"I don't think anyone over 22 has that ambition," Kurt Andersen said last night, when asked if he had been trying to write the Great American Novel. One might be forgiven for thinking he had set out to do so; his new historical novel, Heyday, is 640 pages long! And it's full of Great American Novel-isms: a transcontinental journey, a group of young people (including a virtuous prostitute), the mid-19th century, gold mining, California, New York... yes, it's all there. Last evening dozens of Andersen's close friends and associates came out to Graydon Carter's appropriately 19th-century Waverly Inn to f te him and his book.
Much ink (virtual and otherwise) has been spilled on how to get into the Waverly Inn (call Graydon's office at Vanity Fair) and its $55 mac and cheese, which comes with shaved black truffles. But what became apparent last night was that the restaurant, in its new incarnation, is nothing if not a clubhouse for Graydon and his friends. (And no one was venturing into the back room, which has been deemed the Siberia of the restaurant by several reviewers and bloggers, though it seemed quite pleasant back there.)
So there Graydon was, in his double-breasted navy blue blazer with the gold buttons, his shock of white hair wildly akimbo, holding court at the edge of the bar, perpetually lit cigarette in hand. Various Vanity Fair editors demurred when asked if he continues to smoke in his office. Guests entered and made beelines for him. He was co-hosting the party with former Time managing editor Jim Kelly (Time, we hear, is publishing an excerpt from Mr. Andersen's new book in the next issue), and the place was packed with a crowd who all seem to have known each other, or worked together, for eons. There was Walter Isaacson! And Time editor Rick Stengel, and Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, and newly engaged Times exposer Seth Mnookin, and novelist and crazily prolific book reviewer Walter Kirn, who used to work at Spy with Mr. Andersen. And... was that Kurt Vonnegut? And lots of Vanity Fair staffers, and gal writer Sloane Crosley, who showed up with gal web publisher Elizabeth Spiers. They weren't old! They were the New Guard, perhaps?
The era in which Kurt Andersen set his book is one, he said, that Americans are not as familiar with as Europeans are. "In weird and surprising ways, it's a parallel moment to today," he said. "Today there's this high-tech, new media explosion. Then, you have newspaper proliferating like crazy—they invaded the country. You also had communes—well, those aren't around today." No?
We asked what else he was working on. "Another novel," he said brusquely. About? "It's not a historical novel. But I'm not going to tell you what it's about." We looked offended. "Not you! I'm not telling anyone." On his blog, he has written that he will be more careful about naming his next book, because he only found out recently about two other books who share a name with his newest.
Andersen is also a partner with Barry Diller's company in the daily email service Very Short List, which is now or is shortly losing its lead man, Simon Dumenco. "We did it because we wanted it for ourselves," he said. "I'm a clueless old person. I needed someone to tell me where to go." Well, at least he made it to the Waverly.
Before we left, we went to say hello to Graydon Carter. He said he was pleased to meet us, but his eyes said otherwise. "You have a lovely restaurant," we said.
You Can Call Your Book Heyday, Too [KurtAndersen.com]