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What would Lynne Tillman do? /
Lynne Tillman ; [with an introduction by Colm Tóibín].
imprint
Brooklyn, N.Y. : Red Lemonade, a Cursor publishing community, 2014.
description
373, [5] p. ; 21 cm
ISBN
1935869213, 9781935869214 (paperback)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
Subjects
personal subject
More Details
imprint
Brooklyn, N.Y. : Red Lemonade, a Cursor publishing community, 2014.
isbn
1935869213
9781935869214 (paperback)
standard identifier
40023906121
catalogue key
9656175
A Look Inside
First Chapter
"Blame It on Andy"

Being human offers homo sapiens variety, or some elasticity, in social life, though sociologists claim that people’s personalities disappear with no one else around. Imagining this evacuation, I see a person alone in a self-chosen shelter, motionless on a chair, like a houseplant with prehensile thumbs.

Diane Sawyer, an unctuous American TV news anchor, once asked a mob assassin: ‘But haven’t you ever thought, “How can I do this? Who am I?”’ The man looked at her with incredulity, then said: ‘I’m a gangster.’ Now, it’s true that people (a.k.a. human beings) named themselves human and also defined humanity, but this tautological affair entails neuroses: do we have a natural state? To say there isn’t one doesn’t quell anxiety, and ‘just act natural’ and ‘be yourself’ remain resilient punch-lines to the shaggy-dog story called existence. There are instincts and drives, the basics from which Sigmund Freud theorized – but, oh, the complex array of acts that might satisfy these!

The bandwidth of human behaviour includes self-image recognition and cerebration, prized differences from other animals (both premises are currently under investigation). With bigger brains, people have concocted notions about self-reflection and self-awareness, which allowed for ‘I think; therefore, I am’. Not ‘I think what; therefore, I am what?’ One would have thought that might matter.

Human beings have, like other animals, sexual and excretory organs that either share the same orifice or sit near enough to confuse identification by children. In evolutionary terms, apparently, there have been no great improvements. Also, shit still stinks, which, given the horrors humans commit, seems appropriate.

Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit (1978) narrated the lengths to which people have gone to cover up the smell. But the body finds its way, discharging ugly odours, keeping humans close to their ‘uncivilized’ ancestors. Human violence keeps people as close, maybe closer; it too has likely never changed, only the tools. But violence can’t be covered up with perfume. In part, theories about essence and construction, nature vs. nurture, address, directly and indirectly, motives for aggression and cruelty, ethical behaviour – or its lack – and the power of the irrational in the human animal.

In the 1950s, American ethnomethodologists Erving Goffman, Harvey Saks and Harold Garfinkel examined tiny units of social life, such as conversation among friends. Seemingly meaningless conventions screamed disaster if not followed: no ‘hello’ back to a friend jeopardizes the relationship. Little miscues caused rips in society’s seams. They studied gender, declaring masculinity and femininity performances in need of consistent routines, since people surveilled others for lapses that endangered identity but worse any hope for a life without torment.

Humans act differently in wars, in crowds; they act differently if they think nobody’s watching. Punishments and limits – prohibitions on murder, incest, cannibalism – mostly keep people in line, otherwise, humans would be no better than animals, humans like to claim. But all mammals teach their kind and follow rules; they form societies often less violent than ours. Apes, chimps, elephants – the mothers commit years to training their offspring. Wolves, male and female, are ecstatic at the birth of a cub; all guard their young. So, that’s no insult: we do behave like animals.

At parties I observe people acting much like dogs, except for sniffing rear ends, which is generally done in private.

‘Acting like a human’ is a matter of opinion, too. ‘Did I do the right thing?’ can translate into ‘did I act right?’ Some people act better than others; even when being honest, some people aren’t convincing. Yet con artists are great at appearing sincere. Being honest or ‘yourself’ isn’t necessarily a ‘natural’ state, since the human capacity to dissimulate must have always had a necessity for species survival.

I admit to wonder and consternation when people bemoan the loss of authenticity in art, in identity, in life. Andy Warhol is regularly blamed for its supposed absence. He’s blamed for everything. I don’t know what pure state, unmediated existence, or moment in history to which people can or should return. Homo sapiens call themselves makers and doers, and they never leave well enough alone.

