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Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

The Smithereens of Collapse: An Interview with Bill Cotter

April 18, 2014 | by

Cotter.Bill_credit-Leon-Alesi

Photo: Leon Alesi

Issue 208 of The Paris Review includes Bill Cotter’s story “The Window Lion,” which pairs remarkably well with his new novel, The Parallel Apartments. In fact, they’re related—but I’ll let Cotter talk about that. The novel is the sort of book that invites opposing adjectives: it’s sexy and repellant, “brainy” and full of “heartfelt joy” (Heidi Julavits); it’s comic but also relentlessly, tragically sad. I spent much of my time while reading the novel trying to articulate its tone. I got this far: “the image of Walt Disney’s dick was a revelation.”

Cotter agreed to a talk on the phone—he lives in Austin, Texas. We spoke for well over two hours, about writing, reading, the idea of “a Texas novel,” and his day job as an antiquarian book dealer and restorer. He has an excellent vocabulary and an imagination thats far-out and fantastic.

While reading, I was reminded of a favorite quote, from William James—“To better understand a thing’s significance, consider its exaggerations and perversions … learn what particular dangers of corruption it may be exposed to.” The novel, especially with regard to sex and relationships, seems a distorted version of reality, a kaleidoscope of exaggerations.

I like the idea that verity can be glimpsed by bending mirrors and chipping lenses. In fact, I don’t know how to get at the truth of characters in any other way. I don’t know how to send characters on movie dates, have them play tennis on a sunny day, or sit them down for turkey and mashed potatoes. In order to get at them for real, it’s necessary, for me, to dress them in silly clothes, hack off their fingers, smear them with ptomaine, then stick them between the sheets or pitch them starved into a cage or just let them rush around erecting bearing walls too weak to hold up the trembling rafters. It’s in the busted minds of troubled offspring, or among bones not quite picked clean, or poking out of the smithereens of collapse that I think the true truths are found. Read More »

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Read Zadie Smith’s Story from Our Spring Issue

April 15, 2014 | by

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Not pictured: Miss Adele, the corsets.

Zadie Smith’s story “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets” appears in our latest issue, and we’re delighted to announce that, as of today, you can read it online in its entirety. But “Miss Adele” won’t be gracing the Internet in perpetuity; it’s only available while our Spring issue is on newsstands. Subscribe to The Paris Review and you’ll have constant, round-the-clock, 24/7/365 access to this story and a wealth of others, anytime, anywhere, anyhow—digitally, in print, and perhaps in media yet to be invented.

“Well, that’s that,” Miss Dee Pendency said, and Miss Adele, looking back over her shoulder, saw that it was. The strip of hooks had separated entirely from the rest of the corset. Dee held up the two halves, her big red slash mouth pulling in opposite directions.

“Least you can say it died in battle. Doing its duty.”

“Bitch, I’m on in ten minutes.”

When an irresistible force like your ass …

“Don’t sing.”

“Meets an old immovable corset like this … You can bet as sure as you liiiiiive!

“It’s your fault. You pulled too hard.”

“Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE.”

“You pulled too hard.”

“Pulling’s not your problem.” Dee lifted her bony, white Midwestern leg up onto the counter, in preparation to put on a thigh-high. With a heel she indicated Miss Adele’s mountainous box of chicken and rice: “Real talk, baby.”

Read the whole story.

 

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Realism for Everyone

April 7, 2014 | by

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Donald Barthelme would’ve been, and should be, eighty-three today. It would be an exaggeration to say that I feel the absence of someone I never met—someone who died when I was three—but I do wonder, with something more than mere curiosity, what Barthelme would have made of the past twenty-odd years. These are decades I feel we’ve processed less acutely because he wasn’t there to fictionalize them: their surreal political flareups, their new technologies, their various zeitgeists and intellectual fads and dumb advertisements. Part of what I love about Barthelme’s stories is the way they traffic in cultural commentary without losing their intimacy, their humanity. They feel something like channel-surfing with your favorite uncle; he’s running his mouth the whole time, but he’s running it brilliantly, he’s interlarding his commentary with sad, sharp stories from his own life, and you’re learning, you’re laughing, you’re feeling, because he’s putting the show on for you, lovingly, his dear nephew.

But I’m losing the thread. My point is not to reveal a secret wish that Barthelme was my uncle.

I wanted to say something about lists. Barthelme was a master of many things, but one of them was, of course, the list—the man could make a prodigious inventory. I don’t mean to be glib when I say that. List-making is often dismissed as sloppy writing, but in Barthelme’s hands, a list never functions as an elision or a cheap workaround; he makes marvelous profusions of nouns, testaments to the power of juxtaposition. His lists feel noetic—they capture the motion of a mind delighting in how many things there are, and how rampantly they’re proliferating, and how strangely they collide in life, when they do. Read More »

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Hungry for Details

February 18, 2014 | by

Remembering Mavis Gallant.

Mavis Gallant - Good Job for A Girl

Mavis Gallant, known for her prolific and trenchant short fiction, has died, at ninety-one. Born in Montreal in 1922, she had a brief career as a journalist, but soon after The New Yorker accepted her first short story, in 1950, she embarked for Paris, where she lived most of her life. As the Times notes, she took as her primary subjects “the dislocated and the dispossessed”: neglected children, failed parents, anyone living alone.

In her 1999 interview with The Paris Review, she gave as eloquent and persuasive an argument for the necessity of fiction as any I’ve ever encountered:

A journalism student in Germany once told me she was bothered by the fact that the most plain and simple and ordinary news stories could conceal an important falsehood. She gave me an example, say, a couple celebrating their seventieth wedding anniversary. They will sit holding hands for the photographer and they’ve had their ups and downs over the years, but the marriage has been a happy one. The reporter can only repeat what they say. But what if the truth is that they positively hate each other? In that case the whole interview is a lie. I told her that if she wanted to publish the lie perceived behind the interview, she had to write fiction. (She became a critic, by the way.)

That ironic aside, deceptively casual, is characteristic of her work. In addition to this interview, the magazine published an excerpt from her diaries in our Fall 2003 issue. The portion below—in which Gallant reacts to the death of her neighbor, the French actress Alice Sapritch—captures her matter-of-factness, her careful eye, her seemingly effortless powers of perception, and her black but empathetic humor. It reminds us what a talent we’ve lost.

Sunday 25 March 1990

People I know who had no great use for Alice S. as an actress seem hungry for details. The house, and her shuttered windows, appear on TV like a celebrity. Strangers collect in the street as if visiting a shrine. She was an eccentric, a deliberate, a calculated oddity, with her wide-brimmed garden party hats and long cigarette holder, the butt of male comedians and imitators on chat shows. Once a few years ago when we were both standing in the street, waiting for taxis, I asked her why she put up with it—just like that. She said in a normal, not an affected, voice that I didn’t understand her career, that it was important to be recognized and talked about. When the car came for her it wasn’t a taxi but an open car with two young men in it, one in the backseat. The driver leaned over to open the door from the inside but when he saw me staring changed his mind and got out and came round to usher her in. His face and manner were supremely insolent: he was playing it for the fellow in the backseat and for a total stranger. Meanwhile she swept in, holding her hat. Did she have on long gloves? I mustn’t add props to the scene. Impossible not to think of Gloria Swanson, and Sunset Boulevard, except that Alice S. was in a real world every minute, every second, playing the idea of an actress, a grande dame, a monstre sacrée. I’d like to take it one further and say she knew it was a joke, but I can’t be sure.

Mme B., the concierge, tells me what happened yesterday. (Some of the friends who called me this morning kept asking if Alice S. had really died; there were contradictory stories going about.) Friends or relatives had arrived before the firemen, who were supposed to be giving first aid. The friends or relatives wouldn’t let them in. They kept issuing statement, “A.S. is alive and under intensive care.” Meanwhile the captain of the fire brigade—pronounced caption by Mme B.—sent for the police. That was how conflicting stories occurred. The capitan told Mme B. that her loved ones would not accept the truth, and that she was “dead, dead, dead.”

 

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The Fortress of Solitude: The Musical, and Other News

March 5, 2013 | by

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  • “If authors are hesitant to work with artists, artists have no reservations about working with authors’ words.” A tribute to some glorious, recent illustrations. 
  • Speaking of lovely books: nominate a cover for the 50 Books, 50 Covers book design awards.
  • Great, bite-size cell phone reads.
  • Speaking of short fiction, a tribute to a master of the form, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.
  • The Fortress of Solitude: the musical.
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    When Are You Gonna Get Over This: An Interview with Jim Shepard

    October 16, 2012 | by

    Jim Shepard is the author of six novels and four short-story collections. In a departure from the typical trajectory of the American writer, however, his novels came first: graudally, he has, by his own admission, become more and more drawn to the short-story form. And what short stories! His subject choices are bold, strange, almost stunning in their range: the love story between two gay engineers on the Hindenburg; a Roman scribe sent to man Hadrian's Wall; the inventor of the Godzilla epics. His narrator might be the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Aeschylus at the Battle of Marathon or John Entwistle or perhaps a British explorer searching for a sea in the middle of the Australian desert. A lot of his stories are set in the world of sports—baseball players moving to Cuba during Castro's revolution, football players, mountaineers, a Yugoslav soccer player who moves to Ajax Amsterdam during the sexual revolution. And yet, despite such a range of subjects, each story manages to feel true, the voice credible, the world evoked uncannily, so much so that the reader often feels like he's stumbled upon these character's private diaries.

    I recently edited and translated a collection of Jim's stories for an Italian publisher, and I decided to focus on those stories that had, more or less, some sort of connection to sports. The reason for that is simple: I have never read stories set in that world that manage to evoke it as well as Jim's. Also: I like sports. I called Jim up on Skype, from my ex-girlfriend's kitchen in Milan, Italy, and asked him a few questions about short stories and sports.

    In translating your stories, I started resenting the way you write, because it forced me to do so, so, so much technical and historical research, decipher so much lingo and jargon. It really was the most laborious translation I’ve everdone, and it really hit me just how much work you put into a single story.

    Yes!

    A different writer would take that kind of work and make a novel out of it. He’d make that much groundwork last three or four years.

    My friend Ron Hansen, the novelist, always says to me: “You’re crazy! You know, you did eight months of research and all you got out of it is a story. I would get a four-hundred-page novel and make a lot more money.” But part of it is also that, you know, it doesn't feel like drudgery to me. If I’m reading about these subjects, it’s because I’m strange enough to want to be interested in them anyway. So the idea that I have to read yet another book about volcanology doesn't make my heart sink. It makes me think, “Oh, good, I get to do that!” You know?

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