The Paris Review #194

During the great de-acceptance debacle of 2010 wherein Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review declined to publish a selection of previously accepted poetry, one of the tangents to the discussion, for me, was the nagging sense that we were all engaged in a fascinating, vigorous discussion about a magazine only a fraction of us actually read. If we, broadly speaking, were going to dissect the editorial decisions being made at a given magazine, I felt we should probably have a greater stake in the discussion than to simply say, “We are all writers; this affects us.” I can only speak for myself but The Paris Review was not on my regular reading rotation. I own that.

The Paris Review is big and as a side note, the spine margin is wide enough to keep the magazine readable (they heard you, Blake).  The Paris Review is expensive. I was pretty angry about the price, not for the magazine, but for shipping. $5.95? Really? The  shipping is a touch less than half the price of the magazine. I’m cheap. They’re rich. It’s one thing for a tiny magazine to charge $5.95 but can’t TPR break us off a little something? It was frustrating. Yes, I devote mental energy to these sorts of things. The cover design is fine—it doesn’t rock my world but I don’t need it to. There’s a certain elegance and familiarity to the design—a patrician quality evoking visions of speaking in hushed tones in libraries with leather chairs and men smoking pipes. The interior design is, well, pretty terrible, but nobody’s perfect and there’s something to be said for a magazine that lets the writing do the talking instead of throwing their ability to use InDesign and Photoshop in your face at every opportunity. I had a good laugh when I saw a full color Chanel and Richard Anderson. In the Chanel ad, a barely pubescent girl with extremely dark eye makeup stares at you sullenly like she’s channeling Kristen Stewart or Taylor Momsen. The ads let you know, “Look—this magazine is for the wealthy or those who aspire to wealth.”

As I read the issue, I had one question: Is this magazine any good? It is good. It is damn good. You can tell this is a magazine assembled by people who really know what they are doing. There’s an air of competence to every aspect of the magazine that is a rarity. Then again, few magazines are working with the cultural and financial capital that The Paris Review works with. There’s a lot to be said for what money and reputation can do. At the same time, a lot of people make crappy art even though they have a lot of money so a great deal of credit needs to be given to the editors who know what to do with the capitals they are working with.

If you read nothing else from this issue, please know that the interviews with Michel Houellebecq and Norman and Elsa Rush are simply exquisite. I felt like I learned more about writing from the Rush interview than I have in a very long time. The fiction and poetry might be underwhelming but I cannot think of more superior interviews than the ones I read in this issue. What I really appreciated about the Rush interview was how his wife Elsa was included in the interview as an integral part of his writing career and process. It is so rare to see the spouses of great writers receiving so much attention but Rush invited her into the interview and it was fascinating to see how she has helped him shape his writing. There was a whole lifetime of intimacy between the couple in this interview which the interviewer notes took three years and generated more than 500 pages of transcripts. Those of us who think we know how to do interviews should probably do some soul searching.

In one of his responses, Rush talks about a story with numbered sections. He says,

Ever since I read Hume, I’ve wanted to do fiction with numbered paragraphs. The numbers impose a definiteness on the breaks in the story in a way not conveyed with normal paragraphs. But you can see I was still experimenting in other ways, too: with colons, for instance. I thought that a weakness of modern narrative was the absence of a thought[face, something to indicate that thoughts are happening, equivalent to quotation marks for speech. So I wrote long sequences of thoughts, using colons to indicate cognitive jumps.

The entire interview is filled with such lucid and charming insight. I use numbers in stories far more than prudent so I appreciated how he articulated what using numbered sections in stories can accomplish. I often skip over interviews in magazines but I pored over this interview like it was gospel and then read the whole thing again. The Houellebecq interview was equally fascinating. I was not familiar with the writer but felt like I had a real sense of the man after reading the interview.

There were three short stories in this issue—Virgin by April Ayers Lawson, The Worm in Philly by Sam Lipsyte and Ten Stories from Flaubert by Lydia Davis. These were all expertly written stories but they were, in a sense, a bit too polished, a bit too competent. For me, the desire to read something over and over is often a hallmark of excellence. With these stories I read, I reflected, I moved on. Lawson’s Virgin is a story of a young married couple, Jake and Sheila, hampered by the inability to consummate their marriage because of incest, Sheila’s repressive and religious parents,  and circumstance. The story is more complex than that and there is a quiet desperation to the story I found quite lovely but I would have liked the story to have more grit to it. At the same time, I respect that there wasn’t more grit and I thought it was a really ballsy move to use this story as the first story in the issue because of the quietude throughout the story.

