At the end of the first act of Alan Bennett's masterful play, The History Boys, Hector, an unusual teacher of literature is inspired by a comment by Posner, a delicate student of his, to say the following:The best moments in reading are when you come across something-- a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things--which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone who is even long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
Mary Gaitskill, George Saunders, William Maxwell and the lasting influence of Anton Chekhov's "Gooseberries"
Mary Gaitskill's first book,Bad Behavior (1988), has become a classic of a particular kind. It is a collection of short stories many of which have strong sexual themes including bondage and sadomasochism. They are blunt, sometimes funny, and fierce. Like James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, Bad Behavior set a high and provocative bar for Gaitskill which she has happily met with several other collections of stories and three novels. While accomplishing all of that Gaitskill has also written many essays and reviews. Perhaps the most famous of these is "The Trouble With Following the Rules", which appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1994.
Collectively, Richard Ford and Richard Russo have been writing for 70 years. Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, in 1976, and Russo his first, Mohawk in 1986. Between them they are known as master observers of ordinary lives who tell unadorned stories. They each have new books this month, and characteristically each is blunt, tender and wise. I know (believe me, I will be 69 in June) that aging white guys are out of favor in the literary world, and I don't begrudge that sentiment or the years of feeling overlooked that created it, but these two coots can still bring it, and they deserve our attention.
There are new books this Spring focusing on three of Shakespeare's greatest creations: Sir John Falstaff, here principally observed through the lens of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2; Hamlet, in this case both the character and the play, and Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It. All three books are hugely entertaining and deeply knowledgeable. Collectively they serve as a great whistle wetter for the coming APT season. (There, you see what happens when writing about Shakespeare? A delirious giddiness takes over and it seems perfectly apt to say "whistle wetters")