WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL I got a job washing dishes at a synagogue, for the caterer there. This was in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill, 1976. I was in a garage band and our bassist Marty Roth worked there, so he got us all jobs–me, Mark Gaudio (our guitarist), and our drummer, Mark Serotta.
WE ALL KNOW the story of the journalist-turned-novelist, the Pete Dexters and Anna Quinlans out there who make it big with their fiction, leaving the newsroom behind to accept literary awards and go on Oprah. It’s a dream of so many reporters that it’s become a cliché. The idea is that with enough free time and a little artistic inspiration anyone who can put words together can write a good novel. It would be an insult if it weren’t absolutely true, and proven again and again.
LOUISIANA, 1973 reads the title matted discreetly onto the opening scene of Walter Hill’s 1981 thriller Southern Comfort, so the audience is situated even before the true title sequence (even before the first words of dialogue are uttered). Why Hill feels the need to locate us with a placard seems ridiculous after having seen the movie–his use of the bayou is over-the-top claustrophobic–but understandable going in; the scene shows a platoon of American soldiers in full camo gear complete with M-16s piling out of an olive drab deuce-and-a-half in the middle of some green forest. Without the placard, the contemporary viewer could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that the film is set in Vietnam.
I’D LIKE TO START by first ridiculing the idea of literature, especially American literature. Literature is a word professors use to anesthetize books that might still be alive otherwise. James Joyce preferred the word ‘poetry’ to refer to any written work that spoke to what is closest to the human heart; “the rest,” he said dismissively, “is literature.”
DURING THE WAR on Afghanistan, there was a paranoid theory among the opposition that after the U.S. defeated the Taliban (themselves never quite tied to 9/11), the Bush administration would find a way to include Iraq in its War on Terror, and that this unfounded and opportune move would prove, once and for all, how transparent the present aggression was.