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October 07, 1997 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1997-10-07

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, October 7, 1997 - 9A

iNovelist Leyner gets playful with


By Jessica Callaway
For the Daily
Junior high is a bitch.
"It's the ugliest time in a person's
life," said author Mark Leyner in a
&cent interview.
"People are like larvae then. They're
in between childhood and adulthood
and their faces are sort of amorphic."
Leyner will be in Ann Arbor to read
at Borders this evening at 7:30.
Leyner's new novel, "The Tetherballs
of Bougainville", concerns a seventh
grade narrator inevitably named Mark
Leyner, whose junior high years are just
painfully self-conscious enough to
gake the coolest reader weep with
anpathy. He revels in the sweaty odor
of his low-slung Versace leather pants
after a long game of tetherball.
Later, he comes through a series of
awkward adolescent discoveries about
sex, life and the seductive propaganda
of puppet dictators.
To Mark's embarrassment and
annoyance, his father is unsuccessfully
executed by lethal injection, which
kes precious time away from Mark's
attempt to finish work on his screenplay
in time for the deadline of the Vincent
and Lenore DiGiacomo/Oshimitsu
Polymers America Award.

Ah, to be 13 again.
Those unexposed to Leyner's writing
may not remain out of touch for long. A
film adaptation of a previous Leyner
novel, "Et Tu, Babe,' to star Cameron
Diaz, is in the works
and MTV is plan-
ning a number of PI
spots featuring prose
from his most recent
After publishing 1
novels such as "I
Smell Esther
Williams" and "My Cousin, My
Gastroenterologist," Leyner has
become a minor media talking head.
Chalking up appearances on talk shows
such as David Letterman and writing
columns for George and Esquire,
Leyner has achieved a level of fame and
notoriety that has become rare for a
The author's media savvy aside,
"Tetherballs" is great fun to read and
features what is perhaps some of
Leyner's most hilarious writing so far.
The novel is composed of a faux
autobiography, screenplay and movie
"I wanted to use three narrative

forms that seem to be most readily
available to the lay people out there,'
explained Leyner, "There is a memoir
craze going on. And screenplays have
replaced novels for the ambitious young

Mark Leyner
Today at 7:30 p.m.

"You'll occa-
sionally find peo-
ple who say 'I'm
working on my
screenplay' in the
same way writers
used to say 'I'm
working on my
novel,"' contin-

ued Leyner. "Which is an odd and not
completely healthy thing. But it's out
there. It's a great form to play with. It's
a colossal amount of fun playing with
screenplay form."
Leyner said he was interested in
experimenting with the conventions of
film reviews, a type of prose which
most Americans are exposed to every
Leyner's trademark rush of product
names, celebrity references and intri-
cate scientific and technical babble cov-
ers late 20th century American mega-
culture like colored saran wrap around a
bowl of potato salad. Leyner continues
his usual rhapsodies of weirdness, only

this time they contain an element of
social satire louder than before.
For instance, describing a tome from
his favorite young-adult book series,
about a pre-teen who "invariably finds
himself mistaken for someone else and
then gets abducted by gorgeous women
who torture him," the narrator elabo-
rates: "There's 'Rusty Hoover Goes to
Law School,' where Rusty accompanies
his parents to visit his older sister Tara
at law school, and he's confused for
some pervert who's been sending
pornographic e-mail to fellow students
in his Patents class, and he's forced to
sign a confession in his own prostatic
fluid, subjected to pseudoscientific
experimentation, and flogged by
Professor De Brunhoff, a loose com-
posite of Catherine MacKinnon and
Lisa Sliwa, and her frothing acolytes."
Leyner described his position as a
social critic as "anarchic." "I'll target
anything," he said, "I'm like some heav-
ily armed lunatic in the middle of the
street, going after whatever moves".
After referring to his writing style as
"carnavalesque," Leyner deadpanned:
"I'm a carnivalist," adding with sar-
casm, "It's a new movement"
Taking inspiration from advertising
brochures (which Leyner himself once
wrote for a living), magazines and any
sort of modern cultural refuse, Leyner
talked about his writing as a process of
"getting very crazy and potentially
destructive ideas and incorporating
them. Things that could potentially ruin
a whole book. I'm willing to risk com-
Leyner said, chuckling, "1 will miscal-
culate and that will be it."
Leyner's own painful junior high
experiences inevitably influenced his
choice of subject matter. "I was the
shortest boy," he said, "There were only
three girls I could date, and two of them
were twins. It was very pathetic. And
one of the twins didn't like me, and I
couldn't tell the twins apart"
Leyner later added, "kids have such a
merciless pecking order based on phys-
ical height." Much of the personal
development of pre-teen-agers is a
result of their spending time alone,
according to Leyner. "The bedroom is

