Tag Archives: RIck Moody

What to Read in October

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: “Blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.”

A Field Guide to the North American Family by Garth Risk Hallberg: “For years, the Hungates and the Harrisons have coexisted peacefully in the same Long Island neighborhood, enjoying the pleasures and weathering the pitfalls of their suburban habitat. But when the patriarch of one family dies unexpectedly, the survivors face a stark imperative: adapt or face extinction.”

The Future Is History by Masha Gessen: “Putin’s bestselling biographer reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.”

Also this month: We’ll review new books from Jeffrey Eugenides and Lindsay Hunter, publish Rick Moody’s foreword to Charlatan by Cris Mazza, and get nerdy about disaster movies with Ashley Wells.

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Fiction Advocate of the Day: United Airlines

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Maybe you really want a mediocre crossword puzzle to pass the time. Or you need a map of your destination airport to find the best route to the Chili’s Too. But for the most part, the in-flight magazine hasn’t typically ranked a lot higher than the barf bag as something you ever want to remove from your seat-back pocket.

Well those were the old days — before Rhapsody.

Actually, those are still the current days if you’re not flying first class on United Airlines. But if you are, you will find what the New York Times calls a “lofty literary journal” that publishes “original works by literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and [Anthony] Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two weeks ago.”

This is undoubtedly a cool, if weird, thing. Great writers are getting solid audience exposure and, presumably, actual paychecks from a major company. For United, Rhapsody “brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent,” according to the airline’s managing director of marketing and product development.

Also this: “Two of the magazine’s seven staff members hold graduate degrees in creative writing.” So it also means that at least two people with graduate degrees in creative writing have gotten actual jobs.

Read the full story “Rhapsody, a Lofty Literary Journal, Perused at 39,000 Feet”

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YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE Pt. 2

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So much happened in the first half of 2012/YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE that it turns out I missed a few things. On 21 February, Wallace’s birthday, Berfrois ran “The Depressed Person in The Marriage Plot,” in which Daniel Roberts takes a closer look at the connections between Wallace and the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest book. Adding to the steady march in April, Publishers Weekly began a two-week countdown of “The Top 10 Infinite Jest Characters,” starting with #10 (Barry Loach) and moving toward #1 (see here). Also, on 21 April came the long-awaited (by me at least) end of the “live” part in “Words, Words, Words: The Infinite Jest Liveblog.”

After a relatively uneventful May and June, YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE came roaring back in July. The monthly issue of GQ featured an interview with Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” in which Offerman talked about being “halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out.” In the very same issue of GQ, a Wells Tower piece on the pornstar James Deen made a Wallace-esque mention of one of Deen’s colleagues: “Kayden Kross, a wholly winning and improbably bookish young woman who reads the short fiction of David Foster Wallace between takes.” On 8 July, as noted, Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which led to Wallace-Federer references in The Telegraph, The Daily Beast, The Week, and GQ.com. There was even a weird piece on Wallace’s faith titled “Roger Federer Killed David Foster Wallace,” as well as an anti-Federer piece on the LRB Blog which noted that “‘Federer Moments’, as David Foster Wallace famously called them, are part of what I dislike. ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ says more about Wallace’s genius than Federer’s.” The following day, Michael Cunningham took to The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog to explain why Wallace (and others) didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Also on 9 July, the “Nieman Watchdog” at Harvard University offered “Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace.” On the 11th, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians books used his first impressions of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story to talk about hysterical realism. On 13 July, Page Turner posted a piece about subsidized time. Federer’s victory was still yielding DFW alerts when there came, on 16 July, the other significant non-book event in the YODFW: the launch of “Infinite Boston.”  The project was an ambitious effort by William Beutler to photograph and write about the real-life equivalents of various IJ locations:

I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage…now I am pleased to present what I am calling “Infinite Boston”: a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.

“Infinite Boston” attracted broad interest, showing up on The Millions, The Rumpus, National Geographic’s The Radar, Fast Company’s Co.Create blog, and from there the technology section of nbcnews.com, among others. The notice was well deserved. “Infinite Boston” is thorough and artfully done — well worth exploring for anyone who loves Infinite Jest, or is currently working their way through it. The project also had a number of spinoffs, including the super cool, Google-maps enabled “Infinite Atlas” and some other cool stuff available for sale at the Infinite Shop.

