John O’Brien, the publisher at Dalkey Archive Press in Chicago, has seen steady sales of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans for the past sixteen years.
“Given the size of the novel (925 pages) and its ‘difficulty,’ it has always sold relatively well (perhaps with an emphasis on ‘relatively’),” wrote Mr. O’Brien in an e-mail to The Observer. “We know that there are 450 hearty souls out there who find it every year.”
Then Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris came out, starring Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, earth mother to a petulant Hemingway and a time-traveling Owen Wilson.
“It’s not going to break any records except for Dalkey Archive’s own,” said Mr. O’Brien, “But it is on a pace this year–all due to the movie–to sell approximately 4500 copies.”
That’s a tenfold increase! Stein’s magnum opus is difficult indeed, but Mr. O’Brien counts himself among those who have weathered its syntax and found enlightenment:
I am one of those hearty souls who not only read it but also took my life in my hands by teaching it several years ago in an undergraduate course. Though it took students a while to get their bearings, they wound up loving it, perhaps most manifested by the fact that they started writing in the book’s hypnotic style. The temptation with Stein is usually to try to parody the style, but these young people were entirely sincere in their half-aware homage. Stein gets into one’s bloodstream, even with this rather challenging work, or perhaps especially with this one work. It is her version of America as experienced through the life of a family.
Mr. O’Brien also took a moment to “genuflect eastwards towards Woody Allen,” writing that he eagerly anticipates the day that Vintage puts Mr. Allen’s fiction out of print so Dalkey can publish it instead.