Enright Live

I didn’t mean to take the whole week off, but things have been hectic--more than that--around here. The one bright spot, however, was getting out to see Anne Enright read last Wednesday at Barnes and Noble.

This was my first Upstairs at the Square event and I was impressed. Over a hundred people were there, in the big, cavernous fourth level space. Enright and Camphor (the band she was paired with) shared the stage with host Katherine Lanpher. The tremendous beaux-arts glass windows behind them showed Union Square below, all aglitter from some ongoing police action.

The conceit of these free monthly evenings is to bring a writer and a band together for an evening of conversation, reading, and music. I was a few minutes late and arrived to hear Enright reading the glorious opening of The Gathering, in which Veronica Hegarty thinks about her dead brother and about bones in general: his bones and the kind of bones that small children (she has two young daughters) come upon, that we tell them to put down as unclean). As she concluded her reading, the band slowly came in, playing a few melancholy chords at first and then gradually building into a lush song about bones, how all we know and love is just bones.

It is so striking to come upon something like that, stressed and late, out of sync with the event. Was it pretentious? Was it cool? Was the song beautiful or just a touch too arty? I wasn’t sure, but it was good enough that I scanned the crowd for a more comfortable perch, found my friend, and sat.

Katherine conducted a great NPR-style interview with Enright: warm, learned, welcoming, appreciative. And as I figured out the style of the show, my admiration for the whole enterprise grew. Enright talked about the choice to write flashbacks set in 20s Dublin, knowing full well that Ireland in the 20s means James Joyce. Then both women blurted out really heartfelt and loving praise for “The Dead.” That moment made me love them both (Enright, Lanpher) all the more: it wasn’t literary one-upmanship (in fact, sensing they were getting too literary, Enright gracefully backed off a moment later). It was just a moment of acknowledging that yes, Joyce is a monument and some might say invoking him is gutsy or audacious, but, wow!, don’t you love that story?

The conversation turned to Camphor and their singer-songwriter Max Avery Lichtenstein. They played a second song, catchy, fun, and great; Enright read some more; they talked some more; the evening concluded with a second reading sliding into a connected song. And that was that.

It’s a very smooth event: impressive, well done, not amateurish at all. And such a pleasure to watch a great interviewer at work: it’s a skill I’d love to have. You can see the event for yourself on the web. (If the long link doesn’t work, you can go to bn.com and click “media” and you’ll get there).

All in all, as I said, a bright spot in a long winter.