I’m a real fan of Sam Lipsyte’s writing but the Lipsyte story was, well, a Lipsyte story. It was great but it didn’t distinguish itself in any way from anything else he has written. If his name had not been attributed to the story I would have known he wrote it. That’s not a bad thing but it’s not always a good thing either. The poetry had more verve. John Tranger’s Four Poems After Baudelaire were beautiful and so perfectly crafted. The real standout from the issue, however, was It’s a Lonely World by Dorothea Lasky. I actually squealed when I saw her poem. I thought, “Someone I’ve actually heard of.” More importantly, it was a poem that made me sit up from where I was lounging so I could read it aloud. Every line was sharp and confident and fresh.There was a strong, intelligent narrative throughout the poem and the final lines were so subtle yet powerful that I must share them with you:

There is a sun setting, with a halo around it
I tell people, who are listening to me, that that sun is God
But they never believe me, they only listen
They only believe what they are taught to believe
Which is to believe in nothing
Which is what they were taught when they were born

It’s a Lonely World is a masterful poem that clarified for me why The Paris Review is The Paris Review.

There was one other such piece, an essay by J.D. Daniels, Letters From Cambridge, about training in jiu jitsu and as such things go, so much more. It was so unexpected to find this kind of raw, visceral, richly layered essay in such an established literary journal. After I read the essay I thought, “Very clever, Mr. Stein. Very clever.” Bastard.

I must return to my original question: Is this magazine any good? What is good? It’s so hard to evaluate these kinds of things, particularly when dealing with such an established quantity like this magazine. To appreciate The Paris Review, you have to consider the magazine as a whole. As I discussed earlier, there’s an attractive air of competence to this magazine, but there’s far more to the magazine than mere competence. I took a couple days to let what I read sink in and it was then I realized that when you really look at the assembled work, there’s a real brilliance to the balance of writing and art published in this issue. Everything fits quite perfectly. I felt emotionally and intellectually satisfied and less bitter about paying $17.95 for the issue. I also felt like I had a greater understanding of why the editors at TPR had to de-accept some of the previously accepted work. The situation was handled so very poorly but if you saw how this issue worked, you would know that everything in the issue was included for a reason. Is The Paris Review good? Grudgingly, I must revise my previous statement. The magazine is fucking exceptional and as a contrarian know that it pains me to admit that.


  1. Tim Horvath

      I’m a huge fan of Norman Rush and have been eagerly anticipating his third novel. This interview will tide me over…teaching his story “Near Pala” in a matter of hours from his short story collection, Whites. A primer on dialogue. Primer.

  2. Pete Michael Smith

      The Paris Review is one of the few litmags that I read straight through, in order after it arrives. I feel like it’s been assembled and compiled with care–one thing following another not for reasons of formatting, but for artistic, intangible reasons–and so I read it with that same attention and care.

      And I must agree–the interviews are one of the best parts of TPR. A few months back, they had a special offer designed to combat your hesitance at paying $17.95. I think it was $150 for a five year subscription and a 4 volume box set of the TPR: The Interviews. The interviews are worth working your way through, certainly.

  3. karl

      i loved the lipsyte story, thought it was the best thing by him that i’d read. the first story, virgins by lawson, was a great premise, marrying a virgin in contemporary america is certainly a rarity and worth investigation, but this didn’t really pay it all off. the essay about the ju-jitsu was gritty and crafty.

  4. Roxane

      I enjoyed the Lipsyte story but I don’t know, it felt rote to me for some reason. I feel like he writes the same guys over and over (but does so very well). Of course, as a writer, I am in that rut too. I can’t judge so much as observe. The Lawson story was imperfect but I didn’t mind that so much. I did want her to push the premise a bit more. I wanted more of that grit I allude to. The jiu jitsu essay I’ve read over and over again. So damn good.

  5. Molly Gaudry

      Way back they published some gorgeous poems by Emily Moore. Does anyone know where she is now? If she’s done anything new?

      They also published a photographer who changed my academic life. I’ve taught her photographs of South Korea in all its hustling-bustling capitalist glory that essentially ask viewers to play “Where’s the North Korean refugee in the midst of all these South Koreans?”

      Once, when I knew I’d never get the chance to see Rushdie in person again, I waited until the entire stadium cleared out and was the last in line. We’d been told he would be happy to sign one book. I hoped that by being last I could steal the opportunity to ask if he’d be willing to sign more. Then some lady got in line behind me at the last minute. Rushdie saw my big bag of books. He signed the lady’s. Then called me back and started signing. I got a good laugh out of him when I pulled out my TPR issue with him on the cover. He signed it, though.

