Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nathaniel Rich

Nathaniel Rich has published essays and criticism in The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and Slate. He is senior editor at The Paris Review.

Of Rich's forthcoming novel, The Mayor's Tongue, Stephen King wrote: "This is an elegantly-structured, brilliantly-told novel, by turns terrifying, touching, and wildly funny, and always generous and magical."

I recently asked Rich what he was reading. His reply:

A friend just sent me Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 prose poem, The Wild Party, which tells the story of a bunch of floozies and broken-nosed wiseguys who get together for a drunken orgy. The book was banned at the time of its publication, but reclaimed from obscurity by Art Spiegelman, who illustrated a new edition that Pantheon published in 1999. (Spiegelman seems to have particularly relished the chance to draw the character of Queenie, a sexed-up blond vaudeville dancer who appears naked, in numerous poses, throughout the book). March’s schoolboy rhymes give the sordid subject matter a strangely pleasant menace:

The candles flared: the shadows sprang tall,

Leapt goblin-like from wall to wall;


Mimicking those invited.

The noise was like great hosts at war:

They shouted; they laughed:

They shrieked: they swore:

They stamped and pounded their feet on the floor:

And they clung together in fierce embraces,
And danced and lurched with savage faces

That were wet

With sweat:

Their eyes were glassy and set.

I also recently read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle—predictable, preachy, grim, yet totally absorbing. I was surprised that John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces turned out to be tedious, but was revived by a re-reading of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, one of my favorite books and the funniest one I know.
Rich wrote in Slate: "O'Brien's lack of readership [compared with Beckett's and Joyce's] is particularly surprising since of the holy Irish trinity, he is by far the funniest. His masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), has the singular distinction of being consistently laugh-out-loud funny, even on a second or third read, even 70 years after its publication. Many readers today regard Ulysses or the Molloy trilogy in a daze of stultification or with mild terror at the novels' calculated efforts to frustrate narrative convention. Yet it would take a reader of calcified heart to read O'Brien's best work without laughing his face off." [read more]

Visit Nathaniel Rich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue