- Peter Muller-Munk, who died in 1967, designed a really nice chromium-plated water pitcher. He also made the most sensuous blender I’ve ever seen. Then there’s his Lady Schick electric shavers, his enameled cookware—and his gas pumps! What can be said about the man’s gas pumps? Muller-Munk was an impeccable industrial designer, and a new exhibition at the Carnegie Museum aims to give him his due: “Muller-Munk was always attuned to the latest trends in European metalwork … But [he] was never predictable, and moved with ease from a round, fluted silver bowl (circa 1928) akin to Josef Hoffmann’s designs for the Wiener Werkstätte, to graceful leaf-like shapes for a footed silver centerpiece (1929–1930) to a severely squared-off silver-plated tea service with tusk-like ivory handles (1931).”
- Every week brings another successful trip to the literary lost-and-found bin. This time it’s yielded Twixt Lip and Cup, an early play by a young William Faulkner, first published nearly a century ago in The Strand and promptly forgotten by everyone, until Andrew Gulli rediscovered it in an archive at the University of Virginia. Dubbed a “light-hearted jazz age story,” the play “is set in the apartment of a ‘well-to-do bachelor,’ and sees two friends of around thirty, Francis and Jim, each vying to convince the nineteen-year-old Ruth to marry them … Prohibition is under way, and the friends are enjoying an illicit drink. Ruth’s drinking, however, comes under censure from Jim, who asks Francis: ‘What are our young girls coming to these days? They every one need to be taken by a strong hand,’ adding: ‘I certainly don’t approve of that child chasing all over the known world after a bottle of liquor. It’s disgusting.’ ”
- Last week we hosted a party at the Jane Hotel to launch The Unprofessionals, our first anthology of new writing in fifty years. The gossip columnists were out in force, natch—by which I mean two of them attended. “An amiable guest of literary note was willing to give me the following quote, anonymously, because, as he confided, he had been expected at another gathering: ‘The porn theme was undeniably hot.’ He also complimented Lorin Stein’s ‘gutsiness in opening up the psychosexual landscape [which] has cleared space for some writing that wanted to get out.’ I thought that was perfectly stated, complimented him on his fine gray flannel suit, and moved on into the evening.”
- Every writer has an audience in mind. Claire Vaye Watkins writes for that hoary, classic demographic … you know the one, surely? “It was Toni Morrison who pointed out that Tolstoy was not writing for her, who said she was writing toward black women. It makes you wonder, Who am I writing for? Who am I writing toward? Myself, I have been writing to impress old white men. Countless decisions I’ve made about what to write and how to write it have been in acquiescence to the opinions of the white male literati. Not only acquiescence but a beseeching, approval seeking, people pleasing … I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look, I said with my stories: I can write old men, I can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an old man getting a boner!”
- Mary Beard’s SPQR, a history of Rome, invites us “not only to ‘meet the Romans,’ but also to acknowledge that we can never really meet them and that, in many ways, we may not want to. The problem goes beyond the limitation of our sources; it lies in the vast cultural gaps that separate us from their world, and the profoundly repellent facts of daily life in ancient Rome: slavery, filth, slaughter, illness, ‘newborn babies thrown away on rubbish heaps.’ Yet Beard finds in Rome, if not a model, at least a challenge … The ancient Romans, Beard shows, are relevant to people many centuries later who struggle with questions of power, citizenship, empire, and identity.”
So many of you have written to tell us how much you loved Davy Rothbart’s true story “Human Snowball,” in our current issue. Now you can get a whole book of his adventures. That’s right: his collection My Heart Is an Idiot goes on sale this week. —Lorin Stein
I just gulped down Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut collection Battleborn, and it’s the best fiction from the recent American West I’ve encountered east of Stegner. (See Paris Review issue 195 for the debut of Watkins’s story “Goldmine,” here retitled “The Past Perfect, the Past Continuous, the Simple Past.” —Samuel Fox
I am currently on vacation, and my travel companion has been reading David Footman’s 1936 cult novel Pig and Pepper. The story of a young English bureaucrat stationed in the Balkans, it’s funny, fresh, very British, substantive—in short, the sort of book you want to recommend to everyone you know. Footman was an accomplished spy and went on to a distinguished career as a public servant, but in a just world, this forgotten novel alone would be enough to make his name. —Sadie Stein
Claire Vaye Watkins was born in Nevada and lives in Ohio, where she is putting the finishing touches on a debut collection of stories that all unfold in her home state, from down south in Nye County and Las Vegas, to Reno, Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, and the Blackrock Desert, the site of Burning Man. “Gold Mine,” which appears in our new issue, takes place entirely at a Nevada brothel.
What brought you to the bunny ranch as a setting?
I grew up Pahrump, Nevada, where prostitution is legal. There were two brothels near my house and the school bus used to drive past them every morning. As a girl I was especially fascinated by one, the Chicken Ranch, because it was done in this ornate dollhouse Victorian style, which I’d never seen before, with dormers and flower boxes and painted in lovely pastel pinks and blues. I wanted to live there.
Of course, as I got older my relationship to those buildings became more complicated, let’s say. But a part of me has always been enchanted by them. There’s something magical about a brothel. It’s this alluring Eden compound in the middle of nowhere, even if it’s also grotesque and exploitative and dangerous.
For a story about a brothel, it is remarkably chaste; the only sex act depicted is between the gay madam and his married male mentor.
You’re right, there’s a lot of dirty talk but not much business. Does that make me a tease? I suppose I was more interested in the emotional bonds between the characters—Manny and Joe, Manny and Michele, Michele and Darla, Darla and Manny—because in this world that’s the stuff that can really get you into trouble. I don’t find the sex part of prostitution that interesting. (Such a tease line.) It’s the emotion work that gets me. As I see it, sex isn’t the real currency at the Cherry Patch Ranch—it’s affection and intimacy. And everybody’s looking for it.
I’d originally written this story without the affair between Manny and Joe, but Manny felt entirely too stable. We couldn’t see what Michele meant to him. I needed something to knock him off kilter, to make him more vulnerable, more lonesome, hornier. So I broke his heart.