Bookslut has just published local writer Paul Morton‘s lengthy, thoughtful interview with Foggy Bottom novelist and essayist Thomas Mallon, whose Fellow Travelers is one of the better American novels I’ve read this year. I’ve totally cheapened the intelligence and depth of the back-and-forth by choosing the oral-sex question for the headline of this post, but Mallon’s answer does go a long way toward explaining why how-to books on writing historical fiction don’t advise, “More blowjob scenes”:
No, I don’t think it was this common, but I also don’t think it was unheard-of. I think to put an oral sex scene set in the 19th century, it would feel like a stunt, where you were making some exceptional point about the characters.
And kudos to Morton for stoking this somewhat testy exchange about Christopher Hitchens:
There was once an old bumper sticker: “Americans out of Vietnam. Russians out of Latvia.”
One person who doesn’t add up to people right now politically and who I think is a very morally serious person as well as being a very flamboyant character is my friend [Christopher] Hitchens. Hitchens is somebody who is trying to grope his way, day by day, conflict by conflict, article by article, toward a serious strenuous moral position on things.
I don’t see that. I think he writes too quickly to make that claim for himself. So much of his work seems like billboard notices.
He is a man of action, which I’m not. Once in a while, I’ll muse upon something politically. But what would me as a man action be? Working at the NEH a couple of years as a political appointee (laughs). But he is in the fray, and he’s a figure who’s exasperating to a lot of people. He has lost friends over politics, which is itself a sign of seriousness, sacrifice. I just think he’s interesting in that he gives everybody something to complain about. These Republicans who are so delighted to have him on their side where the Iraq war is concerned still have to put up with his book on Mother Theresa. And that in itself is bracing. His presence in the culture is healthful, as opposed to the blogging culture generally.
But I see him as very similar to the blogging culture. He’s a talking head. He’s a product of the media. He seems to have created a narrow focus for himself of being the secular humanist who is happy to do battle with Islamo-fascism where he just ends up making Blink-like reactions to every issue.
I think he wound up in that place. I don’t think he created that for himself in the way some people create identities for themselves in the sense of “That’s good business, I can brand myself as that.” His intellectual journey, moral journey took him to that place. And that’s where he is now. Being the kind of flamboyant, spectacularly verbal character that he is he isn’t going to be shy about occupying that position or defending it. I think a lot of him. I think the world of Hitchens. Aside from all else he’s tremendous fun, which you can’t say about many people who write about anything in Washington.