"The Russian Riviera" by David Bezmozgis

New Yorker fiction -- May 30, 2005 issue

blue light
Bezmozgis writes like a seasoned master, not a rookie upstart. In this story, there is no flash, no dazzle, no showing off or trying to impress. There is only the fluidity of deftly drawn realistic characters, a compelling story, subtle humor, and a sense of effortlessness in its execution. If it were up in workshop, I believe there would be nothing to say. We would adjourn to the Fox Head and toast the writer with pitchers of PBR. Hence, the blue traffic signal, which, ever since I first heard "The Wind Cries Mary" ("The traffic lights, they turn blue tomorrow"), has been for me an image of the rare and the unlikely. I guess for these reviews it will indicate the appearance of what, to me, is by all appearances Real Literature.

Because I can see nothing whatsoever to criticize in the story, I will not waste time trying to scrounge up something to make me feel smart. Saves me a lot of time this week. Does make me wonder who did this. Googling reveals that Bezmozgis has a book of stories out called Natasha and Other Stories, which certainly would appear to be worth picking up. He is a 31-year-old Jewish Latvian immigrant to Toronto and, somewhat obnoxiously, not the product not of an MFA program but of USC Film School, where he avoided taking any creative writing classes. What we have here is sheer natural talent, but far from raw, and surely Going Places. Velvet smooth, understated, chin-up honest, unflinching, unadorned, back-to-basics, the real deal, a Zen gusher spouting from that wellspring I myself lose track of ten times a day: the Beginner's Mind.


kclou said...

I liked _Natasha_ as a collection, but I certainly didn't love Bezmozgis there as much as Grendel does here. I'll have to check out this new piece.

Grendel said...

I may have been excessively weakened by three days of beer, movies, sun, and ideleness. But I don't think so.

Tao Lin said...

the new yorker really likes these voiceless, styleless, um, authorless stories

by authorless i mean that the story feels like it was written by a robot, or by committee, maybe a committee of robots

yes, there is no dazzle, etc.

which makes for a completely inhuman read, for me at least

cj said...

The critic James Wood is a big Bezmozgis fan -- he has an essay on him in his collection "The Irresponsible Self." There's some good stuff in that collection; Wood can be a bit pompous, but he's on the mark about a lot of what he says. Worth checking out.

Grendel said...
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Lila said...

Grendel, you just missed DB's reading at Prairie Lights. Sam and I went and saw him not two weeks ago. I didn't think he was a great reader--he's got that monotone thing going on--and I haven't LOVED the stories I've read from his collection, but I acknowledge he's the real deal.

Also, a minor correction to your post: although he wasn't an English student at USC, he did take a class with TC Boyle there. At his reading, he credited TC with turning him on to Leonard Michaels, who ultimately became a sort of mentor to him.

Grendel said...

Bloody buggery bollacks. I thought the name looked familiar. Ah well -- sounds like reading is not his forte. Really sorry we missed you and Sam. I emailed Sam the day after we got your message, but it may have been an old email.

And I'm not vouching for anything other than this story. Plenty of people seem moderately pro-Bezmozgis, but has anyone actually read this story? It's kind of long. I realize it wasn't much of a review -- more of a Plea to Read It and tell me if I'm crazy.

Tao Lin said...

i enjoy that monotone-thing

so good job, david

grendel, i do sometimes feel like a robot, so you may be right in saying that i am robotic

actually, i did like the story

i'm just saying that all the new yorker cares about anymore is story, not voice or language or insight