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In 2011, I’m reading 11 NRYB Classics and blogging about them. Consider this a bonus track, only I’m releasing it first.
Iris Owens’ 1973 novel After Claude reminds me of another beloved NYRB Classic, Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. Harriet, Owens’s damaged but hilarious narrator, is a little like Sally Jay Gorce gone horribly bad. Too many years abroad, perhaps. Sally Jay, for all her pithy wit, represents a girl with somewhere yet to go. She has potential. Not so Harriet. Instead of a fresh, ripe avocado, she’s the dead ones littered around that rat Claude’s apartment.
“They are not dead. Stop saying they’re dead. Plants are very sensitive to suggestions.” I rushed to a hanging window plant and stroked its brown leaves. “You’re alive, darling. Don’t listen to him. He should be as alive as you are.”
Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.
Harriet careens her way manically through the novel, winning one over to her side even as one is forced to confront the fact that she may just be totally batshit insane. Despite her announcement in the very first line that she has left Claude, “that French rat,” over half the novel is occupied by Harriet trying very hard not to leave Claude’s apartment, let alone him. When she does finally go — after barricading herself in with two weeks worth of tuna for lunch — it’s not free will. They literally put her into a taxi and bundle her off to the Hotel Chelsea, the desolate marble shore on which the debris of 1970s New York society washes up.
All through the room, cracks and burns exposed an underlayer of barren brown that was spreading as though blight had struck the skimpy surfaces. A yellowish lampshade next to the bed had succumbed to a half century of forty-watt bulbs and displayed its diseased patches of brown. There was no question in my mind that whatever had afflicted the room was contagious and would get to me next.
Iris Owens was very sorry for being so mean about the Hotel Chelsea. An acknowledgment in the opening pages thanks the hotel’s management for allowing her to “use and describe the hotel with all the fictional liberties necessary to the characters and action of the book.” (Let’s be honest, though: she wasn’t too far off. I stayed at the hotel in 2002, and it still had the same dirty-beach-at-the-end-of-the-world feel. The man who lived in the room next to ours left his door cracked one day, and the glimpse I got of the inside will never leave me. In a room as big as a closet, one whole wall was covered with filthy doll heads. Not kidding.)
Harriet is the best kind of unreliable narrator: one you can see straight through but want to believe anyway. Her phobias, her endless grasping, her overblown martyr air — in the hands of a less skilled writer, they wouldn’t work such an insane kind of charm. Luckily, Owens was tremendously skilled. I’m not making up that Elaine Dundy connection, either. Dundy’s husband, theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, called the book “barbed, bitchy and hilariously sour.” I can only hope Dundy read it too, and was pleased to see her certain type of American girl live on in this dark mirror.
In her introduction, Emily Prager notes that Owens once made her living writing pornography for Olympia Press, using the name Harriet Daimler. It’s a skill that comes in handy here, as the final pages of the book descend from vicious victim ranting into a frightening but erotic demonstration of female pleasure. Even Harriet’s biting wit is shelved momentarily, transforming that dirty pit of New York degenerates into an Anais Nin-style boudoir of sensuality.
Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t last long. Harriet emerges, mask back up, to await her fate in a wrecked hotel room.
A tribute to Owens’s death includes responses to the book upon its original release; Bibliographing writes about the rerelease; the Telegraph details Olympia Press, including a rather racy quote from Harriet Daimler’s work.
It’s pretty rare something comes across my desk that I just love to pieces. Usually if I love something to pieces, I will specifically ask to write about it. But hey, I don’t know about everything in the world, and when something shows up that I’ve never heard of but come to adore, it’s a pretty great feeling.
Such was the case with Billygoat. I consider myself lucky to have found out about this group and gotten a chance to interview them. The work they’re doing is astounding, and, to my mind, unlike anything else out there.
The duo makes stop motion animated art films and then scores them. But that description doesn’t do it justice. You have to see for yourself.
Your films are incredible detailed. How long does it take to make one?
Only 1-2 minutes of footage is created each month because stop-motion photography is so extremely tedious. It’s the prepping that really takes quite a bit of time and what we are doing behind the scenes that consumes equal if not more time than actually shooting photos. If you’re hasty with this process the results can weaken. It does take about 12-16 months to complete an animation.
Can you describe the process you go through to make each film?
Our process involves shooting in a room and recording images that inspire us. The set dictates where subjects are going to be placed as it morphs over time. It’s a lot like the game MouseTrap, in that everything is cause and effect. We rarely script and our ideas can completely change overnight sending the animation down a completely unpredictable avenue.
Continue reading at Cinedork.
As I climb my way out of the infinite pit that has been finals week, I’m actually starting to be able to read things on the internet again. Daybook tells me that it’s Shirley Jackson’s birthday today. Jackson is a perennial Skinny House favorite, despite my not being able to scrape together enough time to read her entire catalog as I’d like. Maybe this winter break will finally be the time.
I can tell you that Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a Halloween must-read every year. But it turns out it wasn’t so popular with the readers of The New Yorker, where it appeared in 1948. Many angry subscribers wrote in to express their distaste for the tale. Not to worry, though: the stir it caused basically launched Jackson’s career. (You can read the story here.)
Jackson may have been disliked by a percentage of the magazine-reading public, but she was highly regarded by literary dreamboat Vladimir Nabokov; in his copy of stories from The New Yorker, he gave “The Lottery” an A.
I got some really sad news today: Venus Zine will no longer publish its print version.
The website will stay up and continue to publish new content, but the magazine will no longer appear on newsstands.
This breaks my heart. Venus Zine has been the go-to source for celebrating women in the arts and media. Their articles and interviews have been intelligent, fun, and informative. They made me feel like the newsstand was a place where I was represented: as a woman, as a feminist, and as a lady who supports other lady projects.
More than that, Venus Zine was a creative home for me at a time when I was just starting out as a feature writer and blogger. Back in 2005, they published my first article ever — an interview with comics creator Brian Wood — and for the next 3 1/2 years, they let me write about what I love. A chance encounter with another Venus Zine writer at a Northern State show led me to reviewing music, something I fell in love with and have continued to do ever since.
Print media is truly losing one of the best and smartest magazines for women in Venus Zine. And while I consider myself and all the other readers lucky that the first-class web content will continue, nothing will fill the print version-shaped hole in my heart.
Photo by bcostin, via Flickr.
BN Review has a nice write up of recent BBC wonder, Sherlock. This was by far the favorite television event of 2010 in Skinny House; not only did I see it early (and uncut) through nefarious means, I forced the rest of the household to watch it on successive Sunday evenings as it aired on Masterpiece Mystery. So it’s lovely to see the show getting a little highbrow love:
Sherlock, in which Cumberbatch stars, is a loving if heavily re-engineered adaptation of the well-known adventures of Holmes and Watson, which time-shifts its central pair a hundred years forward without so much as a backward glance at Victorian frippery, steampunked or otherwise. Instead, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s creation for the BBC and Masterpiece Mystery! remixes Conan Doyle’s detective stories for the era of GPS smartphones and CSI-style forensic labs. The tone is one of darkly deadpan comedy: a good many of the classic exchanges between the swift-thinking detective and his clay-footed friend John Watson (still a war-veteran doctor) are recast to milk laughs out of Martin Freeman’s mingled wonder and rue over his fate as a sidekick to a pale-skinned Byronic scarecrow who sports manners only slightly more acceptable than those of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House.
They also recommend five books related to the great detective, at least one of which is going on my must-read-over-the-holidays list. Arthur Conan Doyle has been getting a lot of love on the site lately; my favorite columnist, Michael Dirda, recently featured an NYRB release of some of his non-Sherlock stories.
Alas, the bookshelf pictured above is not mine. If it were, that would mean I’d be busy reading Les Klinger’s annotated collection of the stories. (I keep meaning to ask for it for Christmas and forgetting, which is probably for the best, considering the amount of time I’d like to invest in pouring over them. But Klinger does have a few pieces of writing up on his site for perusal and general time-spending.) However, you can see me and good friend Ally at 221B Baker Street a few years ago. That was the day I convinced Ally of Holmes and Watson’s true and undying love for each other—over 2 years before Guy Ritchie got the same idea.
Next year should bring us more Sherlock, as Mark Gatiss tweeted a little while ago (and possibly/probably a sequel to the big budget version as well). It’s a good time for Baker Street, and I couldn’t be happier about it.