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Talk to Me: Behaving Badly at Happy Ending

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Happy Ending Music and Reading series has formed a partnership with the arts colony Yaddo located in Saratoga Springs, New York, to present programs featuring writers who have been Yaddo fellows. On December 7th, curator Amanda Stern welcomed three Yaddo alums at the series’ performance home, Joe’s Pub, for a program entitled “Reality and Scandal.” 

Two of the authors, Helen Schulman and Jesse Browner, read from works featuring teenage boys in emotional, sexual and social turmoil — Schulman’s “This Beautiful Life" and Browner’s “Everything Happens Today.” This has been fruitful territory ever since J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield made such a hash of his prep school career 60 years ago.

The third writer, Walter Kirn, went engagingly off course with excerpts from his New York Magazine-approved (as in the weekly “Approval Ratings”) Bible blog. The writer inherited a well-worn study edition of the “King James Bible” from his mother, and is offering up hilariously transgressive interpretations of the narratives (example: Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden is about illicit drug use.) 

Stern requires all her writers to “take a risk on stage,” and Kirn was eccentric here, too, inviting author Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose memoir "Prozac Nation" he savaged in a 1994 review, to come up to the stage to enact her revenge. (She didn’t.)

Musical guest Mark Eitzel was the perfect foil to the authors, offering up a trio of mordant songs about marginal and desperate characters. (You’ll hear an homage to a male stripper in the excerpt above). 

Stern’s requirement for musical guests is that they play a cover song and try to get the audience to sing along. There was a kind of perverse pleasure, after an evening crowded with angst and tales of sexual misconduct, to hear Eitzel bring down the house (and carry every one of us with him) with that preposterously hopeful standard, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

Bon Mots:

Helen Schulman, author of “This Beautiful Life,” on the burden of allure: “’You are just an idiot boy,’ said Audrey…She slung that cool bag over her shoulder and she started walking. She started walking away from Jake and all the idiot boys, walking away from the prison of her youth and beauty and into the hard-fought-for loneliness of her future.”

Jesse Browner, author of “Everything Happens Today," on coming of age: "If he were ever to be a serious writer, Wes recognized, he would have to learn to embrace solitude and silence.”

Novelist, critic and essay writer Walter Kirn on Genesis: "God basically made a huge mistake in creating man, and spends the first part of Genesis trying to correct himself."

Produced by:

Sarah Montague

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Talk to Me brings you downloadable readings and conversations with writers, artists, and scholars – from author Joshua Ferris to choreographer Mark Morris to poet Sharon Olds – recorded at cultural institutions in New York City and beyond. Stream, download, or subscribe to the full-length podcasts here.

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