Some people are actual actors. Theatre has been around a long time, because it serves several purposes. For one, people can watch others being human, portraying emotions and actions, their consequences and vicissitudes. Which brings me to Ryan Gosling in the film Blue Valentine (2010). Gosling embodies an unusually sensitive human to a degree I find unnerving. He plays the husband in this anti-romance romance – a so-called regular American guy, but one I had never seen on screen or stage. Not a rebel like James Dean or Marlon Brando, standard bearers of ‘acting real’. No, Gosling’s character is content to love his wife passionately, to adore and care for their child; he is ambitionless, happy to have a lame job. This life is enough for him, and he believes it should be for his wife.

Gosling’s character might or might not exist off-screen. Still, an artefact, a movie, has proffered a novel image for Americans raised on Horatio Alger and other long-running constructions. In Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling enacts a ‘real human being’ better than most human beings do. I might one day meet such a person. Probably not Mr Gosling, who would, most likely, not live up to my expectations.
Reviews
Review Quotes
Praise for Lynne Tillman"Lynne Tillman has always been a hero of mine -- not because I ''admire'' her writing, (although I do, very, very much), but because I feel it. Imagine driving alone at night. You turn on the radio and hear a song that seems to say it all. That''s how I feel &hellip:" -- Jonathan Safran Foer"Like an acupuncturist, Lynne Tillman knows the precise points in which to sink her delicate probes. One of the biggest problems in composing fiction is understanding what to leave out; no one is more severe, more elegant, more shocking in her reticences than Tillman." -- Edmund White"Anything I#146;ve read by Tillman I#146;ve devoured." -- Anne K. Yoder, The MillionsPraise for American Genius, A Comedy"Tillman#146;s prose builds to poetic brilliance." -- Entertainment Weekly"What emerges here is a bold showcase of a novel, a cabinet of curiosity, a proposal for what fiction could be." -- New York Times Book Review"To read Tillman#146;s tightly woven novel, which meshes inner and outer realms as well as past and present, is to enter into an intense relationship, a communion with another spirit, perhaps with some sort of genius. An involvement that, like all forms of heightened attention, be it friendship, love, hate, or pursuits intellectual or creative, is demanding and bewitching, harrowing and bemusing, revelatory and transforming." -- Donna Seaman, Bookforum"Reading the novel is like entering a room crowded with peculiar portraits, all brilliantly drawn. The book is a consummate work, one that levels Western history with family dynamics, pet deaths, Manson family references, the Zulu alphabet, skin disorders, and the loss of memory that afflicts us both personally and as a nation. Tillman once again proves herself a rare master of both elegant and associative writing, urging us to enter the moment, which is all we have and simultaneously cannot keep." -- San Francisco Bay Guardian"If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years." -- Blake Butler, HTML GiantPraise for No Lease on Life"Confirms and enhances her reputation as one of America''s most challenging and adventurous writers." -- Guardian" ... should be awarded a special Pulitzer for the most perfect use of the word "moron" in the history of the American novel." -- Fran Lebowitz"[Elizabeth] neither recoils nor romanticizes ... She#146;s a character who stays with you after you put the book down--a creature of occasional dark impulses, intermittent grumpiness and perennial willingness to pull up her socks and deal." -- David Gates, The New York Times Book Review"A book anyone concerned with urban life, women, or American culture, as it stumbles into the 21st century, must read." -- Sapphire"Exquisite &hellip To encounter a writer of Tillman''s acute intelligence writing as well as this is a cause for real celebration." -- Independent (UK)"Tillman describes much of the wearing, wearying routine of the city''s daily life -- all that garbage, all those druggies and creeps and whores we''ve met in a million Letterman one-liners jammed into a scrawny crevice of land while the rest of America''s so huge and airy and free. But Tillman''s book is utopian precisely because it takes those things into account; because its heroine fantasizes about murdering all #145;the morons#146; not out of hate, #145;but dignity and a social space, a civil space, actually civilian space.