Heidi Julavits

Heidi Julavits has received the first major review for her diary/essay collection and it’s a rave. 

The Folded Clock offers all the thrill of that trespass, in a work so artful that it ­appears to be without artifice,” Eula Bliss writes in the New York Times Book Review. “This diary is a record of the interior weather of an adept thinker. In it, the mundane is rendered extraordinary through the alchemy of effortless prose. It is a work in which a self is both lost and found, but above all made.”

Bliss continues: “This diary is a diary in the way that Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater is a confession, or that Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year is a journal, or that Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book is a pillow book. Meaning it is, and it isn’t. The Folded Clock refuses one of the primary conventions of the diary: chronology. The entry for July 16 is followed by Oct. 18, which is followed by June 18. Time moves loosely forward, so that the final entries occur a year or two after the initial entries, but time loops and circles forward. …

Each entry begins with the same two words: “Today I,” followed by an action: “was stung by a wasp,” ­heard an ambulance siren,” and “thought I might educate my husband about birth control pills.”

Here’s how an entry printed in The New Yorker begins: “Today I fought with my husband [the writer Ben Marcus]. He is on a diet, not for vanity’s sake but because of a recent encounter with a scary illness. A person might think—given my own recent encounter with a scary illness—that I would unreservedly support his wellness pursuit. I do not. Until today I have acted supportive, but beneath my support a dark undertow lurked. I’d kept this undertow a secret from him. Instead I confessed my baffling hostility toward his diet to my female friends. All of them, I was surprised to learn, are or were once involved with men who’d experimented with diets for reasons of health. I discovered that the male diet is a potent relationship disharmonizer.”

Bliss observes: “After that first sentence each today pitches recklessly and headily into the essay it will become, a meditation on ­desire perhaps, or ghosts, or time. Today does not remain today, but ranges into the past and future, following an associative course guided by an unpredictable mind. The result is that each day feels very full, although little happens. And this fullness becomes a reminder of how a life can be improved by the passing of time. The Folded Clock is, among other things, an ode to maturity, or whatever you want to call that effect of time that enables you to understand Foucault now as you did not when you were 19. … It is happily plotless, though it is not without narrative, and certainly not shapeless. The book is structured around reoccurrences of objects, ideas, of signs and symbols that gather meaning each time they return. The intricate structure calls to mind fractal patterns or Renaissance sketches of eddying water, and the real achievement here may be that Julavits manages to make it appear unintentional. The order does not feel made, but found.”

Heidi Julavits’s Top Ten List

1. The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights (c. 1450).
2. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1874–76).
3. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1351–53).
4. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942).
5. The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon (1592).
6. Nothing (1926), Doting (1950), and Blindness (1952) by Henry Green.
7. How German Is It by Walter Abish (1980).
8. A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul (1961).
9. Ask the Dust by John Fante (1939).
10. The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (1957).

Ben Marcus’s Top Ten List

1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
2. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606).
3. The Odyssey by Homer (ninth century b.c.e.?).
4. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925).
5. Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel (1910).
6. The Waves by Virgina Woolf (1931).
7. Correction by Thomas Bernhard (1975).
8. Stories and Texts for Nothing by Samuel Beckett (1955).
9. Metamorphoses by Ovid (8 c.e.).
10. The stories of Flannery O’Connor (1925–64).