Showing posts from September, 2022

To the Lowest Hell with America: On James Purdy

  In the 1960s, James Purdy’s writing was celebrated by such writers as Gore Vidal, Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, and Paul Bowles. His first novel, Malcolm , was adapted as a Broadway play by Edward Albee. In 1964, Susan Sontag said that “anything Purdy writes is a literary event of importance”. On the cover of Tony Tanner’s 1971 study of contemporary writers, City of Words: American Fiction 1950-1970, Purdy’s name is prominently written alongside Joseph Heller, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth; Tanner argues that Purdy’s 1965 novel Cabot Wright Begins is “one of the most important novels since the war.” Through the rest of the 20th century, Purdy published a new book every year or two, but those books garnered fewer and fewer reviews, sold fewer and fewer copies, and by the end of the 1980s much of his work was out of print and his new writings were published by small presses. Even as queer writers—especially white gay male writers like Purdy—were finding success with mainstream

Time for Anxiety: "Pillar of Salt" by Shirley Jackson

  Choosing a favorite Shirley Jackson story is nearly impossible. "The Lottery" is of course the famous one — easily among the most famous short stories in the English language — and because it is so ubiquitous, we (that is: I) can sometimes forget that it's also basically perfect. It is hard, though, to claim such an inescapable story as a favorite; to favor something, it mustn't feel as if it is always there.  For a long time, I've said "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" is my favorite, and it is certainly up there, a story of wonderful surprise and weird malice. So, too, "The Summer People" and "The Intoxicated" and plenty of others. But if we're talking about the story that I have read the most times, the story that I have returned to again and again to study how Jackson achieved what she did, then my favorite is clear: "Pillar of Salt". I first read it in the later 1980s when I was in middle school and got The Magic o