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The first few weeks of July were pretty good — but the end of July illustrated the scope of what was happening in YODFW. On the 19th, CNN ran an online story about porn stars using Twitter to gain mainstream fame. One of the stars the mentioned was Kayden Kross, upon whom they bestowed the title “The Smartest Woman in Porn” and mentioned: “She often tweets about her favorite authors, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.” Four days later, the Wall Street Journal reported on a past meeting between DFW and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The two men had lunch and bonded over their shared enjoyment and rigor over language and grammar. Apparently the meeting led to some book Scalia wrote, which is not important. What is important is that, within the space of a few days, we could read about how a porn star and an arch-conservative Supreme Court justice both have strong affinities for our man.

Welcome back to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.

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YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE Pt. 1

Year of DFW Tiles
David Foster Wallace would have had his 50th birthday on February 21, 2012. If he had lived, and maintained the course he was on, he probably would have been the subject of articles about “David Foster Wallace at 50,” “Boy Genius Grows Up,” etc, covering important topics like his shorter haircut, his apparently happy marriage, and his steady teaching job. If Wallace had let The Pale King see the light of day by now, you can bet we would be reading reviews about the “mature” and “grown up” successor to the kinetic Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace Moves to the Suburbs. Instead, 2012 passed without much notice of the milestone, which four years after his death only serves to remind us that Wallace didn’t live to see it.

But it turns out that the world was not at all silent on the matter of David Foster Wallace this year. In the last 12 months, Wallace was the subject of three books, and author of one posthumous collection of essays. This level of attention is significant in and of itself, but it was not all that happened — not by a long shot. Over the year there came a steady flow of news, blog posts and small insights. There were stage adaptations, a Pulitzer controversy, displays of affection from a porn star and a Supreme Court Justice, and references in TV shows, a commercial, a web video and a proper movie. There was a conference and a year-end fundraiser and an unfortunate moment of our present looking too much like Wallace’s near-future dystopia. The internet – which, it was revealed this year, Wallace once referred to as “the bathroom wall of the U.S. psyche” – would not stop saying his name* Four years after his death, David Foster Wallace is on our minds more than ever.

Some of this was foreordained. There is now an annual cycle, starting mid-May and running through June, of pieces referring to Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon University commencement address. His remarks have become a standard against which the hot speeches of the season are measured, and the address tends to show up on Best Speeches lists and be offered as wisdom that the Class of 20-whatever should take to heart.

A similar phenomenon took place with the 2012 Republican primary and presidential election. Wallace’s John McCain piece “Up Simba” (or any of the various names it was published under in magazine and book and anthology forms) became relevant again, and was often cited as the kind of meaningful political journalism we long for in today’s sorry-ass punditocracy.

But four books and a few recurring occasions do not a YEAR OF make. Most of what happened took place independent of annual or quadrennial events, spontaneously, a result of whatever weird energy was flowing in 2012. It was an event that was both random and regularized that sealed it for me. In early July – just as I was beginning to think that “Boy, I am really hearing a lot about David Foster Wallace this year” – Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 7th Wimbledon. Writers, journalists, bloggers and WordPressers across print and online media launched a thousand pieces with some variation of, “The late author David Foster Wallace once called Roger Federer…etc.” and Google alerts lit up my inbox like a DFW-themed Christmas tree. That was when I knew. Welcome to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.

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YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

FA Every Love Story

“…THOSE THINGS OF BEAUTY, HIS WONDERFUL WORKS, WHICH I HAD ONCE CONTRIVED TO FIT INTO THAT INFIRM AND SACRED FRAME, THAT DWELLING I HAD LOVINGLY CONSTRUCTED LIKE A TEMPLE EXPRESSLY DESIGNED TO HOLD THEM, THERE WAS NOW NO ROOM IN THIS THICK-BODIED LITTLE MAN STANDING IN FRONT OF ME…” – MARCEL PROUST, IN THE SHADOW OF YOUNG GIRLS IN FLOWER