#146; ... [Tillman] sprinkles the text with dozens and dozens of jokes &hellip Who can''t relate? Isn''t every public-transportation-riding, rent-paying, law-abiding urban dweller about two or three knock-knock jokes away from homicide?" -- Sarah Vowell, Salon"Richly surreal ... yet darkly humorous ... Tillman demonstrates her wit, superb observational skill, realism of representation, and verbal eloquence ... No Lease on Life is a meditation on the realness and the ridiculousness of daily living. Yet again, Tillman tackles issues on her terms, freshly reshaping traditional literary forms." -- Donna Seaman, Booklist "We first meet Elizabeth sitting at the window of her East Village apartment at 5 a.m. spinning gruesome revenge fantasies about the noisy hoodlums in the street . . . this novel [is] graced by flashes of bilious wit, a series of funny, inconsequential jokes and an appealingly loopy milieu." -- Publishers Weekly"As energetic and raunchy as a New York street." -- San Francisco Chronicle"A terribly up-close and personal examination of urban angst and fury. It is also a funny, frightening, and utterly brilliant tour de force." -- Bay Area Reporter"Darkly humorous . . . [the] New York that one doesn#146;t see on Seinfeld." -- Library Journal"In a society that increasingly deals with the unbearable by cleaning #145;it#146; up, by sweeping the streets and parks of the homeless and addicted, and/or stashing #145;it#146; away (in ghettos, prisons, etc.), No Lease on Life provides a straight-on view and acknowledgment of the unbearable, if not an acceptance. What Elizabeth collects keeps her from sleeping, drives her to thoughts of murder, and yet #145;she [has] to be open ... like a window ... sometimes transparent, usually paradoxical, and always open to tragicomic views of life.#146;" -- Elisabeth Sheffield, Review of Contemporary Fiction
Praise for Lynne Tillman "Lynne Tillman has always been a hero of mine -- not because I ''admire'' her writing, (although I do, very, very much), but because I feel it. Imagine driving alone at night. You turn on the radio and hear a song that seems to say it all. That''s how I feel &hellip:" -- Jonathan Safran Foer "Like an acupuncturist, Lynne Tillman knows the precise points in which to sink her delicate probes. One of the biggest problems in composing fiction is understanding what to leave out; no one is more severe, more elegant, more shocking in her reticences than Tillman." -- Edmund White "Anything I've read by Tillman I've devoured." -- Anne K. Yoder, The Millions Praise for American Genius, A Comedy "Tillman's prose builds to poetic brilliance." -- Entertainment Weekly "What emerges here is a bold showcase of a novel, a cabinet of curiosity, a proposal for what fiction could be." -- New York Times Book Review "To read Tillman's tightly woven novel, which meshes inner and outer realms as well as past and present, is to enter into an intense relationship, a communion with another spirit, perhaps with some sort of genius. An involvement that, like all forms of heightened attention, be it friendship, love, hate, or pursuits intellectual or creative, is demanding and bewitching, harrowing and bemusing, revelatory and transforming." -- Donna Seaman, Bookforum "Reading the novel is like entering a room crowded with peculiar portraits, all brilliantly drawn. The book is a consummate work, one that levels Western history with family dynamics, pet deaths, Manson family references, the Zulu alphabet, skin disorders, and the loss of memory that afflicts us both personally and as a nation. Tillman once again proves herself a rare master of both elegant and associative writing, urging us to enter the moment, which is all we have and simultaneously cannot keep." -- San Francisco Bay Guardian "If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years." -- Blake Butler, HTML Giant Praise for No Lease on Life "Confirms and enhances her reputation as one of America''s most challenging and adventurous writers." -- Guardian " ... should be awarded a special Pulitzer for the most perfect use of the word "moron" in the history of the American novel." -- Fran Lebowitz "[Elizabeth] neither recoils nor romanticizes ... She's a character who stays with you after you put the book down--a creature of occasional dark impulses, intermittent grumpiness and perennial willingness to pull up her socks and deal." -- David Gates, The New York Times Book Review "A book anyone concerned with urban life, women, or American culture, as it stumbles into the 21st century, must read." -- Sapphire "Exquisite &hellip To encounter a writer of Tillman''s acute intelligence writing as well as this is a cause for real celebration." -- Independent (UK) "Tillman describes much of the wearing, wearying routine of the city''s daily life -- all that garbage, all those druggies and creeps and whores we''ve met in a million Letterman one-liners jammed into a scrawny crevice of land while the rest of America''s so huge and airy and free. But Tillman''s book is utopian precisely because it takes those things into account; because its heroine fantasizes about murdering all #145;the morons' not out of hate, #145;but dignity and a social space, a civil space, actually