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My brother forwarded me this article, a Q and A with the President.
While the whole article was interesting, the part that really struck me was that our president finds the time in his day–every day, he would have us believe–to read. Fiction. He is reading a contemporary novel right now entitled Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. When Pres. Obama (and Michelle, as evidenced by her appearance at the Met this week) says that the arts are important and integral, he believes it and he lives it.
For everyone who says they don’t have time to read, this is proof that you do!
Last night, some friends and I went to see Jeffrey Eugenides read from The Virgin Suicides and discuss the novel, sixteen years after its publication. The occasion of the renewed attention is a new reprint of the book in paperback.
I remember when I first read The Virgin Suicides, I had trouble with the narrative distance created by the plural first person narrator, but eventually I came to really appreciate that exact quality. I still have vivid images in my head from the story: the Lisbon girls’ house, the littlest one impaled on the fence, Lux up on the roof. After listening to Mr. Eugenides talk, I am dying to go back and read The Virgin Suicides again (that’s why these events exist, I guess!).
He proved to be warm, self-deprecating, witty and smart–someone I would want equally to be my professor and my drinking buddy. A video of the interview will be up soon on http://www.bn.com/review. If you are a fan of the book, or if you are a writer, you should check it out.
Some highlights included:
When asked how Philip Roth would have treated the story differently (the question made a bit more sense in context), Mr. Eugenides said that he definitely would have gotten into the girls’ house! The interviewer said, “he would have gotten into more than that.” The place went crazy. Ah, literary humor.
Talking about the movie vs. the book, Mr. Eugenides said that because the action couldn’t be filtered through the boys’ speculations as it was in the novel, there was less ambiguity between what was real and what was in their imaginations concerning the Lisbon girls. Because we, the viewers, got to see and judge the girls for ourselves in the film, it had to become more their story than the boys’ story.
Regarding the formation of his idea for Middlesex, he said the easiest answer was that he was drawn to the power of a hermaphroditic narrator, someone imbued with the knowledge of both genders, inspired by the myth of Tiresius settling an argument between Zeus and Hera regarding who has more fun in bed–men or women. Tiresius had been both, so could answer.
In response to a question regarding how the “Pulitzer changed your life,” Mr. Eugenides said he now has a new paperweight, but everything else (confronting the blank screen) is just as hard as it ever was.
Always, that answer–I find it equal parts encouraging and soul-crushing when people like Alice Munro and Jeffrey Eugenides say that their confidence never increases and it never gets easier to fill a page with words.
Of course, nothing makes me more irate than someone intimating that it’s easy!
As you may have noticed (I hope someone noticed!!!) I was a huge slacker during the month of April and did not write one single blog post. I was not such a delinquent, though, that I was not reading. I read plenty. Here is a summary of my literary life in April:
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
What a winner! I already wrote a post about We Have Always Lived in the Castle so I didn’t want to be too redundant by posting a whole barrage of praise for this slim, supremely creepy novel. The angsty, awkward, insecure protagonist, Eleanor, is a totally tragic maniac, but an icon all the same.
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
A wonderful librarian friend gave me this book (actually, Hill House, as well) because it is just about the only work of literature in which my neighborhood–Woodside, Queens–factors prominently. She did warn me that I may not like it otherwise, though, and unfortunately she was correct. I found the structure of the novel inexplicable and infuriating. In nearly every way, it was told in the third person omniscient. We were privy to the actions of a bevy of characters living not only in the present of the story, but in the past as well–privy to their conversations, their actions, their thoughts. And yet, there was a first person narrator whose purpose I have yet to understand. Did she filter the story? Not really. Did she add insight? Not so much. Did her own story, of which we learn a sprinkle of unremarkable details, add a special layer of meaning to all that preceded it? Not that I could discern. There were a few awesome plot points here that I think would have worked beautifully in a twenty page short story.
The Best American Short Stories 1996
I am still working my way through this one, but there are some real gems in here. It turned up on the swap table downstairs in my co-op and it has been really fun, so far. I don’t know why I haven’t had the idea before to dig up a whole backlog of these anthologies–it is so much easier than waiting for the new year’s to come out! 1996 is edited by John Edgar Wideman. The first story is “Complicities” by Alice Adams and it is about one of my favorite subjects to read/write about: a teenage girl discovering her own fucked up sexual power. It’s simple and it’s awesome. Stuart Dybek’s “Paper Lantern” is one of the structurally strangest stories I’ve ever read, also one of the sexiest and most sinister. I have to read it again to figure out exactly what he did and why. “The Incredible Appearing Man” by Deborah Galyan, despite what I think is a stupid title, is a killer story. The ending provoked so much jealousy in me–because she wrote it, not me–it was nearly unbearable. Another highlight was a story by Junot Diaz that eventually appeared in Drown–it seems like Drown was published so long ago given that infamous eleven year interlude between it and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that I felt like I was really glimpsing a moment in time seeing it included in the anthology. It made me feel slightly optimistic, thinking about how he was all but unknown then and what a superstar he is now (is there anyone reading this I haven’t told that Junot Diaz let me send him one story to his private email? He didn’t accept it for his journal or anything but he said some nice stuff about it (yes, and he also said it needed a bit more “plot” but hey, whatever!))
Okay, here’s to May and renewed literary energy!