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    Uni: “Jebus, what a vicious, sick-funny, barbed little knife this book is. Kingsley—father of Martin, of course—shares the sordid tale of Sir Roy Vandervane, well into his middle years who falls smitten with a 17-year old anti-Establishment punk-hippy from hell. Vandervane himself, a respected icon in the classical music scene, entertains faulty visions of getting ‘down with youth’ that culminate in a horrific violin outing with a noise outfit dubbed Pigs Out. Our narrator is Douglas Yandell, a mere 33 but already a prematurely aged stick-in-the-mud. The plotting is pitch-perfect as most everyone slides swiftly into the gutter, some faster than others. Highly recommended.

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    Still feeling optimistic about life? Muriel Spark serves up a swift 88-page remedy for that with this mysterious and fucked-up novella about a woman who goes on vacation in order to instigate her own murder. (We sniffed certain resonances to London Fields by Amis-the-Younger.) Weird and compulsively readable, The Driver’s Seat is a poison dart that flies swiftly toward its bloody conclusion.”

     


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    CHLOE: The forthcoming-in-November Sarah Thornton book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts, is one of the most hilariously bad tomes we’ve dribbled and nibbled over in many a year. Literally the only interesting thing about this book is A) how and why it was published, since it’s neither an insider’s book for outsiders, nor an insider’s book for insiders, and B) how drunk and/or high the editors were to allow whoppers like the one pictured above to slide through, without someone vomiting their coffee all over the advance proofs and sending a frantic email along the lines of “OMG LOL YOU ACCIDENTALLY LEFT SOME TOTALLY RACIST AND ALSO INACCURATE SHIT IN HERE GLAD WE CAUGHT IT BEFORE IT WENT OUT INTO THE WORLD ‘CUZ THAT WOULD’VE SUUUUUCKED.” Thornton’s organizing conceit for the book—and we put the emphasis very strongly here on conceit—is that she’s weaving some sort of bullshit drama in which the artists featured are actors on the great stage of—zzzzzzzzzzz. What we’ve really got here is a collection of half-baked, pointless quasi-profiles of the likes of Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, and Francis Alys, along with really tortured and occasionally fantastical transitions attempting to sew up a grand narrative about—who the fuck knows what? Sometimes, instead of interviewing the artists, she just goes and hears them talk at LACMA or some shit and then basically transcribes what happens. Sometimes she hangs out with the Dunham clan (Laurie Simmons, Carroll, Lena), just chilling and drinking lemonade in their country house. In any case, she makes a big point about how many air miles she accrued traveling all over the globe to hunt these stories down, which was a real waste of a carbon footprint, since this kind of crap journalism could have been conducted via Gchat, easy. Ordinarily we wouldn’t get so worked up about what’s really just a forgettable smear on the fall publishing calendar, but the problem here is that A) there are so many talented art journalists who could have written a book like this, geared to a wide audience who already thinks the art world is a big pointless shit-parade, and it could’ve been a great book, and B) THIS IS NOT THAT BOOK, and C) that means the narrow window for this-type-of-book-to-be-published has already been filled with this thing, which is so laughably bad—both structurally, and line by fucking line—that it makes us want to gag up a series of 33 perfectly formed hairballs, which we could pack into a sort of abstract sculpture in the living room, and I swear to Jebus that sodden, barfed-up mass would have more artistry in it than you’ll find in all of these 352 pages.

     


  3. The Evening Interviews: Adam Wilson

    In the acknowledgements for his new collection of short stories, What’s Important Is Feeling, Adam Wilson admits that his own father considers him “one weird dude.” This should be taken as a compliment, we think, since while some of the material here made our fur crawl, Wilson is ultimately an expert navigator and explicator of the types of emotional and sexual strangeness you human beings are capable of. We chatted with the author about prose techniques and why no one wants to read about attractive people making each other come.

    UNI & CHLOE: First lines are important—they’re the snacks that lure you in. And in terms of first lines you, Adam Wilson, are a veritable high-octane genius-machine. “No one knows who slept with her first”; “My grandfather was an old queen, and when he was dying he would grab me through my pants and try to make it hard”; “I’m done being friends with dreadlocked white guys.” Tell us: What’s the recipe for a perfect opening line? Is an opening line like that the initial catalyst for a great story, or does it come later in the process?

    ADAM WILSON: I’m not sure if one recipe is better than others, but looking at the three you’ve quoted, mine seems to involve making an extreme statement and then spending the rest of the story trying to justify it. The main thing, for me, is getting the reader interested. We live in such an ADD culture, that every sentence seems like an opportunity to lose the reader. I try to make a big bang at the beginning in order to say, STOP, read this, it’s not gonna be boring, there’s sex in it! I often read my opening sentence to my own cat, Frida, and if she stops destroying furniture or chasing pieces of paper around my apartment in order to listen then I know I’m on the right track.

