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Posts Tagged ‘Rick Moody’

Laughing in the Face of Death: A Vonnegut Roundtable

April 11, 2013 | by

BirdTile2

 

Birds were talking. One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

A well-constructed e-mail and some guts on my part had one day inspired Harold Bloom to send me the phone number of his editor. A few days later I began writing for his literary criticism series with what was then Chelsea House and what is now Infobase Publishing. I put together two works on Tennessee Williams and a revamp of a guide to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness before I was contracted to write a book called How to Write About Kurt Vonnegut. Most of what I had read of Vonnegut’s work I had read long ago, and I had seen Vonnegut only once at a forum in Connecticut in 2006, where he appeared onstage with Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner, the three of them parodying a dysfunctional family in a scene that led to much laughter. The theater, however, was completely absent of sound when an audience member asked a cultural-political question and Weiner sputtered, “I wasn’t expecting to have to deliver a message about humanity tonight.” “Well, leave,” was Vonnegut’s response. It was this Vonnegut moment that featured prominently in my mind’s reel as I packed notebooks, an inordinate number of pens, and several of Vonnegut’s novels in my bag that July in preparation for a trip to Boston. Once there, I read and took notes on one Vonnegut book per day from my room. (The hotel that I checked into, the Liberty, had served as a jail until a revolt over poor inmate conditions in the early 1970s led to its obsolescence and subsequent evolution into luxury accommodations.)

When I got tired of being cooped up I moved to the lobby, where I witnessed absurdities such as a woman pushing a very small dog in a stroller and smiling, goofing tourists wandering the open tiers of what had once been rows of jail cells, and sometimes I wandered up Charles Street and popped into the local antique stores. I couldn’t afford most of what was in them, but haggled in one shop over the purchase of an antique blue-and-white tile which featured a single bird—a bluebird. It was a difficult trip, hot and coming on the tails of a year in which nothing went as planned and which involved the full stock and variety of deaths that is possible in one human year. And so I had to have this tile (symbol of happiness, you understand), and I turned over my last ten dollars to acquire it, and I read each book that week with the tile tucked away next to me, wrapped in paper in my bag. And in the strange, beautiful ways that life and art—life and fiction—can converge, I became certain that I was now living in a Vonnegut novel, filled with dark and strange humor and impossible—weren’t they? shouldn’t they be?—absurdities. The only highlight of the trip was an evening concert, one of Beethoven’s symphonies played live by the Charles River, and I sat on the ground listening with my pants growing damp from the remnants of a recent downpour. “Music,” Vonnegut said, “makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it.” But I wasn’t feeling fond, and I returned home having worked hard but defeated. I put the tile away on one of my bookshelves. It wasn’t until one day—after I had finished the book and had grown tired of burdens and hungry for laughter—that I saw it again. I had placed the tile so that the bird was caught in an endless nosedive. And look at its tail! What had made me think that it was a bluebird? It had the tail of a peacock! With it seeming like the natural thing to do, I turned it so that its beak was pointed skyward, so that this strange bird—a bluebird with the tail of a peacock—was now a triumphant phoenix. A ridiculous bluebird-peacock-phoenix. The summer had ended and so had the heat. And things had gone on. Poo-tee-weet.

On the eve of the anniversary of Vonnegut’s death, I asked Ben Greenman, David Holub, Rick Moody, Josip Novakovich, and Avi Steinberg about their own memories of Vonnegut’s work and about why everyone else should remember it, too.

How has Vonnegut influenced or informed your own work?

