Page 2 of 2
Garner doesn't only hit up bars. He also goes to the few remaining Manhattan independent bookstores and browses around. Perhaps Housing Works is where he picks up the Martin Amis biography that he later bring to the Dalloway, "a new restaurant and cocktail lounge on Broome Street in SoHo that channels the spirit of Virginia Woolf." That's right. Garner is so in tune with modern lit culture that he brings a Martin Amis biography to a lesbian bar. I am not being sarcastic here. I think that's amazing.
Garner speaks to friends of his in publishing who reassure him that the problem isn't Garner himself, rather, it's the horrible reality of New York today. According to Daniel Halpern, publisher of Ecco Press, "The passion my generation felt about poetry and fiction has gone into food, I think, into making pickles or chocolate or beer.” Halpern also blames the Internet. And just about everyone blames "Brooklyn, where rents are cheaper." Yeah, cheap Brooklyn rents...shhhh! Don't tell. Soon all the writers will come out here.
Perhaps this is just my melancholic take on the piece, but I felt an extraordinary amount of sympathy for Garner as he wanders around from bar to bar, alone in his search for an elusive literary scene. He mentions stopping by places like Cafe Loup, where he used to hang out with Susan Sontag (deceased) and Paul Auster (Brooklyn) in the late 1990s, only to find that the lit scene has moved on. Sloane Crosley gently tells Garner, "New Yorkers have a delightfully narcissistic habit of assuming that if they’re not conscious of a scene, it doesn’t exist.” Which is basically the nicest possible way of saying, "Dwight, everybody you used to party with is dead. Probably of cirrhosis of the liver."
But Garner is apparently an optimist (which is a weird thing for a writer to be, but okay) and still believes in the possibilities of New York. He quotes novelist Walter Kirn, who once wrote, "My advice for aspiring writers is to go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests." And if all else fails, Garner advises, look up Gary Shteyngart. Apparently, Shteyngart knows that all you need to party is a bottle of shampoo. At least, that's what I took away from this particular Manhattan literary odyssey—all you need to have fun is a guy named Gary and a bottle of soap.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen