Gabriel Roth has just published his first novel, “The Unknowns.” His story of a young man who uses his tech savvy to gain business success but cannot quite succeed in love is being hailed as an assured and sparkling debut. With his own introduction to literary stardom in mind, Roth gave us a list of some other first-rate first tries.
Hi, I’m Gabriel Roth, and my first novel is “The Unknowns.” It’s the story of a computer programmer named Eric Muller, who’s very good with computers, and not very good with social interactions. He makes a lot of money in the internet boom, and then sets out to figure out the girlfriend problem.
Because this is my first novel, I’m here with a list of my favorite debuts in various forms.
1. “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” by Michael Chabon
Number one is “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” the first novel by Michael Chabon. The story of a young man graduating from college, who finds himself involved in both a bisexual love triangle and also his father’s crime ring. It came out in 1988.
He began writing it when he was 21 years old, and it was published when he was 24, and it’s pretty clearly the work of a young genius showing off. He’s using these crazy words, this colorful language, but it’s also exuberantly plotted, and the characters are beautifully drawn. And there’s something about showing off, when it’s done at such a high level, it’s no longer annoying, and it becomes just impressive.
2. “All Over the Place,” The Bangles
So the next debut is “All Over the Place,” the 1984 first album by the California rock group The Bangles.
Most people usually think of The Bangles from their big hits “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Manic Monday.” You realize when you hear this first album is that they began as a really tight power pop four piece with beautifully arranged guitars and harmony singing. It’s hard to choose a favorite song, because it’s one of those albums where every cut is a winner, but if I had to pick one it would be “Dover Beach.”
It really captures the feeling when you’re young, and in love, and innocent, and yet the pressures of the world are upon you. That album was the sound of love to me. Okay, that’s a little much, but it’s certainly the sound of teenage love to me.
3. The first issue of The New York Review of Books
The next debut I’m going to talk about is the first issue of The New York Review of Books. It was published in 1963, and it’s probably the best first issue of any magazine ever.
There was a printers strike that had shut down the New York Times and the other New York area newspapers, and so books weren’t getting reviewed, and Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers decided they would publish their own stand-alone book review magazine. They asked their friends to contribute, and for that first issue, they were able to round up essays by Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal, William Styron, W. H. Auden, and Adrienne Rich. And then just to spice it up, they threw in some poems by Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, John Berryman, and Robert Penn Warren. That’s a pretty good lineup.
You can still read it now. It’s on the New York Review website in its entirety. And just as a piece of mid-century New York literary culture, it’s unparalleled.
4. “Say Anything,” the directing debut of Cameron Crowe
Last but not least, we’re going to go with a first movie. It’s the first movie by director Cameron Crowe and it’s “Say Anything.”
For those of you perhaps you are seven or eight years old, it’s the story of Lloyd Dobler, high school graduate who is in love with the beautiful academic genius Diane Court, and I remember very clearly when I saw that film how John Cusack’s portrayal of Lloyd Dobler gave me a model of masculinity that I had never had before. It was a way of being a man without being on the one hand an asshole or on the other hand being a wimp. It’s a guy who is true to his convictions, who has a strength of character, but who’s fundamentally, basically a kind person and a nice guy who cares about other people, and who loves a girl and wants her to love him back.
I have always wanted to meet John Cusack and tell him what a big deal he was to me, but I’m sure he gets stopped every time he goes out to the deli, and some 40 year old man tells him, “You know, your portrayal of Lloyd Dobler really instructed me on how to become a man,” and he’s probably tired of it by now.