    Young adulthood—dramatic teenage years, existential college years—seem very important to you. We’re 4 ourselves which, in cat years, puts us right in this target demo. What’s interesting or fruitful about this time of life? Can we ever expect to grow out of this awkwardness?

    Awkward? Aren’t cats supposed to be graceful? As for me, I’m still trying to deal with the psychic wounds from my adolescence. I had a baby face and a ponytail and no muscle mass to speak of. Older kids called me “Hanson” after the band who sang “Mmbop”. You would still be writing about it too. Luckily, cats don’t have to go to high school. 

    In the acknowledgements for the book you thank your father, but then admit that after reading this collection he called you “one weird dude.” Are you a weird dude? Does it feel weird to have your dad read a story in which the protagonist is, you know, idly masturbated by his dying-and-mostly-senile grandpa?

    You know, I didn’t feel that weird about my parents reading this stuff. My dad is a writer, and has written some pretty weird shit himself, so I feel like he can take it. I do, however, feel weird about my girlfriend’s parents reading the book.

    What are some songs that we should listen to while reading What’s Important Is Feeling?

    I would listen to the albums Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady, Celebration Rock by Japandroids, Doris by Earl Sweatshirt, and Manhattan, the debut record from my old high school buddies, Skaters.

    Is it important for writers and those-who-want-to-be-writers to go through a so-called “drug period,” so that they can later drag themselves out of the gutter and use their hard-fought wisdom to craft better, more authentic prose?

    Let me ask you this, are you two more authentic cats for having tasted catnip? Did it alter your worldview? Improve your sex lives? Or just make you mellow? Drugs are fun and provide good material, but they’re not great for writing because they make you lazy and dumb. I sometimes think I could have written the next War and Peace if I hadn’t taken so much ecstasy as a teenager. That said, I like fiction that both funny and sad, and most drug experiences involve some combination of both.

    Most of your protagonists tend to be men (or boys), and considering that we’re two girl-cats, we appreciate the insights into the male psyche that you provide (we never knew it was so sweaty, so sometimes sad, so occasionally desperate). But in “The Long In-Between” you’re suddenly narrating a first-person story from a woman’s point-of-view. Did that feel strange? What sort of research did you do?

    It didn’t feel so strange, to tell the truth. I think that writers, as a species, are basically feminine creatures. That what all the Hemingway/Bukowski macho posturing is about—trying to hide the innate femininity of what we do. For more on this theory, read Anne Carson’s amazing essay, “The Gender Of Sound,” in which it turns out the Greeks thought vaginas were mouths and vice versa. That said, I did pass the story by a number of really helpful female readers including my girlfriend, my mother, and a close friend, before sending it out for publication.

    There’s a good amount of sex in this book, and very little of it makes us feel comfortable. Like the little tryst in “America Is Me And Andy,” during which two teenage friends are watching American Idol, and suddenly become engaged in an unexpected act of potentially non-homosexual fellatio, if that’s a thing (which it probably, definitely isn’t), and then one of their moms walks in on them, which is of course not what you want to have happen when you are “sucking with every atom, salivating.” Why is sex more interesting when it’s a bit unnerving or somehow wrong? And as a fiction writer, how do you go about accurately capturing this—all the crippling undertones and endless permutations present when people do something so simple as fuck?

    I think most things are more interesting when they’re unnerving and wrong. Good sex is boring unless you’re having it. No one wants to hear about attractive people making each other come—it’s like, stop bragging. I’d much rather read about people with flawed bodies having flawed, human sex. Sex is such a ridiculous and hilarious thing when you think about it, and it can also be incredibly sinister and dark. I’m interested in people with hangups, people with sexual anxiety, people who are uncomfortable in their own skin and touching other people’s. These are all things I can relate to. As I said earlier, I like funny and I like sad, and bad, weird sex always has a little bit of both. I’m also interested in taboo, and notions of shame and guilt in relation to sex. I think the difficulty is figuring out a way to do it that doesn’t come across as simply in there for shock value or cheap titillation. In the story you mention, I was a bit nervous about going for such a “big” ending in the way that I did, but I thought the story justified it, because it’s really an allegory about the relationship between beauty, shame, sex, and violence in America. It’s not a very subtle one either, and I didn’t intend it to be—in a sense I wanted to tackle some of the collection’s persistent themes in a more straightforwardly satirical and over the top way.

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    Adam Wilson’s What’s Important Is Feeling is available now, along with his first novel,  Flatscreen

     

     


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    RUGBY: “Life wears you down, it fucks you up. Life is a big cartoon fist aimed squarely at your nose, and no matter how frantically you scrape or paw or scratch, it’s going to hit the mark (blammmo! little cartoon birdies flapping around your noble, dazed, orange head!) These two works by Nathanael West—a novella from 1933, a novel from 1939—are set in New York and Hollywood, respectively, thereby definitely proving that a perfect climate does not lead to emotional and psychic happiness. Miss Lonelyhearts is a slim, nasty little number about an advice columnist suddenly overburdened by the terrible moral funk of the world (some of the Christian shit gets a bit heavy-handed, but I couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic or whatnot—some of the smartest people can turn out to be Christians, you’ve got to be very fucking careful). The Day of the Locust is a love-triangle story (or some other shape, maybe a rhombus—more horny corners, but all of them focused on one young lady). Our hero here is a sort of set designer/scene painter in L.A. named Tod Hackett. He—along with several other wannabe Lotharios—is obsessed with a horridly pretentious struggling actress named Faye Greener. (“Being with her was like being backstage during an amateurish, ridiculous play. From in front, the stupid lines and grotesque situations would have made him squirm with annoyance, but because he saw the tawdry summerhouse with its tangle of paper flowers, he accepted everything and was anxious for it to succeed.”) Other people eager to paw Ms. Greener silly: An Aspberger-y cowboy; a man unable to control his hands, named Homer Simpson (no relation); a Mexican hombre with ambitions in the D.I.Y. cockfighting scene (not a euphemism).

    A lotta shit happens, including some nicely anarchic house parties, and a chase scene through the fictitious postmodern hell of Hollywood’s back lots. Tod Hackett keeps conjuring ideas for a painting called The Burning of Los Angeles, which makes me think that a bro named Ed Ruscha must’ve read this book before painting his depiction of LACMA in flames.

    In any case, it’s all bleak, with a chuckle. Here’s a description of the masses of L.A. residents who’ve gathered to go wild during a film premiere:

    Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges don’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

    Mr. West, Mr. West, pass the fucking cyanide! For a second you probably thought I’d accidentally inserted a paragraph from The Coming Insurrection. But rest assured: All this dooming and glooming is tempered by a nice dose of farce (including one irate midget who likes to kick people in the balls). These books are old as shit, but they still ring with a real contemporary relevance, exhaustingly so.

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  5. UNI: “Everyone was asking us, like, Where were you girls during the entire month of January? You weren’t in the windowsill, you weren’t on Skype, we thought you were dead, jesus christ don’t scare us like that again. Sorry for the alarm! What happened is that we ‘discovered’ Evelyn Waugh for the first time, and basically fall into a deep and delicious Waugh-Hole that we’ve only recently climbed out of. Here’s the embarrassing fact: Initially we had somehow confused dear Evelyn with Edith Wharton, due to the shared initials…so when we thought of what a typical Waugh novel might be like, we pictured posh people with starched shirts, being all snooty and shit, fornicating with the help in big, bloodless mansions, which is probably not even what happens in a goddamn Edith Wharton novel, but we occasionally like to generalize in a highly ignorant manner. We had no idea that Evelyn Waugh was actually responsible for some of the most unbe-fucking-lievably dark satires ever penned in the 20th century, especially Handful of Dust, which is basically a sick comedy about cuckolding that ends with a poor bastard kidnapped and marooned in a sort of horror-movie scenario involving the collected works of Charles Dickens. Long story short: Our little four-pawed existences have been enlivened and forever changed by this manically creative motherfucker, who is unfortunately very dead by now, so we can’t interview him.”

     


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    Chloe: “We started this book because Scott came home and was talking about Matthew Barney’s new art-shiza film, River of Fundament, some sort of scatological riff on Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. The general consensus on that novel is that it’s an unreadable garbage-barge, so we decided to try our luck with The Executioner’s Song instead. (Plus it was a good value, basically $2/pound). This is the story of Gary Gilmore, a dirtbag who gets out of prison and has a hard time acclimating to straight life; he falls in love with a teenage space cadet and then, when she breaks up with him, decides to go murder a few people for no reason whatsoever. For the first 300 pages or so we were swiftly pawing away, oddly drawn to the book without knowing why—the prose style is kinda limp and flat (although it goes down easy, like Bud Light). Imagine if Tao Lin wrote a true crime novel, maybe. In any case, after Gilmore is arrested and is definitely going to be executed (the publishers include photos of his electric chair in the first third of the tome, which is like, SPOILER ALERT, people) we lost interest very quickly. It’s atmospheric and has a certain laid-back, cool-hick charm about it, but The Executioner’s Song isn’t one we’ll be singing again any time soon.”

