The novel received a starred review in Booklist today! Here it is:
Self-Portrait with Boy | Lyon, Rachel (Author) | Feb 2018. 384 p. Scribner, hardcover, $26.
Lu Rile is a struggling photographer working a series of minimum-wage jobs to pay for film and the rent for loft in a converted warehouse in early 1990s New York City. As an artistic exercise, she challenges herself to create a self-portrait a day. Self-Portrait #400, taken in front of her window, accidentally includes a child falling to his death from the building’s roof. Lu is horrified by the photo but also immediately recognizes that it is the best work she has ever made. Intending to show it to the boy’s parents and seek their permission to share the image, she instead finds herself under the weight of greif. Through Kate, Lu secures an opportunity to exhibit the photo and launch her career, but doing so will mean destroying their friendship. In her gripping first novel, Lyon sympathetically portrays Lu’s struggle to make this impossible decision and to deal with its repercussions.
This Christmas Eve my short story Tripping Sunny Chaudhry was republished in the very awesome Short Story Advent Calendar. It was really exciting to be part of this project. The editor of the calendar, Michael Kingston, kindly interviewed me about the story and my process. And I was amazed to look at Twitter that night and find that none other than amazing comedian Patton Oswalt (!!!) tweeted about the piece:
"Everyone's shitty. Everyone's hurting." If I ever publish a collection of short stories, I want Patton Oswalt to do the blurb on the front.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn included Self Portrait with Boy among their roundup of novels to read in 2018! They write: "We’re always up for novels dealing with artists and the ethical quandaries in which they find themselves, and Rachel Lyon’s debut falls squarely into that category. Throw in a detailed portrait of 1990s New York, and you have our full attention."
I woke up this morning to find that me and my book appear in a lovely little feature in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, or PAW. A few of my cohort acquaintances have been featured in PAW over the years, for instance my good friend the comedienne Nikki Muller, and the remarkable playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins. As a second-generation college graduate who had a difficult time in college, I feel a particular kind of emotion appearing alongside them in these pages.
What is such an emotion called? It's similar to how I felt sixteen years ago (!) when I was informed of my acceptance into that elite school in the first place. It's more complicated than gratification, prouder than humility, sadder somehow than pride. Perhaps there is a German word for it: the feeling of having been welcomed into a club where you never thought you'd be a member.
"When an ambitious young photographer captures an unthinkable tragedy—and creates an accidental masterpiece in the process—she is forced to make a choice that will define her future.
"Thick with the atmospheric grime of early 1990s New York, Lyon's haunting debut hinges on a single instant: the moment when recent art school graduate Lu Rile, broke and ruthless, sets up her camera for a self-portrait—the 400th in her series—and captures, by chance, the image of a little boy falling from the sky. The boy is Max Schubert-Fine, the 9-year-old son of Lu's upstairs neighbors, and now he is dead, having slipped off the roof of their building, a crumbling Brooklyn warehouse not officially zoned for tenancy. The building's motley crew of residents—all artists; who else could live there?—come together in the aftermath of the tragedy, rallying around Max's beautiful mother, Kate, and offering Lu, until now a loner, something like community. In the weeks that follow, Kate and Lu form an intense and complicated friendship, united in loneliness, held together by a flicker of unspoken attraction. But Lu doesn't tell Kate about the photograph of her son falling, the photograph that could—that will—fundamentally change the course of Lu's career, offering her an escape from both poverty and obscurity, a name and a paycheck. (God knows Lu, whose father is ailing, needs the money.) From its first sentences, the novel is hurtling toward its inevitable and nauseating conclusion as Lu chooses between her friendship and her art, a choice that wasn't ever really a choice at all. More than a book about art, or morality, it is a book about time: Lyon captures the end of an era. Lu, after this, for better and worse, will never be the person she was before the photograph. And as the warehouses get developed and the rents rise, the city won't ever be the same, either.
"Fearless and sharp."
Ryan Sartor, who runs the Difficult To Name reading series, asked me three short questions after I read with his series this past weekend. Read our brief interview about Joyce Carol Oates, Muriel Spark, and the beach: http://www.ryansartor.com/brief-interview-with-rachel-lyon
I have a personal essay coming out this week in Bustle. It's a first for me in many ways: my first piece on a website that gets millions of hits a month. My first public essay about my private self. And the first personal essay I've ever published and gotten paid for.
I'm so excited about it—but I'm also so nervous. For one thing, it exposes some things about me that I don't generally like to talk about. For another, it exposes other people—two people in particular, both of whom I've loved deeply. I wrote the essay in the first place to deal with my own struggles: with Valentines Day, with love, with relationships, with my own needs. But in the process I had to write about two of the people I've struggled alongside and with.
I sent a draft of the piece in advance of its publication to one of these two men—the one I've been involved with most recently. I told him he should feel free to tell me if he felt it misrepresented him; that I could change the piece if it made him uncomfortable. After reading it, he did say he felt it misrepresented him, but he also said that he didn't want or need me to change it. I took that to mean he recognized that I am writing about my own experience. Misunderstandings and misrepresentations are part and parcel of knowing other people. Sometimes the better you know someone, the less you really understand them.
I did not send the piece to the other person I talk about in the piece, a high school ex-boyfriend with whom I haven't really been in touch over the years. Although he and I live in the same city, he is married now; we don't hang out with the same people; we rarely talk. Is that why I didn't send it to him? Am I using as an excuse the simple inertia of not being in touch? I guess it's one reason. Another is: I don't feel he has so much at stake. We broke up when I was eighteen, after all. That was almost fifteen years ago. The boy I remember can hardly be the same person as the man who he is now.
If I sense a kind of defensiveness in my own tone here, if I feel the courageous and courteous thing to do would have been to send it to him—to at least have let him know this essay, which talks about him in detail, would soon be out there in the world—I also feel that to have done so would have been to make too much of it. Just as you must revisit a person intimately to write about them, to have written about them is to mark them definitively as past. Now that I have written this thing, I have put these histories to rest inside me. I don't want to revive them again by bringing it all up again between us, by writing to him and saying: Hey, hey, remember this? And, though of course I could be wrong, I doubt he'd appreciate it either. It would make it seem as if I required his permission, as if these memories were necessarily memories we shared. More likely our memories are vastly different in tone, in timbre, and even in substance.
I am reminded of the quote from Zola: "Art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament." It's a phrase that gives me freedom. My work is simply a corner of creation I've experienced, seen through my own temperament. It's a phrase that reminds me to give myself the freedom to express myself, and the power to preserve my own little corner of creation.
My short story "Florida" is live today at Joyland. I'm over the moon. Eleanor Kriseman is a great editor and I'm so pleased with how it came out. Take a gander at http://joylandmagazine.com/regions/south/florida.
I am so, so thrilled to announce that my story "Florida" will soon appear in Joyland.
There's nothing better than the feeling of finally getting a piece published after sending it around to what felt like a hundred journals! It happened so beautifully, too. The New York editor got back to me two days after I submitted it (!!), saying that she herself is from Florida, and was delighted by that synchronicity. It's amazing how insurmountably difficult things can seem before you have accomplished them—and how easy they seem to have been afterward.
Oh, the trickiness of time.
Stay tuned for "Florida." It's coming soon……………
Here's a thing that gives me great joy: My short story "Wham!" was performed by Damien Barnes at Liars League Hong Kong, a storytelling event where actors tell stories by writers. The beginning of the story is cut off in this video, but you can find the full text here.
The theme of the night was "Heroes and Zeros." Take a look…Read More