The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘novels’

Ink and Paper and Repetition, and Other News

March 2, 2015 | by

tolmansuburbs

Ben Tolman, Suburbs (detail), 2012, ink on paper.

  • What makes certain writing publishable while the rest of it, the bulk of it, is consigned to the slag heap? Kenneth Goldsmith’s UbuWeb has launched Publishing the Unpublishable,” a series of e-books dedicated to challenging the precepts of literary merit. “If nothing else, the chance to stare into the face of deletion and creep around in the bins of what might never have been gives us the chance to see the world a completely different way.”
  • Protestantism, Catholicism, and their varying approaches to the novel: “To write a Catholic novel is thus to attempt something a little tricky, a little verging on the self-contradictory. And when a Catholic-aiming novel fails, it typically fails because it is at war with its own form … To write a Protestant novel is, instead, to do something a little unnecessary, a little verging on the redundant. And when a deliberately Protestant novel fails, it often fails because it seems didactic and preachy, engaged in what the art form itself promises that readers can take for granted.”
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel “on Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights”: “The Freeman ranks among the defining cultural expressions of black Houston … A single copy survives, physically, digitally, in any form, that we know of … In 1940, a man named Carter W. Wesley, a black publisher who’d at first worked under Love and later assumed control of the Freeman enterprise, lamented in print … that nobody appeared to possess a solitary copy of this great newspaper, which had started everything. Well, paper is useful—it gets used—especially by people who don’t have money to buy more.”
  • “More than six feel tall and four feet wide, Suburbs is Ben Tolman’s interpretation of the Wheaton, Maryland, community he called his home as a kid. Composing the drawing took six months: five days a week, fourteen hours each day, just ink and paper and repetition … the houses themselves are all faithful depictions. He inked each of the buildings based on photographs of the houses surrounding his own former home.”
  • The Mexican writer Sergio Pitol on smoking, hypnosis, and prose style: “I feel incapable of describing any action, no matter how simple, in a direct way. I said that other writers were able to do that, which did not mean I was less competent than they. In my case, plain and naked exposition, without flourishes, without detours, without echoes or shadows, fatally diminishes the efficiency of the story, converts it into a mere anecdote; a vulgarity, when all is said and done.”

NO COMMENTS

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by

mattsumell

Matt Sumell

In Spring 2012, The Paris Review published Matt Sumell’s short story “Toast,” in which the narrator, Alby, humiliates his girlfriend so creatively, and so often, that she ends the relationship. “Over the next few years,” Alby says in a typical passage, “I changed from a mostly passive prick to a mostly aggressive one, sexing a lot of girls and I’m pretty sure contracting HPV in my throat.”

“Toast” appears in Making Nice, Sumell’s first book, a collection of linked stories all told from Alby’s perspective. He’s a thirty-year-old having a hell of a time navigating the world since his mother died from cancer. Sumell’s stories are pugnacious, figuratively and literally. In “Punching Jackie,” Alby spars with his sister; in “OK,” he pushes his one-legged father over the side of a boat. Even when he isn’t taking anyone to task, the stories are full of fighting words: bitterness at the world, anger with fate, and misunderstanding of circumstance. Alby is lost. His outlets for self-discovery and definition are few and far between. Making Nice is hilarious in its prose, but painful in its nakedness.

Sumell and I met up to talk fighting, writing, and being named Matt on a freezing January afternoon. We ended up in Chelsea, at Barcade, a bar lined with arcade games where the tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces. When we walked through the door, Sumell took a quick survey of the room and jetted from my side, making a beeline directly to Punch Out!! Nothing could seem more apropos.

You just returned from a trip to Manila with your father, Albert, to whom your book is dedicated. Your main character is also named Alby—which doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. What’s your relationship with your dad?