Ben Greenman: Through moral rigor, though not in any of the predictable ways. As a younger reader, which is when I had my strongest connection to Vonnegut—maybe not my most meaningful, but my strongest, in the fashion of first love—I took a preteen tour through Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. The things that I dimly and germinally felt about war and technology and religion and the different—but similar—risks to humanity inherent in all of them were laid out quite clearly. As time has moved along, the sources of the risks have shifted slightly, for purposes of camouflage, but the risks remain. Read More »

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Notes from a Bookshop: February, or the Folly of Love

February 12, 2013 | by

Hedder

Sitting alone in my tiny bookshop on a cold February morning, I have the sensation that I’ve conjured a dream into reality. The light is crisp and blue through the door. A flight of red paper swallows—a Valentine homage to Chaucer’s poem “The Parliament of Fowls”—hangs from the ceiling, fluttering quietly from the heat whooshing out of the floor grate. The room is small, just shy of two hundred fifty square feet, and an old pickled farm table sits squarely in the middle. The top of the table is covered with books, and the shelves lining two of the room’s walls also contain a patchwork of brightly colored spines.

Valentine-themed woodblock prints handmade by my husband line the farm table and a grid of nature-inspired prints hold a wall. We live on an old dairy farm up in northeast Pennsylvania, and instead of cows in our three-bay English barn, we have two etching presses. Mark carves the images into blocks of clear pine, inks them up, and sends them through the press, cranking the smooth silver wheel like a captain on a ship. This is our store together, a kind of celebration of works on paper. We live on Moody Road, and so we call the shop Moody Road Studios.

An artist and a writer, respectively, my husband and I had both been teaching and working in the city for more than a decade, until a little over a year ago. The idea of running a bookshop never entered our consciousness while in New York, mostly because it never could have happened. Space and funding were impossibilities—as one might guess, a writer and an artist in business together don’t quite make for a crack commerce force. But here, on Main Street in the small town of Honesdale, everything clicked into place. Read More »

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Just Gotta Say…

April 20, 2012 | by

Nothing against Swamplandia! or The Pale King, but we can‘t help wishing the Pulitzer Board had gotten its act together—and chosen Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, the novella that appeared in our Summer 2002 issue. That would have been our first Pulitzer! As it is, it’s our first Pulitzer nomination. Train Dreams made its original appearance alongside fiction by Aleksandar Hemon and Mary Robison, interviews with Ian McEwan and Louis Begley, plus a radio play by Rick Moody ... and we have a few copies in mint condition. Buy yours while supplies last.

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Strangers

December 30, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Laurel Nakadate, still from Stay the Same Never Change, 2008, 93 minutes.

When I was in high school, the few friends I had all lived in other states—the far-flung gains of various summer camps—which meant that I took a lot of long train trips on weekends. On these rides, I developed the habit of sitting next to a very specific kind of stranger: a middle-aged man who looked lonely. The goal was to find someone who’d talk nonstop. That was how I met Tom Malone: on the train from New York to Raleigh. Over the course of the eight-hour journey, he talked about everything from his government job to his pit bull’s separation anxiety. He told me he used to braid his ex-wife’s hair every night, back when they were married. He explained in detail the reasons Amtrak’s business model was bound to fail. He said my name a lot, and with formality: “Here’s the thing, Jean,” and so on.

I’d never felt safer in my life, sitting next to Tom—his belly like a life raft, and me nodding like a therapist. At one point though, he ruined the spell. He said, “You look exactly like that girl Lennon dated. What’s her name.”

“Yoko Ono?” I said.

“No, no, not Yoko Ono. Oh, darn it. May. May Pang? You know her? Lost weekend?” I didn’t know her. And I wanted us to go back to talking about him.

About five years ago, when I first saw the work of artist Laurel Nakadate, I could have sworn that she had cast Tom in one of her videos, which feature middle-aged, sometimes overweight, mostly white men who had approached her in the street or hit on her in parking lots. In return, she’d invited them to go home with her and act out strange one-on-one scenarios in front of video cameras. We see them shaking her inert body and yelling, “Wake up! Wake up!” or performing an exorcism, or sharing a birthday cake. In a scene from I Want to Be the One to Walk in the Sun (2006), her hirsute costar strips down to his loose-fitting underpants, while she takes off everything but her bra and panties. Then, with her index finger, she traces a clockwise circle in the air over his head. It’s a signal for him to spin around, which he does, while she watches, unblinking and tender.  Read More »

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