Ephemera: The '90s
Love me or hate me just spell my name right
Look who made the list…
While it seems Emily at Literary Hub doesn’t read my stuff, it was a nice shock to find myself on this list. My only quibbles are the lack of The Celestine Prophecy and Irvine Welsh. Trainspotting was a huge success around the world, a classic film, the launch of Ewan McGregor, and the comeback of Iggy Pop. Few if any books in the decade sold as well in so many countries and heralded Lad Culture, the age of soccer hooligans, and Maxim magazine. Welsh greased the skids for Fight Club’s success.
While my first novel was still a work in progress Tom Spanbauer arranged for us students to read in a small bookstore. All I had to read was the short story that became chapter six, so I took that. To my surprise the store focused on books aimed at a lesbian readership—those were the days when bookstores had to find a niche or die at the feet of Borders and B&N. I arrived and thought, “They are going to hate this story …”
People rushed the stage after the final words, everyone asking, “Is there a club like this for women?” All big smiles. The book was always meant to be a safe way for people to explore power and consensual violence. Structured, consensual violence. Writers are more prone to avoid conflict. We’ve learned to do everything from a distance. And I’d hoped Fight Club would give a lot of conflict-adverse people—including me—a safe, new way to discover their strength. I’m sorry Emily doesn’t get that.
From the antifa fight clubs (they were a thing) to the underground female fight clubs (a thing) to the Mormon fight clubs (a thing) to the kindergarten and nursing-home fight clubs (things, sadly), a lot of people found a way to give and take a punch.
When the film debuted at the Venice Film Festival, the director David Fincher told me that older Italian men stormed out of the theater shouting, “Fascism!”1
For a book that netted a six-thousand-dollar advance and sold out less than half of its first printing in hardcover, it’s had a pretty good run. I give you the LitHub ’90s list.
What books do you think should be on the list? How about How to Make an American Quilt?
In recent years the Rome Film Festival asked me to attend, and I went, and I cadged tickets to the screening of a documentary about the infamous Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. No big deal, I thought, and wore sweats, not even clean sweats, and I found my seat was in the theater’s dress circle two places away from the President of Italy. The filmmakers were also at my elbow, wearing tuxedos. Everyone else had dressed in formal wear and real jewelry. Romans do things right.
I’d read the Bowers memoir, Full Service, including the dicey parts where he openly depicts being a child and having sex with Chicago priests in exchange for the nickles and dimes they stole from the church collection plates. This was during the Great Depression, and Bowers were proud that even as a child his sex work had kept a roof over his parents’ heads.
Then the documentary actually went there. As the aged Bowers described the sex, the money, the churches, the audience noise began. The Italians made loud grunts at first, then shouts, then progressed to cursing in screams at the screen. Then they began to rise and walk out. The President, included. By the time the film ended the dress circle held only the stunned filmmakers, and me in my dirty sweat clothes. At that I could imagine the noisy response to Fight Club.