Thanks to my brother-in-law, who works in a college down here in North Carolina, I did an interview this morning on local radio for my upcoming book. (Shameless and endless, this business of book pimping, but necessary.) The interview went okay, except for the fact the interviewer had never read a word I’ve written and kept referring to me as a “New York writer,” which he made sound as if it were an affectation or, worse, an affliction/infection. He said it so many times that I think I began to react defensively. (A bad way to respond, especially on radio. My wife says that I didn’t come across too badly, but I can’t rely on her opinion because it’s too tainted by kindness and concern for my feelings.) I said that I don’t like to be pigeonholed, that my novels have traveled far outside New York, that the principal concern of every writer is the human condition, yada yada. Now, in retrospect, I regret my reaction. I’m a New York writer in the sense that I believe it’s possible/necessary to search for the universal in the particular, that in the end we’re all parochial, all rooted in a particular time and place that shapes/shaped the geography of our brains, that we can/must find the connections to the shared core of the human experience in the place where we were/are/come to be. Yada, yada. How’s that for sounding defensive? Leave it at this: New York and its environs are the only home I’ve ever known. It is the repository of the bones of the only ancestors whose names are known to me. America is the land across the river. A promise. Ireland is the land left behind, a memory, even more for my children than for me. New York is a presence/the present, a place not of Pilgrims’ Pride but of immigrant struggle and ferocious hope. When I think of New York, I think of two lines from Seamus Heaney that a friend recently brought to my attention: “I had my existence. I was there. / Me in place and the place in me.” Which means, I guess, I’m a New York writer. Sue me.
Archive for September, 2013
Among the more/most perplexing aspects of publishing a book are the reviews. Until they come in, you’re never quite sure whether all the toil and trouble you’ve invested in producing the damn thing has been worth a cow’s fart. Are you an idiot who’s wasted his time and that of the critics’? Or a bright new star in the galaxy of modern literature? A bad review, it’s said, is better than no review. True enough. There’s nothing worse for a writer than being ignored. Some writers I know claim they never read the reviews. I don’t believe that. What they mean is that they don’t admit to reading the bad ones. I understand that. In the course of publishing four books over the last 20 years (and a fifth on the way), I’ve savored the praise when it’s been offered and suffered the inevitable scourgings (while silently plotting to track down the reviewer and leave his strangled corpse in the ashes of his burned-down home). And, yes, as all writers know, the laurels wilt fast while the wounds heal slowly, if at all. In a perfect world, the framers of the First Amendment, as well as protecting freedom of speech, would have enshrined the right of writers to be the sole reviewers of their books. Back in the real world, writers wait with high-octane anticipation to learn how their book will be received. (Amazon has added a whole new level, some of it bad, some good–honest, intelligent reaction by readers mixed in with boosterism, self-promotion, and angry rants by the mentally unbalanced.) Now and then, if a writer gets lucky, a reviewer not only has nice things to say but drives to the heart of the matter, fingering motives and meanings that the writer intended but had never articulated, not even to him/herself. Such is the case with this review, which was on the cover of the Barnes & Noble Newsletter the day my last novel, “The Man Who Never Returned” went into the bookstores (and co-incidentally–or not–the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater, the mystery at the center of the book). Whenever I figure novel writing is a hopeless, useless, waste of time–(that, as Yeats put it, “Better go down upon your marrow-bones / And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones / Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather / For to articulate sweet sounds together /Is to work harder than all these, and yet / Be thought an idler by the noisy set / Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen / The martyrs call the world.”)—I read this review. I thought about writing the reviewer to thank him. But my first editor, a wise man seasoned in the mysteries of publishing, admonished me to never complain or congratulate. Just keep writing. My next book is due out in six weeks. When the fear and anticipation starts to swell, I reread this review. (Read Matthew Battle’s review of The Man Who Never Returned from Barnes & Noble from 8/5/10 on “About” page.) Hope springs eternal.
The other day I read in the paper that we Americans have reached a milestone. According to a 2012 analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics (who knew Paris had such a thing?) and Oxford University, income inequality has reached record levels. The richest 1 percent now possess a fifth of the national households income. “Indeed,” concluded one economist, “the top decile share in 2012 is equal to 50.4 percent, a level higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of the stock market bubble in the ‘roaring’ 20s.”
The plutocratization of the U.S., which the New Deal succeeded in damping down but by no means extinguishing, was reignited in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. It was morning in America and the sun was rising over Wall Street. Jay Gatsby had returned from the crypt and was back in fighting shape. The re-concentration continued under Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and has survived the Great Recession. The wealthiest 1 percent has more than recovered the losses suffered in the crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The net worth of the other 99 percent has either stagnated or declined.
To anyone paying attention, all of this has been apparent/transparent for some time. It led to the brief upsurge of discontent in the Occupy Wall Street movement. But the exigencies of earning their daily bread soon sent the serfs slouching back to their plows (with no increase in the minimum wage) and allowed the lords and ladies to reseat themselves at the banquet table (while Congress wrestles with how much more to cut their taxes).
I’ve read so many articles detailing/excusing/explaining/denouncing this ongoing and ever-worsening system of economic distortion that I thought I was beyond the point of shock and awe and outright rage. Look, I’m over 65. It is what it is. The government is paralyzed and can’t/won’t raise a finger, so deal with it/forget about it/whatever. Is it the cocktail hour yet?
This morning, however, I made the mistake of beginning my day with the Real Estate section of the Sunday Times. On page 1 was a story about the return from bankruptcy of One Madison, a skinny-as-a-stick apartment tower on E. 23rd Street.
Hurray and hallelujah this Sunday morning! Good news abounds for the burgeoning plutocracy: “The redeveloped One Madison, which will be completed in the first quarter of next year, has 53 apartments, ranging from $1.825 million for the building’s only studio (sic) to $50 million for a 7,000-square-foot, five bedroom triplex penthouse. There will also be a 10,000-square-foot amenity space stretched across two floors and featuring double-height ceilings. It will include a lounge and screening room, a yoga room, a 50-foot lap pool, fitness center, children’s playroom and steam room.”
Turn to page 2: the plutocratic steam room stays steamy as Marie Antoinette gets down with the Marquis de Donald Trump. A townhouse on the Upper East Side has an asking price of $17.9. If that seemed extravagant, it was put in perspective by the article directly beneath reporting the sale of a duplex apartment at 18 Gramercy Park South that went “for its full asking price of $42 million.”
It crossed my mind that since high among the only people on the planet–never mind the city–who could afford these prices are hedge fund managers, insider traders on Wall Street, Russian gangsters/ entrepreneurs, members of the Communist (ha, ha) Chinese politburo and their cronies, Mid-Eastern sheiks, international drug traffickers, et al.–Mayor Bloomberg might think about including them in his proposal that the resident of public housing be fingerprinted.
Quickly shaking myself from deluded reveries, I consulted page 3 where the focus shifted to the plutocracy’s West Pocket, San Francisco. Featured here: panoply of multi-million-dollar properties ending with a bottom-ass Noe Valley condo at almost a million. (Implied but not stated: Losers Only Need Apply.) Suddenly I felt Chris Farley’s cri de coeur surging in my throat (if you’ve never seen Chris’s last flick, “Almost Heroes,” do yourself a favor and get it on Netflix) … “DO YOU WANT MY HEAD TO EXPLODE!?”
I’ve put down the paper down, swallowed an extra high blood pressure pill and am taking the dog for a walk. Look, I’m over 65. It is what it is. The government is paralyzed and can’t/won’t raise a finger, so deal with it/forget about it/whatever. The cocktail hour is nowhere in sight. Sigh.