The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Cheddar, Cheever, and the Burbs

September 1, 2015 | by

An illustration from Muriel Stanek’s How People Live in the Suburbs, 1970.

Fifty years ago, John Cheever published The Wapshot Scandal, his second novel. Like many second novels, it’s more ambitious and more playful than its predecessor, the work of a writer who suspects he’s better than he feared. The traditional form suddenly seems boring, the same old themes threaten a categorization that the writer doesn’t want, and the writer—encouraged by praise, validated by awards, perhaps softened by income—realizes he can write just about anything. So he does.

The Wapshot Scandal begins where The Wapshot Chronicle ended: with the Wapshot family leaving the safety of St. Botolphs and searching for fulfillment in more modern suburban communities. An acrid whiff of cynicism rises from the page: we know this won’t end well, Cheever knows we know, and now it’s a matter of how and when. Moses and Coverley Wapshot bring their wives to Proxmire Manor and Talifer, respectively; the first is an archetype of the suburban nightmare, the second an archetype of a Cold War community, built around a missile-research facility.

Scandal is very much of its time, but even in its time the satire was well-trod: husbands drink too much, wives betray, wealth corrodes, families splinter, sex—granted or withheld—destroys. Cheever’s cynicism isn’t unique; he never claimed it was. What was, and what remains, unique, are passages like this:

The village, he knew, had, like any other, its brutes and its shrews, its thieves, and its perverts, but like any other it meant to conceal these facts under a shrine of decorum that was not hypocrisy but a guise or mode of hope.

This is what made Cheever special: he understood that the desperate idealism behind existential decay is still idealism. Which brings me to, well, me. Read More »

Sheila Heti on The Middle Stories

August 20, 2015 | 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 Sheila Heti, whose first collection, The Middle Stories, appeared in 2001. Earlier this week, we had Tao Lin discuss Bed, his 2007 debut.

“My First Time” will return with a new set of authors, including Ben Lerner and Donald Antrim, in a few months. In the meantime, you can watch the first set of “My First Time” interviews, published in May:

Smoking with Lucia

August 18, 2015 | by

Remembering Lucia Berlin.

Lucia Berlin in Albuquerque, 1963. Photo: Buddy Berlin/Literary Estate of Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin was not PC. And she was not New Age. She never talked to me about “recovery” or “karma.” We never spoke of the Twelve Steps. It was understood: she was sober now. No need to talk about it. Especially when she could write about it. Her stories, populated with alcoholics and addicts, are rendered with an empathy, disgust, and ruthless wit that echo the devastating circumstances of her own life. She’d moved from isolation to affluence to detox and back again, and Boulder, Colorado—inundated with massage therapists, extreme athletes, and vegans—was an unlikely place for her to end up. Yet she spent much of the last decade of her life there. First in a clapboard Victorian beneath the red rocks of Dakota Ridge; later, when illness nearly bankrupted her, in a trailer park on the outskirts of the pristine town.

News of the trailer depressed me until I managed a visit, finding her at ease amid the shabby metal homes stacked on cinder blocks. It’s likely Lucia would have felt more comfortable watching a bull be gored in a Mexico City arena or huddling among winos on a corner in Oakland than she ever felt at her first place on posh Mapleton Hill. But that was where we spent nearly all of our time together. Usually at her kitchen table. Read More »

Tao Lin on Bed

August 18, 2015 | 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 Tao Lin, whose first collection, Bed, appeared in 2007. Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Sheila Heti about The Middle Stories, her debut collection from 2001. In the meantime, you can watch the first set of “My First Time” interviews, published in May:

Passionate Acolytes: An Interview with Benjamin Moser

August 17, 2015 | by

Photo: Paulo Gurgel Valente

I’ve gotten accustomed to talking about the “Clarice Lispector tidal wave.” For weeks on end, I’ve scarcely been able to go online without seeing Lispector, who died in 1977, raved about, serialized, reviewed, discussed, or marveled at.

