“When I put on my dress and prosthetic breasts, it felt frightening to go out into the night. This was, as a good friend would say, information. Precisely which other information I sought by becoming Dolores is not entirely transparent to me, but I might have learned it, or other things, in the course of this experiment. For a summation, I refer interested parties to the novel, which is called How You Are.”
Now this is balls. Not that William T. Vollmann, the most compelling and compulsive novelist of his generation (b. 1959) has published a book of photographs and drawings documenting his attempts to pass as a woman named Dolores, but that in the commentary to the images he has referred readers to another book of his not yet published—a book that required him to do his research in drag. How You Are, a novel detailing the transformation of Mr. Vollmann into Dolores, hasn’t been bound yet, and, given the author’s process of editing by accretion—layers of prose like concealer on bald plots—might not even be finished, but The Book of Dolores certainly exists: 200 full-color, glossy pages of cross-dressing decline, hard-covered and soft of belly.
The phrase “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” has been a rallying cry in music since Neil Young crooned it over 30 years ago. But it’s writers who seem to best embody the sentiment: the burnouts who did themselves in, like Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, tend to be romanticized long after their deaths by those who believe an untimely end completes some sort of narrative of depression; the ones who fade, the writers who keep pushing out words till their last breath, may not be eulogized, but at least they get to spend their golden years doing what they (presumably) love.
Last month, Philip Roth, one of America’s greatest living writers and its reigning curmudgeon, took a very different route toward career conclusion: he quit. The 79-year-old author of 27 novels, dozens of short stories and countless essays, and the recipient of nearly every major literary award save the Nobel Prize, told an interviewer for the French publication Les Inrocks, “To tell you the truth, I’m done.” His 2010 novel Nemesis would be his last book.
Out of nowhere in Rick Moody’s new novel The Four Fingers of Death, there is a gay sex scene involving two astronauts flying on a rocket ship to Mars. “There was a sharp stabbing sensation, sort of how I imagine it must feel to find your innards impaled on a pike,” Mr. Moody Read More
The writer Joshua Cohen, author of the recent novel Witz, was at a bar recently telling a girl he’d met an hour and a half earlier about a family member who was being treated for cancer. The next day, he saw that she was writing about it on her blog. And even though Read More