When I moved to New York, I was overwhelmed by the sense that everyone I encountered was desperately holding themselves together. I could not escape the feeling that I, too, must be very careful, that if I were not, some crack in my skin would open and spill my insides onto the sidewalk. Accompanying this vigilance was an impulse toward rebellion, the sense that if only I were reckless, I could finally have some fun. I came to fancy myself somewhat deranged and decided to leave it at that. There are many such women in Nicole Flattery’s outstanding collection Show Them a Good Time—women who are holding themselves together or flagrantly resisting the mandate to do so, in worlds both horrifying and hilarious. “Abortion, a Love Story” is a standout, a lengthy piece that merits the patience it requires. Natasha, engaged in a “tedious liaison” with her pathetic professor, believes she must “keep her emotions quiet and fixed in place or her whole face [will] break apart.” Out to dinner, she returns from the bathroom to find herself replaced by her inverse, a girl named Lucy. Lucy is “monstrously drunk” and looks like “what was promised men when they returned from war.” This Gogolian turn does not end in tragedy but in rapturous joy, the women holding hands as the lecherous professor quite literally fades into the background. I hope one day to be so united, warring impulses finally in harmony. In the meantime, Flattery’s collection will be my wry and devastating companion. —Noor Qasim Read More
Kevin Barry is widely recognized as one of the most gifted fiction writers to emerge from the English-speaking world in the new century. Five years ago, a critic in the Montreal Gazette spoke of a growing view that in him, “an heir to the great Irish tradition has arrived.” But Barry’s early life was spent in multiple countries and continents—he grew up in Limerick city, spent a decade in Cork city, then lived in various places in England, Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Spain. His first story collection, There are Little Kingdoms, won the prestigious Rooney Prize when it was published twelve years ago, and his first novel, City of Bohane, won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2011. Now, his most recent novel, Night Boat to Tangier, has been long-listed for the Booker Prize. He is known for a distinctive combination of earthy wordplay and taut narration, humor and darkness. We conducted our interview via email, over the span of a few days.
I wanted to start by asking you about where you live in the northern part of Ireland. How did you choose it? And what is it like there, in the town where you live?
I live beside Lough Arrow in County Sligo, an area that at one time had the highest incidence of reported UFO sightings in Europe. Then a certain old lady passed on—to another dimension—and the sightings somehow dropped off. But I watch the skies, just in case.
I’ve lived here with my wife for the last twelve years. It’s essentially a swamp, with rain three hundred days a year, but it’s a very lovely place. Kind of dreamy, kind of melancholic, but beautiful. The house was built in the 1840s as a barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary and remained a cop shop until the late seventies. I work out the back in a shed that was once a holding cell.
Living in the countryside took getting used to—the sheer dark at night, the mystery rustlings from the ditches as animals molest each other, et cetera—but I’m totally into it now. It’s kind of spacey and weird and you discover how affected you are, mood-wise, by weather and atmospheric pressure and presences in the landscape.
Will you tell me about your wife? What’s her name, and how long have you been married, and what does she do?
Olivia Smith. We’ve been together twenty years and married ten. She used to be an academic, teaching law, but now runs a publishing project that we work on together, Winter Papers, a fancy annual arts anthology. She spends a lot of time helping me find my phone, keys, wallet, sense of decorum. She generally keeps the circus on the road. V.S. Pritchett’s wife used to list her occupation on official forms as “driver” because she had to chauffeur him around all the time. Liv does a lot of that, too. I sit my driving test tomorrow at the age of fifty, and it’s looking touch-and-go.
What kept you from learning to drive, or from getting your license?
I think it’s genetic—my late father passed his test at something like the eighth attempt, in his midforties. I’m a slow starter generally. I learned to cycle a bike at the age of fourteen and to swim at the age of thirty-two and I published a first slim volume of stories at the age of thirty-seven. Only fools rush in. I’m now an avid cyclist and swimmer and story writer. Once I get going, I tend to have the zeal of a late convert.
You were obviously a passionate reader during those first thirty-seven years. Were your parents bookish people?
John Vincler’s column “Brush Strokes” examines what is it that we can find in paintings in our increasingly digital world.
I went into the woods for a while in order to think about the paintings of Agnes Martin. For most of the last fifteen years I’ve spent at least a week of the summer in a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that has been in my partner’s family since the Depression. The cabin is a three-day drive from Brooklyn, with a dog and our two-year-old daughter all packed uncomfortably in our old Honda. Closing in on the cabin for the last mile or two, as our car bumped along the unmarked, sandy two-track passage better suited for a truck or Jeep, I looked at the two lines ahead of me, more path than road, and at the stand of tall and slender soft pines, like the ones the logging trucks carried up here to be pulped into paper products. The road and the trees made a sort of grid, I thought, as the forest, cleaved by the road, engulfed the car. Finally, with the evening sun low in the sky shimmering off the lake, the cabin came into view—the vertical lines of pines on the other side of the lake formed a horizontal band between the water below and the sky above.
The paintings that burrow their way in are most often the ones I didn’t expect to impress me. Seven years ago, shortly after having moved to New York, I found myself in a room of Agnes Martin paintings at Dia:Beacon, the Dia Foundation’s museum of mostly minimalist late-twentieth century artworks in Beacon, New York. The museum is full of artists regularly found in modern art museums: the fluorescent light works of Dan Flavin, Donald Judd’s right-angled sculptural constructions, Richard Serra’s immense and weighty weathered metal forms. While I may nod to those with expectation and recognition, they mostly leave me cold. At Dia:Beacon, however, even the expected work of these artists wrested my attention differently. Their cold physicality seemed more matter-of-fact: constructions to be contemplated (or not) within an environment of quiet and light and openness. There is a hangar-like space with a row of enormous Serra sculptures you can walk within, rendering them poetic, elegant, and inviting when I expected them to be audaciously brooding. Strange that my favorite museum holds few of the works of my favorite artists. On my first visit, I would have counted among those only Louise Bourgeois. But after that visit, I would also include the work of the Canadian-born painter Agnes Martin.
The playful, pessimistic fictions of the Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai emit a recognizably entropic music. His novels—equal parts artful attenuation and digressive deluge—suggest a Beckettian impulse overwhelmed by obsessive proclivities. The epic length of a Krasznahorkai sentence slowly erodes its own reality, clause by scouring clause, until at last it releases the terrible darkness harbored at its core. Many of his literary signatures—compulsive monologue, apocalyptic egress, terminal gloom—are recognizably Late Modern. But the extravagant disintegration and sly mischief of the work make him difficult to mistake for anyone else. There are the sudden, demonic accelerations; the extraordinary leaps in intensity; the gorgeous derangements of consciousness; the muddy villages of Mitteleuropa; the abyssal laughter; the pervasive sense of a choleric god waiting patiently just offstage. Here is fiction that collapses into minute strangeness and explodes into vast cosmology. It is, as Michael Hofmann says of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, “more world than product,” a planetary concretion of energy and motion, and subject to its own eventual heat death.
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming is the latest Krasznahorkai novel to reach English readers, in a typically extraordinary translation from Ottilie Mulzet. It represents, as the author recently told The Paris Review in his Art of Fiction interview, the conclusion of a tetralogy:
In January 1919, in a dry riverbed north of Los Angeles, a cast of thousands gathered to re-create a contemporary horror. Based on a book published a year before by a teenage survivor of the Armenian massacres, Auction of Souls, alternatively known as Ravished Armenia, was one of the earliest Hollywood spectaculars, a new genre that married special effects and extravagant expense to overwhelm its audience. This one would be all the more immediate, all the more powerful, because it incorporated another new genre, the newsreel, popularized in the Great War that had ended only two months before. This film was, as they say, “based on a true story.” The Armenian massacres, begun in 1915, were still going on.
The dry sand bed of the San Fernando River near Newhall, California, turned out to be the “ideal” location, one trade paper said, to film “the ferocious Turks and Kurds” driving “the ragged army of Armenians with their bundles, and some of them dragging small children, over the stony roads and byways of the desert.” Thousands of Armenians participated in the filming, including survivors who had reached the United States.
For some of these extras, the filming, which included depictions of mob rapes, mass drownings, people forced to dig their own graves, and a sweeping panorama of women being crucified, proved too much. “Several women whose relatives had perished under the sword of the Turk,” the chronicler continued, “were overcome by the mimic spectacles of torture and infamy.”
The producer, he went on to note, “furnished a picnic luncheon.” Read More
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This week at The Paris Review, we’re thinking about duplicity, about scam artists and liars, about cheating in all forms. Read on for Nathaniel Rich’s 2006 interview with Laura Albert, the woman behind the JT LeRoy hoax; Uzodinma Iweala’s short story “Speak No Evil”; and Alan Davies’s poem “Lies.”
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Being JT LeRoy
By Nathaniel Rich
Issue no. 178 (Fall 2006)
When you were writing, did you feel JT take over in the same way as when you were talking? Did you feel that JT was writing?
No, when I wrote I felt more like it was me trying to craft a story. He’d tell the story and I was the secretary who would take it down and say, OK, thank you, now I’m going to try to turn it into craft. But while I wouldn’t sit there and think of myself as JT, as long as I was writing I didn’t have to be Laura either.