My Way or the Highway

WHEN I THINK of what people abroad think of America, I picture their general ridicule of our idea of foreign policy and the statesmen sent to carry it out. I picture diplomatic blunders such as Reagan at Bitburg or George Bush throwing up at a Japanese state dinner. I hear George W. Bush struggling to answer simple questions until Tony Blair steps in to save him. I picture Gerhard Schroeder standing in the background and trying to keep a straight face as George W. twists his own words into a parody of doublespeak.

Continue reading

My Mysteries of Pittsburgh: An Alphabet

I GREW UP IN PITTSBURGH, in Point Breeze, between John Edgar Wideman’s Homewood and Michael Chabon’s Squirrel Hill. It was the ’60s, just late enough to miss Annie Dillard’s “American childhood,” though later (I think) I delivered their Post-Gazette.  I also claim to have delivered David McCullough’s morning paper, but that, like many of my memories, may be untrue.

Continue reading

Love Theme from “Titanic”

ON THE DAY Kenneth Starr’s report to the U.S. House of Representatives was to be released, President Clinton began the day with a choked-up speech at the annual White House Prayer Breakfast. Assembled before him were religious leaders from all denominations–Episcopal to Sufi–many of whom had been charged by their parishes to censure Mr. Clinton for his admitted dalliance with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Continue reading

The Lost World of Richard Yates

Originally appeared in The Boston Review

How the great writer of the Age of Anxiety disappeared from print.

SINCE HIS DEATH in 1992, all nine of Richard Yates’s titles have quietly dropped off the shelves. Once the most vaunted of authors–praised by Styron and Vonnegut and Robert Stone as the voice of a generation–he seems now to belong to that august yet sad category, the writer’s writer. Andre Dubus, who was his student at Iowa, revered him, as does Tobias Wolff, and the jackets of Yates’s books are adorned with quotes by the likes of Tennessee Williams and Dorothy Parker, Ann Beattie and Gina Berriault. When authors talk his name pops up as the American writer we wish more people would read, just as Cormac McCarthy’s used to. In the acknowledgments section of his novellas, Women With Men, Richard Ford makes it plain: “I wish to record my debt of gratitude to the stories and novels of Richard Yates, a writer too little appreciated.”

Continue reading