Clancy Martin

  • The Importance of Being Honest

    I’ve always respected and perhaps also feared people who can be told secrets that they then lock away. The ability to keep a secret is of course a mark of trustworthiness in a person: You know she values her promises, and can put someone else’s interest above her own. And the inability to keep a secret is a mark of untrustworthiness, or at least carelessness in one’s speech. Because no one tells us secrets without our understanding that the whole idea is not to tell others.

    But if one way of showing trustworthiness is the refusal to tell a secret, another is the unwillingness to have secrets

  • Judging a Book by Its Recovery

    When I was in a suicidal phase in my life and hiding my alcoholism from my partner, I was also working on a book about love and deception. My editor at the time, with whom I had no doubt too intimate a friendship—he once sternly but correctly told me, “Clancy, I can’t be both your editor and your psychiatrist”—recommended two books to me: William Styron’s Darkness Visible, one of the best-known studies of alcoholism and the depression that often follows on the heels of new sobriety, and Al Alvarez’s The Savage God, the classic work on suicide among and as understood by writers. These are two

  • Pros and Cons

    Remember the story of Dumbo the elephant? It comes to us by way of two of America’s greatest storytellers, P. T. Barnum—whose “Jumbo the Elephant” was the star of “The Greatest Show on Earth”—and Walt Disney, who made “Jumbo Jr.” (Dumbo’s original name) world-famous in his retelling of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl’s classic children’s book. After Dumbo gets drunk and passes out, he awakens to find himself dangerously high above the ground, frightened and stuck in the branches of a tree. Timothy Q. Mouse, the circus impresario who is Dumbo’s only friend, convinces him that all he needs to fly

  • Death Becomes Him

    In philosopher Simon Critchley’s Borges-ian novella Memory Theater, the narrator, who happens to be named Simon Critchley, discovers the papers of one Michel Haar, “a close friend and former philosophy teacher” who has recently died in a sanatorium after taking early retirement from the Sorbonne. Michel, like one of his heroes, Martin Heidegger, had the long-pedigreed and quasi-mystical idea that poetry can emancipate us from the flat-footed language of philosophy and bring us closer to the truth. This scenario allows Critchley to embark on a tour of philosophical thought and at the same time

  • Bored to Life

    Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrators exhibit a curious combination of extreme moral nihilism and a desperate need for violent, unforgettable experiences. Eileen, her new and best novel, is a love story told by a young woman who doesn’t understand love and who is leaving behind the only man she really loves, her father. Eileen hates her father, too. He is an abusive alcoholic, who bullies and even assaults his teenage daughter: “In my last years with him my father would occasionally wrap his flat hands around my pencil-thin throat and threaten that he could squeeze the life out of me any time he felt

  • The Unbearable Truth

    What is perhaps most curious about our belief that it is wrong to lie is that it requires us, both individually and as a culture, to engage in a particularly egregious kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s easy for me to insist that it is wrong to kill human beings because I have never killed another human being (at least not directly, though I am a citizen of a nation that kills innocents). I can teach my children that it is wrong to steal with a mostly clean conscience, because it’s been a long time since my preteen shoplifting days. But when it comes to lying, the situation is different. I

  • By Day in Chile

    When I was in Chile in the summer of 2001 I stupidly asked a taxi driver, in my bad Spanish, if Pinochet were dead.

    “No,” he said, and by the way he looked over his shoulder I could see the question made him nervous. “No, he is still alive.” He showed me the National Stadium as we drove through Santiago on our way to Valparaiso and said, “Pinochet’s prison.” For a moment I thought he meant Pinochet was imprisoned there. Then I remembered how the stadium had once been used, during Pinochet’s viciously oppressive rule (1973–90): as a huge detention center where suspected political dissidents

  • Legal Tender Is the Night

    “The governess’s maid and Madame Diver’s maid have come up from second class to help with the baggage and the dogs. Mlle. Bellois will superintend the hand-luggage, leaving the Sealyhams to one maid and the pair of Pekinese to the other. . . . Presently from the van would be unloaded four wardrobe trunks, a shoe trunk, three hat trunks, and two hat boxes, a chest of servants’ trunks, a portable filing-cabinet, a medicine case, a spirit lamp container, a picnic set, four tennis rackets in presses and cases, a phonograph, a typewriter . . . [and] two dozen supplementary grips, satchels and