Invigorating anthology of work from the noted literary journal, published in celebration of its 50th anniversary.
While many literary magazines fade when “the enthusiasm of their editors and the number of subscribers flags,” notes founding editor George Plimpton in his introduction, the Paris Review has continued to provide a launching pad for major writers just beginning their careers. As the unwieldy title infers, it’s organized into broad subject categories, each containing poems, stories, novel excerpts, some nonfiction, and snippets from the magazine’s long-running series of interviews, “The Art of Fiction,” which Plimpton describes as “a DNA of literature.” While some contributors are relative newcomers, like the poet Rachel Wetzsteon and short-story author Daniel Libman, most are enduring figures in letters, ranging from Robert Stone, John Updike, and V.S. Naipaul to Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, and Susan Sontag. Veterans like Raymond Carver and Bobbie Ann Mason appear alongside such current trendsetters as David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem; elsewhere, so-called “cult” writers Charles D’Ambrosio, Jim Crace, and Joanna Scott provide thought-provoking entries. Moments of excellence abound: Larry Brown’s raw story “Roadside Resurrection”; a brief jagged selection from Malcolm Lowry’s “Lunar Caustic”; Donald Barthelme’s horny, fragmented, typically ahead-of-its-time “Alice”; Grace Paley’s searing and equally prescient imagining of child murder, “The Little Girl”; Lucille Clifton’s poetic evocation of Lorena Bobbitt; John Cheever’s and Zelda Fitzgerald’s respective annotations of instability; edgy poems of war and death from Ha Jin, Thom Gunn, and W.S. Merwin. Despite their patchwork quality, the excerpted interviews are often luminous, particularly for aspiring writers: Hemingway recalls writing three stories in one day; Nabokov remarks of Lolita, “I do not give a damn for public morals, in America or elsewhere”; James Salter asserts that only prose, poems, and books endure; and John le Carré explains why a Russian arms dealer told him to “fuck off.”
Like the Paris Review itself: a high-toned, occasionally old-fashioned, indisputable repository of accomplished writing.