civilian space.' ... [Tillman] sprinkles the text with dozens and dozens of jokes &hellip Who can''t relate? Isn''t every public-transportation-riding, rent-paying, law-abiding urban dweller about two or three knock-knock jokes away from homicide?" -- Sarah Vowell, Salon "Richly surreal ... yet darkly humorous ... Tillman demonstrates her wit, superb observational skill, realism of representation, and verbal eloquence ... No Lease on Life is a meditation on the realness and the ridiculousness of daily living. Yet again, Tillman tackles issues on her terms, freshly reshaping traditional literary forms." -- Donna Seaman, Booklist "We first meet Elizabeth sitting at the window of her East Village apartment at 5 a.m. spinning gruesome revenge fantasies about the noisy hoodlums in the street . . . this novel [is] graced by flashes of bilious wit, a series of funny, inconsequential jokes and an appealingly loopy milieu." -- Publishers Weekly "As energetic and raunchy as a New York street." -- San Francisco Chronicle "A terribly up-close and personal examination of urban angst and fury. It is also a funny, frightening, and utterly brilliant tour de force." -- Bay Area Reporter "Darkly humorous . . . [the] New York that one doesn't see on Seinfeld." -- Library Journal "In a society that increasingly deals with the unbearable by cleaning #145;it' up, by sweeping the streets and parks of the homeless and addicted, and/or stashing #145;it' away (in ghettos, prisons, etc.), No Lease on Life provides a straight-on view and acknowledgment of the unbearable, if not an acceptance. What Elizabeth collects keeps her from sleeping, drives her to thoughts of murder, and yet #145;she [has] to be open ... like a window ... sometimes transparent, usually paradoxical, and always open to tragicomic views of life.'" -- Elisabeth Sheffield, Review of Contemporary Fiction
Praise for Lynne Tillman "Lynne Tillman has always been a hero of mine -- not because I ''admire'' her writing, (although I do, very, very much), but because I feel it. Imagine driving alone at night. You turn on the radio and hear a song that seems to say it all. That''s how I feel...:" -- Jonathan Safran Foer "Lynne Tillman''s writing is bracing, absurd, argumentative, and luminous. She never fails to exhibit her unique capacities for watchfulness and astonishment." -- Jonathan Lethem "Like an acupuncturist, Lynne Tillman knows the precise points in which to sink her delicate probes. One of the biggest problems in composing fiction is understanding what to leave out; no one is more severe, more elegant, more shocking in her reticences than Tillman." -- Edmund White "Anything I've read by Tillman I've devoured." -- Anne K. Yoder, The Millions Praise for American Genius, A Comedy "Tillman's prose builds to poetic brilliance." -- Entertainment Weekly "What emerges here is a bold showcase of a novel, a cabinet of curiosity, a proposal for what fiction could be." -- New York Times Book Review "To read Tillman's tightly woven novel, which meshes inner and outer realms as well as past and present, is to enter into an intense relationship, a communion with another spirit, perhaps with some sort of genius. An involvement that, like all forms of heightened attention, be it friendship, love, hate, or pursuits intellectual or creative, is demanding and bewitching, harrowing and bemusing, revelatory and transforming." -- Donna Seaman, Bookforum "Reading the novel is like entering a room crowded with peculiar portraits, all brilliantly drawn. The book is a consummate work, one that levels Western history with family dynamics, pet deaths, Manson family references, the Zulu alphabet, skin disorders, and the loss of memory that afflicts us both personally and as a nation. Tillman once again proves herself a rare master of both elegant and associative writing, urging us to enter the moment, which is all we have and simultaneously cannot keep." -- San Francisco Bay Guardian "If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years." -- Blake Butler, HTML Giant Praise for No Lease on Life "Confirms and enhances her reputation as one of America''s most challenging and adventurous writers." -- Guardian " ... should be awarded a special Pulitzer for the most perfect use of the word "moron" in the history of the American novel." -- Fran Lebowitz "[Elizabeth] neither recoils nor romanticizes ... She's a character who stays with you after you put the book down--a creature of occasional dark impulses, intermittent grumpiness and perennial willingness to pull up her socks and deal." -- David Gates, The New York Times Book Review "A book anyone concerned with urban life, women, or American culture, as it stumbles into the 21st century, must read." -- Sapphire "Exquisite... To encounter a writer of Tillman''s acute intelligence writing as well as this is a cause for real celebration." -- Independent (UK) "Tillman describes much of the