According to an article in Time Out Chicago (August 2011), "Paul La Farge might be the greatest American writer you haven't read, but now there's no excuse." He has been constructing a solid home for himself in American letters since his first published novel in 1999.
With a flavor of European modernism, The Artist of the Missing (1999) is a story about a young artist searching for his parents in a bewildering urban landscape. It was awarded a California Book Award for the best first novel of 1999. La Farge describes how he wrote his first draft of the story over the course of 21 days, and then revised it for 2 years. It went on to be rejected by 34 publishers before finding a home with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Haunting woodcut illustrations by artist Stephen Alcorn accompany the text.
Haussmann, or the Distinction (2001) also exists within a modernist framework, claiming to be a translation of a 1922 work by a (fictional) French poet "Paul Poissel." The novel itself is a tour-de-force of historical fiction, a vision of nineteenth-century Paris dripping with detail. Within all the coy layers of fiction, La Farge attempts to breathe life into Paul Poissel with a scholarly afterward and even labeled photographs of Poissel and his beloved. (There is, in fact, a real historical personage at the center of the story, the urban planner George-Eugene Haussman.) The novel was a New York Times Notable Book in 2001.
Paul Poissel lives on - La Farge's The Facts of Winter (2005) is a collection of dreams purporting to have been dreamed by the French poet in 1881, but which were actually written by La Farge in New York after 9/11. Facts of Winter is being released in paperback by McSweeney's in October 2011.
La Farge has a funny and tender commentary on his website about the unfinished ("or unfinishable?") novel O, which he started in college, worked on between 1991-1996, and published pieces of in a campus magazine. Since O La Farge seems to be growing more and more grounded as a writer, and perhaps it is with Luminous Airplanes that his high-flying imagination comes close enough to earth to allow a larger American readership on board.
Read some of Paul La Farge's short stories online, or watch the video below to hear him explain the idea of an "immersive text."
This article was originally published in October 2011, and has been updated for the
October 2012 paperback release.
Click here to go to this issue.
This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.
Discover your next great read here
Knowledge is of two kinds...
Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!
Solve this clue:
and be entered to win..
Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.
Your guide toexceptional books
BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.