Tom McCarthy is profiled in today’s New York Times:
When Tom McCarthy agreed to review Clancy Martin’s first novel, How to Sell, for us, he was tempted partly by the book’s setting inside the world of crooked jewelers.
“I’ve got a longstanding fascination with the way in which economics haunts literature, and vice versa,” he said in a recent e-mail message. “You can trace the history of this haunting from Joyce, whose writing is obsessed with credit, debt and forgery, right back through Shakespeare, whose Merchant of Venice should be required reading for all economists — especially now.”
McCarthy’s own first novel, Remainder, took up the “problem of counterfeit” (as he puts it in his review) by having its narrator stage elaborate re-enactments of mundane events, thus grappling with questions of reproduction and authenticity. These questions are nothing new for McCarthy, an artist as well as a writer, whose artworks often draw on the history of literature. “Right now I’ve just installed a ‘Black Box Transmitter’ in an art institute in Germany. It sends out looping sequences of poetry created by cutting up and mixing together stock market prices, weather forecasts and lines of Hölderlin. Radio really interests me at the moment. I’ve just finished a novel about early radio and its relation to poetry and death. Technology is always haunted, too: that’s what makes it so sexy.”
An extract from Tom’s review of Clancy Martin’s How to Sell:
“The novel is a good, pacey and ultimately unchallenging read. Why couldn’t they just say that on the cover? ‘Entertaining, zippy and unchallenging — X, author of Y.’ The reason they don’t, of course, is that, as with the whiskey-soused prospective purchaser, there’s a bigger sale being made: we’re being asked to buy into the notion that lively storytelling and more-than-adequate craftsmanship constitute great, ‘classic’ literature. I’m not so sure. To bastardize the Latin, emptors need to sober up and exercise a little caveating over that one. I suspect that real, high-karat literature, with its complexity and ambiguity, its general slipperiness, is sitting in another box, one opening to a dimension that How to Sell doesn’t breach (and, to both its and its author’s credit, doesn’t itself actually claim to) — or, to use a fittingly ur-geological metaphor, that it’s lying buried in a rock-seam that this book walks comfortably over the top of but leaves unmined.”
[Illustration by Joe Ciardiello.]