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The Rewriting of David Foster Wallace

Nobody owns David Foster Wallace anymore. In the seven years since his suicide, he’s slipped out of the hands of those who knew him, and those who read him in his lifetime, and into the cultural maelstrom, which has flattened him. He has become a character, an icon, and in some circles a saint. A writer who courted contradiction and paradox, who could come on as a curmudgeon and a scold, who emerged from an avant-garde tradition and never retreated into conventional realism, he has been reduced to a wisdom-dispensing sage on the one hand and shorthand for the Writer As Tortured Soul on the other. 

For someone who has long loved Wallace’s writing, as I have, one of the ironies of this shift is that, whether he intended to or not, Wallace started the process himself. First, he embarked on a series of publicity campaigns in which he performed his self-conscious disdain and fear of publicity campaigns, a martyr to the market culture and entertainment industry he was satirizing in his books. Then there was a treacly commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005 that became a viral sensation and later, a few months after his death, a cute, one-sentence-per-page inspirational pamphlet, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life. And now comes a bromantic biopic, The End of the Tour, starring Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, the novelist Rolling Stone sent to write a (later abandoned) profile of Wallace in 1996. The movie’s theme is the bullshit-ness of literary fame — which Wallace, the permanently unsatisfied overachiever, nonetheless craved (not to mention it might get him laid, which he also thought would be a phony achievement). The movie is based on Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the book of transcripts Lipsky published in 2010. And since much of its dialogue is transferred directly from the tapes, it does have a claim on the authentic Wallace.

None of this is entirely new; Wallace has always been an unstable commodity. »

  • Posted 6/29/15 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Shows for Days, and the Making of Douglas Carter Beane

Douglas Carter Beane sure knows how to write for his stars. In 1997, As Bees in Honey Drown perfectly showcased the talents of J. Smith-Cameron, just as, more recently, The Little Dog Laughed did for Julie White and The Nance did for Nathan Lane. Now, in Shows for Days, a kind of companion piece to The Nance and likewise produced by Lincoln Center Theater, he’s written not merely a vehicle for Patti LuPone but a glossy and curve-hugging Ferrari of a comedy, built as if to the star’s spec sheet. LuPone plays Irene Sampson Keller, the theatrical empress of Reading, Pennsylvania, circa 1973: “stuck here among the Amish trying to put on Ionesco.” She is sarcastic, idealistic, overdramatic, and aphoristic, the kind of small-town diva prone to wearing Pucci caftans, giving multiple curtain speeches, and faking strokes to drum up excitement. “Sometimes when Irene looks really far down she can see over the top,” Beane writes. But LuPone does more with the character than offer an encyclopedia of mid-century stage mannerisms; she burrows deep into the neurotic and even political circumstances that make such a creature so awesome and necessary. Irene’s hysteria paradoxically brings out the discipline in LuPone, who gives a precisely detailed and never less than hilarious triumph of a performance.

Yet she's not quite the play's center. »

E.L. James Encounters Twitter Users’ Singular Taste for Trolling

Like many a celeb before her, E.L. James launched a promotional Twitter Q&A on Monday without quite realizing how many people there dislike her work. James likely intended #AskELJames as publicity for her new Fifty Shades of Grey spinoff, but the hashtag was quickly overtaken by accusations that her books promoted stalking and sexual abuse and were poorly written, to boot. It's almost like, deep within James's psyche, was an unspoken desire to be ... punished.

  • Posted 6/25/15 at 1:32 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: William Finn Reveals A New Brain

A New Brain, the killer musical about a songwriter facing a life-threatening brain condition, could only have been written by William Finn. For one thing, it’s highly autobiographical. When Finn accepted his two Tony awards for Falsettos in 1992, he was already suffering from what he’d been told was an inoperable brain tumor. (“From the rear, I look like I’m walking on a sailboat,” he said of his trips to the podium.) The musical itself began during his recovery, when James Lapine, his Falsettos book writer, insisted that he make notes about what he was experiencing. After the success of surgery to correct what turned out to be not a tumor but an arteriovenous malformation (not many musicals use that phrase), those notes organized themselves into songs that explored the unexpected gift of survival and the problem of creativity. Originally performed in revue format, the songs eventually became the basis of the more ambitious and nearly sung-through work, with a book by Lapine, that Lincoln Center Theatre produced in 1998 and that Encores! Off-Center is reviving this week.

Too many songs, yet still totally right. »

How the Back to the Future Cast and Crew Knew Eric Stoltz Would Be Fired

As any true Back to the Future fan knows, Michael J. Fox was not the first actor cast as Marty McFly. That honor went to Eric Stoltz, at the time an up-and-coming young method actor with significant buzz. Only a few weeks into filming, director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale realized something was wrong: Stoltz was a fine dramatic actor, but he wasn't bringing the screwball energy the film needed. They came to the studio head Sid Sheinberg with a proposition: Let them fire Stoltz, and replace him with Fox, whom they had wanted all along. Sheinberg agreed, but the transition couldn't take place right away — Stoltz was forced to labor on, unaware his days as Marty were numbered. In this exclusive excerpt from Caseen Gaines's new book, We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, the people behind the film reveal what those odd few weeks on set were like.


Uh-oh, Here’s Chuck Palahniuk Reading a Children’s Version of Fight Club

In the hopes of introducing Fight Club to a younger generation of readers and viewers, the crew at Mashable teamed up with the always-sinewy Chuck Palahniuk to make Fight Club Horsing Around Club 4 Kids. In the video here, the author gives a reading of the punchy children's book and gets really into it. (We are all now Joe's/Jack's Ruined Childhood.) The book's unfortunately not real, per se, but if you need a Palahniuk fix, he did help make Fight Club 2 in comic form, and he has a book of short stories out — which features the wonderful and equally decadent "Zombies."

Smash Is Becoming Real Life As Bombshell the Musical Goes Into Development

Bombshell is becoming a real-life Smash. Universal announced Monday that due to the overwhelming response from the one-night only Bombshell benefit concert earlier in June, it is going to develop the show for the stage. NBC chair and musical lover Bob Greenblatt said, "Over the course of two seasons an entire ‘Bombshell’ score was written to service Smash storylines, and now that show will have a chance to stand on its own." Meaning: The fake drama to bring Bombshell to Broadway is a reality! Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who were executive producers on the series, will be co-lyricists with Shaiman as the composer. Otherwise, Universal didn't make any firm commitments as to what shape Bombshell would take, and certainly didn't make any casting announcements, but we're crossing our fingers for the girl who wants it more.

  • Posted 6/21/15 at 10:49 PM
  • Ama

Here Are the Best Answers From Aziz Ansari’s Reddit AMA

Aziz Ansari really wants you to buy his new book, Modern Romance, so he did the only reasonable thing there was to do and participated this weekend in a heavily anecdotal Reddit AMA session. There was lots to talk about, including dating, little Aziz, his new Netflix show, pasta, his cousin, his dad, and Parks and Recreation (RIP). Unfortunately, the online powwow was cut a little short, but Ansari didn't disappoint. Here are some of his best AMA gems:

Check 'em out. »

  • Posted 6/20/15 at 12:01 PM
  • Obits

Acclaimed Writer James Salter Is Dead at 90

James Salter, the highly acclaimed but never commercially popular writer, has died at 90, the New York Times reports. Salter chronicled the ennui of postwar America and the often toxic nature of masculinity, from his debut novel The Hunters (1956) to his controversial classic A Sport and a Pastime (1967), a sensuous sylph of a novel that Salter’s publishers viewed as being akin to “a pair of dirty socks,” to the Salter-scripted Robert Redford film Downhill Racer (1969) and the PEN/Faulkner-winning collection Dusk and Other Stories.


  • Posted 6/19/15 at 9:18 AM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Significant Other Needs to Commit

The only previous work the young playwright Joshua Harmon mentions in his current program bio is Bad Jews, a big hit for the Roundabout in 2012 and 2013. That terrific comedy, tight and furious as its main character’s hair, is now the third-most-produced play in the United States. Less auspicious, and left uncited, is the script Harmon provided earlier this year for Radio City’s New York Spring Spectacular, a monumental assault on human decency, albeit with Rockettes. I’m relieved to report that his new play, Significant Other, back at the Roundabout, lands closer to Bad Jews than to the Spectacular — but some of the latter has infected the former, and the result, although smart and even touching at times, is overblown. 

