How to Read a Short Story

So how does one read a short story? If you're thinking of girding yourself for battle by arming yourself with some high-falutin’ literary theory or delving into an author bio lifted from Wikipedia, stop right there. Let me rephrase: How do you read a short story … out loud?

This is a very different question, and it’s one I’ve been asking myself as a result of New Haven Review's collaboration with the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the New Haven Theater Company. Having wrapped up the first fall season of Listen Here!, the weekly reading series of short stories at coffee houses throughout New Haven, I now find this question ever more pressing as we prepare for our spring 2010 season, and I find myself having to select some 30 stories over the month of January.

Reading aloud with adult audiences in mind is a unique experience, one that raises questions about the readers’ capabilities, audiences’ likely reception, and the internal voice — or rather voices — that suffuse all great short stories. Like those of most parents, my experiences reading aloud stem from feeble attempts at sonority in trying to send children to lullaby land. Not infrequently, it was I who led the way, with my son eventually pushing me out of bed, claiming that not only was I nodding off in the middle of the story but I was also babbling. For my son and daughter, I commonly assumed dramatic airs when I read, doing my best Rich Little as I took on the challenge of voicing characters: Harry Potter was inevitably read with an upper-crust British tinge; Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring spoke with an Irish lilt; Aslan of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe declaimed in a stentorian bass while Edmund spoke in a whine that grew less nasal as he matured. But my audience then was not especially demanding, which thankfully kept the bar low.

The short stories that I plowed through for Listen Here's fall 2009 season, however, did not lend itself to such easy passes. Instead they raised pesky issues of tone and timing, accent and accuracy--issues I had successfully elided while reading to my kids. In essence, I found myself asking questions that, I suspect, actors and directors consider when a story passes from that silent space in our skulls through the vocal cords in our throat into the sound-resonating air we exhale.

Normally I read in silence — as do we all. But for Listen Here! there was no way around testing stories aloud. This meant doing my best trying to capture the internal voice of the tale. For James Joyce’s “Araby,” a plaintive tale of boyhood love and gallantry gone awry, should the reader assume a middle-class Irish brogue to recreate the post-pubescent protagonist’s sensibility of the narrator's story-telling persona? Or would a plain-Jane Americanized reading do just as well? I’ll admit that when I read it aloud, I went all in for the brogue, despite my lousy Irish.

Or consider an even more complicated example, John Updike’s “A&P,” one of my favorite stories of gender and class, inevitably at odds. When I first read the story aloud in the privacy of my living room, the adopted voice was flatly American (notwithstanding the bit of Brooklyn that occasionally peeked through). This is the voice I typically take on as the starting point for any story I sound out. But by the third page my mistake had become all too obvious: “It’s not as if we’re on the Cape: we’re north of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean for the twenty years.”

Aha, a signal! So what we require here is a Boston accent. Moreover, the narrator is a local, handling the cash register, in dramatic contrast to the high-class, bathing-suited "Queenie," who strolls the local A&P to pick up herring snacks. So not only Boston, but working class Boston. Since "A & P" is first person narration, this all seems straightforward enough. Just a quick study of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, and we're off and away.

But then I noticed something else--an entirely reasonable mistake on my part. Updike’s narrator may be uncouth enough to give us the ungrammatical “there’s people in this town,” but he doesn’t deliver any sort of Huckleberry Finn-like “… we’re nahth of Bahston” in the actual writing. For that, the reader will have to deliver all of the local color that orthography has politely refused. So my tone changed: now I was a Bahston cashier, leering at these smaht-looking girls. That was, until I ran into the story’s spoil-sport store manager, Lengel, who notices the under-dressed girls sauntering up to our narrator’s cash register to pay for those herring snacks. “Girls, this isn’t the beach,” he says — according to our narrator, of course — to which Queenie replies: “My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks.”

Problem alert! Queenie’s dialog is relayed by our narrator, so what is a publicly performing reader to do? Does the narrator (and thus reader) imitate the authoritative baritone — or should it be a high-pitched nag — of his boss? Does Queenie’s round contralto — or should we make that a surprised soprano — shed the narrator’s Bahston-y flavoring? All good questions as I stumbled around and settled on gently raising my timbre for the supermarket lovely while turning “jar” into “jah” to keep the narrator’s voice in the forefront, so my audience does not forget that it’s still his imitation of her.

Sound complicated? It is, and don’t even get me started on translations or mind-bending humor pieces, like Woody Allen’s “The Kugelmass Episode,” in which a City College professor with lotsa New Yawk in his attitude (but not in his orthography) is magically transported into Flaubert’s Madame Bovary so he can start an affair with the beautiful Mrs. Bovary.

Emma turned in surprise. “Goodness, you startled me,” she said. “Who are you?” She spoke in the same fine English translation as the paperback. It’s simply devastating, he thought.

Devastating, indeed, to which I say, God bless the actors, one and all, who can make heads or tails of these challenges.


Paul Auster, Invisible, Henry Holt and Co., 308 pp., $25.00 It seems like someone writes in every Paul Auster novel I’ve read.  Writing is often as much a part of the story as the story itself.  And there’s often a doubling of situations: characters recreate each other in some fashion, sometimes finding themselves to be fulfillments of each other’s imagination or even the authors of each other’s existence.

Then there’s the prose itself: Auster writes a prose that is rather austere; he doesn’t fill his novels with the particulars of general experience, nor does he spend much effort on description; he lets brief references to the larger world serve the purpose of instant recognition that other novelists take to great lengths.  Even though his books are set in specific places and times, there’s often a streamlined approach to setting that makes his work seem minimalist.  And there’s almost no one in his novels other than his main characters -- few extras, no crowd scenes.

With this, his fifteenth novel, Auster works his limited palette to great effect: the ‘instability of the narrative’ -- often a much-touted feature of postmodern fiction -- is blended easily with steady evocation of dramatic situations: a triangular relationship between a young poet and an older couple; a self-defence killing or murder; the death of a brother as a child; an incestuous sexual relationship; an elaborate effort at vengeance; a sinister meeting in a remote locale after many years; a writer who is constructing a memoir that might also be fiction and who is dying while writing it.

Part One is a swiftly-moving narrative in which Adam Walker, a student at Columbia in 1967, recounts his encounter with the somewhat unsettling but generous Rudolph Born and enters into an affair with Born’s companion, a Frenchwoman called Margot.  The story ends with an act of violence and a gripping self-examination on Walker’s part.  In Part Two we find that the story was a manuscript sent to a writer named Jim (the “Auster character” -- there is often in Auster’s fiction an authorial presence in the story, who in some ways is “like” Auster himself).  Jim tells us quickly of his friendship with Walker back in their Columbia days.  We learn that Walker, in the present, has leukemia, is dying, and is trying to write a three-part memoir based on his life in 1967.  Part One of Invisible is, in Walker’s ms., called “Spring.”

Soon Jim is reading “Summer,” in which Walker and his slightly older sister Gwyn become lovers.  But Walker, stymied by the rigors of writing, had asked Jim for advice before writing this segment; Jim’s advice was to move from first person to third.  Instead, Walker settles for an in-between: he uses second person for the story of Adam and Gwyn.

What’s in a pronoun?  Does the shift in pronoun make the story more believable or less?  And what about later, when Walker’s illness gets the best of him, so that the final portion of Walker’s narrative, chronicling “Fall,” his time in Paris reconnecting with Born and Margot, is told in the third person because Jim creates the narrative from Walker’s notes and drafts?  This kind of distancing from the narrative through different acts of narration seems almost automatic on Auster’s part, as if simply telling the story would be to fall into the trap of authority, rather than Austerity, of presenting events as simply occurring rather than necessarily narrated.

Finally, we return to the first person for the novel’s dénouement, a diary written by Cécile Juin and given to Jim. Cécile, in 1967, nearly became Born’s stepdaughter; she was a young student, a would-be translator, and developed a crush on Walker.  Her diary recounts her final meeting with Born, on an island in the Caribbean in 2002.

The novel, like most Auster, is deftly imagined, and told with no wasted motion.  There’s sex, food, interesting conversation, talk about books and writing, and through it all the figure of Born, a mercurial, malevolent character whose actual intentions, occupation, and thoughts are never quite certain.  A provocation to Walker, but also a sort of idée fixe that gets passed on to Jim and to Cécile and to the reader as well.

An extremely subtle novelist, Auster's true intentions often arrive almost indirectly.  Because he’s able to interest us in almost anything he chooses to write about, one reads his novels sometimes a bit frustrated that he doesn’t devote more attention to some of the very interesting situations and ideas that surface.  His novels, at their best, follow an inexorable logic or narrative necessity, but at other times it’s rather like being shown a series of sketches which the reader’s own imagination must flesh out and inhabit, much as Gwyn and Adam do for their dead brother Andy, holding a birthday party for him every year at which they discuss him in the past, present, and future:

For ten years now, he has been living this shadow existence inside you, a phantom being who has grown up in another dimension, invisible yet breathing, breathing and thinking, thinking and feeling, and you have followed him since the age of eight, for more years after death than he ever managed to live . . .

Auster’s characters are like this dead boy: shadow existences that inhabit each other’s minds, often via writing, and who inhabit the reader’s mind, “invisible yet breathing,” haunting and quizzical, never quite exhausted by the stories their author tells of them, a part of Auster’s ongoing shadow existence and ours.

Clothes make the man

You may have noticed in this morning's New York Times the in which it's asserted that men in their twenties and thirties are actually more dapperly dressed than our boomer parents. As one bit of evidence the author selected Prof. Samuel Rascoff of NYU Law School. Quoth he:

“The fashion gene skipped a generation,” said Samuel Rascoff, 36, a law professor at New York University who specializes in national security law and who, being a fastidious dresser, has given serious thought to the trend, which he sees reflected in his students.

“There’s a sense that this return to style, or to a consciousness of how you look, is an attempt by young men to recover a set of values that were at one point very much present in American society and then lost,” he said. “It strikes me as being of a piece with the way young people buy their coffee or their food: paying attention to authenticity or quality, and to whether something is organic or local. They stand for a rejection of the idea that all consumer goods are ephemeral and inevitably made in China and bought at Wal-Mart.”

Here is Prof. Rascoff:

Prof. Samuel Rascoff, redhead, lawyer, wearer of clothes

Now, it so happens that I knew Sam Rascoff when he was a wee law student (not that I was a law student—I was not), and he did have a way with clothes. But unless his style sense has taken a major leap forward, he is at best the fourth-best-dressed man I know. In ascending order, I nominate these men as better dressed still:

3. George Raine, my old college classmate, now an associate at Ropes & Gray, the Boston law firm. George puts the white shoe in "white shoe." Consider:

George Braxton Raine, Esq.

2. Prof. Willard Spiegelman, the editor of Southwest Review and a teacher of English literature at Southern Methodist University. So well dressed that he appeared in a fashion spread in the New York Times Magazine. Consider:

Prof. Willard "Billy" Spiegelman, of S&MU

1. D. Graham Burnett. This guy is a sartorial legend. He teaches the history of science at Princeton. I have only met him twice, but sweet Jesus does he have threads. In fact, he may violate the old principle (which I have heard attributed to Diana Vreeland, late of Vogue, and generally late) that if you dress elegantly they notice the person, not the clothes. (Or was it Coco Chanel?) He dresses so well I can't for the life of me remember his face. These pictures don't quite capture the texture of the fabric, the warp and woof, the weave, the whoo-whoo of his how-de-do. And one of the pictures is weirdly gay (Burnett is a married man). But they will have to suffice:

Prof. D. Graham Burnett, dressed

Prof. D. Graham Burnett, undressing

While I am at it, may I say how much that second Burnett photo, the rent-boy pose, reminds me of the author photo the late Yale historian John Boswell used?

Prof. John Boswell, undermining the authority of his scholarship

Don Draper, eat your heart out.

Ten films of the past ten years that I’d like to mention now

Best? Top? Favorite? I don’t know what to call them. I had enough trouble narrowing it down to as many movies as years. These annual reflective round-ups always confound me (and you, probably), but the tyranny of ten becomes even more outrageous when dealing with a decade’s worth of material.

So there’ll be no proselytizing here, just a sort of blurred time-lapse snapshot of one man’s (evidently rather arty) moviegoing disposition.

You’ll notice a lot from Europe. And one American film set in Europe. And another that’s a documentary about an American made by a European. What can I say? By the time you read this, I’ll have left for a European vacation. I doubt that will get it out of my system.

You may also spot me feeling wistful about the relentless march of time. Well, as someone in a movie once said, “Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.”


1. Before Sunset (2004). Writer-director Richard Linklater reunites the couple played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in his 1995 film Before Sunrise, with profound and moving results.