Oh, we’re going straight there, are we? Well, the funny thing about my father having that name—I’m the first born, but my great-grandfather’s name is Alby, and my grandfather’s name is Alby, and my father’s name is Albert. Read More »

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Glass Hat

February 11, 2015 | by

Richard Price and the evolving role of pseudonyms.

books1f-2-web

From the cover of The Whites.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, isn’t by Richard Price, except that it is. It’s by Harry Brandt, Price’s pseudonym, but it’s also not really by Brandt—Price’s name is on the cover, too, and so Price is Brandt, obviously, and it follows then that Brandt is Price, and thus, uh …

Let’s start over.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, is by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. It says so right there on the cover. Big deal, you might say; another author slumming it in genre fiction by creating a false identity for himself. But by publishing both his name and his pseudonym on the cover, Price has parted with centuries of pseudonymous convention. He hasn’t just pulled back the curtain. He’s brought up the house lights and waved to the audience. And he did it all, according to the New York Times, because he got sort of annoyed. Read More »

4 COMMENTS

The 2015 Folio Prize Shortlist

February 9, 2015 | by

MasterRe_275 This morning, the Folio Prize announced the eight novels on their 2015 shortlist. The prize, now in its second year, is the only major English-language book award open to writers around the world; it aims “to celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre.” Its chair of judges, William Fiennes, told the Guardian that the books on this year’s list “say something true about human experience in a way that feels like something new”: “There’s dazzle and wildness and experiment hand in hand with a deep core commitment to human struggles and fervors and longings.”

Plenty of that dazzle and wildness is already familiar to our readers, who have encountered three of this year’s shortlisted novels in The Paris Review. Parts of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 appeared in our Summer 2013 and Spring 2014 issues; our Winter 2014 issue included an extract from Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation; and in that same issue, we began to serialize the entirety of Rachel Cusk’s Outline. We’re delighted that the three of them have been recognized for their work.

The full shortlist is below—congratulations to all the nominees. The winner will be announced on March 23.

10:04 by Ben Lerner
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
How to Be Both
by Ali Smith
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
Outline by Rachel Cusk

Divine Ordure

February 5, 2015 | by

A master class in hailing Satan.

cuadro felicien rops

An illustration by Félicien Rops for a bootleg edition of Là-Bas.

“The odor from those incense burners is unbearable … What do they burn that smells like that?”

“Asphalt from the street, leaves of henbane, datura, dried nightshade, and myrrh. These are perfumes delightful to Satan, our master.”

When J. K. Huysmans published Là-Bas (Down There) in 1891, it caused an immediate scandal in France. Huysmans serialized the novel in L’Écho de Paris, a newspaper; readers wrote in early and often to express their revulsion, threatening to cancel their subscriptions if the serialization was not halted posthaste. Not long afterward, when the book itself came out, it was banned from sale at railway kiosks, thus ensuring that it loomed all the larger in the public imagination. Controversy followed the book abroad, too—no one bothered to attempt an English translation for more than thirty years, and even then, the U.S. Society for the Suppression of Vice ruled that it was simply too immoral to see the light of day.

The outrage stemmed from the book’s frank depiction of Satanism—it culminates in a Black Mass, vividly described. Its protagonist, a novelist named Durtal, has pursued his interest in the occult to its logical conclusion, and he’s startled to learn that a thriving underworld persists in contemporary Paris. Huysmans conducted extensive research for the novel, basically embedding himself among a group of Satanists; he was disenchanted with ordinary life, and he wanted literature to present a thrilling alternative to quotidian reality. But he went too far. He grew so distressed by the darkness and evil in Là-Bas—and, perhaps, in his own soul; the novel’s subtitle is “A Journey into the Self”—that he came to regard it as a black book; he wrote a white book, En Route, to cancel its negative energy. (It’s sort of the same way that Prince, a century later, recorded Lovesexy to exorcize the demons of The Black Album.) Later in life, Huysmans converted to Catholicism. Read More »

4 COMMENTS

Something Nasty

January 20, 2015 | by

FIN06_Mortdecai_1Sht_JD_26x39-w

Johnny Depp in a poster for Mortdecai.

Lately, posters for the film Mortdecai have been popping up everywhere. They feature Johnny Depp and a battalion of costars extravagantly mustachioed and looking wacky. Oh, great, I thought. More of Johnny Depp pretending to be a character actor. That’s what the world needed. Maybe in six months if I’ve seen everything else on a plane and the movies are free.

The posters were designed to intrigue, but I can’t imagine they piqued much curiosity. But of course someone, eventually, had to ask, What the Hell Is Mortdecai?, and in a weak moment, I clicked on the link. And of course, then it all made sense—kind of. The new movie is an adaptation of the Mortdecai series by Kyril Bonfiglioli. The spelling is the same, of course, but it was still hard to believe—these lighthearted posters just bear so little resemblance to the tone of the books, and the preview roams even further.

It’s true, the books are technically wacky. Here’s how Leo Carey described them in The New Yorker when the series was reissued in 2004: Read More »