FA Legacy of DFW

“STILL, WHEN THE ACHE IS OVERPOWERING, THERE’S THE WORK. NONE OF THIS PERSONAL STUFF, HOWEVER WORTHY OF RECOLLECTION, HOWEVER MOVING, IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE WRITING, THE LEGACY.”
– RICK MOODY, “TRIBUTE WRITTEN FOR WALLACE FAMILY MEMORIAL BOOK, 2008”

FA Conversations w DFW

“WHAT REALLY KNOCKS ME OUT IS A BOOK THAT, WHEN YOU’RE ALL DONE READING IT, YOU WISH THE AUTHOR THAT WROTE IT WAS A TERRIFIC FRIEND OF YOURS AND YOU COULD CALL HIM UP ON THE PHONE WHENEVER YOU FELT LIKE IT. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN MUCH, THOUGH.” – J.D. SALINGER, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

FA Flesh and not

“AND YET IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT THE PERSON WE ENCOUNTER IN THE LITERARY BIOGRAPHY COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE WRITTEN THE WORKS WE ADMIRE. AND THE MORE INTIMATE AND THOROUGH THE BIO, THE STRONGER THIS FEELING USUALLY IS.” – DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, “BORGES ON THE COUCH”

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#OccupyGaddis: 1 – 150

I have to agree with Lee Konstantinou in disagreeing with Rick Moody: J R is a hard book. Or at the very least, it is not an easy, straightforward affair. A few pages in, you realize that this novel actually is 700+ pages of this:

A loud buzz cut him off. She pushed her nail polish aside and repsonded to the box at her elbow. — Yes sir, yes sir . . . oh and Mister Crawley, Mister Davidoff is here with . . . yes sir.
— And Shirl, tell him . . .
— He’ll be right out, she said, as an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.
— What in God’s . . . !
— I want you to meet a real live stock broker boys and girls

Broken dialogue. No attributions. Interruptions and overlaps. At times, ambient noise from a background TV or radio will cut its way in. There is the occasional scene-setting — often these are the places where Gaddis reminds you that he really can write: “Sunlight, pocketed in a cloud, spilled suddenly broken across the floor through the leaves of trees outside.” — but few of these are orienting. Not “a door opened behind her” but “an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.”  This format takes getting used to, to say the least, especially when the events jump from one set of characters to the next. It’s like Mrs. Dalloway with even less clarity about who is at the center of the narrative.

For someone like me who comes to Gaddis by way of David Foster Wallace, it’s easy to see the influence passed down from J R. Each of Wallace’s three novels has scenes of unattributed dialogue within the first 30 pages, and you could reasonably claim that Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a variation of this technique. Wallace clearly mimics the satirical, comedic pacing where characters misfire sentences into and over each other in an accelerated, everybody-talks-but-no-one-listens way.

But Wallace did small snippets, short scenes inside a larger context of more recognizable styles.  J R offers no such break, and reading this sustained dialogue has some interesting effects once the initial shock wears off.

For one, the book starts to feel like what it most resembles in form: a play. Not a meditative drama, but something exaggerated, chaotic and Vaudevillian.

The basic ingredients of time and space provided in most novels, are so conspicuously absent — or so opaque in their presence — that I’m forced to fill them in myself. The places are familiar: a school, a suburban neighborhood, Wall Street, a train platform, a boardroom. But without any guidance on what they look like, I find myself filling in the gaps with a richer-than-usual imagining of the world around these voices. It’s counterintuitive; one of those rare instances where less actually appears to be more.

The technique also seems to work counterintuitively as far as the characters go. You might expect that, if all you hear are characters’ voices, then J R is a character-driven novel. But this is more a book about, for lack of a better word, systems. Outside forces that act on people: education, sex, history, politics, art, bureaucracy — and did I mention money? This novel, so far, is about how money affects all of these different systems, and people whose daily lives inevitably get caught in the churn. J R Vansant is the title character, I suspect, because he is the only one who comes to this world as an innocent. At age eleven he is curious and precocious enough to thrive in certain ways, but unlike the adults around him, he is not preoccupied with either resisting or controlling the forces around him. At least that’s what it seems like so far.

More info on J R and #OccupyGaddis can be found at Infinite Zombies. You can also follow along on the #OccupyGaddis Facebook group, and read Konstantinou’s first, second, thirdfourth, and fifth posts to get fully caught up.

– Michael Moats

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