Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: “Compelling Variety”

by Vicraj Gill

We first wrote about poet Mary Jo Bang’s recent translation of Dante’s Inferno back in January, and she discussed the book at length in her Q&A. It’s a startlingly modern interpretation of a classic—our own Kat Laskowski called it “daring and cheeky,” and over at the New York Review of Books, Dante scholar Robert Pogue Harrison agrees. In “Dante: The Most Vivid Version,” he examines three contemporary versions of Dante’s The Divine Comedy—Bang’s translation, Clive James’s The Divine Comedy (2013), and the latest novel from Dan Brown, Inferno (2013)—and writes that the “energetic idiom” of Bang’s version “gets the poem moving, and at times even dancing, on the page.”

Bloomer Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (which Tricia Khleif wrote about back in March) gets a mention in Michael Lokesson’s intriguing take on recent war novels at the LA Review of Books. Lokesson doesn’t begin with a high opinion of middle-aged novelists—“first novels published in one’s 50s,” he writes, “don’t normally presage great things.” But he quickly backtracks to give Billy Lynn and Fountain their due. While Lokesson’s ultimate endorsement of the novel isn’t quite ringing, given his skeptical regard for contemporary war novels on the whole, it’s nice to see his expectations of Fountain as a “Foolishly Ambitious Old Man,” as he puts it, proven wrong.

Sergio de la Pava—who self-published his first novel A Naked Singularity (2009) in his 40s and won a $25,000 PEN prize on the strength of that book last month—has a new novel out, Personae. Over at The Quietus, he tells Darran Anderson that Singularity took him seven years to write. He also talks about Personae, and his experiences as a public defender, which have heavily informed his fiction. And in a chat with Crispin Best of Dazed Digital, he discusses the genesis of Singularity—which “rose out of a kind of dissatisfied anger”—and struggles to answer the question of why he writes. “What fascinates me is the world at large,” de la Pava ultimately tells Best, “in all its compelling variety.”

Nichole Bernier espouses similar sentiments in a recent interview with fellow novelist Robin Black at Fiction Writers Review. And Bernier, who wrote a great piece for us on the intersection of her family and her fiction a few months ago, also weighs in on writing and gender. She disputes the stereotype of the “minivan-scribbler,” noting that it appears “when motherhood is stressed disproportionately or out of context.” And she asserts that, in juggling family with other commitments, “writing has been the non-negotiable thing.”

A sober perspective on later-life creative pursuit comes from Catherine Tice at Granta, whose essay “A Brief History of a Musical Failure” details her journey as an aspiring violinist and her fraught relationship to music. What takes over when you aren’t a prodigy? “[S]omething else,” says Tice—in her case, musicianship—and then only if you have “an essential psychological immunity to the dark side of self-criticism,” as well as the support of others, and complete commitment and investment from your own self.

Featured in The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” issue, Daniel Alarcón isn’t a Bloomer. But he has a dramatic answer to this question from Jamilah King—“what do you do when your novel falls apart?”—that’s sure to interest Bloom readers: scrap 400 pages and start over. Like de la Pava’s Singularity, Alarcón’s latest, 2013’s At Night We Walk in Circles, took seven years to complete.

Of Allan Gurganus, Thomas Mallon writes, “[H]is first book of fiction took longer to write than the Civil War did to fight, and the novel was not published until 1989, when Gurganus was forty-two.” While the full text of Mallon’s profile of Gurganus is only available to New Yorker subscribers, the piece identifies Gurganus as a Bloomer, recipient of a “great Southern storytelling inheritance”—much like fellow novelist Charles McNair, recently featured here at Bloom—and an author of immense talent.

At some point in your reading life, especially if you’re a Millenial or the parent of one, you’ve no doubt encountered young adult (YA) fiction. Over at Public Books, Rebecca Steinitz takes a look at middle-aged—MA—fiction. In her piece, she cites Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (2013), Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother (2013), and Lucy Ellman’s Mimi (2013), among others, as fascinating books that she believes “will persist alongside and perhaps beyond” those aimed at the young.

Also at Public Books is Amy C. Offner on Albert O. Hirschman, who, upon turning 40, “seemed destined to remain a minor character on the world stage, a figure of wide experience but no real repute”—that is, until the publication of The Strategy of Economic Development (1958). The book, which became a foundational text in the field of development economics, launched Hirschman into a storied career as an economist and academic.

For eight years, the National Book Foundation has come out with the “5 Under 35” list of writers to watch. But 2013 marks the first year that all of the authors on the list are women. A panel that included Ben Fountain selected NoViolet Bulawayo, Daisy Hildyard, Merritt Tierce, Molly Antopol, and Amanda Coplin to receive the honor. Such a paradigm shift’s been in the pipes for a while; as The Atlantic’s Arit John notes, the number of women on the 5 Under 35 list has been growing steadily since 2009.

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Homepage photo credit: DeeAshley via photopin cc

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