2. Caché (2005). A perfect little thriller that also happens to be a timely parable on colonial blowback and the inverse proportionality of surveillance and disconnection. Typically excellent actors Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil rise to a typically pitiless challenge from the austere Austrian auteur Michael Haneke.

3. Grizzly Man (2005). This exquisitely appropriate union of artist and subject--German madman moviemaker Werner Herzog reflecting on doomed Alaskan bear-watcher Timothy Treadwell--has been haunting me for years.

4. Let the Right One In (2008). If I could see only one vampire movie ever again,  or one coming-of-age movie, both would be Tomas Alfredson’s film of John Lindqvist’s script of his own novel. (Which is also to say that, Richard Jenkins notwithstanding, I can do without the forthcoming American remake.)

5. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). My first experience of writer-director-performance-artist Miranda July’s inspired, invigorating feature debut ranks high among decade-best movie memories. Its faith in artfulness and fellowship has since been guiding.

6. Russian Ark (2002). At last, a film that Russian history buffs and tracking-shot fetishists can agree on. Filmmaker Alexander Sokurov’s technically and poetically astonishing stroll through St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is a virtuosic correlation of content and form.

7. Saraband (2003). The late, great master Ingmar Bergman reunites the couple played by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in his 1973 film Scenes from a Marriage, with profound and moving results.

8. Sexy Beast (2000). Gangster chic had gotten tediously shabby when director Jonathan Glazer’s sinewy feature debut came along and revitalized it. Ray Winstone gives this brilliant black comedy its savory soul, and Ben Kingsley gives it a live-wire jolt. To borrow a line from the latter, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

9. Touch the Sound (2004). You might expect a documentary about a deaf percussionist to get gimmicky or shamefully schmaltzy. But Thomas Riedelsheimer’s innately cinematic portrait of Evelyn Glennie takes its subject’s example and defies all conceptual limitations.

10. You Can Count On Me (2000). With serene intelligence, genuine warmth and great roles for great actors Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney, playwright/screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan’s directorial debut sets a new standard for intimate character-driven drama.

Nowhere Man

Randy Harrison as Andy Warhol, and the cast of Pop! Pop!, the new musical now playing in its world premiere at the Yale Rep, could have been a camp classic: staging a song-and-dance extravaganza on the shooting of famed pop artist, provocateur, and blasé icon Andy Warhol at the hands of a disaffected feminist revolutionary, Valerie Solanis, in 1968.  The silver Factory, Warhol’s headquarters at 231 East 47th street in NY, was famed for its stable of hangers-on, including “poor little rich girl” Edie Sedgwick, pre-op transexual Candy Darling, and other would-be geniuses.  From this remove, it would be possible to play these characters for laughs, as a collective disgorging of whatever is stored in the closet marked “NYC Underground c. 1967.”  Along the way, we might be amused (or not) by the fact that one of these “superstars” had the wherewithal to shoot and critically wound The Master.

But Maggie-Kate Coleman, author of the book and lyrics of Pop!, her collaborator, Anna K. Jacobs, composer, and director Mark Brokow are after something else: the play, staged as a kind of dream inquisition into the shooting, occuring in Andy’s mind moments afterwards, eventually becomes an inquisition on Andy himself, as both the shaman and charlatan who created the forces of resentment that would lead to the attempted murder.  Not so much: who shot Andy Warhol, and why?, but rather: who wouldn’t shoot Andy Warhol, and why not?

The humor of the piece is wry and ironic in its treatment of Warhol, a coolness that the artist himself might well have appreciated.  Randy Harrison is dead-on in his Andy-mimicry, recreating the artist as a likeable apotheosis of a dilettante, always ready to give an empty paper bag to anyone who really needs it.  And by giving voice to Andy’s underlings -- most notably in the powerful, engaging, crowd-pleasing performance of Leslie Kritzer as Valerie -- the songs, such as “Up Your Ass” and “Money” and “Big Gun,” chip away at or send up any sympathy we might have for Andy, converting these characters from the ciphers of grime-glam they were in real life, given status by their roles at the Factory and in Andy’s homemade arthouse B movies, into articulate spokespersons for the needs of the uncelebrated, the passed-over, the assistants and groupies, the would-bes of all stripes, and finally, of women as the formerly disenfranchised but now up-and-coming demographic for all things cultural.

Thus, we get the replacement of the Oedipal struggle with artistic "fathers," that the Abstract Expressionists understood, with the anti-partriarchal struggle of the likes of Valerie, whose S.C.U.M. manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) envisions a world rid of men in which women will finally achieve their greatness.  But as Andy sings at one point “I’m not your father,” and casting him in the role of the evil daddy, or even the fetish-loving gay daddy-substitute, sends out ripples of satire.

The play is entertainingly artful in its mocking of all sides: treating the Ab-Exs Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell as macho cowboys, much as Warhol and his crowd perceived them, but at the same time mocking Andy as the working-class mama’s boy from Pittsburgh who recreated himself as the holy avatar of making art the mirror in which consumerism can read its own features, fascinated and narcissistic (and Warhol would not see those as negative characteristics), but who, it seems, never really gave of himself.  That he attracted a crew of narcissists is another point the play sends up, by never letting us forget that the great talents supposedly possessed by the likes of Viva, Edie, Candy, and Valerie were largely wishful thinking.

It’s also the case that Warhol himself was fallible to just such wishful thinking.  He really wanted his movies to be appreciated by Hollywood, to earn him status and a real budget, so that he could really make stars of his “superstars.”  But it never happened, and the disappointment, as an aspect of Warhol’s own story -- as, eventually, the hanger-on of all hanger-ons, even to his own magazine and art production, and in his flattered attendance on the beautiful people -- is missing here.  Perhaps the play could use a poignant aria by Andy on the pressures of being famous, to offset the sentiments of “15 Minutes” in which the company seems to accept as a mantra Warhol’s observation that “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”  He didn’t say it as a promise, but rather as a prediction -- that the search for fame would become the driving feature of life.

The musical, which began life last summer in the Yale Institute for Music Theatre, is still finding its feet.  It’s a lot of fun and could become a hit in New York.  If it gets the Broadway treatment it could use some real dance routines to flesh out the Factory -- the cast of seven are all quite good as singers, but display rhythmic movement more than actual dance numbers.  The stage and cast are small, but if both expand, more could be done with some of the songs as production numbers.

Special mention should be made of Brian Charles Rooney as Candy, who sings at times like a woman, at times like a man, and at times like a man singing like a woman, depending on what is required; as our Mistress of Ceremonies, Candy’s role is pivotal and, it seems to me, could benefit from more play as a glamour queen -- the bridge between Judy Garland and David Bowie, as it were, a new Sally Bowles for a different time.