     


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    Chloe: “Sparse, weird, and poetic in a non-obnoxious way, Prosperous Friends is a fucking great book about how love suffers, wilts, and dies. It also reflects, angrily but without untoward bitterness, about the uneven playing field of gender (i.e. how a good-looking 70-something painterman can happily undress, seduce, and fondle women half his age 'cuz it just isn't a big deal, while his female peers unhappily settle into hard-angled, spotty-haired insignificance.) But really the most delightful thing about Schutt’s novel is the language, so I’m just going to quote some of it for you. Here she is taking sentences and turning them inside out a bit, making them seem wrong at first before you realize how right they are:

    The knock on the door was the loose door itself in the wind, and Isabel kept her eyes shut and her face in the sun. The door in the wind, in the wind and the pitched light of late afternoon in the backyard, she saw where she was and, too, for an instant, a not so tall man stretched out on the bulkhead: Ned of the slender ankles, shapely leg. Too handsome. His story always started with I was invited to this …

    Here’s her being pretty funny despite all the wilting-dying-love stuff:

    Was it too early to drink? There was only the sun to go by, and the sun said, Fine! Go ahead! You must be thirsty!

    Here’s the aforementioned 70-something painterman reflecting on his current status quo (doting, loving, age-appropriate wife; endless buffet of delectable, mistress-y options on the side, like so much greenbeans or mashed potato):

    The advantages of an old wife, Clive thinks, are too often overlooked in the market economy. A sensible old man is wise to hold on to a sensible old wife. The younger woman does not know that drama is wasted on an old man with cold mad eyes. He is careless of last names, often can’t pronounce them; nevertheless, the young woman thinks she is known—why? She is, they all are, a fungible creature with the same small disasters—sometimes a story. Isabel, in New York, months ago, dining at King Arthur’s Court, said, ‘I know a lot of what I do isn’t interesting but every day has its scene or two.’ How he had liked her for that and her flattering appreciation of his work , of course, her appreciation of him and for such slight returns—Christ. All young women should ask for more. If he had a granddaughter that is what he would tell her. He does have a granddaughter! He forgets about Wisia all the time.

    There you have it: the Hefnerian old goat posing as a P.S.A. against men just like him, intellectual gropers in their twilight years. Somehow we think nothing is going to change. Never give in to an ancient cat with a paintbrush, a twinkle in his eye, an assurance that he just wants to capture the way that the light tickles your fur out in the barnyard. You’re better than that, and smarter by far. 

     


  8. Chloe: “The Last Kind Words is a real solid hardboiled murder mystery-type novel. ‘Hardboiled’ means the sentences are little squealching fists, raw bomblets of English. Like this:

    My head was full of the dead. I sat at the bar in the Elbow Room with the photocopied files and ordered a Jack and Coke….The place was a dive….The whores worked the losers a little more brazenly….At least you didn’t waste time or get your heart chipped away when you realized the girl with the cool blue eyes and the slow smiles wasn’t really turning it on because you might be Mr. Right. You knew at the start you were wrong, and so was she.

    Hard. Boiled. The story itself is decent, with some solid plot twists centered around a family of goodhearted scumbag thieves. It’s moody and atmospheric, with tragic lost loves, black sheep, booze-sodden regret, and by the time somebody gets climactically stabbed you’ll be like No waaaaay, it was him all along? At the very least it’s something to while away the time until they upload another goddamn episode of Law & Order: SVU onto Hulu.”

     


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    UNI & CHLOE: “Hoooooooly Jebus. We knew New York was ‘rough,’ and ‘wild,’ and that ‘sometimes crazy shit went down,’ but we never knew the extent of the carnage until we started reading John O’Hara and Hubert Selby, Jr. We’re no prudes, but the level of vice out there—whiskey-sodden adultery, sons selling their mom’s televisions for dope money—made us puke up a whole handful of Purina Catnip-Zonkers Treats (which we really like.) We never watched the film version of Requiem for a Dream because cats were always, like, ‘It’s brilliant, but it’ll definitely make you want to kill yourself,” which isn’t exactly the most ringing endorsement. The shocker w/r/t Selby’s novel, though, is how didactic it is, sorta a hard-boiled P.S.A. about why you shouldn’t become a junkie loser (SPOILER ALERT: Nothing ends well.) The sin-addled protagonists in O’Hara at least get off a bit easier…those were simpler times…”

     


  10. Uni & Chloe: “Okay, we’re pretty sure James Franco hates us. But that’s okay, he’s a good sport—he pussified himself for the self-portrait above, after all! Our catty convo with the young Renaissance man is now up on Bullett’s website.”