Charcuterie? Oui! Oui!” says Lorin Stein, the newly chosen editor of The Paris Review. He’s celebrating his ascension by taking his friends—including two of his writers from when he was a book editor, Sam Lipsyte and Christopher Sorrentino—out for dinner and drinks. This despite the fact that, as he notes, “I’m between expense accounts.” We’re at Belcourt, a golden-lit, half-empty, appropriately faux-Parisian East Village bistro. The New Yorker has cited its “vaguely literary crowd,” though Stein has seen only Donald Antrim (who first took him here) and Francine Prose. Stein starts with a martini, then is on to Grenache, Calvados, Jameson. His new publishers told Stein they were looking for “boldness,” but at the moment, his boldest statement concerns the headcheese, which he adores, Jonathan Safran Foer and his touchy-feely veggie pals be damned. “If you’re down with killing it,” Stein says, “then the least disgusting thing you can eat is the face. It’s almost an act of love.”
Stein dates his fascination with The Paris Review from age 14, when he asked his father, who ran a D.C. nonprofit, for a literary journal and was handed a copy. Inspired, he traveled to New York to interview John Guare (an old friend of his mother’s) and wrote it up for the Sidwell Friends literary journal in the style of the Review’s Q&As. During that trip, he also went to MoMA for the first time, and engaged in other, more rebellious firsts.
Stein, who’s leaving his job as senior editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Richard Price, Denis Johnson, Jonathan Franzen), cuts a tapered, aquiline figure, favoring J. Press ties, made-to-measure Lord Willy’s shirts, and Clarks. He pauses frequently in speech, either to refocus his aperçus or to allow the listener a moment to absorb the full weight of his pensive expression. He does this frequently when asked what he intends to do with the storied 57-year-old literary journal (which is twenty years older than Stein himself). His peers are editing scrappier magazines like n+1 and The Believer, unencumbered by legacies, but Stein—with his rusty Schwinn Suburban cruise bike and manual typewriter—has a fondness for an older brand of twee, the type epitomized by The Review’s indomitable stuntman founder, George Plimpton. He translates books from the French; he loves Baudelaire; he hosts FSG parties at the velvet-cloaked Russian Samovar. (But he emphatically parries Plimpton comparisons; asked if he’s up for trying boxing or football, as Plimpton did, he offers that he’s a good jogger.)
Stein got the good news while gazing out at the last blizzard from a dining room at Lazard, where the Review’s publisher handles M&A for the merchant bank. He’d wanted to keep his job at FSG, but the Review board wouldn’t allow it. Keeping a bookish quarterly influential in 2010 is no side project. Unsurprisingly, Stein wants to engage better with the web. The print edition currently has a circulation of 16,000, compared with Granta’s 50,000 worldwide. Sorrentino observes, perhaps unfairly, that the Review under Stein’s journalist predecessor, Philip Gourevitch, “reads like The Atlantic in a six-by-nine trim”—heavy on reportage and light on artistry. Stein avoids the subject, declaring that under his leadership there will be more dancing at the parties.
His friends are less inhibited. “All killer, no filler, more fucking!” shouts Alex Abramovich, referencing Jerry Lee Lewis. A writer who’s long been toiling away on a history of rock music, Abramovich is known for the ad hoc macho-nerd salon he hosted in his roomy Astoria apartment; Stein and Lipsyte were regulars. “We all sat around and punched each other in the face and gave each other blow jobs all night long,” says Abramovich. Actually, they mostly debated fiction, but unforgivingly.
“We love you,” Abramovich says to Stein, “but fuck you. They made the right choice, so let’s get drunk.”
That’s already happened, and at the other end of the table, Lipsyte is heavily slurring his praise: “He has impeccable taste, he’s incredibly daring, and he … doesn’t … give a shit.” The party moves to the divey Holiday Cocktail Lounge. Amid dour wood paneling and Christmas lights, Lipsyte mentions that he based a character in a short story on Stefan, Holiday’s ancient, big-pouring bartender, now dead. Stein admits he never really liked the place, and he’s the first to go, waving off another round. “I always know exactly when to leave.”