For me, the weak links are the guys -- Ondine (Doug Kreeger) and Gerard (Danny Binstock), two Factory workers who are given roles as stoned sleuths -- whose songs never quite come alive.  Unlike the girls, each of whom gets a song outlining her particular status.  But even there, Edie’s songs were largely lacking in the bite and wit given to Valerie and Viva (Emily Swallow); Edie (Cristen Paige), in the Factory mythology, was more than simply a victim of wealth or a would-be starlet looking to be cast in a major role -- her own life -- by Andy.  For a time she was a sort of androgynous double for Warhol in those early days when her name opened more doors than his did.

One has the sense that the musical could expand too in its cameo roles -- where’s Billy Name?  Why not a bit for Lou Reed (“I have some resentments that can never be unmade”) as potential assassin?  More, more, more.  As Andy himself said, “always leave them wanting less.”

POP! Book and lyrics by MAGGIE-KATE COLEMAN Music by ANNA K. JACOBS Directed by MARK BROKAW November 27-December 19, 2009 Yale Repertory Theatre

Speak, I Will Listen

Have You Seen Us? at Long Wharf Theatre November 24-December 20

Have You Seen Us? is what one may call an "incident play," a story driven by a singular event. As its protagonist Henry Parsons (Sam Waterston) frames it in his prologue to this one hour-and-twenty minute meditation on racism, displacement, and addiction, sometimes it takes the nudging of one domino in the supposedly well-designed life to bring the rest falling down. The chaos of strewn dominoes that follows in the wake of that crash is Henry's story; the pattern that emerges from what has been tipped over is all playwright Athol Fugard's.

Performed without intermission, Have You Seen Us? tells a seemingly straightforward story. Bookended by Henry's direct address to the audience, the chain of events is simple enough. Our protagonist is an expatriate South African professor of Old English living in his fifteenth year in the United States. The event he recollects from two years earlier is actually a pair of closely linked moments that, he asserts, would change his life. The setting for both is a sandwich shop in a Los Angeles mall run by Adela (Liza Colón-Zayas), a Mexican immigrant of unclear status. Serving as prelude to the second, main event, the first finds Henry exiting the shop after a verbal knockout punch rendered by the store's proprietress in—as Henry sees it—their regular contest of mutual insults.

The blow delivered is her spot-on tagging of him as un borracho perdido, "a hopeless drunk." This precipitates an anti-Semitic outburst outside the shop directed by Henry towards an elderly Jewish couple that had responded to his "Happy Christmas" greeting with a "Thank you, sir, but we're Jewish." What follows in the sandwich shop a month later is a delicate dance of anger, shame, confession, and repentance as the full quartet—South African expat, Mexican store-owner, and Jewish-European couple—come together to make Fugard's portrait of guilt and absolution come alive.

Bringing to bear the full weight of the role's studied South African accent, Sam Waterston’s muscular portrayal of Henry carries much of the show's weight. This is hardly a surprise since the third-person limited narrative suggested by prologue and epilogue makes this story first and foremost Henry's. In the actor talk back that followed the December 8 performance, Waterston admitted that to help him master the accent, Fugard recorded Henry's part, although there is no question that Waterston invests the role with his own distinct interpretation. Henry is, at times, gruff and combative; at others, defensive and plaintive. The overall effect works wonderfully well. In a role that could have tipped into melodrama, Waterston manages to keep the lid on. True, Henry is intemperate and aggressive—hardly unusual for an alcoholic who struggles to stay on the wagon but appears to fall off with an implied regularity—but he is not given to histrionics. It is certainly not what Fugard would have intended, and any such presentation would have been deadly for a play that depends heavily on the relative bathos—yes, bathos—of the climactic event, which amounts mainly to the calling out of an ethnic slur.

At the heart of Have You Seen Us? is its title, which is as these things should be. It refers to the missing persons postcard Henry uses as a bookmark and tries to make light of in his hostile banter with Adela. However, Liza Colón-Zayas' understated Adela will have none of it, humanizing for Henry those who have gone missing, substituting story for stereotype, stopping cold Henry's largely guilt-driven efforts at a type of humor marked—and marred—by contempt. Have You Seen Us? is fundamentally about, if you will, "clothing" the stranger in human garb, no small matter in a play where all of the characters are not only of foreign origin, but have arrived for different reasons. The elderly Jewish couple, Solly (Sol Frieder) and Rachel (Elaine Kussack), are suggested to be Jews who had escaped a war-torn Europe; Henry is an evictee of an apartheid-free South Africa that is no longer familiar to him; Adela is no more—and no less—than a recent arrival looking for work but not trouble. All are displaced persons struggling to bridge the gap of language and attitude: Henry is perturbed by Adela's Spanish and often insists on translations of it; Adela is flabbergasted by Henry's ignorance of Mexican soldaderas (women "soldiers" during the 1910 Mexican Revolution) and continually castigates him as a gringo, a jarring appellation considering how un-Yankee-like Henry really is; Solly is completely befuddled that he can't get a bowl of chicken soup from Adela and equally mystified why she would propose chili as a substitute.

The only link that bridges this chasm is music. Granted Have You Seen Us? is no musical, but music is its language: Henry is enamored with Adela's voice and repeatedly importunes her to sing for him in her native Spanish; to an amused Adela, he eagerly belts out a rugby club "fight song" in Afrikaans; and finally, Solly's soft croon to Rachel and, at Henry's request, to us offers in Yiddish a lost world's insight into matters religious. Solly's song—the last of these—is also the most pointed since only when he sings will the semi-catatonic Rachel eat. As Fugard is at pains to point out, music is, indeed, life, for without it we starve and die.

It is Solly, poignantly played by Sol Frieder—from slightly stiffened walk to painfully hushed tone—who offers absolution to Henry, who wrestles with the guilt of the simple sin we all harbor but dare not speak: prejudice, hard and cold, without mercy or thought. When Henry bends knee to Solly and begins his confession, it is the latter's simple response, "Speak, I will listen," that more than anything drives away this darkness that shadows our better selves. Is there hope in actually being heard? Is there anyone indeed who will listen? It is all, Fugard suggests, we can ask for. And yet, when someone does make that offer and it is accepted—speak, I will listen—a world can change. For me, this production spoke: I have, indeed, seen it, and, yes, I did listen.

