The novel requires a different approach, one that is more relaxed, not all holding your breath with clenched teeth the way I write. I write biting my nails. Do you write biting your nails? Writers divide into those who write biting their nails and those who don’t.
“Well I guess it’s only life, it’s only natural
We all spend a little while going down the rabbit hole
The things they taught you, they’re lining up to haunt you
They’ve got your back against the wall
I call you on the telephone, won’t you pick up the receiver?
I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now
It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome
It takes a while but we can figure this thing out
And turn it back around”
I mean in The Great Gatsby, dreams and aspiration ultimately destroy characters like Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson. I was watching the Woody Allen documentary recently where he talks about living in a state of romantic obsession is much better than real life, but if you step out of the dream, real life will crush you.
“I am going to tell you a secret. Everything is about wanting. Everything. Things happen because of people wanting. Watch closely, and you’ll see what I mean.”
― David Mitchell, Ghostwritten
When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie died in 1986, instructions were left that two boxes of books owned by her father were to be sent to her great friend, Professor Matthew J. Bruccoli of the English department at the University of South Carolina. Among the books was a volume by Ernest Boyd entitled Portraits: Real and Imaginary. On the front endpaper, Fitzgerald had written “Don’t bother about first stuff. Read definite portraits”—instructions to someone to whom he was intending to lend or give the book.
Thanks to some fine detective work by Bruccoli’s wife Arlyn, we now know who that person is. Noting that the rear endpaper of the book had been torn out, Arlyn observed faint impressions on the preceding page, which suggested someone had written a message in the book before tearing out the page. Applying the familiar method of rubbing the indentations with a soft pencil, she was able to recover the message. It appears above.
From Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast we also know the circumstances—Fitzgerald had missed the train the two of them were to take to Lyon together to pick up the Fitzgerald’s car and drive it back to Paris. As Hemingway writes: “There was nothing to do but wire Scott from Dijon giving him the address of the hotel where I would wait for him in Lyon … ”
Hemingway writes of reading a book in his hotel room in Lyon while he waits to hear from Fitzgerald. It is the first volume of A Sportman’s Sketches by Turgenev. Who knows whether he ever looked into the Boyd book, except to write in it.
From the Poetry Center Archive: James Salter—A Great American Writer. Reading from “Burning the Days.” | Recorded March 31, 1997
“If he can be described as a writer’s writer,” said Susan Sontag that night, as she introduced James Salter, “then I think it’s just as true to say he’s a reader’s writer; that is, he’s a writer who particularly rewards those for whom reading is an intense pleasure and something that is a bit of an addiction. I myself put James Salter among the very few North American writers all of whose work I want to read and whose as yet unpublished books I wait for impatiently … In the case of James Salter, I crave more of those sentences and paragraphs which I wish I had written or were capable of writing.”
A similar sense of admiration touched with envy can be found in today’s recording, which places Salter the young soldier on a train in the 1950s reading an old copy of Mademoiselle in which Dylan Thomas’s play “Under Milk Wood” has been excerpted. “The words dizzied me—their grandeur, their wit,” Salter reads. “In the soft, clicking comfort of the train, I feasted on it all. The drops of rain became streaks as the dazzling voices spoke. House-wives, shop-keepers, shrews, Captain Cat the blind, retired sea-captain dreaming of a strumpet Rosie Probert—‘C’mon up, boys. I’m dead!’ It was an unforgettable performance, singing on and on.”
Salter knew, of course, that he was reading about the play from the very stage where it was first performed—by Thomas and others—in 1953.
To access other recordings on our Virtual Poetry Center, visit here: http://92Y.org/VPC
Source: SoundCloud / 92Y
So much has been written about New York City as a city of histories—rich and public, deep and private. Commerce and bodies ebb and flow. For every New Yorker, there is a ghost city under the tangible one; this second, invisible layer contains the tangled web of memory and geography. I certainly have my fair share of associative ghosts; we all do. But New York City is also a city of forgetting, for better and for worse, and often against our best wishes.
MAUREEN RIDES AGAIN!
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Praise from Sara Gran, Megan Abbott, John Connolly, and Alafair Burke.
Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist.
Available today, wherever books are sold. From FSG/Sarah Crichton Books.
Read this now, if you know what’s good for you.