Justin Taylor

  • Too Loud a Solitude

    JUSTIN TAYLOR: Let’s start at the beginning. You started working as a journalist and a critic fairly young, fresh out of undergrad, yeah?

    JOSHUA COHEN: 2001, yup. Just before 9/11, aka Ten Days After The Corrections Was Published.

    The true beginning of the twenty-first century. You say in your introduction to your new book Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction that you’d “always planned” on being a writer, but I get the sense that you didn’t always plan on this type of writing in particular. It was novels you had on your mind and then this just . . . happened?

    I was an idiot.

  • Seizing the Day

    I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I’ve always felt that Saul Bellow did some of his finest work in the short story. They’re almost all novella-length, but even so, the limit imposed by the form provides a propitious counterforce to Bellow’s natural maximalism, and the results feel simultaneously epic and economical. I readily rank his Collected Stories up there with Herzog and Augie March at the apex of the Bellow canon—assuming, which I suppose I shouldn’t, that such a thing still exists. Moreover, Bellow’s stories often find him mining his early, formative experiences as the child of

  • Tongues Untied

    IS HAROLD BRODKEY THE GREATEST—or at any rate, the most lauded—writer who never produced a great book? His 1958 debut, First Love and Other Sorrows, was a big hit but hasn’t aged well. Sure, “The State of Grace,” the title story, and “The Quarrel” form a brilliant little trilogy, sharing a narrator and depicting a midcentury adolescence made numinous by yearning—economic, intellectual, cultural, erotic; take your pick if you can tell them apart. A male classmate in “First Love . . .” looks “like a statue that had been rubbed with honey and warm wax, to get a golden tone, and he carried at all

  • culture October 25, 2016

    Eliot Weinberger, To Be Continued

    “Memory,” says Plotinus, “is for those who have forgotten.” The gods have no memory because they know no time, have no need to fight against time, have no fragments of what has been lost to recollect, to re-collect. In India, with its vast stretches of time, with its same lives appearing and appearing again, there is no distinction between learning and remembering. You knew it in your past lives, you have always known it, to learn is to re-mind yourself, bring yourself back into the mind of universal knowledge. Says the Jaiminiya Upanishad: “It is the unknown that you should remember.” And

  • Textual Dysfunction

    Rebecca Schiff’s debut story collection, The Bed Moved, is a shorter-than-average book of shorter-than-average fictions about misanthropes who are (or may as well be) near-miss versions of each other, all of whom find the same pained comedy in sex, death, Brooklyn, Judaism, and summer camp. The title story, two pages long and the first piece in the book, opens with an unnamed narrator reporting that “There were film majors in my bed—they talked about film. There were poets, coxswains, guys trying to grow beards.” Two or three other stories open with similar lists, and one called “Third Person”

  • My Brilliant Friend

    There aren’t five other living American authors as meticulous and shrewd as Dana Spiotta, as willing (to say nothing of able) to shape true esotericism into such consistently accessible forms. Her novels—four of them to date, arriving roughly every half decade—are taut and scintillant, intermittently comic though without much risk of becoming “comedies,”a quality her work shares with that of her longtime mentor, Don DeLillo. Her new novel, Innocents and Others, reprises many of her signature themes—Los Angeles, film, the long shadow of the ’60s, the loneliness of lives lived in disguise—but

  • Things Fall Apart

    The first time I read The Laughing Monsters, I found it easy to love line by line—Denis Johnson’s prose, as always, is incandescent—but as scenes and chapters piled up I struggled to sustain a sense, however provisional, of what it was actually about, beyond the obvious: that the narrator is a corrupt intelligence operative named Roland Nair who has returned to Sierra Leone after eleven years’ absence to hook up with an old friend and try to make some money, as they did once before. There’s a lot of setup and backstory, several plots (that is, conspiracies) running alongside one another, and

  • A Bolt from the Blues

    Since its publication in 2008, Fiona Maazel’s first novel, Last Last Chance, has won a small and cultlike following, myself included. I love the book because it is constantly surprising—blackly funny but permeated by great sadness, like the fiction of Barry Hannah or Donald Antrim—besides which every sentence in it shines like gold. The story of an über-rich drug addict and her massively dysfunctional family (they smoke crack, worship Norse gods, release an apocalyptic super-plague), Last Last Chance is a smarter and bleaker book than it gets credit for, but it’s still, at bottom, a comedy:

  • Woes Make the Man

    Donald Antrim once described the books he spent the 1990s writing as a "more or less related series of novels [that] concern themselves with aspects of American life—small town politics; fraternity and patriarchy; psychoanalysis and sex." The first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World (1993), is narrated by a former third-grade teacher in a small seaside Florida town who entertains Walter Mitty–ish fantasies of becoming mayor while his wife becomes involved with a local cult and the neighbors lay mines, moats, and tiger pits in their finely manicured lawns. (The mayoralty is open because

  • culture November 30, 2011

    The Triumph of the Possible

    I first became interested in novels by and about poets roughly three years ago. I was working on what would become my first novel, The Gospel of Anarchy (about an anarchist collective–cum–Christian mystery cult), and spending a lot of time thinking about Harold Bloom’s notion that “all religion is a kind of spilled poetry, bad and good.” This profound and pithy little fragment, which itself might have spilled from Kafka’s aphorisms, appears in his nonfiction book The American Religion, and eventually I came to understand it as the “secret epigraph” to my novel.

  • culture September 20, 2011

    Nobody Ever Gets Lost by Jess Row

    In prose at once evocative and restrained, the seven stories in Jess Row’s debut collection, The Train to Lo Wu (2005), gave rich, full life to Hong Kong in the years just after the British handover to the Chinese. Having spent some time in Hong Kong myself, it was my belief that Row’s quietly desperate characters—natives, mainland Chinese, ex-pat artists, and the global business class—were simply attuned to the loneliness of the fast-moving, atomized megalopolis. (The Mongkok district, for example, boasts the world’s highest population density, but you can spend an entire day there without

  • Negative Capability

    Alex Shakar’s first novel, The Savage Girl, is a biting satire of ’90s culture set in an alternate-universe Manhattan (“Middle City”) built on the side of a volcano. At a beverage mogul’s house party, professional “trendspotters” Ursula Van Urden and Javier Delreal notice a screen saver that animates apocalypse scenarios: Middle City leveled by natural disasters, pummeled by a Godzilla/King Kong tag team, vaporized by an atom bomb, floating away when gravity fails, crushed by “the sandaled foot of God.” The city is endlessly obliterated, restored, destroyed anew. The Savage Girl had the singular

  • Facts of Life

    There are a few constants in Jim Shepard’s fiction. The first is disaster: war, divorce, scientific catastrophes, murder, acts of God. The second is primary-source research. Shepard is the only short-story writer I have ever read whose collections come with bibliographies as a matter of course. Along with your hearty helping of human drama, a Shepard story serves up all sorts of facts: about handgun specs, the Cenozoic Era, how it feels to be John Entwistle (bassist for the Who) or serve in a Roman-legion detachment to the British frontier. In “The Track of the Assassins,” the legendary female

  • Pretty Vacant

    “At twenty-six, Karl Floor had had a hard life: father dead, mother dead, stepdad sick and mean, siblings none, friends none, foes so offhanded in their molestations that they did not make a crisp enough focal point for his energies.”

    This is the first sentence of You Were Wrong, Matthew Sharpe’s fourth novel, which features on its cover a photograph of what appears to be a station wagon hurtling off a cliff but is actually a toy car going off the corner edge of a table. Karl Floor is a man who, like Bartleby, would prefer not to. Unlike Bartleby, however, Karl is probably going to anyway, if

  • culture November 06, 2009

    Under the Dome by Stephen King

    The premise of Under the Dome is very simple: an invisible and impenetrable barrier of unknown provenance envelops the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill, instantly transforming this latter-day Grover’s Corners into a snow globe. The dome is in place by page three, and thereafter things start going to hell. About 980 pages later, they get there. Under the Dome is sprawling, messy, bizarre, infuriating, intermittently wonderful, and above all else, addictive. It’s Our Town meets No Exit, on a scale that makes Bleak House look like Of Mice and Men; a deeply flawed pop gem that’s hard to classify