The occasion for this outpouring of attention is the publication of The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson and edited by Benjamin Moser. But this story goes back much further, at least to 2009, when Moser published his biography of Lispector, Why This World. Since then, we’ve seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in the author, whom many consider to be among the best Brazil ever produced, and one who is often compared to Virginia Woolf. Why This World was followed by Moser’s translation of Lispector’s final novel, The Hour of the Star, and then new translations of four of Lispector’s major novels, each by a different translator.

With The Complete Stories upon us, I asked Moser why Lispector is worthy of all this effort, what makes the new book such a monumental publication, and what’s next for the Brazilian author.

Let’s begin with a very basic question—why Lispector?

Sometimes you meet someone in a bar and end up in bed after a few drinks. And sometimes you wake up and look over at the person snoring by your side and gasp and say, What was I thinking? But other times that person turns out to be the love of your life. With Clarice, I certainly had no idea that our relationship would be as long or as intense as it turned out to be. Writing her biography taught me about her life, introduced me to her world, her country, her friends. Translating her books brought me into her mind on the molecular level where the translator has to work. And the better I got to know her, the more my love deepened. Read More »

The Original One-percenters, and Other News

July 29, 2015 | by

huntersthompsonblank

A screenshot from PBS’s Blank on Blank, animated by Patrick Smith.

  • “You get a tremendous boot out of what the Angels call ‘screwing it on,’ taking a big bike and just running it flat out as fast as it will go. I used to take it out at night on the Coast Highway, just drunk out of my mind, ride it for twenty and thirty miles in just short pants and a T-shirt. It’s a beautiful feeling. I recognize it as an illusion and a fantasy, but for someone who has nothing else to go back to, this is maybe one of the happiest moments of his life.” In 1967, Hunter S. Thompson spoke to Studs Turkel about the Hells Angels, and fortunately it’s on tape. In fact, now it’s not just on tape—it’s an animated featurette.
  • David Gates talks about taking his time: “I’m just naturally slow. It usually takes me about three or four months to write a story. Then it takes me a while after I finish a story to forget that story and convince myself that my next story is a hot new idea that’s never been done before. Nobody but the writer cares how long it takes to write something.”
  • Bridges: great for driving over. Also great for playing like a harp. “In the middle of the bridge, the woman opened the bag to reveal a cache of objects, including a wireless speaker and a stethoscope, which she draped around her neck. She then approached each of the bridge’s wrought-iron suspension rods. Clanging them with a metal tine, she leaned in to listen, holding up the stethoscope as though each resonating note were a heartbeat: C, F, A, G. When the woman found a rod with a particularly pleasing sound, she set about attaching other equipment to the bridge, lifted from the kit bag: a ‘bridge-bow,’ resembling the spokes of a wheel, which would spin around and strike the suspension rod with rubber balls, and a ‘digi-bow,’ which would capture the resonance digitally and then enable her to manipulate it using a string.”
  • Summer is slow, and in its longueurs you may find that you need a new hobby. Choose mesmerism and impress your friends with centuries of medical-spiritual flimflammery! An 1884 guide called Mental magic: a rationale of thought reading, and its attendant phenomena and their application to the discovery of new medicines, obscure diseases, correct delineations of character, lost persons and property, mines and prings of water, and all hidden and secret things will take you step-by-step through the joys of mesmerizing for fun and profit. If you get bored, just add drugs: “I have found,” the author Thomas Weldon writes, “that those who … have taken Opium, Datura, Indian Hemp, or other powerful Narcotics, are most susceptible to Magnetic Treatment and rapidly cured of disease.”
  • The artist Mary Mattingly added her annotations to a bunch of old Whole Earth Catalogs, revising them to explore “scenarios of ecological collapse.” Living in a geodesic dome has never felt so apocalyptic: “Drop City is a fucked-up mess. Drop City is completely open, completely free; I own it, you own it, because we all know that energy comes from the same place. Ten domes under the skydome, overshadowed by the Rockies; silverdomes, domes that are paintings, multicolored cartopdomes, and one black dome … ”