Archive for March 6th, 2009

mcewanFrom Daniel Zalewski’s admiring essay on Ian McEwan, “England’s national author”:

“McEwan is a connoisseur of dread, performing the literary equivalent of turning on the tub faucet and leaving the room; the flood is foreseeable, but it still shocks when the water rushes over the edge. That’s how it is with the hounds that descend upon a woman in the 1992 novel ‘Black Dogs’; the orgiastic murder in the 1981 novel ‘The Comfort of Strangers’; the botched sexual initiation in ‘On Chesil Beach.’ At moments of peak intensity, McEwan slows time down—a form of torture that readers enjoy despite themselves. In ‘The Child in Time,’ from 1987, a man’s little girl is kidnapped at the supermarket, and his rising panic is charted with the merciless precision of a cardiogram. In ‘The Innocent,’ a 1990 tale of espionage in postwar Berlin, McEwan spends eight pages conjuring a corpse’s dismemberment. And ‘Saturday’ keeps the reader jangled for nearly forty pages, wondering along with Perowne if an airplane descending on London has become a terrorist missile. Martin Amis says, ‘Ian’s terribly good at stressed states. There’s a bit of Conrad that reminds me of Ian. It’s ‘Typhoon,’ when the captain is heading into this terrible storm and Conrad is in the position of first mate. Going into the captain’s cabin, he notices that the ship is yawing so that the captain’s shoes are rolling this way and that across the floor, like two puppies playing with each other. You think, Wow, to keep your eyes open when most people would be closing theirs. Ian has that. He’s unflinching.’

“Page-turning excitement has long been a suspect virtue in a literary novel, and some critics have disparaged McEwan as a hack with elegant prose. He does lean on noirish tropes—the climaxes of ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘Saturday’ both involve a deranged man, a trembling woman, and a knife. But McEwan believes that something stirring should happen in a novel. Though he is animated by ideas, he would never plop two characters on a sofa and have them expound rival philosophies. The opening to ‘Enduring Love’ offers a crisp illustration of game theory: when a balloon becomes untethered, each of the five men holding a rope is forced to make a decision without knowing what the others will do. But most readers enjoy it as a thrilling set piece. On our walk, McEwan twice cited Henry James’s dictum that the only obligation of a novel ‘is that it be interesting.’ Later, McEwan declared that he finds ‘most novels incredibly boring. It’s amazing how the form endures. Not being boring is quite a challenge.'” (more @ The New Yorker)

RelatedJames Wood writes about the manipulations of Ian McEwan

[McEwan’s essay “On John Updike” in The New York Review of Books, in which he describes Updike as having been as “troubled by science as others are troubled by God,” can be found here.]


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Obama 2008“Joe the Plumber” is suing former Ohio officials for violating his privacy, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Employees of the state’s family services department (since resigned) checked Samuel Wurzelbacher for unpaid child support obligations, after Sen. John McCain elevated him to prominence. “You shouldn’t have to regret asking a reasonable question in a public forum of a presidential candidate,’ says the head of the group representing Wurzelbacher.

“Wurzelbacher says this is just one example of how the campaign caused long-term damage to his reputation. ‘I can no longer actually work as a plumber,’ he told the Washington Post. That’s because anything he does—like break a pipe—would become national news. ‘I’ve spoken to some of my plumbing buddies in town and no one really wants to touch me right now.'” (via Newser)

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tobias_wolffOn Wednesday night, shortly after reading from his well-known story ‘Bullet in the Brain,’ Tobias Wolff was called back to the stage of the New School’s Tishman Auditorium to accept The Story Prize. The other two finalists were Jhumpa Lahiri’s best-selling Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf) and Joe Meno’s Demons in the Spring (Akashic Books). . . . The $20,000 award Wolff received, in addition to an engraved silver bowl, is the largest first-prize amount of any annual U.S. book award for fiction.” (via Reuters)

RelatedWhat Wolff knows

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From photographer Simon Høgsberg, a new work, We’re All Going To Die – 100 Meters of Existence, shot from the same spot over the course of 20 days during the summer of 2007, features 178 people walking across a railroad bridge on Warschauer Strasse in Berlin. One hundred meters wide, the image is scene in panels that progress by scrolling, or sliding, along the bottom of the main panel.

Also from Germany, another set of interactive photographs, “Naked People,” offers a revealing look at 24 German men and women of varying sizes, ages and occupations, whose clothing vanishes with a click of the mouse. By my admittedly loose translation, the project asserts that clothing, broadly accepted as a social signifier, offers only illusion, telling us little or nothing about a person’s true character. Finally, by confronting us — after a mouse-click — with the person now undressed, the project asks if even unclothed an individual’s character remains unfathomable. (Both series via The Daily Dish)

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