Smoke Signals

Once I've finished something I feel detached from it, almost as if it were written by someone else. It's like something actively blocks a particular type of memory from allowing me to feel responsible for it. So when a of my novel Smoke appeared in New Haven Review, it seemed as if the review it were about something other than my novel. This is not a knock on the reviewer, however, since what I experienced—and expressed to the reviewer—was my sensation of reading the review. This strangeness of sensation has much to do with the way I wrote Smoke, or better, what technology I used to write it. Had I written this novel twenty years ago, I’d have an office full of paper drafts and scratched-through pages. And, knowing me, I’d probably have them “filed” in a way that made sense to me, which I would have kept up on as part of the work. There’d be a massive paper trail of my hand-written trains of thought. The neuropathy of the process would be slower and vastly different. This method, process, train of thought, as it were, would provide more steeping time. The result, I think, would be a more “rational” text.

Of course, I wrote Smoke just a couple years ago on a computer with an Internet connection. So I had instant access to an unbelievable library to research chaos and string theories and deep ecology, etc. & et al., and could copy and paste and re-write at lightning speed, edit and delete, and so on, but in the end have no paper trail, no record or “train” of thought, only an end product constructed in such a way that hopefully somehow reflects this negation of memory. The result seems a form of nihilism to the old rationalistic approach to writing a text. Not only is narrative story an illusion, but the process from which it emerges is also an illusion, an unreliable memory where everything seems part of an intuitive fictioning process. And what happens in the end is simply the method or stream or whatever runs dry and dies and goes away. It often has the same effect, due to the speed of its occurrence, as waking from a dream. A text is a fossilized form of a living dream. The waking is literally a separation from the mind into the body, from the text into the self.

Proust once wrote something along the lines of—if memory serves right—as time passes by every lie we’ve ever told gradually becomes true. I’m sure I butchered that, and who knows the translation I read may have butchered the French, and I can’t remember or find where the quote came from, so the whole thing is probably a fiction. But the point is that every day I sit down to write fiction, I do so assuming I’m already a critically acclaimed literary genius. It’s a useful fiction, but then to read the first review of my first novel and have it be so positive, gave reality to the sensation of being fiction, which I’ve long theorized it actually is. The out-of-body experience of reading this review was, in a sense, anecdotal verification of my pre-existing convictions. That feeling is transcendent, or one step beyond the normal bounds of experience. Put quite frankly, for a delusional narcissist like me to be told I’m not so delusional fosters an out-of-delusion delusion that's a hell of a lot of fun…a transcendent joke on everything.

So this review was not so much out of body as into mind, like a dream beyond the memories that Smoke still speaks to me.

Finally, I’ll mention the writer’s paradox, which my late, great mentor Raymond Federman stated this way: “All writers are liars; I am a writer.” And I weave tangled webs everyday that I’m guaranteed to forget tomorrow. So in the end it will always seem someone or something else puffed out that Smoke…those signals, or whatever else I may write today or yesterday.

Chuck Richardson's fiction has appeared in Thieves Jargon, Mayday Magazine and BlazeVOX , which published his novel, Smoke. His next novel, So It Seams, will be published next year.

This Catalogue is Analogue to the “Seen and not heard” rule -a quick look at J. Crew

We are getting mail in droves. We aren’t getting holiday cards, we’re getting catalogues, by the dozens. The people who lived here before us were certainly eclectic-Parts-Unlimited Snowmobile Catalogue, Orvis, and my recent study: the seemingly innocuous J.Crew glossies. It didn’t take a very long or discriminating glance through a few catalogues to notice something strange is going on with J. Crew. Something smells one-sided to me in their advertisements-and it’s not the Europhile merch they are pushing. It’s the fact that the catalogue is working hard to humanize their male models and is therefore glaringly objectifying their women models by that light.

Now, I know catalogues are only picture advertisements, not literature; and models are only models, not meant to be real people, but idealized concepts of human form and beauty. But, something is awry. Why has recent J. Crew marketing chosen to give real life “voice” to their male models, who aren’t models at all, but local production designers, or Brooklyn artists. And why are their female models still just quiet and cute, silent representations of our best awkward, adolescent female selves?

A quick look at their website supports this male/female model discrepancy too. The intro page of the Women’s shop is a pretty, red-lipped waif (stepping off her soap box!) in a belted “puffer” coat. The advertisement snippet: “It beats the cold (and looks good doing it!-next page, the “Boyfriend Fatigue Jacket”) That’s it.

The intro web page of the Men’s shop is a striking picture of twins, Dexter and Byron Pearts. It is the introduction to a life story. Both Pearts are designers for the company who have been recurring characters in the last two catalogues. In big red letters behind them, “Family Guys” appears, asking us to click and read on about what “holiday tradition” these handsome and talented designers “most looked forward to.”

Click on the red, “See what they said” and the online and catalogue reader is charmingly introduced to four more handsome men and their pulled quotations about holiday traditions. Each man is ostensibly a J. Crew employee-outside of the modeling department. They’ve been brought in to model-just this once-because they are attractive and interesting. They represent how every person wants to see him or herself. They are portrayed as dynamic humans who happen to be wearing J. Crew clothing.

Furthermore, each man is seen with the accompaniment of someone “near or dear” to them. Two models, Pedro Gomez and Christopher Brooks, are with their equally handsome children. Christopher has his wife with him in too, and the family sits around him Cosby Show style. And one other model, Mark Welsh, is accompanied by his dog, Agnes. Spencer Lyons, a J. Crew creative director made it to the shoot too. His sister and father were lucky enough to be suited up to join him. Wait a minute, I know the names of every male in this catalogue! Who are these people? And why do they get names and pulled quotes, and the women models get none?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not dying to read the personal lives or favorite holiday traditions of catalogue models. I may be interested in storytelling and the things pretty people say, but a grocery line skim through US weekly can satisfy me for months. It just seems to me that this compelling marketing scheme by J. Crew is glaringly one-sided, and one that still ‘objectifies’ women models as nameless nymphs flitting about arm in arm, from party to party (many of the pages market the women’s clothes as the “Friday” coat, or “ready to party!”) and that is it. While their male models are not just made models: they are creative directors, husbands, pet owners and dads too-and we know what they think about. Pedro Gomez philosophizes on page 114, “Giving and getting are opposite sides of the same coin.” What gives?

