Thursday, January 27, 2011

Andrew Ervin

Andrew Ervin is the author of Extraordinary Renditions, a collection of three novellas about which the New York Times Book Review wrote, “The variety of viewpoints and the author’s evident intimacy with an ancient foreign capital are promising, and Ervin makes it plain that he is taking on weighty themes: history, empire, race, the power of art.”

His short fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, The Southern Review, Golden Handcuffs Review, Fiction International, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.

Earlier this month I asked Ervin what he was reading. His reply:
Everything I read—and I mean everything—affects what I think and what I write, so I try to be careful about the books I pick up. I’m writing a novel now about a professor who gets fired for plagiarism and goes to live on the remote Scottish island where Orwell wrote Nineteen-Eighty Four. For inspiration, I’ve recently started Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men, which I planned to bring with me overseas for the holidays, but I chickened out simply because this 1192-page hard cover was too heavy to drag on a transatlantic cattle car. I’m 169 pages in, but the rest will probably wait until the summer. Instead, I carried with me a series of smaller (but no less profound) books: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud and Disgrace and In the Heart of the Country by J.M. Coetzee. I also finally got around to Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic and, lastly, I was lucky enough to get my mitts on an advance copy of Bradford Morrow’s forthcoming The Diviner’s Tale, which is an amazing novel.

As far as what I’m reading right now, I’m glad to have an excuse to look again at Jack Green’s brilliant and scathing Fire the Bastards! It’s a short book—part rant, part analysis—that examines in petulant detail the terrible critical reception that William Gaddis’s The Recognitions received upon its publication in 1955. I personally consider that novel to be the high water mark of twentieth-century literature, but the critics weren’t very kind at first. In fact, the book was met with a flurry of poorly conceived, spiteful, anti-intellectual, and willfully-misrepresenting reviews. There’s an awkwardly warm kiddie pool in hell awaiting lazy, dogmatic book reviewers. Green responded in detail to each and every one of the critics and in doing so took on the entire book-criticism industry (an industry in which I’ve freelanced for over a decade, I might add).

The Dalkey Archive Press edition reproduces the tirades Green first published in an underground newspaper titled newspaper, which were composed without punctuation, line breaks, or discretion.

As Steven Moore writes in his introduction, while Gaddis’s reputation has gotten much, much better over the past half-century, the “review media, on the other hand, hasn’t improved; if anything, it has degenerated.” Fire the Bastards! should be required reading for everybody who reviews literature—or purports to.

Like everyone I know, I have a to-read-soon pile that could reach Uranus. Up next for me will be Nemesis by Philip Roth and a reread of Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster. At the recommendation of an editor pal whose tastes I’ve learned to trust I’ve also ordered copies of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem and Kate Christensen’s The Epicure’s Lament, which I want to get to before her new novel drops later this year. I’m looking forward to that a lot.
Visit Andrew Ervin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue