Mary MacLane lived the dream, as we say nowadays. At least, in the beginning, she did. In Butte, Montana, where she grew up, she was just a bright girl in high school. She wanted to go to Stanford, but her stepfather spent the money that had been set aside for her education. She made the fields her world and wrote copiously in a notebook. What emerged was a long, piercing self-examination, about her frustrations with her family, as embodied by six toothbrushes ("Never does the pitiable, barren, contemptible, damnable, narrow Nothingness of my life in this house come upon me with so intense a force as when my eyes happen [...]
Jonathan Franzen is in my estimation America's best living novelist (OKAY?) and a substantial number of people get upset whenever he writes or says basically anything. It's interesting to ask why! In part it's because his ideas about novels and what people respond to in them are provocative and controversial, and sometimes, as in his recent essay about Edith Wharton, he projects his own responses onto "us" in a way that can be irritating, if we disagree with him. Our opinion about his writing is also affected by of how rich he is and his gender and what he looks like, and that's very hard to talk about. But [...]
Part of a two-week series on the pull of bad influences in our lives and in the culture.
The word “blackmail” has deceit written all over it. Nine letters to connote all the dirtiness and manipulation that comes with the threat of disclosure. But when you think of "blackmail," do you picture, well, mail? Confidential missives that threaten to enter the wrong hands? I’m always reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Purloined Letter," where the narrative winds to follow the possible locations of an incriminating letter. In daytime soaps and murder mysteries, blackmail regularly happens through the transfer of mail. As we know, letters are by nature compromising—not only [...]
"One is sometimes tempted to think that the generation which has invented the ‘fiction course’ is getting the fiction it deserves. At any rate, it is fostering in its young writers the conviction that art is neither long nor arduous, and perhaps blinding them to the fact that notoriety and mediocrity are often interchangeable terms." —Edith Wharton, in the 1920s, from The Writing of Fiction.
1. “New York’s not very friendly to strange girls, is it? I suppose you’ve got so many of your own already—and they’re all so fascinating you don’t care!”
2. “The chief characteristic of her generation is a kind of creative solipsism: nothing is better material than the absurdities and contradictions of her own life. Successfully mining personal experience of underachievement has, of course, its ironies.”
3. "As a girl, you are a delicate glass vase, waiting to be broken. You are a sweet-smelling flower, waiting for life’s hobnailed boots to trample you. That built-in suspense is part of your appeal."
4. "It is less mortifying to [...]