In spite of our economic (dep)recession, J. Crew has had the golden touch, ever since they outfitted Michele Obama. In May, Time Magazine reported, ‘no retailer owes more to the First Lady than J. Crew. In October, amid the Sarah Palin $150,000 wardrobe scandal, Obama wore a $340 J. Crew set on the Tonight Show. "Ladies, we know J. Crew," she said to the studio audience. J. Crew's Web traffic shot up 64% the next day, and the yellow blouse, cardigan and skirt she wore on the show sold out immediately. Later she wore a J. Crew camisole, cardigan and pencil skirt in the March 2009 issue of Vogue. A hefty wait-list immediately started for all three fall items.” The Obama girls have also been seem wearing J.Crew-cuts, outfits for little people. What does that mean? Did they figure they have Michele Obama speaking for them to all women customers, and stop there? The market would suggest this. But if I know J. Crew, I know from their catalogues that male and female customers are marketed differently, and therefore valued differently.

In March of last year, The New York Times reported on Dexler, the CEO of J. Crew, and they applauded him as a bold leader who ‘wants to get to know his customers. “ At J.Crew he’s (Drexler) intent on doing what he does best — visiting stores every day; reading, responding and acting on customers’ emails; and asking customers for input. He told Nocera (reporter):

“People want to be listened to and they want to be respected. Besides this is how you learn what is on their minds. What can be more important than that?”

Maybe he’s only talking to his male customers, because his female models, we are told, have nothing on their mind. And are they respected?

How can we ever know what is on the minds of the pretty young thing on page 29 in this week’s Holiday Catalogue? She’s got her Metropolitan Suede Ankle Boots on -one of them is hiked atop of a TV that is playing a video of a yule log burning. Her hands are in her pocket, she looks defiant. She isn’t saying “Holidays are an over commercialized joke--on you! Ha! Ha!” or even, “ I am killing my TV!”

The catalogue's only quotation on that page is, “Send warm wishes-shop out coat collection at JCREW.COM.” Maybe what she is saying is, “Shop!”

Fair or not, if you want conversation, and “real-life-J.Crew-wearing people,” skip ahead to page 114 where the men are. Ladies, we know J. Crew!

Nicholas Rombes, again. But it's relevant, I promise.

I learned recently about an interesting little plot regarding literature (or, at least, literary writing) and getting real mail, which is, as you can tell, kind of a thing with me. (Previously in this forum I've talked about letter writing and how no one does it anymore. Only, and happily, to be proven wrong by a reader of this very website.) It seems that Nicholas Rombes, who wrote the Cultural Dictionary of Punk I wrote about here a few months ago, is writing a novel called Nightmare Trails at Knifepoint, and he plans to publish and distribute it via the U.S. Postal Service. In other words, it's a serial that will reach its readers via snail mail. He's publicizing his work via the web, and signing up subscribers that way, but the readers will receive their chapters in the mail, along with their bills and L.L. Bean catalogues and flyers about political candidates. (I don't know about you but that's mostly what's in our mailbox.)

I think Rombes is a little crazy to do this, but you know what? Good for him. It's a weird little experiment but I can't think of any good reason why he shouldn't do it. I wonder how many subscribers he'll get. I bet some people will sign up simply for the pleasure of receiving mail that isn't a bill or something sent at bulk rate. I'm tempted, myself.

Losing my religion

Reading today's in The New York Times Magazine, by Elizabeth Weil about her couples therapy with husband Daniel Duane, was for me a bit like reading a second novel by an author whose first book I loved: I want to read it—indeed, there is no chance I am not going to read it—and I hope it turns out well, but the whole situation is fraught because I will be devastated if it turns out badly. The things is, I really love Daniel Duane's writing. Let me put it this way: I am from Springfield, Massachusettes, land-locked and cold, and yet he made me enjoy reading about In fact, it would be a uncomfortably accurate to say I have a man-crush—OK, let's call it a crush—on Duane. He he surfs, he cooks, he makes a living as a freelance writer, he re-built his own house, his house is in the Bay Area. What's not to love?

But could my love survive his wife's article?

The answer turns out to be yes, my love survives. But it is weakened, and will probably never return to full ardor. To judge from her article, he is a loving husband and father, but he is a serial obsessive of the kind I can't abide in person for more than about ten minutes. He mastered climbing—then surfing—then carpentry—then cooking! (What am I missing?) To know his passions through his writings is endearing; to know them through his wife's long-suffering observation is to make me realize how unlikely it is that he and I could be friends. Partly this is because of the inferiority complex all of us ineffectual, lazy non-starters have when in the presence of real doers; partly this is because of the moral valuation I find myself placing (perhaps unfairly) on anyone who would rather cook really well than order pizza and have more time to play with his kids. (Don't believe me? Read the article.)

I am not sure how to sort this all out. The issue of Daniel Duane is way too close to my face for me to see it clearly. I love his writing, envy his career, sometimes envy his life, don't envy his wife ... you get the idea.

Does this all bore you? Well, at least his books won't. Read them.

Love is a many-creatured thing

Strange Love in Outer Space, the final show by the Yale Cabaret this semester (two shows tonight; three on Sat, including an early show for kids), was written by Janyia Antrum, a twelve-year-old student who participated in the Dwight/Edgewood Project last summer.  The program gives local 6th and 7th graders from Augusta Lewis Troup and Wexler-Grant Community Schools an opportunity to work with Yale School of Drama theater people. Janyia was mentored by Brian Valencia, a dramaturg. The one-act that Janyia wrote in two days at the D/EP’s weekend retreat got a second act after she went home and dreamed about the characters’ further adventures.  The Yale Cab commissioned a third act to find out where the characters were going, and the full trilogy, produced by Jorge Rodriguez and directed by Christopher Mirto, has now had its debut.

What kind of characters?  The main figure is Splontusia (Alex Hendrikson), a four-eyed, one-armed creature who gets transformed into being mean and evil by an injection from the mean and evil Dr. Roswald Tuscanium (Dr. T, for short; Valencia), a worm-like creature with a slit for eyes, truncated arms, and a long trailing body.  By end of act one, however, these two would-be antagonists have admitted that, yes, there’s something charming about that slit and something bewitching about the gleam in that fourth eye...

Romantic complications ensue with the addition, in act two, of Grumis (Mirto), an aquatic creature with a rather dim-witted if likeable delivery who has always loved Splontusia, and, in act three, of the outrageously named Bonegettagettaquisha Star Jones (Dipika Guha), a pirate woman who happens to be part dog, and who has kinda had a crush on Dr T ever since science class back in high school.

And, yes, there are songs.  In fact, be prepared to get on your feet for the rousing “the way love moves in outer space” finale.

