01 February 2013

Originally known as "The Mistake"

Last night I went to a reading to celebrate the newest issue of Granta, "Betrayal." Associate Editor Patrick Ryan hosted the event, a slight disappointment to those of us in the John Freeman Fan Club, although Ryan did a great job in his stead. Among his revelations about the inner workings of the magazine: the cover for this issues is a photograph of blood and milk swirled, which wasn't what I would have guessed. And yes, the theme of this issue started off as "The Mistake."

Ryan kicked off by bringing Karen Russell to the front of the room, noting that Granta had named her a promising young novelist before her debut had been published and that "we're pretty proud of foreseeing her career." (By the way, is it ever going to be okay to refer to authors by their major works in the style of a Mafia nickname, like this: Karen "SWAMPLANDIA" Russell? Let me know.) She read a bit from a story set in "shitty drab Wisconsin" (check yourself) about an Iraq war veteran with an incredible tattoo. Last time I saw Russell read, she was capturing the voice of a child protagonist and her voice was very high and thin and wispy. I had taken this to be her normal reading voice, but she lowered her timbre for the veteran and the other, 19-year-old protagonist of her story.

Trumpted as a "debut author" for this issue was Lauren Wilkinson, the second MD/MFA I have heard of (the first being Chris Adrian of the McSweeney's crew). Wilkinson is tall and candidly admitted to being so nervous she wrote out all her opening remarks, but she didn't seem nervous at all. She spoke a little about the former president of Burkina Faso, who did not come up at all in the excerpt of her story "Safety Catch" but has now made me very curious to learn about. Something clever all these readers did was to read openings or excerpts only from their stories, in order to prompt us to buy the issue in question. (I fully plan on it tonight; I didn't want to brave the crush last night.)

Also reading were Colin Robinson of OR Books, who brought the opening of an essay on playing paddleball with his brother at the 14th street YMCA, and Ben Marcus who said his story was intended to evoke "the feeling of being very scared."

The authors read to a packed crowd in the McNally Jackson basement; I was so close to the woman behind me I could feel when she was clapping. Just like every time I go to these things I get the feeling there are authors in the crowd I should recognize, but don't. I scan faces to imagine them on flyleaves; nothing. When I moved here I imagined by now I'd know everyone at parties like this, down to the woman with the dark bob serving wine in the corner. There's still a little time, I guess.

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