The Art of Distance No. 10


The Art of Distance

In March, The Paris Review launched The Art of Distance, a newsletter highlighting unlocked archive pieces that resonate with the staff of the magazine, quarantine-appropriate writing on the Daily, resources from our peer organizations, and more. Read Emily Nemens’s introductory letter here, and find the latest unlocked archive pieces below.

“It’s getting warmer—for real this time—and since the world has sort of skipped spring, here at The Paris Review, we’re skipping ahead, too. The Summer 2020 issue, no. 233, will hit mailboxes shortly, and the season pretty much starts right after Memorial Day for publishing, so here we are. I know there’s a lot about this summer that will be far from ideal, and I hope some of the unlocked pieces below will help you grieve those things. But we will be able to get outside more and enjoy the weather (and find more excuses to unglue our eyes from screens). The days will be longer (a mixed blessing, I realize, for those with kids), and there will be more time to read, even if not on the beach—at least you won’t grease up your books with suntan lotion. So let us help you get a head start on summer. Meanwhile, please keep staying safe, and we wish you many stunning sunsets, from wherever you view the glorious summer sky.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Digital Director

Alan Fears, Every Man Is an Island, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 30″. Image courtesy of Alan Fears.

Elena Ferrante’s Art of Fiction interview might not be the most obvious choice when it comes to the idea of summer, but for me, her novels and the coming season are one and the same. Summer reading demands a really good plot, something that will stand up to the heat-induced torpor; one of my most vivid summer memories is first reading The Days of Abandonment one long July day six years ago. In her interview, Ferrante has the same idea: “In the case of The Days of Abandonment,” she says, “the writing freed the story in a short time, over one summer.” —Rhian Sasseen, Engagement Editor 

I think of Hernan Diaz’s incredible novel In the Distance as a summer book because it’s mostly set in the American West in hot, unforgiving weather. The Review didn’t publish it, so I can’t unlock it here. But I can share Diaz’s story “The Stay,” from issue no. 227, which I remember reading around this time a year ago. It’s a story about being stuck indoors in a strange apartment, watching movies, and the weird kinds of friendships that can form from a distance. So some overlaps with the present situation. And it’s marvelously diverting. —CMT

J. D. Salinger was, among other things, a great practitioner of self-isolation, and Betty Eppes’s glorious piece “What I Did Last Summer” is perhaps the closest the Review has come to an Art of Distance interview. (We shared this one a few weeks ago, but in case you missed it, here it is again.) Eppes is looking to fill the summer vacation and score a scoop, so she sets out for New England to corner the famous recluse. “Salinger isn’t one of my favorite writers,” she admits. “What had fascinated me was that as a girl in Smith County, Mississippi, where males and females are very secluded from one another, I had two older brothers, and reading The Catcher in the Rye was like opening a secret door into their private male world.” As with many such mysteries, there appears to be little behind the curtain. She leaves a note for Salinger in the local post office, stakes him out in a “sky-blue Pinto,” drinks dozens of Tabs, hides a recorder in her blouse, and, when he arrives, rattles through her questions as an audience gathers in horror. As summer adventures tend to, it goes awry. Salinger is recalcitrant; the longest answer he offers is after, grasping at straws, she asks, “Are you informed on the differences between cold-pressed oil as opposed to oil extracted by other methods?” Fear not, dear reader, he is. Next summer, it’s a trip to England to interview George Mason: “He was a piece of cake compared to J. D. Salinger.” —Chris Littlewood, Intern

Like summer, grief is impermanent. Mary Terrier’s “Guests” is a sharply rendered portrait of adolescence that takes place the summer after the narrator’s mother dies. Her father’s new, younger girlfriend becomes de facto babysitter to her and her brother during the day, and Terrier’s eye catches with grace and precision a young girl’s confusion at finding herself swept into the carefree world of life without a mom. After you’ve read the story, listen to Molly Ringwald reading it in this episode of our podcast. —Lauren Kane, Assistant Editor

It’s hard not to feel wistful when thinking about this time last year. I spent a good part of summer 2019 sitting on a beach in Delaware with issue no. 229 in hand, flipping through Alan Fears’s portfolio of summer-themed paintings, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” One, cheekily titled Hot Ken, depicts a pink-faced man with a thin blond mustache on a striped beach chair. In another, a neat row of surfers with identical half smiles stand clutching a board that reads: PROFESSIONAL. It’s titled Slippery When Wet. Perhaps my favorite, however, is A Light Refreshment, an image of a lean, elegant man enjoying an aperitif on a bright green tennis court. These paintings seemed to mirror the landscape around me—the crowds of sunbathers and swimmers at leisure in a manner that now seems preposterous. The final line of Charlotte Strick’s introduction makes me yearn for summers both past and future. “Let’s slather on some PABA-free SPF 50 and try our best to turn our attention away from the troubling news and toward one another,” Strick writes. “Let’s dip our toes in the pool and get back to the serious business of the unserious. This pursuit may just help us sail free of the darker seasons behind us.” —Elinor Hitt, Intern

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