Monthly Archives: September 2009

Jewish-American Idol

From an era when not only did a writer have a reasonable shot at making money off a short story—if he or she really wanted to make the big bucks, he adapted it for the stage: the epigraph to the short story “The Day of Atonement,” by Sampson Raphaelson:

So Sound and Dramatic Is this Tale That a Manager Plans to Make a Play of It. The Author Confesses That He Isn’t the Idol of Millions of Readers Now, but We Predict That He Will Make Friends Fast

Raphaelson did write a play based on his story, also called The Day of Atonement. The play then evolved into the screenplay for The Jazz Singer (1927, Al Jolson)—and, I’m assuming, served as the template for the screenplays of all subsequent versions (1952, Danny Thomas; 1980, Neil Diamond—and maybe even the 1959 version Jerry Lewis did for television that’s mentioned on Wikipedia?—that’s the only one Emily and I haven’t seen).

The story “The Day of Atonement” and its epigraph are reproduced in the appendices of the screenplay of the original 1927 Jazz Singer (p. 147), published in 1979 (a year before the Neil Diamond version was released).

A footnote on the first page of the story reads: “Everybody’s Magazine, January 1922 […] Raphaelson changed the spelling of his given name from Sampson to Samson when The Jazz Singer was produced.”

Emily Barton in the NYRB

(New year catch-up post, five of five.)

About three years ago, a completely amazing review of Brookland was published in the New York Review of Books. It was more than just a review, really; it was a 3,500-word consideration of both Brookland and The Testament of Yves Gundron. The article was originally password-protected on the NYRB site, but as of this past April, it’s freely available: “The View from the Bridge,” by Christopher Benfey (NYRB Vol. 53, # 13).

Benfey closes with the following paragraph (I’ve taken the liberty of adding a direct link to footnote number five here—which might look a little funny if you were to print this page, like an endnote to an endnote):

In her first two novels, Emily Barton has taken on for herself Crane’s self-appointed task to “absorb the machine, i.e., acclimatize it as naturally and casually as trees, cattle, galleons, castles, and all other human associations of the past.” But something else is at work in Barton’s finely tuned vision, it seems to me, though I raise it with some hesitation since it is nowhere explicit in Brookland. I mean the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, coinciding with the period during which Barton, living in Brooklyn, wrote Brookland. The Brooklyn Bridge itself was rumored to be on the list of potential al-Qaeda targets, with Osama bin Laden reportedly threatening to bring down “the bridge in the Godzilla movie.”[5] Barton appears to be alluding obliquely to the attacks of September 11 in her references to the “twin towers” of Prudence Winship’s bridge, in her attention to the “retaining wall” of her father’s distillery, which is also the site of his death, and in her notion of the bridge as a monument to the dead. Whatever we make of these apparent allusions, Emily Barton has written a moving testimonial to the dead on both sides of the river.

Benfey teaches at Mt. Holyoke, and, wonderfully, came to Emily’s reading at Amherst this past spring. I was hanging out with Toby back at the hotel, but I’m pretty sure this idea—that the novel is, allusively, about the beautiful and terrible view from Emily’s old apartment in Brooklyn Heights—didn’t come up at all at the reading; but as to the question of whether or not Benfey’s idea is right on the money, I can safely say: Yes.

I’m still working on my argument that both Brookland and Testament are crypto-steampunk—but that thesis might take a while to work its way into print.

Jessica Anthony Will Rock Your World

(New year catch-up post, four of five.)

What was 8/17–8/21? It was Jess Anthony Week on the Powell’s Books Blog—and Jess very graciously asked me to be a part of it. Wednesday of that week was Jess and I talking about writing dares! So was Thursday!