  6. Nate Martin

      An easy way to avoid paying $5.95 for shipping is to buy it from your local bookstore or newsstand. I bet you could even get a shop to order it for you if they didn’t carry it already.

  7. Adam Robinson

      The real standout from the “holy shit” poetry was a reprinted poem?

  8. Roxane

      Hmm. Does that matter? The poem isn’t any less awesome for having appeared elsewhere.

  9. Roxane

      Stop making sense. The nearest place where I can buy it, though, is 50 miles away.

  10. Janey Smith

      I believe in the sun. I have all the moles to prove it.

  11. Adam Robinson

      Of course not, but I think publishing other new, great work would serve the readership better. I’ve already read Black Life. PR’s job is to be more cutting edge than me.

  12. Roxane

      True, but I suspect the poem was probably accepted before Black Life was released given how big lit mags work.

  13. Adam Robinson

      Ah. My understanding was that all those other poems were rejected so Stein could insert his own selections.

  14. Roxane

      I believe it was only some of the work that was rejected or de-accepted.

  15. Neil

      I really appreciate what Lorin Stein is trying to do at PR since he’s taken over. Before it had a lot of New Yorker-type articles and essays, but he’s now focusing mostly on fiction and poetry and “creative non-fiction.” It was unfortunate how he dealt with the rejected poets, but maybe it will provide material for them.

  16. James

      Well, the problem was Philip Gourevitch as the editor. He had some cool non-fiction, like a really good profile on an escapee from The Lord’s Resistance Army but the fiction was pretty awful. Fucking Damon Galgut and Alistair Morgan over and over again and boring and boring and boring.

  17. Anonymous

      In all fairness, they published a lot of Jesse Ball, too. Some of their offerings were pretty ballsy.

  18. Postman

      Moore teaches high school in NY now. No books but other work in The New Yorker and such.

  19. Richard Thomas

      Love TPR. I don’t read all of every issue, but I at least read the fiction, often the interviews.

      Roxane, also consider, if you aren’t concerned about being 100% timely, picking up older issues at a local bookstore. Here in Chicago I stop by Myopic Books in Wicker Park and usually find 1-5 issues for about $4-5 each. I picked up three issues that were 2007, 2009, 2010 (I think) that had work by Ben Percy in them, as I’m a big fan.

      Also, try ebay. Sometimes you can find lots/boxes/bunches for cheap.

      They have subscriptions now for $40 a year, $50 a year if you want the Interviews IV issue. So at $40, that’s only $10 an issue, period.

      Also, for $90 you can get three years + the Interviews IV issue. That’s about $7 an issue, which includes shipping. Which isn’t bad at all!

      Great essay. I wanted to hate TPR as well as TNY until I found that I really loved a good percentage of the work there. Not everything, but more than I thought I would.

  20. sam salvador

      Life during wartime. Rural is safer.

  21. Amber

      I love the Paris Review. I know it has a reputation for being one of THOSE magazines, but every time I read it I find at least one interview, story, or poem that amazes me, and that’s more than enough to earn my money. The New Yorker is uneven for me, sometimes just a load of pretentiousness, sometimes great stuff–but TPR seems to always be worthwhile.

  22. moofadashaka

      Good god. The poem you quoted is corny as hell. Vague and sincere in the MFA mold.

      And you all but admit that you’re attracted to the poem because you know and like the poet.

      You don’t actually like poems. You like poets.

  23. Roxane

      I don’t know the poet at all. I know who she is and am familiar with her work. I loved the poem. Just because you didn’t has no bearing on whether or not I actually like poems.

  24. Matt Cozart

      “the MFA mold” ha! if only you had any idea how non-mold-fitting lasky’s work is, you would know how hilariously off the mark your comment is. also, try reading the whole poem before judging it, mkay?

  25. P. H. Madore

      Did anybody else notice that baby Plimpton got a memoir published? I was instantly annoyed. Even if the work is good, a charge to which I’ll take no offense nor for which I’ll make any defense, I’ll always be annoyed when I see the incest bleeding through. Famous writers should insist that their kids use pseudonyms. Exceptions might include those who can actually use the dough because for whatever reason their family inheritance was robbed, like Jill K. Blah blah blah.

      The initial parts of this review read a bit like a kindergartner might have written them. The Paris Review deserves a lot more respect than you’re giving it.

