Eastman was Here

It’s 1973 and Alan Eastman—a washed-up writer, public intellectual, accidental cultural critic, husband, and philander—finds himself alone on the floor of his study, mired in an existential crisis. His wife has left him and taken the kids, and it feels like his best years are behind him. In the depths of his despair, he receives a phone call from an old rival offering him a chance at reclaiming his literary glory reporting on the end of the Vietnam War. Ready for his triumphant comeback, Eastman is met upon arrival in Saigon by a motley cast, including Anne Channing, an indefatigable young American journalist who immediately bruises his ego and steals his heart. Apprehensive of Saigon’s ever-present dangers (and sweltering heat), Eastman often finds himself cowering at the hotel bar, contemplating if the quest to pick up the pieces was a fool’s errand. With his second act off to a rocky start, will Eastman unearth the courage within himself and reestablish himself as the preeminent author of his time?
With novels like Emma Cline’s The Girls and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, we’ve seen a movement in contemporary fiction towards revisiting and reconsidering the 60s and 70s. EASTMAN WAS HERE brings this critical eye to one of the era’s lasting legacies: its brilliant, yet damaging hypermasculine and insular literary royalty. In Eastman’s story, Gilvarry both celebrates and dismantles the romance attached to the 1970s New York and its literary lions—Mailer, Roth, Bellow, and their kin. Bringing to life the political and artistic turmoil of this era, he punctures its romantic illusions with razor-sharp humor.


By Alex Gilvarry

Viking / On-Sale: August 22nd, 2017

ISBN: 9781101981504 / Price: $27.00


For more information visit www.penguin.com or www.alexgilvarry.com

My Review

To be honest, in the beginning, I was not such a fan of this book. The main character, Eastman was crass towards women. I could see why this may have been part of this reason his wife left him. He was not in love anymore. So, I almost put the book down. Yet, this was all before Eastman left. Which I wanted to see him in Saigon and in his element again as a writer.

I do have to say that Eastman grew on me. I won't say that we have become best friends. While, Eastman may not have had the highest respect for women, he won me over with his love for his children. Everytime I would start to hate on him, he would do something to make one of his children happy and to show his love for them that I would forgive him.

Than there is Anne Channing, reporter. She was a bit of a bulldog. Yet, I liked this about her. She made sure she could stand on her own two feet. The sparring that she and Eastman had was great. Eastman is Here is like a diamond..rough around the edges but worth it.



Alex Gilvarry is the author of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, winner of the Hornblower Award for a First Book, named Best New Voice 2012 by Bookspan.  He has received fellowships from the Harry Ransom Center and the Norman Mailer Center. He is a professor at Monmouth University where he teaches fiction.

Named one of the National Book Foundation’s prestigious 5 Under 35, Alex Gilvarry turned heads in 2012 when his debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant—a beguiling satire chronicling the tribulations of a Filipino fashion designer’s stint in Guantanamo after getting ensnared in a terrorist plot—garnered a chorus of critical acclaim. In The Boston Globe, John Freeman praised it as “lively” and “hilarious,” while Roxane Gay called it “original, smart, and incisive” on The Rumpus. Among other accolades, it was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice,” named a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, and winner of the Hornblower Award for a First Book. In his extraordinary second novel EASTMAN WAS HERE, Gilvarry, while employing the same mordant sense of humor for which he was praised in his debut, depicts one irredeemable man’s search for meaning in the age of the Vietnam War and the political and artistic culture of 1970s New York City. It’s a bold step forward in the career of one of our most brilliant emerging writers.
Q&A with Alex Gilvarry author of EASTMAN WAS HERE

Viking; On sale: August 22nd, 2017; 97801101981504; $27.00


Q: EASTMAN WAS HERE, your second novel, follows Alan Eastman—a washed-up writer, public intellectual, cultural critic, and philander—whose marriage has just fallen apart. In part to win back his wife and to revive his writing career, he sets off to Saigon to cover the end of the Vietnam War. What was the impetus for writing this particular story?


A: I was reading Norman Mailer a lot because I was invited to his house in Provincetown for the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony. Before going, all I knew about Mailer was that he liked to battle feminists on television and that he once wrote a very problematic essay I read in college called “The White Negro.” Doesn’t the title alone just make you shiver? So I started reading him to do my homework. The Armies of the Night (very good), The Executioner’s Song (twice as long as it needs to be, but good), An American Dream (just awful), The Prisoner of Sex (embarrassingly bad), and Harlot’s Ghost (gave me tennis elbow). It was very hard to find the sympathetic Mailer, but I was entertained by his transparent feelings in his work. Just counting all the phallic imagery he uses can entertain you for one summer. Machismo, envy, homophobia, sexism—he couldn’t mask anything, and because of the era, why would he?!

In one of his biographies I found a very interesting tidbit that stuck with me. That the New York Herald Tribune wanted to send Mailer to Vietnam in order to write dispatches on the ground war. The deal never happened, supposedly because the Herald’s owner didn’t like his out-spoken attitude against the war. I imagined Mailer would have turned his dispatches, had he written them, into a book, like he did with so much of his journalism.  

What would that book have been like? I wondered. Perhaps it’s a book that’s supposed to be about Vietnam, but then it turns out to be all about its author and his love life. I was going through a really bad break up when I was thinking about this book and I had my own crazy feelings that I needed to purge. So that’s how Alan Eastman was born.

Q: The author Liz Moore described EASTMAN WAS HERE as a “wry throwback of a novel that… [is] in the tradition of satirists like Kurt Vonnegut.” Your first novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, was also told through satire. What in particular draws you to this method of storytelling?  

A: My heroes were Woody Allen and Steve Martin. Then later Gary Shteyngart and Mordecai Richler. Donald Barthelme, too, a great satirist. You are what you eat. But what draws me is the emotional state humor, and laughter, can place you in. Especially in the written form. You are somewhat vulnerable after laughing. Therefore couldn’t I break your heart, next?

Q: Eastman has self-aggrandizing and self-crippling notions of masculinity. Can you describe what it was like to channel such a misogynistic protagonist?  

A: Well, a misogynist can never be funny, himself. Nor does he deserve to be considered interesting. The humor comes out of watching his ignorance and blindness. He is a fool. We are laughing at him, not with. And to see the fool through a certain lens, going about his life, thinking of himself as a great lover and thinker of his time, I found this to be compelling, and a way to showcase a certain truth about an era. Certainly the truth of gender discrimination. In the book, Eastman lectures a central character, Anne Channing, a war journalist, on masculine writing versus feminine writing. And on how women are perceived as writers, through the male gaze of a Man author. Or as Mailer would put it, a “major” writer, which always meant male. And I find this attitude still exists in our readership and book buying practices. I found certain prejudices in my own reading habits. This is a point made much better by Siri Hustvedt in her essay “No Competition” from A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women. I’m not going to mansplain what women have known for ages. Read Siri’s essay.

Q: The female characters in the novel are arguably more successful, more driven, and certainly more emotionally mature than Eastman, exposing and threatening his hypermasculinity. In this way, your novel is a nod to feminism and just one of the ways you puncture some of the romantic illusions still attached to the 60s and 70s. Can you elaborate on the role female characters play in EASTMAN WAS HERE?

I found that some of the best writing on the Vietnam War was done by women, particularly Gloria Emerson and her book Winners & Losers. A must read. It won the National Book Award in 1978. It was Emerson who I had in mind when I was creating the character of Anne Channing in the novel. I wanted to place Eastman up against great female characters, who are very strong and together, and Eastman can’t always see this about them because he’s too busy reducing them to sexual objects. But I do this on purpose to show just how ridiculous he is, and men of his kind. And the women in his life do threaten him in a variety of ways. Professionally, personally, romantically. Feminism was   Gloria Emerson such an integral part of this era, and men, like Eastman, were very threatened by it.             

Q: Even though the novel takes place in 1973, it feels completely relevant and in tune with what’s happening in today’s tumultuous cultural and social landscapes. Let’s face it, America elected a man who sounds less presidential and more like Alan Eastman every day. While writing EASTMAN WAS HERE, were you consciously thinking of what was happening in this country?    

