Paris in New York: Donald Antrim at the Review’s Literary Salon

“I think I met you at some Halloween party in the Village at some point, like ten years ago,” speculated novelist Donald Antrim to Paris Review editor-in-chief Lorin Stein.  The two are in Stein’s office (his since April 1) before the start of a cocktail party at which Antrim is to read from his unfinished novel. Stein has run salon-style parties since he arrived at The Paris Review—this is be the most formal incarnation. It’s also a reunion for the two men. Stein was at Farrar Straus & Giroux in 2005, when the publishing house was preparing Antrim’s memoir, The Afterlife.

It was that book project that kept Antrim from the work-in-progress he’s about to read aloud to Paris Review editors and friends like Giancarlo Ditrapano, founder of the literary mag The New York Tyrant, and The Public Theater’s Oskar Eustis. “I’ve been sneaking up on it again,” says Antrim of the novel he began in 1999, which he is calling, Must I Now Read All of Wittgenstein? “No one’s going to buy that,” Antrim admits of his working title. Antrim’s father, a professor or literature, studied T.S. Eliot; Jr. discovered the critical text on his bookshelf a decade ago. “I had been hauling it from point to point in my life,” he says. “The idea was to write a novel out of it.”

What differentiates the writing (about his father) from a memoir? Stein interjects, “If it were a memoir, the writer would be completely insane,” he says, speaking to the meandering monologue delivered by Antrim. The author doesn’t disagree.

What would one of Antrim’s sensitive, analytical narrators think of the scene at hand?  “Well, I for one, am totally excited!” Antrim says about the Paris Review‘s salon series. But would his character enjoy the attention? “[He’d] probably be watching it from outside a window,” Antrim says. Then, he reconsiders: “One of my characters wouldn’t be here at all.”