Monday, November 20, 2006

Flatbush Life and Kings Courier cover Richard Grayson's AND TO THINK THAT HE KISSED HIM ON LORIMER STREET

Flatbush Life and Kings Courier report on Richard Grayson's And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street was the subject of an article today (November 20, 2006):

'Lorimer Street' Writer Turns the Pages on Brooklyn

by Helen Klein

Here [is]autobiography seen through the lens of fiction, fiction created through the maze of past life re-imagined – not Proust, considerably less dense, for one thing, but certainly not the unProust.

This is not to say that the stories in Lorimer Street are inaccessible to anyone who did not share Grayson’s college days or his clearly not-forgotten youth. To the contrary, in some ways they are an evocation of the quintessential school days, the bittersweet portrait of the artist as a young man. Not coincidentally, the son of the narrator of the story after which the book is named, asks his father, “Hey, Dad, how’d you like a chance to relive your past?”

Not only do the stories fictionalize a past life, they evoke a Brooklyn of times gone by, a Brooklyn fading in memory as the old-timers move to Florida or die, leaving behind the vanished movie theaters and other borough landmarks recreated in Grayson’s book, written by him while he lived thousands of miles away.

Joyce may have been the first writer who dramatized the need to articulate his memories of his home from a vast distance; he is certainly not the last.

“It’s very much so that you have to leave a place to write about it,” agreed Grayson, who cited emotional distance as well as chronological distance as important elements in shaping memories for the translation into fiction. But, he pointed out, leaving does not mean abandoning. Throughout his adult life he has left the borough and returned, living in different neighborhoods for a month or a season at a time.

Which may be one reason why, unlike Joyce, Grayson doesn’t confine himself to the past. One of the stories in his most recent collection centers on a man taking his son to a concert at the Williamsburg hot spot, Northsix. Another is entitled, “Diary of a Brooklyn Cyclones Hot Dog.”

“There are a lot of writers who’ve written about Brooklyn,” mused Grayson during a phone interview that felt, many times, more like a conversation. “It’s different for every person because the borough is such a treasure trove of different experiences.”

Grayson’s Brooklyn was one not only defined by the movie theaters and branch libraries, but by the buses, which he rode, criss-crossing the borough. “I always liked to explore Brooklyn,” he recalled. “I used to collect bus transfers so I would ride every bus line from one end to the other, so I actually did see a lot of Brooklyn.”

Grayson has already written about the tension between the Brooklyn of 30 or 40 years ago and the Brooklyn of today, in the book’s title story, which, he said, “Is really about two Brooklyn’s. The narrator is probably around my age and he lives with his wife and his teenage son from his first marriage.”

While the story is set in Williamsburg, circa 2005, it features recurrent flashbacks to Canarsie in the 1960s, a time when Brooklyn was a borough defined by the middle-class families who had moved from cramped apartments in older buildings into newly built homes somewhat distant from subway lines, such as the one lived in by the Grayson family in Flatlands.

Now, he stressed, the borough is different. There has been a new wave of middle class immigrants, Grayson noted, as well as a massive dose of gentrification. “It’s shedding its destitute art student image,” he remarked, in a reference to a Post article. “It’s not the Brooklyn I grew up in.”

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