Andrew Durbin’s debut novel asks what it means to belong to a place, an idea, and a time, even as those things begin to slip away.
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After Hurricane Sandy, Nick Fowler, a writer, stranded alone in a Manhattan apartment without power, begins to contemplate disaster. Months later, at an artist residency in upstate New York, Nick finds his subject in disaster itself and the communities shaped by it, where crisis animates both hope and denial, unacknowledged pasts and potential futures. As he travels to Los Angeles and London on assignment, Nick discovers that outsiders—their lives and histories disturbed by sex, loss, and bad weather—are often better understood by what they have hidden from the world than what they have revealed.
If a reader wants to know what truly innovative contemporary American fiction looks like, Andrew Durbin’s MacArthur Park offers an excellent example. Melding the essayistic and the dramatic with an ironic sheen and narrative depth that impress at every turn, Durbin shows what lies behind the public selves presented by social media, skillfully taking the social and cultural temperature of our time. The psychic devastations unleashed by Hurricane Sandy serve as a starting point for a story that carries the reader along its journey deep into the art world and queer life in the United States and abroad.
Andrew Durbin’s MacArthur Park flows and revels in the contemporary current. It’s wry, dramatic, cool, knowing, funny, sobering, a novel of unsparing consciousness that spars with the news and effects of uncontrollable weather. Durbin registers the temperature of our nights and days, with perfect pitch conversations and commentaries on pop culture, utopian collectives, the art world, politics, sex, emotions. He tracks the wanderings of Nick, his protagonist, who flees Hurricane Sandy; a stormy love affair; a troubled art community, and runs from Tom of Finland phallic fetishism in LA. Everywhere, Nick acutely observes the natural world of startling sunsets and lush landscapes, and always smells the coffee. Andrew Durbin’s first novel is as surprising as it is tender. It’s a beautiful work.
Andrew Durbin gives us all the information we will need to make it in the precarious margins of the art world: parables of love and drugs, evidence of the impending apocalypse, and play-by-plays of the cocktail and conference banter of the powerful. MacArthur Park is a mirror; it shines—knowingly, darkly—with the indelible indecisions of the early 21st century.
One of the few younger writers brazen enough to take up Gary Indiana’s velvet-lined gauntlet, Andrew Durbin steals from the master’s toolbox only to construct something entirely his own, personal or, rather, “personal.” Shedding poetry at just the right moment, he understands that the Weather Channel now delivers the news that stays news. The most fraught meteorology occurs when those fronts called the intellect and the heart collide.
Andrew Durbin is an attentive and astute observer of all things related to climate change, which in MacArthur Park is reimagined as a doomsday phenomenology of Weather—the weather of self, of landscape, of global capital. “My book could be about the weather when you’re hungover. Or when you’re drunk,” his narrator, an aspiring writer named Nick, muses. “I wanted to write about what the weather made people do—and the weather of what people did. Weather as politics. Weather as history.” MacArthur Park, a cultural almanac, crosshatches social and ecological disaster; examines art and art utopias. The novel is a prismatic exegesis on the tenacity and mystery of belief systems in the midst of constant breakage, flux, and storm. In a castaway present, everything is weather and Durbin is measuring the tides.
Andrew Durbin writes prose with narcoleptic tendencies, his sentences like sleepers suddenly jerking awake. In his new novel, MacArthur Park, Durbin’s protagonist Nick Fowler, a young poet who occasionally writes about art and is also working on a book, is trying to recall the details of a hookup. He knows he made out with a boy to the backdrop of a rising sun; it might have been snowing. Durbin writes, “All winter I kept thinking that it was snowing, though it was often too warm to stick or seemingly too cold to snow, and so the silver-gray clouds, like the underbellies of fish, kept their close, mindful distance, always refusing to break out of their steady overhead stream into an event. The weather did not like to make itself understood.” But Durbin does. His character’s interiors are well-lit, even during blackouts.
In MacArthur Park, a contracting network of Nick’s lovers and acquaintances are obsessed with this cynical query used by a faux-interested New York milieu. The question permeates Andrew Durbin’s debut novel. Will knowing what it is you do ground you enough to physically stay in New York City? “I didn’t understand New York, nor had I understood any place that I’d lived in,” Nick says. “Wherever it is, a city occludes itself in order to continue its propulsion forward, to widen and contract its social spheres, which overlap in communities and places…all tumbling in a cluttered revolution of the stuff of the city. MacArthur Park, whose title is, yes, borrowed from the Donna Summer classic, contains characters aware of the fact that New York is a modus operandi, one that keeps them interested but kind of miserable. They dissociate and blame their city for their emotional unavailability and career shortcomings.
Review by Evan Moffitt for BOMB
An Interview between Andrew Durbin and Lucy Ives
Bookforum talks with Andrew Durbin
Interview with Pitchfork
Andrew Durbin is a writer who lives in London, where is the editor of frieze magazine. He is the author of Mature Themes (2014) and MacArthur Park (2017), both from …