Brooklyn Rail: Michael Row the Boat Ashore, An Exposition Upon the Inspirations & Sources for my Historical Novel, “Row The Boat Ashore.”


May 2018 Issue, Fiction

Once upon a time, when I looked at the sky, I saw will. Today, the sky is the disappointments of my ancestors, as many lives as they had, as far as the eye can see.

In 1996, I wanted to publish a novel. I had already written a few, the third of which I believed was good enough to live on as a book—something which hadn't happened. It was not an easy time to publish, and I decided to distinguish myself with historical fiction, which is notoriously difficult to write—to research and invoke. I committed to reading about a period in America that interested me. That reading, principally concerned with a few years in the middle of the nineteenth century, would eventually turn into my first published novel, A Still Small Voice, which came out in 2000.

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Bomb: Rita McBride

by John Reed

“I want to go back to a time before hard lines and divisions, when art and science were joined in alchemy because when an idea transcends any category there is a confluence of elements that are far beyond anything tangible.”


Rita McBride’s work inspires quiet awe and formal glee. Her installations are wry, architectural, archeological, and compositionally astute. In this universe, she is an artist, but in some not-too-vibrationally distant multi-verse, she is a superhero, with the origin story of an engineer gone mad. Over the course of several conversations and emails, she and I chatted about the direction of her work, and her current laser and marble-dust installation, Particulates, on view at Dia ...

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The Seventh Wave: Claim + Thesis = Evidence


A lecture, I can’t quite recall the course title: The Something Something of Power. I was fulfilling a requirement at Hampshire College. Hampshire is a hotbed for creative and political thinking; I was only there for the creative. The course was sought-after, and didn't look too terribly painful. Michael Klare, the professor, is/was a highly regarded activist, author, and political thinker. The course would explore the dynamics of power, policy making, the manipulation of democratic populations, and the history of civil disobedience in the United States — from the workers unions and the labor clashes of the early twentieth century to the non-violent resistance of the late 60's.

The class was held in a giant auditorium — even though there weren't that many of us. I sat way in the back. From the high seats, I looked down, absorbing the material from a distance, participating as necessary, and studying Michael Klare for my outside-of-class Michael-Klare impression — he had a distinct hand-waving mannerism, and overused the word "vis."

For the final paper, we had to identify a "cause of war." This, I did. My paper covered the span of what we had studied during the semester, and it was fairly well-structured and polished, and about 5,000 words, well-exceeding the 2,000 word minimum. Klare, however, wouldn't sign off on the form that said I had fulfilled my requirement (Hampshire is pass/fail) — so I gathered up my final paper and my form and went to his office. ...

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Gawker: My Gay Uncles


When I talk about my downtown life as a kid, people ask how old I am. Growing up in New York City in the 70s was more like being an urchin of the 30s than a silver spoon of the 80s. I'm more likely to share recollections with a 70-year old—playing stoop, jumping off the piers—than to wax fondly upon the boy bands, cocaine, and angular sports cars of Ronald Reagan's second term.

At 7 or 8, I ran around the city on my own—torn jeans and army cap—and I wasn't unusual. We were wild, when wildness in New York City was still a refuge for freedom. The city was different. There were still neighborhoods, and people were—has the phrase fallen out of usage?—responsible citizens

It wasn't all niceness. There was the constant street talk, the "Let me see your wallet," the hustling and jostling for position on the sidewalk, physically, mentally, financially. It was a tough city. If you said yes at every corner, you'd be buying fireworks four times a mile. And if the fireworks guys didn't ask everyone, they'd never sell anything. In the West Village, where I went to school (PS41) and where most of my friends lived, there were offers and inquiries; the grown men in the Meat Market. The West Village was a live gay emancipation, a surge of repressed sexual energy, not all positive, and our frail sexual identities, pre-teen, answered with ignorance. ...

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Vice: My Grandma the Poisoner


When I was four or five, sometimes I'd walk into my grandmother's bedroom to find her weeping. She'd be sitting on the side of the bed, going through boxes of tissues. I don't believe this was a side of herself she shared with other people; she may have felt we had a cosmic bond because I had her father's name as my middle name and his fair features. She was crying for Martha, her daughter, who died of melanoma at the age of 28. Ten years later, after Norman—her youngest child, my uncle—died, also at 28, she would weep for him.