"The Tetherballs of Bougainville" tells the humorous, faux autobiographical tale of
one jaded junior high boy and one dumb sport.

the laboratory in which adolescent boys
invent themselves."
And why tetherball? "Tetherball is
probably the most ridiculous sport ever.
I don't think everyone ever wrote a teth-
erball novel before. I'm pretty sure this
is the first tetherball novel ever. It's
something I'll always take great pride

in. My great-grandchildren will know
that their great grandfather wrote prob-
ably the first and only tetherball novel.'
Perhaps Leyner has exhausted the lit-
erary treatment of tetherball.
"How long can you go on hitting a
ball around a pole before it loses its
allure?" he joked.

Playing "Tetherball" for all It's worth, author Mark Leyner has become quite a hot commodity with his latest novel.
Poet Doty makes mark 'on war against
AIDS with compassionate Atlantis'

By Jessica Eaton
Daily Books Editor
How do you reveal a life through a work of poetry? How
do you capture beauty in words? How do you honestly reveal
yourself without confessing your secrets? How do you build
on a theme, and still let the complexities of the interpretation
Wine through?
Through poetry, Mark Doty has
accomplished all of this. Doty, the PR'
author of four books of poetry and a
memoir, will be reading at Rackham
this afternoon.
Doty's work is intimate and moving . F
because it is extremely personal; much
of his writing is themed on his
encounter with AIDS and the disease's destruction and
redemption on various levels. "Atlantis," the poem from the
book of the same name, is just one example of this dramatic
*otif. ..
Wally Roberts, Doty's friend and lover, was diagnosed with
AIDS, and Doty was with him throughout his deterioration.
Doty looks at the illness in its stages, from his disbelief -
"not even a real word but an acronym, a vacant four-letter
cipher that draws meanings into itself, reconstitutes the
world" - through his attempt to forget, and his eventual


He views the unreadable future as a lost world "rising from
the waters again: Our continent, where it always was, emerg-
ing from the half-light, unforgettable, drenched, unchanged."
Doty's poetic style is full of metaphor; he captures the out-
side beauty and reveals the beauty of the inner life. In
"Atlantis," he observes a neighbor girl cradling a sick loon in
her jacket, taking it home to care for it and
® search for help. His only emotion is a
V I E W rather bitter phrase, "stubborn girl."
However, he recognizes that in his own life
Mark Doty he is exactly like that girl. He is stubborn,
Today at 4 p.m. and he is caring, and he will continue to
kham Amphitheater search for a rescuer.
Free His books of poetry have received the
National Book Critics Circle Award, a
Whiting Writers Award, and Britain's T. S. Eliot Prize for
poetry. "Heaven's Coast," his memoir, won the PEN Martha
Albrand Prize for Nonfiction and was named a Notable Book
of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, who rec-
ognized the book as "a terrifying and elegant document of the
age of AIDS?' Doty is currently a professor at the University
of Utah.
"What is description, after all, but encoded desire?" That
line is taken from "Description," the first poem in "Atlantis?'
Whatever description is, desire or notation or wisdom or
metaphor, Doty has captured it in his writing.

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