there is fiction in the space between
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“They leave, they go, the ones who believe in Jesus! I’m sure I’ve screwed this up, ’cause I really didn’t study this, but from what I’ve gathered on my travels, and occasionally sitting next to a born-again Christian on a plane telling me that I’ll be frying in hell, I’ve garnered that they leave! You know, Jesus comes and — I’m sure there’s more to the story — and he gathers everybody, they don’t go by bus, they just kinda whip!, the souls, they go whooooo! They’re gone, I don’t know where they go! And we’re here! And it’s supposed to be kinda terrible, but I can’t imagine it if they’re gone. That’s why whenever they say, you know, ‘Oh, it’s coming, it’s coming,’ I go, ‘Good, fine, let’s get there, let’s move on.’ One less commercial to have to deal with, huh?”

— comedian Lewis Black, postulating about the Rapture on
The Joy Behar Show


“Not actors. Real people with real opinions.”

— the small-print disclaimer which flashes on the screen during the new television commercial advertising the Total Pillow, a seemingly unremarkable variation on the classic U-shaped travel pillow whose TV spot features folks standing in a shopping mall and singing this product’s praises. (This probably isn’t that funny, but I found it rather amusing, as the implication here seems to be that other commercials of this type showcase fake people with artificial opinions. Incidentally, I ran across this commercial while watching an old episode of A’s new favorite television series, Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, which I wrote about on this site last April and which, he has implored me to inform you all, returns for its fourth season this coming Thursday night.)


“For me… you can write two types of songs. ‘I love you and you love me’: boring. It’s a closed loop. But ‘I love you but you love someone else’? That’s interesting.

Sting, discussing his theories on hitmaking with Oprah in 2003.


All the wire service obits I’m reading place his peak audience at some 24 million people nationwide, but please allow me to be the first to respectfully call bullshit on that ridiculousness: if you’ve listened to a frickin’ radio in the last half-century plus — and, honey, that’s everybody — you’ve damn well heard his program no less than once. And even though so few of us were fortunate enough to meet him in person, all of us who listened regularly considered him a dear, treasured friend.


American radio — hell, America period — lost one of the true giants yesterday, as 90-year-old broadcasting pioneer Paul Harvey passed away from unknown causes in Arizona. On some 1200 stations across the country, Harvey’s magnificently melodious voice could be heard twice a day — once narrating a noon newscast which was filled with blurbs both silly and profound, and again during evening drive time, when he’d pop up out of nowhere to deliver unto us “The Rest of the Story,” a daily five-to-seven-minute anecdotal yarn, generally about a famous person or event, whose brilliant gimmick was that you wouldn’t know about whom or what Harvey was speaking until the final sentence. (True story: I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading some of the best of “The Rest” to Sherry Ann over the telephone, from the two great books in which Harvey compiled his favorite such tales.) Staccato ramblings and intonations never sounded so good.


Literally, I can’t remember my life without Mr. Harvey in it. When I was a tender ingenue, I used to so love listening to Harvey’s noon broadcast (with its classic proclamation, “Stand by… for news!”) on good ol’ 1490 KQTY out of Borger, Texas, that I would actually mute “Days of Our Lives” for the entire length of Harvey’s show. (It’s hard to comprehend now, considering what a godawful war-torn hot mess that once-mandatory serial has degenerated into, but in those days, “Days” was sacrosanct, babe. I wouldn’t even turn the volume down on that show for my mother!) Such was my devotion to his magnificent mastery of his chosen craft.


And having recently gotten my own radio show off the ground, it’s never been more apparent to me how hard he worked to make what he did, and did with such gorgeous and breathtaking grace, seem so effortlessly easy.


Godspeed, Paul. My one wish, sir, is that somewhere up there tonight, for a change, the angels are telling you the rest of the story.



Because the books, novels and otherwise, that I hold closest to my heart are so vastly different, and touch and engage my mind and imagination in such profoundly individual ways, I have always hesitated to single out any particular title as my absolute favorite. (I fight no such quandary when it comes to authors: given the incredible consistency of the quality of his work, juxtaposed against the radical shifts in both tone and topic that each of his books portrays, I have no qualms whatsoever about calling the brilliantly sophisticated Jay McInerney — he of the yuppie touchstones Bright Lights, Big City and Brightness Falls, and the underappreciated blues-drenched mid-’90s classic The Last of the Savages — my favorite author.)

But if you cornered and commanded me to name the best book I’ve ever read, I would be hard pressed to choose a more powerful tome than Wally Lamb’s shattering 1998 masterwork I Know This Much is True. A sprawling epic which leaps liberally across forty years and two continents in search of the heartbreaking truths which carried one twin toward outright madness and the other toward a cruel, endless cycle of self-destruction, True has just been reprinted in a stunningly gorgeous tenth anniversary commemorative edition that now, in an attempt to both trace the story’s origins and map the book’s evolving legacy, includes both a new interview with and a new essay from the author.

A novel that literally smashes into a hundred pieces every rule of contemporary commercial fiction with breathtakingly reckless ease — at nearly nine hundred pages, it’s nearly three times longer than your standard beach read; its protagonist, even at his most sympathetic and relatable, is a maddening, unlikable son of a bitch; the narrative whirls in and out of multiple protracted flashbacks that are so densely packed with pertinent information that you’ll need a flow chart to keep it all straight — True opens with a harrowing, indelible bang, as Thomas Birdsey, a deranged man claiming he’s following a direct order from God, walks into a public library and slices off his right hand with a butcher knife. As word spreads about the incident and we meet (and, against all odds, come to care deeply for) Thomas’ embattled twin brother, Domenick, the story flashes back to the summer of 1969 (whereupon we witness the birth of Thomas’ dementia) and later, at the book’s riveting midpoint, to the summer of 1949 (when, in a crazy, mind-bending master class in storytelling, Lamb expands the novel into a parallel narrative, as we get to read the “autobiography” of Domenick and Thomas’ maternal grandfather, and past and future begin working in magnificent concert, one ever aiming to haunt and inform the other).

Don’t allow yourself to be daunted by its intimidating heft, physical and otherwise; you’ll not find a wasted page — indeed, not even a wasted sentence — among this book’s nine hundred. There’s no concrete way to describe this novel — which contains no fewer than fifteen interconnected subplots masterfully woven together into one of the most compelling tapestries with which modern fiction has ever been gifted — except to say this: I know that True is a gripping, extraordinary, landmark achievement, one that I humbly suggest may never be bested. And I know that in ten years, no other piece of fiction has even come close.