People were always dying around Grandma—her children, her husbands, her boyfriend—so her lifelong state of grief was understandable. To see her sunken in her high and soft bed, enshrouded in the darkness of the attic, and surrounded by the skin-and-spit smell of old age, was to know that mothers don't get what they deserve. Today, when I think back on it, I don't wonder whether Grandma got what she deserved as a mother; I wonder whether she got what she deserved as a murderer.

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The Believer Logger: Something Witchy for Leslie Van Houton

I’ve been thinking about Martha as part of a longer piece about my grandparents.  My grandmother, with Munchausen by Proxy, killed four or five people—mostly by accident, but still. (My experience with the police—I’ve talked to them—is not exactly CSI.)  One victim was her husband (her second husband, who was terminally ill, and took a very sudden turn for the worse), one was her lover (he was younger than her, in his 70s, not 80s, but he kept breaking limbs, and after Grandma’s series of several frantic calls about the level of care he required, he dropped dead), and two were her children. Martha and Norman. Or, well, I shouldn’t blame Grandma entirely. Martha died of melanoma, which doesn’t usually kill people (though Grandma may have cared for her to death), and Norman died in a scuba diving accident. 

To explain: Grandma didn’t want Norman to go diving that day, but he had already put money down for the boat (scuba diving is very expensive), and he insisted on going, so she poisoned him, probably with prescription pills (but it could have been vitamins, she had been a nutritionist), and then when he went anyway he made a fatal miscalculation (he waited, um, on the sea floor, for help). 

Should I say that my brother, my mother, my wife and I all believe this, but hope to be mistaken?  My parents were very young when they had me, and until I was old enough to care for myself, Grandma would take me in for weeks at a time, and at Grandma’s I’d be amazed by this unusual thing that happened, which I assumed happened to everyone.  Sometimes I would sleep for 48 hours straight.  Also, a few times in the middle of the night, maybe half a dozen, I had trouble breathing, and Grandma had to rush me to the hospital.

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Hyperallergic: In Conversation with Miguel Angel Hernandez

To be a critic is to be an immigrant in one’s own country. It is to seek the new in the oh-so familiar. It is to insist on understanding when judgment comes easily, and seek surprise and the overturning of one’s own certainties. It is to want to be wrong. To prefer to be wrong.

Perhaps that’s what drew me to Miguel Angel Hernández’s novel Escape Attempt, recently translated by Rhett McNeil for an English language edition from Hispabooks. The narrative tells of a suspicious box — part of an artist installation — and a missing immigrant, and a moral conundrum that is well beyond the arbitration of our coiled cerebellum and our snaky self-justifications. I saw, in Escape Attempt, the high-wire act of a novelist and critic; a creative performance of engaging every question while deferring every answer.

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TheTimes Literary Supplement: ‘Georgia’ a novel by Dawn Trip

Well, for those of you who subscribe to the Times Literary Supplement, I have a review of Dawn Tripp's novel, Georgia in this week's issue:

Wilully, Americans tell the story of Georgia O’Keeffe: the story of the southwestern female artist and pioneer. The story is wrong in three ways: once for the remnants of the arguments it contains, mounted by art critics in the 1920s, that O’Keeffe embodied the art of a woman, more sensual ...


The New York Times: 'Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir'

Reviewing 'Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir,' by Michael Peppiatt 

When Michael Peppiatt, at 21, met Francis Bacon, the 53-year-old artist was already all artifice, well spoken when well rehearsed, his bistro doctrines applauded by clinking glasses. Peppiatt, having taken over a student arts journal at Cambridge, had shown up in London’s Soho. It was 1963, and Peppiatt laid claim to but a tenuous introduction to the renowned painter he sought. At the bar of the French House, the youth was handled by the photographer John Deakin, who loudly advised: 'My dear, you should consider that the maestro you mention has as of late become so famous that she no longer talks to the flotsam and jetsam. . . . I fear she wouldn’t even consider meeting a mere student like you!' ...

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