The beginning of 2006 marks a new stage of development for Narrative. In 2005, a very successful year of growth and expansion, we were able to pursue our editorial vision while reaching more readers and enlarging the community of support for the magazine. Last November’s reading and party for James Salter and the 2004 and 2005 Narrative Prize winners, Min Jin Lee and Pia Z. Ehrhardt, drew a capacity crowd of some three hundred on a rainy night in Manhattan when other literary events vying for an audience included the National Book Award readings and Salon’s tenth anniversary party. Narrative’s guests included old friends, readers, prominent writers, publishing figures, and media. The tone of the evening was good spirited, and when the readers were at the podium, though the venue was a nightclub and the bar was open, there was complete silence and attention to the readers. Afterward, one guest marveled, “This wasn’t a New York event, it was a Narrative event. . . . No cynics.” And that was precisely our goal—to create an embracing sense of community for writers and for the readers of a magazine that reaches worldwide.
Thanks to a kind donor, the New York readings were captured on video, and soon DVDs and CDs will be available, on a limited basis. If you were unable to attend the event, you still have the opportunity to experience Lee reading an intensely dramatic passage from her novel in progress, Free Food for Millionaires, a portion of which was published in Narrative; Ehrhardt reading several funny and ultimately poignant sections from her novel in progress, Speeding in the Driveway; and Salter, whose generosity and love are eloquent in stories about love’s losses, giving a masterly reading of “Palm Court” from his recent story collection, Last Night. These recordings are an initial step in our plan to offer some of the magazine’s pieces in audio and video format. In the meantime, before the recordings are available, in this issue we offer a feature and photographs of the New York event for you to read and enjoy.
And, springing off last year’s growth, we’re working to continue expanding our readership and to encourage good literary work. In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll receive announcements about new developments that we hope will engage you, whether in events, new types of content, or greater ease of interaction with the magazine.
In this issue you’ll find excerpts from novels by three writers who have previously published novels and whose new work we’re pleased to bring to your attention. Mermer Blakeslee’s “Leenie” concerns a precocious rural girl who doesn’t foresee that her aunt’s death in childbirth will carry her into womanhood. Blakeslee tells an intimate, passionate story set in the early 1930s in a valley destined to be flooded by a dam project, and part of the pleasure of the story is how deeply the author allows the reader to inhabit a lost time and place.
Cai Emmons’s “The Stylist,” set in Hoboken, with all its conflicted pride and envy in the shadow of Manhattan, follows the tensions running between two haircutters—one of whom is dying of cancer—and whose rivalry may have as much to do with post-9/11 jitters as with the denial, fear, and survivor guilt evoked by the individual specter of death. The excerpt combines a sophisticated urban intelligence in the narration with a knowing dramatization of characters residing on the shabby side of town.
Robin Troy’s “Liberty Lanes,” set very early one morning in a bowling alley coffeeshop in small-town Montana, brings together a young newspaper reporter and an elderly man who finds himself unexpectedly reluctant to repeat the news she’s after, instead substituting a romantic fiction whose lovelorn transparency touches her loneliness. From under the story’s laconic surface and the characters’ wary manners, a detailed portrait of their emotional lives emerges.
Also in this issue we present the first installment of a three-part serialization of Tom Grimes’s novel Redemption Song, a portion of which appeared in a different form in an earlier issue. The novel is a satirical romance that traces the fortunes of two young men, haplessly trying to create something good for themselves but doing a good deal of the opposite, well past the point when youth serves as an excuse. The novel’s setting ranges from the seamiest corners of New York City to its most glittering spaces, in a virtuoso performance by an author whose wit and heart are on every page.
The issue also contains several short works. Wesley Brown’s story “Women from Mars” introduces a trombone player in an all-girls colored jazz band in the 1930s. Her encounter with Billie Holiday will answer a question put to her by her father when she was leaving home, the question we all have to answer: Who and what are you once you’re out on your own? Brown’s warmth and humor, his ear for the voices and music in the story, create a gentle atmosphere that all the better shows the harsher moments of his characters’ struggle for life and place.
Padgett Powell, who has long been known for his deft hand with irony and idiosyncrasy, is represented here with “Three Short Pieces” that take the form of fictional conversations with a self precariously, assertively reaching for balance. The flow of thoughts is quick, and deceptively light—the edges catch subversively at a time when sincere political leadership and honest public discourse seem almost impossible to find. Powell lets the pieces play as improvisations, a kind of literary blues.
We’ve had the manuscript of Rick Bass’s essay “Shy” in our files since the 1980s, when Rick sent it to Esquire and it was never published there. We reread the piece recently and wanted to share it with you. Rick wrote it before he was an established author, and anyone reading the essay today, familiar with some or all of Rick’s twenty-one books, will be pleased to discover his humorous self-effacement and an affirmation of the dream of being a writer.
Our Classic story in this issue is Frank Conroy’s “Gossip,” one of our favorites and a great example of Conroy’s ability to combine illuminating perspective, lyric perfection, depth of characterization, and sustained emotional drama in a story that reveals pain while offering love. “Gossip” concerns a man rumored to have resisted committing an adultery he actually did commit and, later, rumored to have had an affair he did not. The fact of the gossip—its spirit and its effects—offers an occasion for reflection on how we’re all connected and what matters most.
Finally, this issue offers a new collection of Readers’ Narratives and of books not to miss in First & Second Looks. We wish you good reading.
—Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks