Chad Harbach, the editor and introducer of MFA vs NYC, calls his book a “jointly written novel” whose “composite heroine is the fiction writer circa 2014.” What better way to empathize with the composite heroine of this jointly written novel than to read her adventures in the year in which she lives and breathes and, hopefully, still writes? So the first thing I felt upon cracking MFA vs NYC in Istanbul, 5,628 miles away from Iowa and 5,014 from NYC, circa 2014, was a sense of freshness and immediacy. I associate those feelings with social media rather than books, and TV shows like Girls rather than essay collections on creative writing. This sense of newness was surprising, given that Harbach’s essay, which gives the book its title and kickstarts its central discussion, was published in 2010.
Although some of its material is a few years old, this is no book for old men. Nor is it written by them, but for one notable exception. The pieces in the book are concerned with a fresh question that most young-to-middle-aged English-speaking writers of our era are presumably asking themselves a lot: How should a fiction-writing person be in the world of American fiction, which seems profoundly divided between a university-based creating writing workshops culture, and a New York-based publishing and freelancing-until-the-moment-of-success-arrives culture?
Rebecca Curtis must be working on a novel. “The Christmas Miracle,” her new story in The New Yorker, follows the same characters as “Fish Rot,” her recent story in n+1. Both are available in print only, so if you’re not a subscriber you’ll have to go on a little treasure hunt to find them in magazines. But any story by Rebecca Curtis is worth the newsstand price. If you’re impatient (or broke) you can read an older story, “The Wolf at the Door,” here, and check out her latest interview.
– Brian Hurley
If you read only one thing this week, make it Alice Gregory’s essay on big-wave surfing in n+1. And then let’s talk about it. Because damn. This is a good essay.
Reporting from the scene at Mavericks, the colossal wave that occasionally breaks along the California coast and kills some of the world’s best surfers, Gregory displays a talent for articulating the impossibility of articulating her subject.
Surfers have the odd habit of saying “I drowned” when they mean “I almost drowned.” Drowning, after all, feels like almost drowning until it feels like nothing. When I ask Dollar to explain the sensation of almost drowning, his answer, and the way he holds his face as he says it, makes me feel that the question is an intrusive one. “It’s just depressing and lonely,” he says, not making eye contact. “The lights start turning off, literally. It blinks in your mind and goes black. Pretty soon, it’s just lights out and you’re done.” He pauses awkwardly. “It’s really fucking weird.”
In the process she explains why surfers talk they’re like stoned.
Across the cover and down the spine of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., young Brooklyn women “bursting with vibrant, almost aggressive good health” are profiled in silhouette, their pixie cuts and power bangs offering a taxonomy of the species, like butterflies pinned under glass. These are the conquests of Nate Piven, our antihero. Nate’s romantic history sounds like a lost verse of “Mambo No. 5”: a little bit of Hannah, Elisa, Juliet, Kristen, Justine, Kelly, Jean, Beth, Cara, Emily, another Emily, and a third Emily. With his frumpy Harvard intellectualism and his overblown self-regard, Nate has collected so many aggrieved ex-girlfriends that they could file a class action lawsuit. But they’ll have to settle for this book.
Adelle Waldman’s debut novel raises a wickedly fun question. Can a woman of Nate Piven’s demographic—Waldman is a young Brooklyn journalist with a book deal, just like Nate and all the sad young literary men he stands for—summon the empathy, imagination, and vocabulary required to turn the hipster Lothario of Fort Greene into a decent, relatable human being? The genius of Waldman’s question is that she wins either way. If Nate turns out to be redeemable, then Waldman will have proved that she is a masterful writer, capable of humanizing the devil himself. If he is unredeemable, then Waldman gets to flay him for her readers’ enjoyment.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
For those who enjoy baseball and disappointment, i.e. Mets fans; may also dull pain for Braves and Sox fans
Status: Bookstores will trade it to you for money.
OVER AT FICTION ADVOCATE, Paul Gasbarra takes on the latest and most hyped book to emerge from the n+1 brain trust. The novel is so hot right now it already has its own authorized biography, Vanity Fair’s e-book about how, at a time when America needed a hero, a broke writer named Chad Harbach stunned everyone and got a major payout to put “The Art of Fielding” into print.
With the presence of teams like the Tampa Bay Rays — the suburban strip mall of baseball franchises — assured in the playoffs this year, “Fielding” may be your best bet for diamond action in the coming month. But there is definitely more to the book than baseball.
But the writer still has ample opportunity to finesse the action through revision. In the split second it takes to throw a ball, there can be no deliberation. In fact, Skrimshander’s failures on the field stem directly from his thinking versus acting. It’s interesting to note that we expect much from our authors because they get an opportunity to edit and hone their works, but we expect even more excellence from athletes, who get no opportunity for revision.
Read the full review.