I don’t know if Janyia has ever seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I assume that her cast and mentors have, and they maintain a similiar level of zany engagement and campy silliness that made that film such a hit.  Dr T laughs diabolically and snivels pathetically; Grumis sings like an insecure kid on Sesame Street and then belts out his beloved’s name, “Splon-tuuu-syaaaaa,” like Stanley Kowalski with fins (and how he does those fish-hops I’ll never know).  And once Splontusia starts vacillating (Dr. T did chain her to a toilet, after all), B.S. J. arrives as a possible new match for Dr T; she growls and howls yet still manages to exude the charm of a funky Puss In Boots; and Splontusia herself, all in white, at a regal height, towering above the rest of the cast, veers in a mercurial manner from ditzy to heart-felt to aggressive to, finally, someone ready to be her own person.

See it to support young talent!  See it to meet creatures you won’t find anywhere else!  See it for the toilet bowl song!

Strange Love in Outer Space What does it take to make a relationship work? by Janyia Antrum (2009 Dwight/Edgewood Playwright) Directed by Christopher Mirto December 4 @ 8 and 11PM December 5 @ 4, 8 and 11PM Love just got a whole lot stranger. A trilogy of plays begun in the Dwight/Edgewood Project.


When Bad Sex is Fun

A response to Donald Brown

Donald Brown's comment on Philip Roth's nomination for the UK Literary Review's got me thinking, about that award, about writing, and about . See, every year prestigious literary prizes come and go—the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize—and I can't shake the feeling that they're, well, sort of boring. Not the books, mind you; the awards, for all the reasons that critics of those awards criticize them. I realize that they lead to great things for those who win them, and they draw attention to books in general, and these are both wonderful things. But somehow the race itself—that period of time between when the nominees are announced and the awards ceremony—doesn't really fire. It's more like a stately procession, like a parade without a band. There are plenty of spectators, obviously, but they're not making a lot of noise. The same cannot be said of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

The award was created in 1993, ostensibly "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it." I don't buy this for one second. This award is, first, a terrific publicity stunt, drawing coverage from several major UK outlets. Second, it routinely does the thing that you wish more major awards would do much more often: It pits newcomers against old pros, and . Third, the qualification for the award rests solely on the quality of the writing. Plot? Characters? Who cares? This award is about how well people can put sentences together, period.

And maybe it's just me, but the first thing that hits me when I read the excerpts is: This writing isn't bad. (Those of you who might think so have never laid your eyes on cheap pulp smut, such as that collected in the NYU Library— under "Sexuality" and you'll see what I mean. And this isn't even getting at what the prose is like.) The worst that can be said about them is either that they're funny (which is not even remotely a bad thing, and in any case, it seems clear that the authors almost always intend it to be so) or that they're mildly appalling (which, again, often appears to be the author's intent). And in every case, you can judge for yourself: It is ironic to me that the runup to the award involves excerpts from the various texts that are . If I were drunk right now, I would argue that the judges of the Bad Sex Award actually care more about good writing than the people at the National Book Award do, but thankfully for you, it's 10:00 in the morning on a Friday.

Most of all, though, the Bad Sex Award is fun. It's noisy and alive. It reminds us how books can stay vital and real without sacrificing fantastic prose, great ideas, and all the things that avid readers feast on. It makes you wonder if there can be other awards like it—Best Fight Scene Award? Worst Funeral Award?—that pull us in, make us laugh, and then make us read.

Performance Anxiety

Philip Roth, The Humbling, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 140 pp, $22.00 In The Humbling, Philip Roth has created a three-act tragedy for famed stage actor Simon Axler, now in his mid-sixties.  In act one, “Into Thin Air,” Axler mysteriously loses his ability to act, his wife leaves him to his misery, and he finally checks himself into a psychiatric clinic.  In act two, “The Transformation,” in his seclusion in rural NY, he begins an affair with Pegeen Mike Stapleford, the forty-year-old daughter of old acting friends.  Pegeen has been a lesbian since college, and the affair with Axler, which occurs after her lover had decided, with no input from Pegeen, to undergo an operation to become a man, surprises them both.  Finally, in act three, “The Last Act,” Axler must cope with Pegeen’s termination of the affair, an event he had more or less expected but which he had convinced himself wouldn’t occur.

Laid out thus schematically, it’s easy to see the trajectory of the novel, but it takes a bit more delving to see what’s at stake in such a tale.  Roth brings to the story a serious and powerful grasp of final things that has driven his other recent short, emphatically focused novels Everyman (2006) and Exit Ghost (2007); all evoke the rueful feeling of aging and of no longer being able to take for granted one’s gifts and one’s ability to fulfill one’s desires.  An actor unable to act makes the predicament of age become not only an artistic problem, but allows Roth to push at the basis of social interaction.  For the idea of self that keeps us coherent is a role, or a series of roles, we have learned to play.

The notion that how we play our social and sexual roles is amenable to change, and that we can create all sorts of new frissons by opting for other possibilities, is the theme signaled by Pegeen Mike’s sudden change of sexuality.  In exploring “the transformation,” Roth, whose fiction is firmly planted in the contested realms of sexual politics, has fun with the notion that gender is a role, and that a lesbian, as a phallic woman, creates new sexual possibilities with other women and with men, if she so chooses. The fluidity of desire becomes very heady for Axler, but also, because of his vulnerability in losing his metier, emotionally dangerous.

But Roth is enough of an ironist to avoid the simple reading of Axler as castrated male (loss of acting ability) who finds recovered potency as clinging, aging “sugar daddy” to a woman-loving love object who allows herself briefly to become his “make-over,” from tomboy to Prada-wearing femme fatale, only to abandon him.  It’s not that that reading isn’t present, it’s just that it’s too apparent to the characters themselves.

What is more telling is that the break-up occurs after Axler helps fulfill Pegeen’s fantasy of a threesome with Axler and another girl, Tracy, a drunken pickup.  Axler gets to witness Pegeen wield a strap-on dildo to fuck Tracy, and become “a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal.”  The scene takes place to underscore that Axler, formerly the hero in the world of sexuality, is no longer “the god Pan,” and that that role has been taken, in our time, by the polymorphously perverse women of the world.  As an ironist who sees that the surest way to misery is to let a man get what he wants, Roth makes Pegeen’s sexual virility a blow to Axler rather than a turn-on.