Also: have you read The Convalescent? Do you know that it got a starred review in PW? (In addition to blurbs from Chris Adrian and Katherine Dunn? I mean, whoa.) And the book is a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection for fall 2009? I was lucky enough to read the book back when it was just a Word document; now it has that gorgeous cover, and fits so much more easily in your hands than a pile of eight-and-a-half-by-eleven pages, using the convenient technology of the printed book—no electricity required; no upgrades necessary; out of beta for approximately five centuries. Learn more at the McSweeney’s site.

Good News: Indiana Review

(New year catch-up post, two of five.)

My story “The Man in the Moon Is a Lawyer” will be published in the winter 2009 issue of Indiana Review (issue 31.2). I’m not exactly sure of the pub date; I signed off on page proofs a few weeks ago.

“The Man in the Moon” is the first story I wrote in grad school. I think the other writers who were in Breyten’s fall 2003 workshop might remember it as “the couch story.” I submitted it for workshop; I read part of it out loud a few days later at the Bowery Poetry Club; it got discussed in class; I put it in a drawer for four years; I dug it out, made some edits, and started sending it out. Two years after that, good news!

The VQ, No Byline

(New year catch-up post, one of five.)

In the summer 2009 issue of the Quarterly, which shipped back in June: I wrote the copy for the “Hidden Histories” feature (which, unfortunately, doesn’t look nearly as good online as it does in the fully designed two spreads it takes up in the printed magazine). I chose not to give myself a byline—the story is just credited to “The Editors”—but since there’s only one editor on the masthead for this issue, I’m assuming that readers could figure out (if they wanted to) that the editors who wrote the article is me.

I’m proud of the heds I came up with for this issue—especially “The Importance of Earning Interest,” “The Very Model of a Major Modern Architect,” and “Charities of Fire.”

I Know Exactly How He Feels

The authorial intrusions, we were told, do not work. They are alienating, insipid, random, arbitrarily hostile, not working the right material. It is more than forty years, we were told, since John Barth wrote Lost in the Funhouse. Disembodied narrators have chastised readers for a generation now. It is not enough. Perhaps it will work for the science fiction magazines, the ones with spaceships and dragons and marauding scarecrows on the covers. Perhaps their readers have not read Lost in the Funhouse. But the literary magazines? They will be bored.

My oppressor is confused. Does he want the story to be F&SF? in the magazines with the rocketships, the bloated nebulae, the marauding scarecrows on their covers? Yellowed issues from the 1980s line the tops of bookshelves in his old room in his parents’ house; crisp new ones pile by his toilet at home. Or in The Paris Review? The Paris Review would be nice. But he would like a Hugo Award, one of those pointy shiny rocketships designed in imitation of automobile fender ornaments. On a walnut base. They are heavy. They sit well in the hand. Yellowed issues of F&SF from the 1980s line the tops of bookshelves in his old room in his parents’ house. But then, what if he were in The New Yorker? His mother always read The New Yorker, sitting in the orange chair in the corner of the living room, a room too big and all in shadow, except for a pool of light from the lamp on the table by her chair. On the last page, they had profiles of famous people who drank Dewar’s. If he were in The New Yorker his mother would be so happy.

That is what he thought about when they told him the metafictional asides were not good enough.

You see what I am to him?

—Benjamin Rosenbaum, from the story “Sense and Sensibility,” from The Ant King and Other Stories (p. 185). (“My oppressor,” as you can perhaps infer from the quote, is Benjamin Rosenbaum.)

I did not transcribe the above, but rather copied it from the plain-text file of the book on the Small Beer Press site (published there with a Creative Commons license), which you can get to by going to the Small Beer Ant King page and clicking “Free Download.”

Actually, hang on, I got that slightly wrong: the whole book is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. That’s awesome!

And actually, what I did was this: I copied and pasted the above from the plain-text file. Then I compared it to p. 185 in the hardcover edition. Then I bolded the text that’s in the book but not in the plain-text file, then formatted the text that’s in the plain-text file but not in the book as strike-through text.

Which are presumably last-minute edits?—if so, they’re interesting ones.