non-fiction

Essays

Still Another Writer Writing About Writing
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Every piece of fiction should begin with the same proviso: There is no real, compelling reason why you should read this. Nevertheless, here it is. This is what I wrote.

All of us, all the writers, are standing over here on the sideline waving our arms enthusiastically, yelling: Me! Me! Pick me! We’re all afraid we’ll be the last belatedly added to the team. Or that the teams will be filled before we’re chosen at all. Sometimes, we’re jealous, angry. Humiliated. Sometimes.
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The One Obstacle
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I know it is different this time. In conversation on the phone, her excitement is palpable. She can hardly stop talking about Sharif the other actor, the crew, the producers, the process, the play. Six years in New York, she’s finally become Equity and landed a big deal two-hander Off Broadway. It’s a quantum step and she’s feeling it, the energy in and around her white-hot and vibrant.

The previous six months had been difficult. The break up of a long relationship. An intense period of soul searching. Tearful marathon phone calls. And from that turmoil, a new sense of commitment. Then this show, not a result of her renewed concentration but, at the least, a way to channel it into the actual. She’s working with people she appreciates, even admires. It’s hard and real work. She loves it.
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Book Reviews

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Dance Me to the End of Love

“This is the story of a man who took part in a dance competition.”

A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle, (New Directions, $14.95, 128 pages) really is as direct and cogent as the first sentence of the book. The dance is the malambo, obscure even in its native Argentina. It’s a centuries old gaucho dance performed in groups of two or four, or the most preternaturally demanding, alone.

Maddenly quick and stunningly complex, the malambo involves multiple rhythms managed at breakneck paces, using all parts of the foot: heel, toe, ball, side, sole, and all combinations thereof. The average solo malambo clocks in between 4 1/2 and 5 minutes. There’s almost always blood on the floor when the dance is done.

In 2011, Guerriero, an Argentinian journalist, travels to the tiny town of Laborde, 300 miles south of Buenos Aires, population 6,000. Laborde is the home of the national malambo competition and contestants arrive annually from around the country to compete for the title.

She doesn’t know much about the dance or the competition, having only read an article in a city newspaper, but she thinks it might make an interesting story. On a warm January night, she’s sitting in the audience during the solo competition when a thunderclap breaks and a raging storm overtakes her.

That storm is Rodolfo González Alcántra.
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South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

I grew up with Joan Didion, you could say. I am saying. I don’t know her, I never met her, but she came along at a time in my life when she was completely necessary and her writing changed me, has continued to change me, in the way we can be changed by someone’s work which is at the same time completely alien and totally familiar.

In the late ’70’s when I stumbled upon Slouching Toward Bethlehem, women writers were still an anomaly, or seemed that way to me. They were there, of course, producing amazing work, but they weren’t talked about in the same manner as the Macho Male Heroes of Literature: Hemingway, Mishima, and Mailer. Discovering women writers, at that time (not so long ago), was like stumbling upon another country, a completely new culture.

Didion led me to Janet Malcolm and Renata Adler. They were the Holy Triumvirate of Non-Fiction for me. They were cool, observant, demanding. Their writing was luminous and precise. And they were so goddam smart.

For a kid growing up in Winston Salem, they were intoxicating not only in their language but in the liminal worlds they pried open, worlds with a rich nuance and texture. In their hands, the most mundane exchange could be a revelation.

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John Hawkes, Travesty
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You’re hurtling across a dark European countryside at dangerous speeds. Your driver boasts of his wish to kill himself, you, and his young daughter by soon plowing the car into a rock wall across a gorge. He’s driving too fast on roads too narrow for you to attack him at the wheel. To make it worse, like a villain in a James Bond film, he insists on telling you every way you’ve offended him, every detail of your impending death, interspersed with events from his own life. On top of that, he occasionally refers to you as cher ami in the snarkiest tone possible.
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