[Julie] Klausner might be at her most irresistible when the speed of her monologue picks up, and she seems to be working out ideas out loud. As critics develop and refine opinions into reviews, their first impressions, which is often the most honest ones, can get lost or muted. That rarely happens in “How Was Your Week?” In fact, Ms. Klausner, who studied at the Upright Citizens Brigade, makes you think that criticism could learn something from improv.
When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember?
The patient process of Nature was once imitated by men. Miniatures, ivory carvings, elaborated to the point of greatest perfection … all these products of sustained, sacrificing effort are vanishing, and the time is past in which time did not matter. Modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated.
The Village seems to be the hardest-hit, its streets a fluorescent wasteland of yogurt shops: eight by our count with another on the way. “There’s been a veritable war in the Village,” Douglas Elliman’s retail queen Faith Hope Consolo remarked. “It’s the fastest growing franchise in the country.”
JEFFREY BROWN: Give me an example of some either connection between a contemporary writer and an older story or, I don’t know, some insight that surprised you.
LORIN STEIN: It was a lot of fun seeing Mona Simpson, who is a writer and used to be an editor of the Paris Review, talking about when Norman Rush’s story came into the Review and how her colleague read the first sentence and said, we’re going to publish this after reading one sentence. It’s something editors don’t usually admit, but you can tell in one sentence.
JEFFREY BROWN: Really?
LORIN STEIN: Yes, you can, you usually can. Not always, but usually. A story is short enough that if you don’t make a mistake in the first sentence, you probably won’t make a mistake all the way through.
“The Hare with Amber Eyes” describes the rise and fall of one family in Europe. Having written about them, the author was faced with the unintended consequences of his discoveries: that just as every national history belongs in a different way to every nation, so every family story belongs to each relation, and every narrative contains elements claimed in equal measure by the teller and the told.
Aphorisms are rogue ideas. Aphorism is aristocratic thinking: this is all the aristocrat is willing to tell you: he thinks you should get it fast, without spelling out all the details. Aphoristic thinking constructs thinking as an obstacle race: the reader is expected to get it fast, and move on. An aphorism is not an argument; it is too well-bred for that. To write aphorisms is to assume a mask—a mask of scorn, of superiority.