"It’s not enough to get one pass through the engagement party–bridal shower–bachelorette party–wedding trail of tears; we have to get three." »

  • Posted 6/17/15 at 11:05 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Nothing, Then Too Much, in Gloria

“There are aspects of the play we kindly ask you not to reveal in your review of Gloria.” So read the email from the press agents for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s new shocker at the Vineyard. 

Under ordinary circumstances it would be a perfectly reasonable request. But no Jacobs-Jenkins play (among them, recently, Appropriate and An Octoroon) is an ordinary circumstance: He is a genre-subverting provocateur who deals in discomfort as others do in bon mots. In Gloria especially, he toys with audience expectation as a form of drama in itself, regardless of content; indeed, much of the content is of very little consequence. Still, it’s difficult to know what I may safely report. Avoiding all danger zones would leave a rather banal scenario: Three twentysomething editorial assistants gripe amusingly about the degradations of magazine work while mostly avoiding any. The college intern who fetches the Vitamin Water wonders how he might avoid their cynicism. A disillusioned fact-checker (“I’m 37 and all I have is a B.A. in French!”) asks them to pipe down. A severe Debbie Downer of a copy editor wanders repeatedly past their carrels in a waffle-weave cardigan while clutching a large bag to her chest. She’s Gloria. 

And then. »

  • Posted 6/16/15 at 10:10 PM

Theater Review: A Tempest Without Much Storminess

The weather, that diva, is often a co-star at the Delacorte Theater, but rarely so aptly as at a recent preview performance of The Tempest, when the air seemed pregnant and thunderstorms were forecast. Storms are, after all, how the play begins, and their cleansing fury remains a powerful metaphor throughout its tale of vengeance transmuted into mercy. Riccardo Hernandez’s backdrop of churning blue-green waves therefore suggested brutality but also relief; it was so humid out, I wanted to jump in. And though it was probably just as well that the actual clouds never burst open that night, it was less than satisfying that the Public Theater’s production never did. This Tempest was becalmed. 

"A deceptively difficult play to pull off." »

The 12 Best Stories, From Stephen Colbert to Amy Schumer, in Judd Apatow’s Book Sick in the Head

Judd Apatow has been interviewing comedians since his days as a Syosset High School sophomore, when he had his own radio show and got to sit down with budding legends like Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and Sandra Bernhard. Sick in the Head, out today, is a collection of the interviews he’s been doing since his days as an insecure high school student to his present as a (probably still insecure) comedy mogul. Some interviews were previously published, but there’s a little something for everyone: an oral history of Freaks and Geeks, anecdotes of how he chickened out during an AFI tribute to Mel Brooks, and deep-dives with comedy greats. 


  • Posted 6/14/15 at 11:13 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Group Sex Is Anything But Easy in The Qualms

Before a word is spoken in Bruce Norris’s new play The Qualms, now at Playwrights Horizons, audiences hear the sound of nervous laughter onstage. It might as well have been my own, because Norris’s make-you-squirm dramaturgy is by now, for me, an almost predictable source of complicated pleasure. (Hilarity is always close to hysteria in his plays.) Furthermore, I knew from the advance publicity — and if I hadn’t I could have guessed from the program’s humping-monkey logo — that The Qualms was going to be about sex: more specifically, the quasi-orgiastic mix-and-match coupling that used to be called swinging and is now called “the lifestyle,” at least by some of its practitioners. These include Gary and Teri, the fortysomething hosts of the evening’s party, who are sitting uncomfortably close to the jittery thirtysomething newbies, Chris and Kristy, on an Ikea-ish sectional sofa that, you fear, may need a new slipcover by the end.

