“The `80s were the last identifiable period. If you see a picture from that era, you know it instantly. The art, the clothes, the hair; they were unique. After that, everything started to look and feel the same.”
That’s what the author Jay McInerney said (or something close to it) when I saw him at a book reading here in La Jolla. He seemed wistful. And why he wouldn’t he be, having hurdled like a latter day F. Scott Fitzgerald into the New York literary scene with his 1984 bestseller, Bright Lights, Big City? As he spoke, I too waxed nostalgic for the time, the scene, and recalled a woman who once leaned against the bar of the Surf Club on the Upper East Side. It was 1988, and I thought it was her birthday.
The Surf Club’s preppy, Wall Street trader vibe wasn’t for me – I preferred the scruffier downtown scene – but there she was: button nose, sneakers, shoulder-length blonde hair and looking like she knew something the rest of us didn’t. Continue reading
Toward the end of Harper Lee’s classic novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ when the rape trial of Tom Robinson has concluded and Atticus Finch is walking toward the exit, Reverend Sykes instructs Scout, Atticus’ daughter, to rise.
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’,” he says.
Robinson, an innocent Black man, has just been convicted by an all-White jury, and Atticus, his White lawyer, has ostensibly failed. But they stand up, the Black citizens of Maycomb, Alabama, they stand up along with the Reverend and Scout, because moral courage of the sort Atticus exhibited, true moral courage, must be acknowledged. Continue reading
I write because I am a prisoner.
I write because there exists, beyond the walls of my preconceptions and just outside the barriers of my inventiveness, another story.
It’s not wholly personal or cultural or factual. It’s not religious or utopian. Nor is it political. It’s all of these things, or some, or none of them. It’s unknown, untold; it’s novel.
I write to discover that new story – the one that will set me free.
My novel is available here: The Last Island
When I was 17 years old, I dove into a swimming pool and broke my neck.
Until that moment, I’d been relentlessly active, my days taxed with dread of missing something somewhere. I was on the student council and participated in a wide variety of school clubs. I always secured a part in the school play and rode a unicycle in talent shows. I ran cross-country in the fall, track in the spring and was co-captain of the basketball team in between. I was an honor student who worked full-time in the summer and caddied most weekends in the spring and early fall, except on certain Sundays when I served as an altar boy. I’d never had a drink or a smoke, and I rarely swore. Yet that pleasant summer day, for reasons still unclear to me, I plunged into a six-foot deep above-ground pool and slammed the top of my head on the sloped concrete bottom. Continue reading
‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ by Flann O’Brien.
Not one of my three sisters is a loud, dirty, boozy girl. That’s probably a good thing for them — as well as me. But if one or two or all of them were, I would give them this book if only because Dylan Thomas, that loud, dirty, boozy poet, said I should.
Even without that recommendation, how can anyone resist a novel that reflects on the humanity of kangaroos, including “the kangaroolity of women and your wife beside you?”
Or one that offers an occasional “summary of what has gone before, for the benefit of new readers?”
Or one where an author sleeps with one of his own characters and conceives a child, who then goes on to write a book about what a terrible writer his father is?
Joyce loved it, so did Beckett and Graham Greene and Jorge Luis Borges, and Brendan Gleeson is trying to turn it into a movie. It’s Flann O’Brien’s ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ and one of my favorite novels. Go on, find yourself a loud, dirty, boozy girl and give it to her.
Of course, if that doesn’t suit you, you can try my novel, which is available here: The Last Island
Border between Greece and Bulgaria
There were three men against the back wall with AK-47s. They were unshaven, unmoving, and looked as if the last time they smiled there was blood on the ground. They glared at me and there was an even chance that I was the first American they’d ever seen. Communism had just fallen and, since no system of law, order or enforcement had yet taken its place, these men had become all of those things.
They were guarding the ‘businessmen’ that I was meeting with in a rural village in Bulgaria, businessmen who were money changers, importers/exporters, and a rural ex-party mafia rolled into one. I was here to sell a tractor, the first modern western tractor in the country as far as any of us knew, and though I didn’t want to be negotiating with ‘businessmen’ like these, there was no choice. They could move large equipment; they had money; and they had protection. Continue reading
“I don’t understand these people trying to help animals when there’s so much human suffering in the world. Shouldn’t they be helping humans instead?”
I was asked this question at dinner the other day. One of the characters in my novel, The Last Island, is an animal rights activist. The questioner thought that her passion, like that of many other animal activists, was misplaced. I answered the question as best I could at the time, but after some thought I realized that my response was inadequate. I’ve since come to a new conclusion. Continue reading