Those who wish to participate in the latest literary world gossip should read The Paris Review. Articles have been written about its new editor, Lorin Stein, for months. Moreintelligentlife.com reports that the 37 year old former Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor is looking for “the best of the best, period—except I don’t really believe in The Best.” According to New York Magazine, Stein’s publishers told him they were looking for “boldness.” The Financial Times reports that “the magazine’s relationship with reportage has ended.” Poets are lamenting the choice of Stein and new poetry editor Robyn Creswell to reject all of the poems previously accepted and slated for future publication. (Many of the rejected poems can be found at The Equalizer.)
Paris Review readers should enjoy debating whether the first two issues stand up to their hype. Certainly there’s some excellent work in this issue, including Carol Muske-Dukes’s “Condolence Note: Los Angeles,” and April Ayers Lawson’s “Virgin,” about a man whose new wife refuses to have sex with him. The “Writers at Work” series continues with one interview with French writer Michel Houellebecq and another with novelist Norman Rush and his wife Elsa.
Former editor Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform you That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, maintained an emphasis on “reportage.” Stein’s movement away from this is one of his more controversial acts. So also is the new absence of photojournalism. The issue instead contains a portfolio by artists Tauba Auerbach and Colter Jacobsen. Curated by Lauren Bornell, it includes pictures of such things as Auerbach’s broken glass and the alphabet, and Jacobson’s sailors and cliffs.
Above all, this issue reveals Stein’s passion about writers themselves. Authors use titles such as John Tranter’s “Four Poems After Baudelaire” and Lydia Davis’s “Ten Stories from Flaubert.” The main character in Sam Lipsyte’s “The Worm in Philly” gets stoned and tries to write a children’s book about “the great middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler.” J.D. Daniels talks about how much dealing with rejection as a writer made him want to hit someone, which partly lead to his taking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Mister Lytle: An Essay,” Sullivan details his stint as a caretaker for the increasingly senile Fugitive writer Andrew Lytle. Lytle apparently once made a pass at Sullivan. The scene of Lytle’s rejection, in which he wears a “Wee Willie Winkle-style nightshirt and cap” and says “Forgive me, forgive me…Oh, beloved” is heartbreaking. Sullivan writes, “the reason I risk being seen to have ‘outed’ a man who trusted me, and was vulnerable when he did—is that you can’t fully understand that movement, which went on to influence American literature for decades, without understanding that certain of the men involved in it loved each other.”
Lamentably, not many people outside of the literary field know much about the Fugitive Movement. Probably not all members of the magazine’s hoped-for audience are writers. The Yale Daily News recently reported that Stein talked with students about how he’d like The Paris Review to reach a younger, more tech-savvy audience: “He is searching for pieces that could be ‘stuck up on the fridge’—stories and poems that resonate because they are about real life.” Perhaps this will play out better in future issues. Most of the work in this one is only likely to be put up on the refrigerators of literary people who already gossip about excellent magazines such as The Paris Review.