1526 days ago

Title Search

A novel is never really finished until the final set of galleys are turned in to the publisher, but I finished a third draft of my latest in June and finalized the details of a deal with Knopf, my longtime publisher this past Friday. The working title is Thin City, which I like a lot, though I’m not sure my editor shares my enthusiasm. We shall see. Titles are a bitch. For me they usually come right at the beginning or at the last minute, as pub date looms, though this one came to me somewhere between the writing of the second and third drafts. Manhattan is literally a skinny island, and many of its inhabitants are obsessed with their weight. The book finishes with the middle of the recession that began in 2008, a time of thinning portfolios, shrinking net worth and receding expectations. And I think of Nick Caraway looking forward to “a thinning briefcase of enthusiasms, thinning hair…” as he contemplates his thirtieth birthday and beyond. These characters by contrast are approaching their fiftieth birthdays. (Fitzgerald never got there so perhaps it was appropriate for his protagonist to be so depressed about thirty.) My new novel picks up the story of Russell and Corrine Calloway, the married couple who made their first appearance in a short story I wrote in 1985 called “Smoke” and who subsequently appeared in Brightness Falls and The Good Life.

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1832 days ago

I Miss You, George

“This is your turf, Jay,” George said, as we navigated the buckling sidewalk on the Lower East side. “I feel a little out of my element.” We were trying to find the bar where we were to give a joint reading, after jumping out of the cab at the wrong spot. At that moment a goth girl with multiple piercings shouted, “Hey George! George Plimpton!” as she passed us. And I realized at that moment that George was never really out of his element, that he was at home, and known, almost everywhere. He was an explorer, and he was an icon, his silver mane and his weathered patrician features as recognizable as his flutey, inimitable accent, that seemed to combine old New York and Cambridge, Mass with a little bit of Cambridge, England. I’ve been thinking about George since I watched the excellent documentary, Plimpton! , directed by Luke Poling and Tom Bean, that recently debuted on PBS.***

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2217 days ago

High and Dry

More of my friends seemed distressed than impressed when I quit drinking for August. The feeling seemed to be that I was letting the team down at the height of the season. “Why the hell would you pick August of all months,” asked one friend. The answer is that toward the end of July I realized I was entering a crucial period in the composition of the novel I was working on, closing in on the end of the first draft.

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2357 days ago

The Weight of the Word

At five in the morning on October 3, 2011, Turkish police raided the home of Ayse Berktay, a writer and translator, seizing personal papers and files, without an arrest or search warrant. She was eventually charged under Turkey’s anti-terror legislation with “membership in an illegal organization” for allegedly “planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilizing the state, plotting to encourage women to throw themselves under police vehicles so as to create a furor, and attending meetings outside Turkey on behalf of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK),” a banned pro-Kurdish party.

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2364 days ago

Ghosts of New York

The timing was eerie. Last week the Boston Marathon bombings reminded New Yorkers of that day almost twelve years ago when our city was thrown into chaos and our sense of invulnerability shattered forever. And now the apparent discovery of a piece of the wreckage from one of the two airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center, wedged in a narrow alley near Ground Zero, the improbability of the discovery, and of its remaining undiscovered for so long underlined by the fact that the alley is only an inch wider than the seventeen inch width of the fragment.

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2481 days ago

Stupid Twits and Nasty Snobs

My two New Year’s resolutions are: to do more fly fishing, and to read more Edward St. Aubyn. I’ve been aware of his work for a long time; Donna Tartt is among quite a few readers I admire who have urged it on me. I finally got around to reading the Patrick Melrose novels over the holiday and I was blown away.

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2558 days ago

Happy New Year

No less than the farm, the city has it seasonal rhythms, although here the autumn, rather than the spring, is the season of rebirth and renewal: the time to shake off the torpor and idleness of August, the season of openings—of plays, restaurants, galleries, the season when the big books are published, the fashions of the following year unveiled on the runways, the big charities hold their benefits as the gingko trees turn yellow, Fashion Week giving way to the Film Festival and the big gallery shows in Chelsea, the opening of the Metropolitan Opera and the City Ballet and the art auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury which will tell us how rich the rich are feeling this year. Even for those who aren’t Jewish, the new year in New York begins in September. A certain tribal anxiety also, a collective memory of September 11th, and of financial panics past, but we’ve made it past that again this year. Another eerily clear day and clement day.

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2609 days ago

No Mythical Creatures

The last time I saw Gore Vidal was at a book fair in Austin a few years ago, and I was saddened to see him in a wheelchair, looking terribly shrunken. I prefer to remember the night of our first meeting at his grand apartment in Rome, where I was spending a week promoting the Italian publication of Bright Lights, Big City. At that time we shared an editor, Gary Fisketjon, and Gore had invited me to dinner when he heard through Gary that I was coming to Rome. The first time I ever met him was when he answered the door, and while I’d seen him often on television I wasn’t prepared for the scale of the man—he was tall and broad and he seemed more like a movie star than an author.

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2646 days ago

A Writer's Town

Back to work on the novel after a hiatus. I work in the mornings and later in the afternoon I either go to the ocean to swim or the bay to paddleboard. My house in Sag Harbor is on Upper Cove, and about mile down the shore is the house where John Steinbeck spent much of the last two and a half decades of his life. It’s a beautiful property, a peninsula shaded by oaks. The current owner called me up last year and kindly offered a tour and a cocktail. The house itself is a modest mid century two-bedroom which has most of Steinbeck’s furnishing and books intact. He wrote The Winter of Our Discontent here, in a little hexagonal hut perched above the water, and watched the ospreys, who infuriated him by failing to use the nest he built on his property, instead nesting across the cove. I too have built an osprey platform on a twenty-foot post at the end of my dock, but the ospreys have so far spurned it, although they seem to be thriving. I see one or two every day that I’m on the water, and sometimes they use the nesting platform to devour a fish they’ve plucked from the cove.

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2678 days ago

Eating Up Italy

Spending a week on the Amalfi coast in June is pretty much my idea of nirvana, but I’m a little depressed about the fact that in all that time and despite a twenty-hour layover in Naples I had only one pizza. And strangely enough it was at a Michelin one star restaurant in Positano, in the San Pietro hotel. But damn was it good, much better than the wood-grilled dorade for which I had high hopes—the only disappointing fish I had on the trip, strangely flavorless, possibly not entirely fresh. The view almost made up for it though—we were perched on a cliff about five hundred feet over the Mediterranean. The wine was good, too: I was drinking from a mag of 2001 Terre di Lavoro—tried to drink locally while there, and there are some great reds in Camapania.

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