- Larry Kramer, seventy-nine, came of age at a time when being gay was still illegal; his latest opus, The American People, is kind of a novel, kind of not, very long, and very gay: “a history of hate [from] one among the hated.” “Most histories are written by straight people who wouldn’t know, see the signs that a gay person does when they look at a person’s life,” he says. “I mean, how could you write the life of Mark Twain without realizing that he was hugely, hugely gay? The way he lived, who his friends were, and how his relationships began. And what he wrote about! I don’t know how you could avoid the assumption that he’s gay.”
- An interview with Atticus Lish, who won our Plimpton Prize this year: “Spoken language is primary, and I want it to be primary. Everything should pass the reading-aloud test; that became a real theme with me before I even was aware of it. I said, ‘Don’t write like a writer; write like a talker.’ ”
- But how do you write like a talker if the person talking is an animal? Fiction is still grappling with animal consciousness, with varying degrees of success: it may be largely impossible, as Thomas Nagel wrote in his 1974 essay “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?”, reminding us that “acts of sympathetic imagination are fatally restricted by the incalculable difference between human and bat.”
- In which Kerry Howley follows two boxers: “Sportswriters talk constantly of ‘focus,’ ‘dedication,’ and ‘single-mindedness.’ It is a measure of this cliché’s persistence that, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, men still use these words to describe Manny Pacquiao. This is a boxer who sidelines as a working politician and a low-budget-movie star, a man who leads Bible study on Sundays and moonlights as one of the shortest professional basketball players in the Philippines. He has recorded two platinum albums, and a hit single called ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ …”
- And Chris Offutt pursues “trash food,” whatever that may be: “The term ‘white trash’ is an epithet of bigotry that equates human worth with garbage. It implies a dismissal of the group as stupid, violent, lazy, and untrustworthy—the same negative descriptors of racial minorities, of anyone outside of the mainstream. At every stage of American history, various groups of people have endured such personal attacks. Language is used as a weapon: divisive, cruel, enciphered. Today is no different. For example, here in Mississippi, the term ‘Democrats’ is code for ‘African Americans.’ Throughout the U.S.A., ‘family values’ is code for ‘no homosexuals.’ The term ‘trash food’ is not about food, it’s coded language for social class. It’s about poor people and what they can afford to eat.”
In a not-so-glamorous Las Vegas, Kerry Howley watches as a UFC fighter starves himself before weighing in, visiting all-you-can-eat buffets just to see everything he’s missing:
In the twenty-four hours between weigh-ins and the fight, Erik would gain twenty pounds, and he took great pleasure in imagining of what those pounds would consist. The Rio Buffet, he informed me, offered three hundred distinct dishes, seventy varieties of pie, an array of “bars,” including a sushi bar, a taco bar, and a stir-fry bar. He knew its small army of friendly spoon-holding servers, its fifty yards of curving black countertop, its unaccountable progression from sausage pizza to cocktail shrimp to scrambled eggs to lentil soup to crab legs to fried fish to sushi to green salad to gravy-slathered pork chops to honeyed ham to flank steak to barbecue ribs to burritos to tacos to waffles to spring rolls to dumplings to sweet-and-sour pork to eggs Benedict to bacon to one giant vat of ketchup to croissants to cubed mango to green-bean salad to seven kinds of lettuce to the gelato-and-pastries bar whose delights are too many to enumerate but which Erik would attempt to enumerate if given the chance.
Forrest Gander on the mysterious end of Ambrose Bierce, a hundred years ago: “According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico.”
Jeff Simmermon started a band with a guitar, a typewriter, and a pair of chickens who peck at toy pianos. They wanted to tour Japan. Al Sharpton got mixed up in it, and the whole affair provided a strange and invaluable lesson about artistic ambition and closure…
A new Italian novel takes Antony Shugaar back into the Years of Lead, a time of kidnappings and earthquakes and cholera epidemics: “Those who say they want to leave this country, or simply spend their whole lives saying they want to leave, do so because they want to save themselves. Well, I’m staying here. Because I don’t want to be saved.”
Plus, Sadie Stein’s dispatches from Berlin, where the chefs carry around Spinoza’s Ethics and the cabbies are fluent in Patrick Modiano; Terry Southern goes skeet shooting; and all of us get an irrefutable, statistical answer, at last, to that most pressing question: How often do Oscar Wilde’s characters fling themselves onto couches, sofas, and/or divans?
It avails not, neither earthquake nor hurricane nor suspended subway service— The Paris Review comes out on time. It’s a doozy, if we say so ourselves, and not to be missed. Subscribe now, or renew, and receive a limited-edition Paris Review café au lait cup. You can sip in style while you enjoy a full year of fiction, poetry, and prose.
In the fall issue:
Nicholson Baker discusses the pleasures of writing smut:
Sexual arousal itself is a kind of drug. It has also turned out to be one of the few plots I can actually handle. If I imagine a man and a woman talking, and I know that later on they’re going to be taking some of their clothes off, that pulls me merrily along … The basic boy-meets-girl plot in which they talk a little bit and then they have some kind of slightly bizarre sex—that plot I can do. Other plots are harder.
So many children—most of them obnoxious-looking. It’s a fact: 99 percent of all photographs ever taken have little brats in them. Mugging, leering, pushing one another. Wielding fearsome Betsy Wetsy 147 dolls. Pouting in pajamas on the floor over unsatisfactory Christmas presents. Prancing egotistically. The sort of kids that Wittgenstein, back when he was a mean, half-demented schoolmaster in the Austrian Alps or wherever it was—long before Cambridge and the Tractatus—would have walloped upside the head and thrown in the snow. How is it, indeed, that I have so many of them? More, even, than Joyce Carol Oates has written novels. And not one, needless to say, did I get for free.
Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky. Lydia Davis on translating Flaubert. The Dennis Cooper interview. Fiction by Roberto Bolaño and newcomer Kerry Howley. Poems by Sharon Olds, Brenda Shaughnessy, Constantine P. Cavafy, Paul Muldoon, Jeff Dolven, Meghan O’Rourke, and Forrest Gander.