A: Not so much with the election. I set the action at the end of the Vietnam War, where America is withdrawing from an occupation. So I was very much thinking of the end of our presence in Iraq. But why Vietnam when there are so many books about it? That answer is more subliminal. My father was in the Vietnam War and stationed at Than Son Nhut airbase. Yet he’s a very anti-war individual, an intelligent man when it comes to world conflict. I grew up with his stories and like many boys of my generation, a desperate need to please him. Maybe that’s why I engage with this stuff.
Writing, I thought about how Vietnam very much shifted into Cambodia with US involvement and the Khmer Rouge, just as the focus in Iraq has now shifted into Syria with ISIS. I hoped I would learn something from these parallels. The results have been costly and disastrous now, just as they were then. But this is only the social milieu, the backdrop, for what is essentially a love story set in two cities. New York and Saigon. Nothing blows up in this book. Eastman barely leaves his hotel, the Continental, that mysterious place where Graham Greene stayed and all the war correspondents in Vietnam after him.  

Q: In the book, you simultaneously celebrate and dismantle the romance attached to the 1970s New York and its literary lions, like Mailer, Roth, Bellow, and their kin. In your opinion, how should we evaluate the legacy of those writers?

A: Man, I love this period. New York still had Book Row and Elaine’s and Paris Review parties at George Plimpton’s house. Book deals were made at parties. Books were sexy, and had plenty of sex in them. You know what else was sexy? The Upper East Side. Go figure. I think the writers you mention have all said regrettable things or have had periods of scandal, and they all lived to publish another book, win a Pulitzer or National Book Award, no matter how bad their behavior got, personally or publicly. Of course things turned out fine for them—they were men! I address this very issue in the novel when Eastman meets Anne Channing, a real war reporter, good at her job, better than him in every way. She makes him face all of this male ugliness. But the book isn’t a reprimand or a chastising of WMNs (“White Male Narcissists” to quote David Foster Wallace). It’s a love story.

Q: When authors like Mailer, Bellow, or Gore Vidal were at the height of their popularity, they were not only writers, but public intellectuals, constantly debating the day’s issues—Vietnam, civil rights, etc.—on TV and through op-eds. For better or worse, we don’t really have an author today quite like Mailer. As an author, do you feel you have a responsibility to take up profound social issues? Should authors be more publically outspoken?
A: I think I have a responsibility to capture the time I live in, and many of our novelists take up social issues. If there’s something that bothers me, like Guantanamo Bay remaining open, I write about it. Sure, I wish some of our major novelists would dig in a little more and get dirty. However, Mailer and Vidal and Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag weren’t only novelists, they also wrote compelling non-fiction, reportage, social criticism. It was during a time when magazines would send writers, sometimes novelists, into dangerous places like Vietnam. Mary McCarthy went to Vietnam for the New York Review of Books. James Jones reported on it for the New York Times Magazine. What they wrote made them public intellectuals of a certain kind, first. Then came television. And it wasn’t always very successful. Just take a look on YouTube at Mailer’s appearance with Gore Vidal on the Dick Cavett show. It was a disaster!  

Alex Gilvarry will be appearing in the following cities in 2017:
New York, NY          McNally Jackson w/ Said Sayrafiezadeh         August 22              7:00pm
Westerly, RI            Savoy Bookshop                           August 24              6:00pm
Brooklyn, NY          Greenlight w/ Alexandra Kleeman                August 29              7:30pm
Chicago, IL       American Writers Museum w/ Augustus Rose          September 5                 TBD
Cambridge, MA         Harvard Book Store                             September 6                 7:00pm
Exton, PA        Wellington Square Books w/ Liz Moore         September 11                 TBD
Philadelphia, PA  Head House Books w/ Liz Moore                September 12                7:30pm   
New York, NY          Guerilla Lit Reading Series                      September 13                7:00pm
Brooklyn, NY           Brooklyn Book Festival                    September 17                 TBD
Brooklyn, NY           Franklin Park Reading Series                    October 9              TBD
New York, NY          Shakespeare & Co. (UES)                       October 16             6:30pm
Queens, NY       Long Island City Reading Series at L.I.C. Bar          November 14                 TBD
New York, NY          NYU Writers in New York Reading Series       November 16                 7:00pm



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