wearing, wearying routine of the city''s daily life -- all that garbage, all those druggies and creeps and whores we''ve met in a million Letterman one-liners jammed into a scrawny crevice of land while the rest of America''s so huge and airy and free. But Tillman''s book is utopian precisely because it takes those things into account; because its heroine fantasizes about murdering all #145;the morons' not out of hate, #145;but dignity and a social space, a civil space, actually civilian space.' ... [Tillman] sprinkles the text with dozens and dozens of jokes... Who can''t relate? Isn''t every public-transportation-riding, rent-paying, law-abiding urban dweller about two or three knock-knock jokes away from homicide?" -- Sarah Vowell, Salon "Richly surreal ... yet darkly humorous ... Tillman demonstrates her wit, superb observational skill, realism of representation, and verbal eloquence ... No Lease on Life is a meditation on the realness and the ridiculousness of daily living. Yet again, Tillman tackles issues on her terms, freshly reshaping traditional literary forms." -- Donna Seaman, Booklist "We first meet Elizabeth sitting at the window of her East Village apartment at 5 a.m. spinning gruesome revenge fantasies about the noisy hoodlums in the street . . . this novel [is] graced by flashes of bilious wit, a series of funny, inconsequential jokes and an appealingly loopy milieu." -- Publishers Weekly "As energetic and raunchy as a New York street." -- San Francisco Chronicle "A terribly up-close and personal examination of urban angst and fury. It is also a funny, frightening, and utterly brilliant tour de force." -- Bay Area Reporter "Darkly humorous . . . [the] New York that one doesn't see on Seinfeld." -- Library Journal "In a society that increasingly deals with the unbearable by cleaning #145;it' up, by sweeping the streets and parks of the homeless and addicted, and/or stashing #145;it' away (in ghettos, prisons, etc.), No Lease on Life provides a straight-on view and acknowledgment of the unbearable, if not an acceptance. What Elizabeth collects keeps her from sleeping, drives her to thoughts of murder, and yet #145;she [has] to be open ... like a window ... sometimes transparent, usually paradoxical, and always open to tragicomic views of life.'" -- Elisabeth Sheffield, Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Summaries
Long Description
This is a showcase for Tillman's acuity, charm, vision, and intellectual breadth, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? offers an American mind interrogating our society's complacencies with grace and compassion. Just as many of Tillman's short fictions have an essayistic quality about them, Tillman's essays often surge with narrative power, as she upends expectations, shifts tone, introduces characters, breaches limits of genre and category, reconfigures the world with the turn of a sentence. A long-time resident of New York, that city's sharp humor pervades these pages; Tillman's generosity and humanity are always there to soothe the wince of an acknowledged truth. There are distinct streams of concern coursing through the seeming eclecticism of topics (Whitney Houston, interior design, Hilary Clinton, Jane Bowles, O.J. Simpson, Harry Mathews, the state of fiction, the state of her mind, the State of the Nation, but those consistent concerns, to which she returns like fingers to worry stones, are around what happens when men behave badly and when women behave too well. What does Lynne Tillman do? She makes us better people for having read her.
Main Description
One of our sharpest minds and elegant writers offers us an essay collection to do nothing less that help us understand our worldThis is a showcase for Tillman's acuity, charm, vision, and intellectual breadth, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? offers an American mind interrogating our society's complacencies with grace and compassion.Just as many of Tillman's short fictions have an essayistic quality about them, Tillman's essays often surge with narrative power, as she upends expectations, shifts tone, introduces characters, breaches limits of genre and category, reconfigures the world with the turn of a sentence. A long-time resident of New York, that city's sharp humor pervades these pages; Tillman's generosity and humanity are always there to soothe the wince of an acknowledged truth.There are distinct streams of concern coursing through the seeming eclecticism of topics (Whitney Houston, interior design, Hilary Clinton, Jane Bowles, O.J. Simpson, Harry Mathews, the state of fiction, the state of her mind, the State of the Nation, but those consistent concerns, to which she returns like fingers to worry stones, are around what happens when men behave badly and when women behave too well.What does Lynne Tillman do? She makes us better people for having read her.

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