For Axler there is no irony in his situation with Pegeen, even though he knew she was playing against type from the beginning.  But for Roth, who sees that, for men of Axler’s generation, losing the comforting roles constitutes the loss of their magical selfhood, the irony is that Axler ends up where he started.   Pegeen, as the new god Pan, giveth and taketh away -- and who would base his well-being on such fleeting transformations is, as they say, in for a world of pain.

But Axler was already in a world of pain, contemplating suicide, due to the loss of his gift.  The transformation of Pegeen he engineered merely lets him play at being a director, casting her as the object of desire he most needs.  The fact that she involves her parents in her life when she begins her affair with him indicates the extent to which Pegeen really isn’t playing the character Axler has cast her as, but is in fact playing with some oedipal urges of her own.  All of this is plain to him, as Roth’s narrator, wonderfully attuned to Axler’s inner voice, makes clear.  And yet Axler persists.  If only to forestall death with one last manifestation of the pleasure principle.

In this, his thirtieth book, Roth, whose first book was published fifty years ago this year, demonstrates again his astonishing ability to delineate the prickly realities of desire.  Few authors come close to his ability to chart evenly, with comic touches and gripping pathos, the ups and downs of women’s effect upon men.  If that means his women are primarily occasions for male reflection, and that his fiction is generally a one-sided dissection of libido, it’s still true that nobody does it better.

We partied like it was ten years ago

1999, to be exact. On Saturday, the New Haven Review took over , the antiques and restoration house on Whalley Avenue. Owner John Cavaliere has retrofitted the old vaudeville space in the back, and so what choice did we have but to throw a party to celebrate issue #5? First, we ate and drank for an hour. The mango champagne punch was swell. Then the 75 or so guests retired to the theater, where NHR editor Brian Slattery (violin, guitar, piano), Craig Edwards (violin, guitar), and Joe DeJarnette (upright bass) played backup music as local notables (“locables”) read stories by their favorite authors. (Thanks to Laurel Silton for taking the pictures.)


Actor Bruce Altman read from Philip Roth’s Indignation and The Breast.


read Grace Paley.


Janna Wagner read Lorrie Moore.


Nora Khan read James Salter.


And read Ian Frazier.

And then we drank again. And we ate more. Arlene Ghent catered, with pastries by Manjares. Have you had their brownies? I ask you—have you had their brownies?

We raised some money in pledges—low four figures, since you asked—but that wasn’t the point. The point was seeing people, meeting people. Tom Gogola was there. New Haven native Darius James, late of New York Press, was there. and were there. My mom was there. Pang-Mei Chang was there, seeing John Cavaliere for the first time since high school. Bruce Tulgan and Debby Applegate were there. Betty Lockhart was there.

You were there. And if you weren’t, you should have been.

Or were you home watching ?

Upcoming Stuff in New Haven

Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, who is currently the James Weldon Johnson Fellow at the Beinecke, is reading at that august repository of valuable manuscripts, 121 Wall St., this Wednesday, Nov. 18th, at 4 p.m.  Read my discussion of her book Native Guard here. Local poet Don Barkin, author of That Dark Lake, will be reading his poems on Friday, Nov. 20th, 7 p.m. at the Kehler Liddell Gallery, 873 Whalley Ave.  The event is co-sponsored by the Kehler Liddell Gallery and the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance.  Check out my article on Don's book in this Thursday's Advocate, or online.

Both events are free and open to the public

And on Thursday night, Nov. 19th, The Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St., is holding a fundraiser.  In this unique event, audience members will be hit up for suggestions, and the Yale School of Drama folks (students, faculty, staff) will have 60 minutes to bring the audience desiderata together in 15-20 minute pieces, to then be performed for the audience who will judge the best piece, according to announced criteria.  So if you've ever wanted to be in on a creative team, as well as a critical voice in awarding merit, here's your chance.  It's also a chance to support this very worthwhile theatrical endeavor.  Tickets are $20.  Doors open at 6 p.m. for seating and bar service.  6:30-7 p.m. is the time of the teams and planning; 7-8 p.m., dinner service is on; 8 p.m., the show begins.  Contact: 203.432.1566, or online at

Dirty Pond Issue 2 up!

The Dirty Pond's is now up, with work from Christina O'Connor, Greg Maurer, Patricia Dickson, Ryan Cyr, Derek Leka, and yours truly (though don't hold that against them). The Dirty Pond is New Haven's newest literary outlet, dedicated to showcasing the talent that New Haven harbors and creates. Submit to it, support it, but most of all, read it.

Loose Ends, Now Tied

In previous essays here at the New Haven Review, I've written about the death of letter writing and about my misty memories of flyers around downtown that proclaimed "New Haven is the Paris of the 80s." I wondered who it was that put up those flyers, and thanked them for their efforts, and expected nothing to follow. Yesterday I got quite shock when I received in the mail -- via the U.S. Postal Service -- an actual, real, hand-addressed letter from a man who tells me that he did it. He's the "New Haven is the Paris of the 80s" guy. Somehow he found my entry here from months ago, and he wrote me a letter to thank me for it.

Made my day. Hell: made my week.

The mystery is solved, my friends. I'm not going to reveal his identity, but I want you all to know, all is well, and the world is now, in my view, a slightly better place than it was twenty-four hours ago.

The tale of Roland Emmerich’s “2012,” as told in 10 lines of its own dialogue


“Nutrinos have mutated into a new kind of nuclear particle. They’re heating up the earth’s core.”

“It’s the biggest solar climax in recorded history.”

“Don’t you see the signs?”

“California’s going down!”

“All our scientific advances, our fancy machines! The Mayans saw this coming thousands of years ago.”


“We’re gonna need a bigger plane.”

“It’s a brave new world you’re heading for, and the young scientists are gonna be worth 200 old politicians.”

“The director of the Louvre was an enemy of humanity?!”

“Everybody out there has died in vain if we start our future with an act of cruelty.”

Shirley Jackson Gets Hers

Some months ago, I wrote a little thing for the New Haven Review about my love for Shirley Jackson's book Life Among the Savages. I've just gone back and looked at the date on the piece (which can be found here on the website) and my word, it was almost a year ago I wrote that tribute. Goodness. I've lost track of time in precisely the same way that Shirley Jackson lost track of her blankets. Well, in a recent Wall Street Journal, John J. Miller wrote an article about Jackson which will get a lot more attention than anything I'd ever write about Shirley Jackson, and I wanted to thank him for writing the piece because from it I learned some really good news. The Library of America is going to publish a collection of Shirley Jackson's work. Though I see no mention of the book on the Library of America website or on, the book is apparently scheduled for a June 2010 release. I for one am looking forward to it.