The original poster for Jill Eisenstadt’s student play Monody (1983). One of the actors in the cast was Jonathan Lethem, who would go on to become a MacArthur Genius Award winning author. Eisenstadt’s long-awaited third novel, Golden Venture, will be published next year.
I’ve already mentioned that, for my current undergraduates, Bennington in the 1980s has the same mythic quality as San Francisco in the 1960s, or Bloomsbury in the early 1900s. It was a time of clove cigarettes and synth bands with New Romantic hairstyles, sketchy drugs from the Lower East Side, workshops with Arturo Vivante and Homer tutorials with Claude Fredericks. Many of them have read Bret Easton Ellis’s 1987 novel The Rules of Attraction, which uses the fictional Camden College as a thinly veiled stand-in for Bennington; Jill Eisenstadt name-checks Camden in her first novel From Rockaway (also 1987), and we’ve already stalked the pathways of Hampden College in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992). There’s a neat parallel between the shared references in these novels born from Bennington in the 1980s and the ‘literary incest’ that critics noted in earlier work by Nicholas Delbanco and John Gardner.
One of the real highlights from the Literary Bennington blog last term was the rapid-fire, free-ranging dialogue that one of my students conducted with the novelists Jill Eisenstadt and Jonathan Lethem over Google Chat. We learned, in conversations with Eisenstadt, that she’d written a play as a sophomore called “Monody” (typically for Bennington, she’d worked on drafts in a tutorial) and that Lethem had been in the cast–so we knew we had to get them together somehow to dish some dirt on the production of the play, on being writers together at the school during such a fertile time, and on the projects they’re currently working on.
Assignment. By now you’ve begun to immerse yourself in Kiran Desai’s 2006 novel The Inheritance of Loss, a multilayered, exquisitely choreographed, and keenly aware exploration of “the loftily covetous multitude” (Borges) from the Indian Subcontinent and its dislocations in England (the Judge) and the U.S. (Biju).
For this week, I’d like you to try and read through Chapter 31, that is, up to page 220 in the Grove paperback edition.
I’ve started a discussion thread about the novel in the Forum, so I hope you’ll stop in and share your thoughts!