sentences seduce us into agreement long before we’ve had time to consider the substance of the argument at stake … Read as a whole, as it was designed to be, Observations emerges as one of several books that in the 1920s created our lasting sense of what constitutes the modernist achievement—books that court chaos through exquisite artistry: Eliot’s The Waste Land, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Pound’s A Draft of XVI Cantos, Joyce’s Ulysses.”
  • Time to ask again—what were the suburbs? Two new books, Houses for a New World, by Barbara Miller Lane, and Detached America, by James A. Jacobs, look back at the era of Levittown and the postwar suburban-housing boom, which we’re struggling to make sense of. As Martin Filler writes, “Both new books remind us of a time when a popular American middle-class weekend pastime was to pile the kids and in-laws into the family car and drive around looking at model houses, whether or not you were actively shopping for a new place. Lane has found newspaper advertisements and promotional materials for subdivisions that were clearly aimed at wives (who wielded huge influence about housing decisions even though their husbands were the breadwinners) and stressed the transformational nature of life in these up-to-the-minute dwellings. A revealing example of that appeal to women can be found in a 1955–1957 sales brochure for Cinderella Estates, a new Anaheim, California, subdivision not far from the recently completed Disneyland. This booklet depicts a princess-like figure and regal coach next to a rendering of a sprawling ranch-style house and the words ‘your every wish for a home … come gloriously true.’ ”
  • On the poet Ocean Vuong, born in Saigon and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, whose work is “influenced by both the plainspoken ironies of Frank O’Hara and the exotic folklorism of Federico García Lorca”: “Reading Vuong is like watching a fish move: he manages the varied currents of English with muscled intuition. His poems are by turns graceful (‘You, pushing your body / into the river / only to be left / with yourself’) and wonderstruck (‘Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade. / Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn’). His lines are both long and short, his pose narrative and lyric, his diction formal and insouciant. From the outside, Vuong has fashioned a poetry of inclusion.”