Friday, May 30, 2014

FFB (or magazine in book format): NEW WORLD WRITING 16: Tillie Olsen, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Sexton, Kingsley Amis, et alia...edited by Stewart Richardson and Corlies M. Smith (LIppincott Keystone 1960)

New World Writing had been the New American Library's pioneering literary magazine in mass-market paperback book format for fifteen Mentor-imprint (smugly branded "good reading for the millions") volumes beginning in 1951, and then decamped for seven volumes to Lippincott and their somewhat more expensive paperback line, starting with this issue (and its amateurish cover) and folding in 1964.  And while the Mentor editions usually had longer tables of contents than the Lippincott anthologies, this first issue for the new decade has what could be fairly called a rather impressive line-up:

from WorldCat, augmented:
5 * Editor's Note / Richardson & Smith
11 * Tell me a riddle / Tillie Olsen --
58 * Lolita Lepidoptera / Diana Butler --
85 * Low-lands / Thomas Pynchon --
109 * Five poems / Irving Feldman --
115 * Three lonely men / Leslie Garrett (excerpt from The Faces of Hatred and Love...probably that which was published, with serious revision, as The Beasts)
135 * You that love England / Kingsley Amis --
146 * Dancing the jig / Anne Sexton --
154 * Martin the fisherman / John Knowles --
163 * A penny for the ferryman / John F. Gilgun --
188 * A season in paradise / E.N. Sargent --
223 * You have to draw a line somewhere / Judson Jerome --
231 * The law and Lady Chatterly / Harriet F. Pilpel and Nancy F. Wechsler --
241 * The credence table / Jack Richardson --
278 * Two poems / Jack Marshall --
282 * The listener / John Berry

...which thus includes, in their first publication, Olsen's most famous work of fiction, Butler's first published essay (a well-made case that Nabokov's most famous work of fiction is quite intentionally as much about his passion for butterflies as it is a study of pedophilia or a travelogue of the US), Pynchon's second published short story, Sexton's first published short story, and so on through Berry's brief recounting of a charming anecdote remade into not quite a fable.

I've not yet had the opportunity to read most of the second half of this issue yet, though am amused to see, for example, that John Knowles (best remembered for the novel A Separate Peace) was an editor at Holiday magazine, and wonder how well he got on with staff writer Alfred Bester (they might've even dated, for what little I know, if one dated per se in those still unfriendly times). The Olsen was a remarkable and for me rather painful read (as it's about a married couple, parents of adult children, facing their last years with little hope for happiness for either, and the protagonist being a woman who had never managed to live the life she had expected to, after early political adventure and imprisonment, only to find herself limited to a life in service to a husband she's not completely bitterly estranged from, though habituated to, and children she could never find complete fulfillment in raising nor feel comfortable actually interacting with as adults)(this is rather close to my own family situation in several ways at the moment)'s told also in a rather discursive and personalized style that has not been too widely imitated since, distinctive even in comparison to those other writers who've taken a similar tack with the form of their narrative.

The Pynchon is very funny, and if rather indicative of a young man's attempt to take in the estate of a middle-aged married couple, is still energetic and charming in a way that, say, John Kennedy Toole's rather contemporaneous A Confederacy of Dunces is usually credited with...this is how to do antic for adults correctly...Pynchon's affinity with another, somewhat older contemporary, R. A. Lafferty, becomes somewhat clearer than I've recalled previously, and there's yet another reason to be sorry it took Lafferty till middle-age to begin writing for the likes of New Mexico Quarterly and Science Fiction (the magazine of that title, also an important early market for the likes of Carol Emshwiller and peripherally for Edward Hoch)...

The Sexton is unsurprisingly almost a prose-poem, and Poetry magazine or American Poetry Review today might be willing to publish it as a poem in prose format...the unnamed protagonist is dancing at an otherwise dull dinner party, and a chair catches her eye, manages to remind her of her tense childhood and particularly of one dinner among many with a controlling mother and a distant, alcoholic father. (As Philip Larkin noted at about this time, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do....")

And in the course of calling Brit expatriate writers (and presumably other artists) back home to fight the Gray Tories and other similar things, Kingsley Amis notes that he finds the totality of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One false, even if every detail is true.  Well, it won't be the last time Amis is wrong, if he is.

I'll be finishing this and reporting on the balance. For more prompt and complete reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Related posts:
FFB: THE AVON BOOK OF MODERN WRITING (1953) and No. 2 (1954) ed. William Phillips & Philip Rahv, among other "paperback magazines"/periodical books


Kelly Robinson said...

What a neat collection. Some esteemed names there, and some I didn't know did short stories (Knowles, for example).

Todd Mason said...

Well, as an issue of a bookazine, a pretty impressive one, as I suggest (even given the high-school litmag-level cover they gave it)(well, most HS litmags might be a bit more decorative)...and indicative of so many other things...Garrett's excerpt is a good read, and probably didn't appear anywhere else in this form...and looking into him, one learns he and Cormac McCarthy came up together, and the odds were that of the two of them, Garrett was expected to make the bigger splash, but among other things Garrett got a little too enthusiastic about recreational chemicals, and subsequently took decades between first novel and second. Thanks, Kelly...hope you are able to jump back into FFB soon (though not due to lack of engaging work)...