Essays

July 7, 2015

Fear of Flying: On Why My Novel Is Not Available at Airport Bookstores 1

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Plane bombing! I could be arrested for saying those words here.

July 1, 2015

The Manliness of Joan Didion 1

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Think of the ways we talk about manliness: as making necessary sacrifices, doing what needs to be done, choosing the ugly truth over the pretty lie. In all of those definitions, we’re still just talking about being good, brave, responsible. And if that’s what we mean by manliness, then we have to acknowledge the fact that women are now — and always have been — as good at it as men are. Which, in turn, means that men can, and ought to, learn manliness from women.

June 30, 2015

Two Lives: On Hanya Yanagihara and Atticus Lish 6

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In Yanagihara’s novel, squalor and degradation are the ruinous individual exception in a world of summer houses and talent and hard work that gets you somewhere; in Lish’s, they are the baseline condition of the life we have made on our planet.

June 29, 2015

Something You Can Use: The Writer’s Self-Healing Wound 4

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A psychic wound can be its own healing agent, may itself contain a gift, and may offer a form of unexpected inspiration. Yet how to embrace this elusive not-damage within the wound?

June 25, 2015

Ancient Arts: On Independent Catholic Literature and Edward Mullany’s ‘The Three Sunrises’ 4

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In the present literary moment, earnest religious belief is a subversive, counter-cultural move. God is not absent, but God seems more ironic metaphor than serious matter.

June 22, 2015

Pants on Fire: The Genre That Cannot Be Named 2

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Inventing one composite kid from two could make the story stronger. Certainly it would make writing the story easier for me. I come in part from cheating stock — thieves, adulterers, at least two murderers, as far as I know. I was curious: Could I be a cheater, or, more precisely, a compositor, too?

June 11, 2015

Hapworth Revisited: On J.D. Salinger’s Most Inscrutable Short Story 4

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The story remains something of a baffling enigma: branded as unreadable by critics, and never republished, only the most dedicated Salinger devotees bother to track it down and slog through it.

June 10, 2015

A Sense of Levitation: On Reading W.G. Sebald 1

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I am resisting the temptation to read Sebald’s books all the way through, pausing only to eat, sleep, and visit the toilet.

June 8, 2015

The Audacity of Prose 49

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Writers should realize that the novels that are remembered, that become monuments, would in fact be those which err on the part of audacious prose, which occasionally allow excess rather than those which package a story — no matter how affecting — in inadequate prose.

June 3, 2015

The Mysterious Edges: On Jami Attenberg and ‘Saint Mazie’ 5

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How do writers get better at telling stories? Attenberg has some theories. First: getting older. She wrote The Middlesteins in her late-30s, with three books to her name and some perspective on the person who wrote them.