      You know what pisses me off about our particular community sometimes? A lot of you guys know people with money. Like, real money. Those people should be what we like to call “publishers,” or is it just wrong to ask for literary food stamps from people who drive Hummers and what not? I dunno. I remember when I was catering, we were doing a wedding somewhere near Augusta, Georgia. There was this fat hippie guy pitching a project to one of his uncles or uncle’s friends or something, and I don’t remember the details because I was pretty blitzed, but I do remember the warm reception he was receiving, even though he was clearly bullshitting for rent money. And the phrase “we should be able to get started with ten grand or so” resonates to this day. It was the calm and poise he said it with. And the reception was fucking bullshit: the guy whips out his checkbook. Just like that.

      Anyway long live the Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and the rest of my high-dollar canon of literary magazines. Hopefully by the time I make back all my subscription fees, I’ll break even.

  26. Nate Martin

      I’m going to pretend that this anonymous poster is actually Philip Gourevitch, and my life will be the better for it.

  27. Paris Review subscription discount | HTMLGIANT

      […] light of Roxane’s review, The Paris Review have kindly offered a discounted 1-year subscription to HTMLGiant readers: $28 […]

  28. Miss Flesh

      John Tranter–not Tranger–Tranter–the founder/editor of JACKET–the greatest online lit mag in the world.

  29. The Paris Review – discount for HTMLGiant (and other fans of literary fiction) « - What Does Not Kill Me -

      […] really grown to love The Paris Review. There was a discussion over at HTMLGiant about it, and Roxane Gay was talking about how individual copies are expensive, and got this response from […]

  30. Anonymous

      Publishing three novellas by Galgut was too much. In a mag I want to be exposed to different writers in each issue, but I never would have discovered Galgut otherwise. I love those three novellas, collected in In a Strange Room. Not boring for me.

  31. Peter from TPR


      Peter from The Paris Review here. Thanks for such a thoughtful review–very much appreciated.

      Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about the shipping on a single issue (the post office charges us what they charge us). But to make up for this and make the magazine a little more affordable, we’re offering the good people of HTMLGIANT and your readers a one-year subscription for $28 ($7/issue) through our website with the code GIANT12.

      This will be active for the next two weeks (and feel free to share). Due to the vagaries of our site, there may be an 81 cents shipping charge, but nothing hefty. Hopefully this makes the makes keeping in touch with TPR a bit easier.

      Most of all, do keep reading. The winter issue is shaping up to be something pretty special.

  32. Michael Copperman

      I make a motion: no work can be criticized, from this moment forward, on the basis of its alleged conformity to some template related to the existence and/or influence of the MFA. Anyone who makes such a comment will be locked in a room with Anis Shivani and forced to listen to him speak until they begin to wish someone with an MFA would arrive to strike the unnecessary modifiers and slack from his sentences (and perhaps pistol-whip him soundly for general pomposity and painful bloviation).

      Roxane can like whatever the fuck she wants to like. As Matt notes, it’s pretty silly to have an opinion based on five lines.

      Thanks for the review, Roxane. May check out TPR. I subscribed a long time ago, and then let it lapse in favor of Tin House, whose fiction I prefer. But reading your review, I was thinking about how much I did like their poetry– especially in comparison to Tin House’s poetry, which is hit and miss.

  33. lily hoang

      Hi Peter, This is a generous offer! Thanks for supporting Giant readers. I’m definitely taking advantage. That last issue was huge.

  34. Roxane

      Thank you so much, Peter. I’m taking advantage of such a great offer and I’m certain many others will as well. Looking forward to the next issue.

  35. Nate Martin

      I’m going to pretend that this anonymous poster is actually Philip Gourevitch, and my life will be the better for it.

  36. Miss Flesh

      John Tranter–not Tranger–Tranter–the founder/editor of JACKET–the greatest online lit mag in the world.

  37. Roxane

      Hi Peter, the code doesn’t seem to be working.

  38. Peter from TPR

      Great to hear. And my apologies–there was a bug with the code at first, but it should be working now.

  39. Peter from TPR

      Try this again. There was an issue at first, but it’s working now.

  40. Roxane

      No worries. It worked. I am ready to receive the goodness.

  41. deadgod

      hi qual @ lo price??

      Wow, Peter – your offer is a snark event horizon.

  42. deadgod

      Geez Louise, Michael – did this post come out of your MFAalike app??

      [I’ll have some rye toast with my glass of anis, please.]

  43. Michael Copperman

      Rye toast is always best with anis. Anisinthe, that close cousin to Absinthe that concerns that grating grain of something in the uncomfortable, um, orifice I shall not name, is best forgotten.

  44. Mm

      Obviously most of this issue contains work accepted under the previous editors. I know from one of the former poetry editors that they are somewhat bemused by the “holy shit” response, since the new team had nothing to do with accepting the poems.