Adam Thirlwell

  • Mysterious Skin

    DOROTHY B. HUGHES’S last novel, The Expendable Man (1963), seems at first to be the old story of the man with a guilty past, but it’s much more original and inventive than that. In one sense, it is an exercise in pure form, exploring the nouveau roman idea that what isn’t stated (the color of someone’s skin, for instance) doesn’t exist. It opens with a landscape: “Across the tracks there was a different world. The long and lonely country was the color of sand.” In some ways, this novel is all about landscape: who is allowed to inhabit it freely and who is not. A young doctor, driving from LA

  • syllabi May 14, 2015

    The Innocent/Corrupt

    A narrator is a much stranger toy at the novelist’s disposal than is usually thought. It’s not just something as depressingly ordinary as a character—more a vast system of smuggling. And there’s one kind of narrative voice or tone in particular that offers a way to explore that difficult relationship at the hidden center of every art form: the one between writer and reader (or spectator). Although this tone seems to exist most easily in novels, it isn’t only to be found there—it appears wherever anyone tries to figure out what a monologue might mean, or how to talk to a you. It is garrulous,

  • Underknown Pleasures



    For many years now, I have admired Lucia Berlin’s stories out loud to people, but almost no one has known her name or her work. This has been an abiding mystery to me. Is it geographical—the places she lived, wrote about (Alaska, Chile, Colorado)? Or is it her difficult subjects—alcoholism, poverty, abandonment, cruelty? But she also wrote about love, generosity, loyalty, courage, and many other good things. And she was always funny. As one of her narrators says, “I don’t mind telling people awful things if I can make them funny.”


  • Reality Hunger

    In 1970, five years before he was murdered on a beach near Rome, and about a decade after his first movie, Accattone, had made him notorious as a filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini sat down to write a preface to a new book of his selected poems. He called this little essay “To the New Reader,” and in it he wanted to explain to this new reader—who perhaps only knew him as a filmmaker, or novelist, or polemical essayist—why he was always, in fact, a poet. His first poem, he observed, was written when he was seven. His first collection had come out when he was twenty. The volume of selected poems was