As a former freelance writer/”girl reporter,” I have no qualms about flipping open a notebook and asking questions.
Writers are surprisingly generous with their time. At this blog, I have interviewed Karen E. Bender (shortlisted for this year’s National Book Award for fiction), D. J. Taylor, Michelle Huneven, Peter Stothard, Lionel Shriver, and Robert Hellenga,
This fall I haven’t gotten around to it. Like Oblomov, the hero of Goncharov’s famous novel, I am slothful. According to my doctor, I have jet lag. (Still?) Sleep…sleep…sleep… is the cure.
When I wake up perhaps I’ll interview somebody, but meanwhile…
I can refer you to other interviews!
This has been the Year of the Short Story.
I am addicted to the novel, but this year, for the first time, I have read better short story collections than novels. Here are recommendations:
1. Karen E. Bender’s stunning collection of short stories, Refund, is shortlisted for the National Book Award. The stories are linked by the theme of money. In “Reunion,” a woman with a failing home appliance repair business has an affair with a con man. In “The Third Child,” the financial responsibility of raising the two children is more than enough for a struggling couple: the heroine. a freelance editor, decides to have an abortion. In the title story, two artists dream of sending their child to an expensive pre-school, but 9/11 gets in the way of the easy money of subletting their New York apartment.
2. Jonathan Lethem’s Lucky Alan and Other Stories is an exceptionally brilliant book. Lethem’s flamboyant writing is laced with humor, his verbal pyrotechnics are incomparable, and his stories utilize elements of fantasy and magic realism. In the surreal story, “Procedure in Plain Air,” the umemployed hero, Stevick, sees two men in jumpsuit uniforms jump out of a truck, dig a hole, and lower a bound-and-gagged man wearing a jumpsuit into the hole. After Stevick complains it will rain on the prisoner, they hand him an umbrella. Holding the umbrella becomes, in a way, his job. In “Traveler Home,” a dark fairy tale, the hero deals with snow, wolves, and a foundling. But the most dazzling story in the collection is “Lucky Alan”: the narrator, Grahame, an actor, gets acquainted with Blondy Sigmund, the “legendary” theater director, because they both go to the movies every day . When Grahame realizes Blondy has left the neighborhood, he tracks him down to find out why he left his rent-controlled apartment. It all centers on a nerdy neighbor named Alan.
3. Wrote for Luck is a masterly collection by D. J. Taylor, the novelist, biographer, and critic. In the hilarious story, “Some Versions of the Pastoral,” Tony and his wife Jane visit the Underwoods, an elderly couple with literary leanings. The flowers in the Underwoods’ garden are so dense that “to negotiate them was to pass through a children’s book where all the animals had grown to fantastic sizes and nuance was forever kept at bay.” Over tea, Mrs. Underwood repeatedly asks Tony to be careful of his teacup. China is broken, but Mrs. Underwood is surprisingly tough.
I am a fan of stories about work, and some of Taylor’s best stories deal with the demoralization in the workplace. In “The Blow-Ins,” a couple struggles to keep their bookstore afloat when tourist season is over. In “Teeny-Weeny Little World,” an exasperated teacher must justify teaching poetry to a new headmaster. In “Jermyn Street,” a down-and-out employee at an antique shop is exasperated by his boss’s daily fights with his wife. In “To Brooklyn Bridge,” set in Chicago, a young woman escapes her job sewing in a sweatshop in Chicago to go to college; on the beach she recites Hart Crane’s poem “To Brooklyn Bridge”to her boyfriend, a salesman who does not understand…
My post about Wrote for Luck is here, and you can watch a video of a very good talk he gave about Cyril Connelly at The World Literature Festival 2015.
4. Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble is another stunning collection. Does Link write literary fantasy? Magic realism? Horror? She has burst out of the SF ghetto and is now reviewed at The New York Times and The Guardian. I loved this collection, though I lazily didn’t write about it. You can read an interview with her at NPR and a review at the Guardian