Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Worm prods

There is a really excellent story in the New Yorker fiction issue! (I know, I know, it's not polite of me to sound so surprised, but I am neutral to negative about almost all short fiction other than science fiction/fantasy/horror stories, which seem to me to have a unique appeal, and usually find the magazine's nonfiction pieces far superior.) It's Justin Tussing's "The Laser Age," and it's really fabulous; the story's not online, and he doesn't seem to have a website, but I see that it's part of a forthcoming novel. (Thisbe Nissen says this: "I go to the airport and start reading my friend Justin Tussing's yet-unpublished-but-undoubtably-soon-to-be-snatched-up novel, The Low Home, which, now 50 pages in, I adore. It's 1973 and Alice, Thomas and Shiloh flee an Ohio town for the wilds of Vermont where they seems to be planning to homestead or somehow make their way. The descriptive voice and the dialogue are so incredibly good, and there promises to be much sex and hippie-dom, and I am dying for some more time to keep reading." And here's an Amazon link for The Best People in the World, but with absolutely no information about the book. Annoyingly tantalizing....)

Other good pieces include an interesting brief memoir by Edmund White (this one's online) and a good essay by Janet Malcolm about Gertrude Stein. Malcolm is illuminating about Stein's difficult and little-read The Making of Americans, but the real gems come when she homes in on Leon Katz, whose unpublished dissertation on Stein (which mines Stein's notebooks, their meaning unpacked with the help of Alice B. Toklas) made a huge contribution to Stein studies but never appeared as a book--now in his 80s, Katz is still working on the book and guards his material closely. Another Stein scholar tells Malcolm "a story about Katz's dissertation which cleared up a minor mystery for me":

In his prefatory acknowledgments, after citing Toklas and Gallup and various academic eminences, Katz writes, "Beyond all others is my debt to Mother Adele Fiske of Manhattanville, to whom it is impossible to express adequately my gratitude for her ministrations on behalf of this labor. Her devotion and her generosity were overwhelming and humbling." I wondered what the nun had done to merit such gratitude. What had her ministrations been? Dydo related that Katz had had to leave Vassar because he had not finished his dissertation. "The rules are that if you don't finish your dissertation within three years you have to look elsewhere for a job. Leon then went to teach at Manhattanville College, and the Mother Superior there understood what was going on with that dissertation. He was not writing it. And she gave him orders. "You will leave at my door every night a certain number of pages"--I don't know how many, it doesn't matter. And he did. A mother--a real mother--is no good for that. A girlfriend, a boyfriend, an anything friend is no good for that. But a Mother Superior is excellent for that. I had tried--a bit. All of us had tried one way or another. But she was the one who got the Ph.D. out of him."


  1. The laser age. Nice title.
    I would have omitted reading My Woman if you hadnt pointed out.

    Thank and publish the link of Laser age when you find it!

  2. You can read "The Laser Age" here.

    A glowing review of "The Best People in the World" can be found here.