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New Yorker Festival: Matthew Klam, Elmore Leonard, and Joyce Carol Oates

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A little bit to my surprise, the “Discussion Among Writers” dedicated to “The Devil Within,” featuring Elmore Leonard, Joyce Carol Oates, and Matthew Klam and moderated by Daniel Zalewski, was a light, lively, and amusing affair, quite in contrast to the stated subject. The taciturn Leonard, who would have looked entirely at home whittling a garter snake out of a twig, was flanked by the admiring Oates and Klam—yes, the admiration flowed freely on this night.

Without ever dwelling on it or even stating it explicitly, all three panelists acknowledged to the desirability of complexity as well as the enduring power of the thriller genre. All three either disavowed the reality of “evil” or described it as yet another mundane by-product of human existence. Of his famous baddies, Leonard mused that he’ll think of one he’s creating “as a kid. He’s a bully, he’s a cheater. He doesn’t get along with very many people. And then I let him grow up.”

Happiest when his readers squirm, Klam offered, by way of Shalom Auslander, that “Light and Dark are buddies, and they hang out after work.” For her part, Oates, astonished at Klam’s glowing words about her book Do With Me What You Will, insisted that she is more accustomed to the critical reception of her cat, who has shown little interest in her works.

Leonard showed the same kind of word-stingy pith he does in his books, observing that he doesn’t like to know too much about his characters, “just enough to make them talk.” I don’t remember if this was before or after Klam demanded that Zalewski fess up to drop-kicking puppies.

It was a session so loose, you’d have thought alcohol had helped it along.

3290E9DC2463287615D013.jpg Matthew Klam, Elmore Leonard, Joyce Carol Oates and Daniel Zalewski
(photo credit: Alex Oliveira/startraksphoto.com)


Picked up Wild Nights last week but Oates genius in channeling icons is best served in ‘Blonde’.

So, re read bits, so many highlights in 800 page creative bio, but fave is conversation btwn Marilyn and Ava ‘Rat Beauty’ Gardner. Ava’s trying to convince Marilyn not to take the Hollywood game so seriously, suggesting it’s all a pile of bullshit, including the American crooner. Ava suggests Frank was such a girl to pop pills, men try to commit suicide with guns or rope!

From Ava to the new Veep, ya know, there are women that crash the ceiling by grabbing for the keys in the boys room, then there are authentic, independent types like Ava.

I’m with Ava. And Oates, for going dark, beautifully.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree