Should John Wray be less fashionable?
Writer John Wray's third novel, "Lowboy," came out this year to high praise. In the book, a paranoid schizophrenic teen rides the New York subways as, in a parallel narrative, a missing person's specialist tries to find him. Our reviewer Akiva Gottlieb compared the book to iconic novels by Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem, concluding:
Wray's first book, "The Right Hand of Sleep," earned him a prestigious Whiting Award, and he was named one of America's best young novelists by Granta in 2007. In a profile this spring, New York Magazine called him "a phenomenally versatile writer."
He's a writer with serious literary credentials, one who, by all accounts, is due for more attention than before. So why wouldn't Esquire ask him to write some short-short fictions to accompany a fashion spread? And why, like any writer who needs to make a living, wouldn't Wray say yes?
The result, Esquire's Collected Short Stories of Summer Style, shows that sometimes it might be better to make like Nancy Reagan and just say no.
The four pieces by Wray are inelegantly written and belabor the obvious: Objects in fashion photos are sexualized, or they're meant as signals for sex. Fashion photos are carefully created to tell stories -- yes, pants hanging on a wall imply that someone is, sexily, pantsless -- and in each instance, Wray fails to tell a better story than the photographer and stylist did in the first place.
Clearly, Wray is a gifted writer, one who is willing to experiment with his writing. Which means now and then an experiment is going to go wrong.
Or did it? Take a look and tell us whether you think Wray should skip the fashion next time.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: John Wray. Credit: Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press