One of the books I read earlier this year was the excellent short story collection First Loves and Other Sorrows by Harold Brodkey. Brodkey is a somewhat forgotten writer, known more for his stories than his massive novel The Runaway Soul. I was lucky that I had in my collection that was actually a reprint that was published by one of my imprints: Vintage Contemporaries. The series started in the 80s by Gary Fisketjon and they printed an impressive catalogue of mainly American authors including Don De Lillo, Anita Brookner, Richard Yates, Jerzy Kozinski, Anne Beattie and even Gore Vidal.
Here are some of the books that I read from this publisher that I think are worth seeking out.:
I Look Divine by Christopher Coe. I’ve been told that unfortunately this book is out of print, so if you see a copy, definitely buy it. This book, which was published in 1987, is about the horrors of growing old as a gay man. It is the story of Nicholas, who tries to keep looking young to attract young men. Unfortunately for him, his looks fade and he dies under mysterious circumstances. The novel is told by Nicholas’ straight brother. What amazes me that Coe was writing about gay men aging just as AIDS literature like The Beauty of Men by Andrew Hollern or Eighty-Sixed by David R. Feinberg were in the forefront of queer lit. It’s a short book that packs a punch.
Clea and Zeus Divorce by Emily Prager. This is a wacky and wonderful book about a married couple Clea and Zeus who are in show business and are getting divorced after 10 years. On their last television special, they dance and sing about their breakup. I don’t remember too much about it but it was wild and funny in parts.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mc Inerey. This book had the most iconic cover that Vintage Contemporaries published. It was a picture of a young man in a leather trenchcoat headed for the neon lit Odeon with the World Trade Center in the background. It was published on August 12, 1984 and it’s about a young man caught up in the NYC club scene. By day he’s a fact checker for a New Yorker type of magazine and goes out to party every night. What is amazing is that the novel is written completely in second person. For some reason I like it better than it’s West Coast 80’s counterpart, Less Than Zero.
Mohawk by Richard Russo. This was the debut novel for the Gloversville native. The town of Mohawk is Russo’s fictional version of his hometown. Like his most famous book, Empire Falls, the story revolves around a diner. I don’t remember the plot but I thought he painted a portrait of a dying town that was living in the shadows of it’s former glory. Since then I’ve read his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Empire Falls and Elsewhere, a memoir about his mother. Mohawk is a great place to start if you are interested in reading his books.
Finally, we go back to short stories with Cathedral by Raymond Carver, published in 1983. I remember that the book was well received when it came out and it became very popular. Carver had a style that was all his own, writing mainly about working class couples. If you like his short stories, you should get familiar with his underrated poetry.
I still have a small collection of Vintage Contemporaries that I want to read like The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, Airships by Barry Hannah, Dancing in the Dark, written by another forgotten author, Janet Hobhouse, Breaking and Entering by Joy Williams, Selected Stories by Andre Dubus and The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. There are other books in the series that I would love to read. One person on Instagram was raving about James Crumley, who wrote Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss, both Vintage Contemporaries. My friend Karen Schomer is a huge fan of a novel about boxers, Fat City by Leonard Gardner. Having read De Lillo’s masterpieces White Noise and Underworld, I want to read his earlier novels like Great Jones Street and Ratner’s Star.