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Recalled to life.

Although I didn't originally plan to contribute to this issue, my name and that of Dalkey Archive come up often enough that a short note clarifying our part in rediscovering and publishing Alfau seems warranted to set the record straight.

Chandler Brossard is directly responsible for Alfau's rediscovery, but in a more indirect way than he indicates on p. 196. When I made contact with Brossard in 1983 and expressed interest in researching his work (which eventually resulted in the special issue of this magazine devoted to him in the spring of 1987), he mentioned some of the articles he'd written in his earlier days. I located his 1972 Harper's article "Commentary (Vituperative)," a diatribe against the then-current fiction scene; on the last page of the article, Brossard names the very "few writers whose work I regard as authentically fabulous," including "an almost totally unknown Spanish-American named Felipe Alfau, whose stories Locos, printed thirty-odd years ago, are in a class by themselves." We never discussed Alfau, nor did he loan me his copy of the book. But somehow Alfau's name stuck in my mind.

Two years later, in August 1985, 1 was visiting friends in New England. One of them, Richard Scaramelli - like me, an inveterate book collector - took me to a used bookstore in Marlboro, Vermont, called The Bear, housed in a former barn. There I spotted an unjacketed copy of the 1936 edition of Locos, and recognized the name from Brossard's article. Since Brossard's taste in fiction is superb, and since the book was signed by Alfau, I figured it was worth the ten dollar price tag. I didn't get around to reading it until early 1988, by which time I was on the staff of Dalkey Archive. After literally two pages, I knew this was a novel we should reprint; I showed the book to John O'Brien, founder and publisher of Dalkey Archive, and he instantly agreed. Since we had an unexpected opening in our fall 1988 list, we rushed the book into production.

I spent hours in the library trying to find out something, anything, about Alfau. Aside from a handful of 1936 reviews of Locos, I came up empty-handed. I searched the indexes of the New York Times for an obituary, assuming that the author was probably dead. Then an advisor to the press, novelist Thomas McGonigle, decided simply to look in the New York City phone book - and there Alfau was. McGonigle called him to express our interest in doing the book, to which Alfau agreed with some bemusement, and then I called him to close the deal. I was taken aback when he refused to accept an advance, so we agreed to use his royalties to fund the production of similar forgotten books.

O'Brien suggested that we get someone to write an introduction or after-word, and Mary McCarthy seemed the logical choice since she had praised the 1936 edition so highly. Somehow I got her Paris address, wrote to her, and was delighted to have her accept. She no longer had a copy of the book, so I sent her mine, which she lost when returning to America in 1988 to summer in Maine. (Miss McCarthy never did find my copy of Locos; I had to pay $50 for my second copy, though worth it because it has the original dustjacket.) So I sent her our page proofs and waited. The book was announced for October publication, but we didn't receive her piece until September or so, which pushed the book's publication back to the end of December. On her own, she placed her essay with the New York Review of Books, which had far-reaching effects. Many of the contributors to this issue learned of Locos there, because it wasn't widely reviewed elsewhere.

In fact, there were no reviews at all for several months (aside from pre-publication notices in book trade journals), but then two splendid reviews appeared in late spring of 1989 that would make a world of difference: Michael Dirda's in the Washington Post Book World and Anna Shapiro's in the New Yorker. These two, as well as McCarthy's piece in the New York Review, were not only responsible for bookstore sales, but also for a paperback reprint sale to Vintage Books and sales to foreign publishers in England, Spain, Italy, Holland, Germany, and France. (These are the sales, as opposed to actual bookstore sales in the U.S., that Ilan Stavans is referring to on the top of p. 148 of his interview with Alfau; our "financial troubles" at the time were the usual growing pains of a company expanding from a small one to a larger one, as we did in 1988-89.) All of this attention laid the groundwork for our publication of Chromos in 1990, which was more widely reviewed and was also sold to England and many other foreign countries.

I learned of the existence of Chromos in 1988 as our edition of Locos was in production. Alfau was reluctant to show it to me until he saw how we handled Locos; pleased with our edition of that, he sent a photocopy of the yellowing manuscript to me via Daniel Talbot. Contrary to what Doris Shapiro and Felipe Alfau say on p. 201, the manuscript wasn't single-spaced (except for the stories-within-stories sequences), nor was it uncorrected: Alfau's handwritten corrections appear throughout. His original title was Chromos: A Parody of Truth, which he had shortened to A Parody when he submitted it. I would have gone along with the original subtitle but didn't feel the shortened one was effective, so Alfau agreed to drop it. (In this and all other matters, Alfau was very cooperative, giving us complete freedom and responsibility for copy-editing, proofreading, and design, not so much because he trusted us than because he didn't want to bother with any of it.) Alfau made a gift to me of the yellowing manuscript in May of 1991 when I visited him with Ilan Stavans, who took the accompanying photograph.

Alfau is joking when he says (on p. 147 of the interview) that he repeatedly asked me to send the negative reviews as well as the positive ones, and that I obstinately refrained from doing so. Truth is, he never asked to see any reviews, positive or negative, nor were there any bad reviews. Virtually every review listed in the bibliography that follows (which includes every review I know of) was positive. The only item I didn't send him was Carol Iannone's "Literature by Quota" (Commentary, March 1991, 50-53), which pans all five of the novels nominated for the 1990 National Book Award. I don't take Iannone seriously - she lost all credibility years ago by panning William Gaddis as well - and I doubted Alfau would take any interest in her benighted views.

While most editors prefer discovering young writers and nurturing their talent over the years, I prefer rediscovering masterpieces that have slipped through the cracks of literary history. I look forward to watching Alfau's place in twentieth-century literature firm up as more and more readers and critics discover his work. We will lose Alfau one of these days, but we can't afford ever to lose his work again.
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Title Annotation:Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau
Author:Moore, Steven
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Words:1201
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