Sexual but not sexy. »

Game of Thrones Season 5 Marks the Point When the Adaptation Debate Consumed the Show

George R.R. Martin wants you to stop emailing him. The Game of Thrones author has been so overwhelmed by fans asking him about the HBO series' changes from his books that this week he posted a missive on his LiveJournal asking everyone to not include him in those discussions. "Wars are breaking out [over the changes]," Martin wrote. "It is not my intention to get involved in those, nor to allow them to take over my blog and website, so please stop emailing me about them, or posting off-topic comments here ... I cannot control what anyone else says or does." 

It was an echo of comments he'd made weeks before when he begged fans to stop talking to him about the way showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were adapting his story. It's hard to blame Martin for feeling exhausted by the topic — from the onset, the fifth season of Game of Thrones has been dominated by meta-discussions over what Benioff and Weiss kept from the books, what they changed, and why. This year, how the writers were adapting the story became the story.


  • Posted 6/12/15 at 1:36 PM
  • Slurs

John Green Knows He Shouldn’t Have Used the ‘R-word’ in Paper Towns

At Vulture Festival last month, author John Green told us that, if he had to do it over again, he'd rely a little less on Walt Whitman's influence for Paper Towns. But that's nothing compared to the regret he feels for using a particular slur in the same book.

A fan on Twitter recently expressed her disappointment that Green deployed the word "retard" in a line in the aforementioned book ("sometimes he’s so retarded that he becomes kind of brilliant," one character says). Green responded:

  • Posted 6/12/15 at 7:36 AM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Beauty and Brutality in Guards at the Taj

Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj, at the Atlantic, concerns itself with the overwhelming power of beauty; naturally, it is brutal to an almost nauseating degree. Is it unfair to the audience that the first of the play’s five scenes barely hints at the violence? Rather, it begins with the intense inactivity of a man at attention, keeping sentry at dawn; this is Humayun, the more obedient and unimaginative of the two title characters. Babur, the dreamier one, is late for duty. Though they are forbidden to speak, a conversation immediately arises between the old friends once Babur arrives, disheveled and filled with ideas for inventions: a rocket ship he calls an Allah-aero-platforma-al-Agra-Babura, an invisible house, rain seeded with tea. (Humayun’s “inventions” are less practical.) The pair have a captivating Laurel-and-Hardy-meet-Vladimir-and-Estragon rapport, filling the time and outwitting boredom (they are not even allowed to look at what they’re guarding) with fantasies, gossip, and philosophical riddles. 

Comedy and pathos don't quite converge. »

Ranking All 16 Michael Crichton Novels

When Jurassic World finally roars to life on June 12, it’ll mark the latest emergence of the dinos-run-amok scenario created by Michael Crichton in his 1990 novel Jurassic Park. While that book is probably the author’s most famous work, it’s also just the tip of his high-tech, high-concept, popular-thriller iceberg.


  • Posted 6/10/15 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Once More, Please, for 10 out of 12

At some point in their writing lives, most playwrights turn from the world they can never finally fathom to one they already know too well. Recent New York seasons have brought us both fond backstagers and bitter portraits of actors gone feral in works by Chekhov and Odets, Mamet and Gurney, Ruhl and Jacobs-Jenkins, and many others. (One of the best of the genre, Michael Frayn’s farce Noises Off, returns in December.) Whether love letters or poison pen, these plays all exploit the oversized personalities and built-in hysteria of show folk and show-making to establish the stakes. Not 10 out of 12. Anne Washburn’s odd and often hilarious new comedy, commissioned by Soho Rep, takes on the perverse challenge of making theater out of the only part of the theatrical life that almost everyone hates: the intense, soul-crushing boredom of tech rehearsals.

Getting beyond that dreary world. »

  • Posted 6/10/15 at 9:39 AM
  • Crime

E.L. James’s Christian Grey Manuscript Stolen by Person With Singular Tastes

In a transparent move to be punished as severely as possible, an unknown thief has stolen the manuscript for E.L. James's upcoming Fifty Shades book, Grey, Random House announced Tuesday. According to the BBC, the publisher discovered that a copy of James's manuscript had disappeared and promptly notified the police. The book, a retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey from the perspective of Christian Grey, is out June 18 — Grey's birthday — and Random House reportedly fears the thief will leak the manuscript online before then. Naughty.


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