Before attempting to delve into the annals of critical theory, first I must comment on the title, “Adrien Brody,” because I adore Adrien Brody, the actor. I find him and his nose intriguing. I like the shadow-facets of his characters, and how he can bring a full body of darkness to his “good” characters. For this reason, Marie Calloway’s story, “Adrien Brody” (MuuMuu House), spoke to me from the title alone. I also like the aesthetics of modern technology within the landscapes of fictional narratives. I like when writers experiment with this and find new ways to creatively tell a story. I applaud writers who divulge themselves and others in a “real” sense. They are called journalists, memoirists, creative nonfiction writers, and they are to be celebrated when their crafts are true and their intentions are bigger than themselves. Likewise for a fiction writer, the intentions must be equally rigorous, true, and focused on the story. Always the story. To write any other way is masturbatory and easy and pedestrian and sloppy. And when a writer finds herself between the categories of the real and the imaginative, the possibilities are exciting, such as when a writer represents herself as a character within her own narrative—but here there is a backdoor danger. She opens herself for reader responses, not only to her story and craft, but also to her personally, as an entity aside from her art, and this is the place where academic objectivism becomes gray, where critical responses, perhaps more so than in other venues, lose the “gentleman’s code.” Apparently, the code has been lifted in response to “Adrien Brody,” as the code has been lifted for many online debates over form and style and story and writer “legitimacy.” Is it a case of digital diarrhea? Have we lost our good manners when responding to works because it is simply too easy to write whatever pops into our minds and then quickly click ‘send’? Is this an excuse?

Points of method and criticism: The reader-response critical approach, a subjectivist theory, presupposes that any story is a reflection of the reader’s perception; therefore, any response to the story is valid within the context of the reader’s response. I will repeat: any response to the story is valid within the context of the reader’s response. Caveat: as long as the points are taken from the text and evidenced by the text.

Primarily, I’m a student of deconstructionist theory. I like the notion that one analyzes a text purely on the form and craft of the text, but subjectivist and historical critical approaches work well within the landscape of “Adrien Brody,” as the author has entered herself purposefully within the context of the story, and so therefore to exclude the author as part of the story, or, in other words, study it purely through a deconstructionist lens, would exclude a major intention of the story. One might question whether the story wants to be a metafiction. Perhaps, but at no point in time am I convinced that Calloway functions on a self-aware level or from a truly critical perspective within the story. She lacks the voice of it, and so the metafiction, if attempted, has failed aesthetically or was never truly an intention. One more point of method: Calloway introduces feminist theory as an element of discussion, and so therefore it is appropriate to consider the story through psychological and historical lenses.

A little background for anyone who has not been following the “Adrien Brody” and Marie Calloway media spike. Marie Calloway is pseudonymous. She writes herself as a character within the story alongside Adrien Brody, who is a fictionalized version of a real, male, New York writer. To put it another way: according to the story and an article written in the New York Observer, “Adrien Brody” is a fictionalized account of a real incident. Is there anything new about this? No. “Marie Calloway” in the story is a fictionalized version of Marie Calloway the writer of the story. Anything new about this? No. The interest is in the “real incident” involving “Marie Calloway” soliciting sex from “Adrien Brody,” an older male writer in New York. Would this be new or exciting if the incident were completely fictional? No. Is it slightly more interesting because the writer, Marie Calloway, is a young, cute, sexually promiscuous woman who is writing explicitly about her sex solicitation of an older male writer in New York? Yes.

Here is a base pulse point: Marie Calloway lies on a bed while finger painting her face with Adrien Brody’s ejaculate. Here is an academic point: Marie Calloway attempts to have a smart discourse with Adrien Brody about Marxism, literature, and feminism. Here is a cringe point: Marie Calloway cries and whines in the end when Adrien Brody, a man she’s just met and solicited sex from, pulls his penis out of her, leaves her on the bed, puts his pants on, and says goodbye.

It is difficult to see Calloway as self-realized. She lacks an internal and external discussion that would otherwise take her character past sex object and into some deeper version of herself. Calloway is “nail polish and thigh high socks” and sophomoric philosophizing. She is ejaculate on her face. Is the reader to accept that Calloway’s shallowness, her act of spreading ejaculate around her cheeks and forehead, face painting, as gritty reality and therefore necessary because the writer may have really lain on a bed spreading ejaculate across her face?

Many women have lain with ejaculate on their faces without telling the story because they were afraid or too traditional or simply unconvinced that ejaculate on the face was enough to hold a scene. Finger painting ejaculate on one’s face is certainly promising but easily written for an immature man’s benefit. Ejaculate must be necessary to move past its childishness. I must admit, when reading the story I called into question the details of the face painting. To envision a woman, even a young, stupid woman, finger painting her face with sperm, requires sustained disbelief. We are to believe Calloway, the character and possibly the writer, lay on a bed while essentially a strange man watched her paint herself with a sperm mask. It would take a bit of doing and focus to move the ejaculate around, avoid the eye areas, and if she did not, wouldn’t the eyelids stick? How far did she go into the nostril? These are the details that plague me, and it occurs to me how darkly comedic the scene could have been if Calloway had truly contemplated the absurdity of the behavior, taken a moment to “see” herself—but she does not.

And wouldn’t it seem awkward or strange to watch a woman doing this? Would it not strike a man, even a man with fetishes, to watch a woman finger painting herself with his ejaculate? If it turns him on, I would suspect he would have more range in gesture than a “smile.” Might there not have been more awkwardness than face tightening? This and more call into question the reality of the story. Is the face painting a fictionalized version of the incident? Is the face shooting a fictionalized version of the incident? As I try to discern the “real” from the “fiction,” I must ask if the story holds my attention based on story or the background to the story or what the story might have been. Is this the direction of literature? Truly, I could see an interesting scene with a woman finger painting herself with ejaculate. It could be really and truly absurd in a Swiftian way, but the absurdism and the satire do not fully play out here. The scene stops with a smile and a bar of soap and a covered mirror and not enough interesting monologue to flesh it. How I would have liked to have seen Calloway view her reflection at that moment. It might have given her a more complicated and interestingly awkward self-concept, which is the reason to write experiences at twenty-one, but then I question whether she was twenty-one. Her language, emotionally, speaks of high school girl seeking father figure to me, which brings me to the first psychological criticism, Freudian.

Here is “Adrien Brody” through a Freudian lens: Calloway wanted to fuck her father. She flew to New York City to fuck a version of her father who has a name similar to an actor with an interesting nose and a lot of talent. Neither Calloway nor the actor nor the nose are real, but rather, projected versions of her father, whom she has never grown out of wanting to fuck. Next…

Lacanian criticism provides something of a more promising canvas for considering Calloway’s narrative, prose style, and structure. We can at least break the language down and analyze the parts of Calloway and her lover and the poor, betrayed nineteen-year-old virgin, Patrick, whom Calloway has fucked and jilted and never confronted. We consider the missing pieces of the story as evidence of Calloway’s Lacanian or unrequited desires, how their absences feed and drive the narrative, and the potential of this in Calloway’s voice is certainly evident; however, it is again unfulfilled because the missing pieces are the pieces that might have given the story fully realized narratives, characters, and voices—as opposed to a confessional journalistic shtick.  And remember the confessional journalism is form, not style, because we are asked to accept this piece as a version of the writer’s reality—but no, it’s fiction, but no, it happened. Really. Pick one. So the voided pieces, the voided desires, are the essential points we would need in order to view the depths of Calloway’s motivations and internal conflicts that would otherwise drive the rest of the story, such as how Calloway would handle a confrontation with Patrick, especially since Calloway implicates Patrick in her tryst in a more than ancillary way. Patrick’s involvement wants to be more, so we can see Calloway face herself, but we’re left with texting and a girl’s promiscuity and “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” aesthetic. To introduce Patrick so prominently and then avoid him might be a comment on Calloway’s Lacanian desire to avoid the discussion of, What the hell are you doing? Except we never truly get to this resolution in the end, and I’m not convinced the story does enough on its own to suggest it as a reader-perceived dénouement. Still, this would all be fine if settled within a well-rendered confessional journalism framework of character perceptions and realities.  But I must admit to having difficulty settling into a Taylor Swift dialogue, both interior and exterior.

And then he texted me.

My hands began to tremble.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…” I repeated over and over.

“Back in city. This is Adrien Brody. Must determine where to meet. Where are you?”

I immediately forwarded it to Patrick and closed my phone shut. (Calloway)

A moment on structure. While I applaud Calloway’s unrefined style on a theoretical level, I have difficulty anchoring into the application of it here. If we are to accept action beats as traditional structures, immediately preceding or following dialogue as in the above excerpted third line, then what is the significance of the second line? Is the clause “My hands began to tremble” so well-turned that it requires a line break and the reader’s attention? Couldn’t a twenty-one year old character, who is a writer—a writer—find a more interesting style of colloquialism for her narrative voice? I’m not saying Ellen Page level, but something memorable for its color rather than laziness and Eighties-style “like.” Also, do we need the “over and over” after “repeated”? Do we need the “shut” after “closed my phone”? Calloway is a writer, writing this story, literally and imaginatively. The issue, for me, isn’t the use of informal “teenage” prose, style, and structure as a character’s voice, but rather having to live with it throughout an entire story as the only viewpoint.  When offered in a new and interesting way, I can appreciate a young woman’s characterization rendered at a teenage, emotionally stunted level; however, the extended use of it here does not hold my attention stylistically or conceptually but rather in a “is this really what everyone is talking about?” kind of way. This stunted voice is the lone internal and external point of view, essentially making it the style and concept for all character arcs. Calloway is no J.D. Salinger/Holden Caulfield. So this then begs the question:  Is “Adrien Brody” really a literary work for an adult audience? Or is it truly a piece of confessional journalism trying to be adult-oriented but told in a voice intended for young adults? Does this piece have an audience?

Yes, it does. Jungian criticism suggests readers share common histories and structures, and so readers look for archetypes most familiar to them within stories. Likewise, the voice in “Adrien Brody” shares a common history and structure with a text and its “Oh my god” readership. It certainly shares a thread with some writers today, namely the Tao Lin-ites. I would suggest, however, that a story might seek some sort of humanity and commonality past its sub-demographic style and concept in order for it to be considered “literature.” I applaud the inclusion of text and “Oh my god” characterizations and perceptions within any story that calls for it, and Calloway certainly has this voice.  But to limit the aesthetic of the entire story to this voice is to limit the story. It is the writer’s craft to sit with a story until the full weight of its voice comes through. If the full weight of a story’s voice is text and “Oh my god,” perhaps the full realization of the story’s characters is still hiding somewhere in the midst.

Example: When Calloway shops for nail polish and lingerie, many women, young and old and in between can relate to this, but a woman with some spark of intelligence certainly contemplates the necessity of nail polish and lingerie as she shops for it. When a woman buys a gorgeous pair of three-inch heels, dare I say she would have a conversation with herself about the logistics of wearing them? Some women laugh at themselves. Some rationalize that heels are good for the calves. Some justify heels as pretty luxuries and necessities in the face of expectation and a ‘woman on woman’ fight for the perfect man—but still, we have the discourse. We see the irony and hypocrisy. The most interesting discourse happens when our hypocrisies, our surfaces and luxurious, competitive selves win.

Calloway, as a character within this narrative, must take on these considerations if she is to be even slightly complicated in a “third wave feminism” way. She says she’s a writer. She speaks about ideas she’s learned in college. She must have a brain in there somewhere. If neither the protagonist nor author, written as protagonist, are complicated in a self-realization way, why is the story necessary? Calloway seeks to bridge this self-realization and academic prowess by trying to have philosophical discussions with her Adrien Brody, but they are pedestrian and ill-rendered, something every writer has seen since first year creative writing workshops. If this is the intended aesthetic, then the piece is written specifically for a writing crowd who remembers what it’s like to think we are smarter than we are. But we already know Calloway is this version of us. She’s already proven it repeatedly throughout the narrative, so what do the “academic” dialogues between Calloway and Brody add to the story? Oh, right. This all happened. The story elements don’t need to be necessary. They happened. But where are the facts? Oh, well, it’s fiction.

A short aside on Adrien Brody’s nose: Where is it? Maybe I missed it, but as a reader, when I see Adrien Brody in a title, I want a memorable, smartly rendered response to the nose, even if veiled. This is what might have made the use of the actor’s name necessary and interesting. Brody’s nose is what makes him visually stunning on the screen, not so much his gangliness. Without the nose, he would be another skinny, talented, pretty actor. The nose gives him a visual edge. I could stare at his nose for days. The nose has become archetypal for me like magical face powers, ugly-beautiful. It deserves a cape and boots and shit like that. Barbra Streisand, W.C. Fields, Ringo Starr. Hell, even Gogol wrote about a nose. The lack of nose in “Adrien Brody,” in my Jungian perspective, was a missed opportunity.  Of course, the nose and its archetypal tradition may be before Calloway’s time. Or perhaps I’m supposed to take away an “as plain as the nose on her face” aesthetic, but I would hate to think that on top of everything else, the story hinges on a reader-perceived cliché. Or maybe it was just a case of an editor suggesting the author replace the “real” character with a celebrity at the last minute.

Back to “third wave feminism.” It is the internal conflict of ‘woman as sex’ and ‘woman as thinker’ that makes a story about ‘woman and sex’ interesting. When Calloway chooses to buy the nail polish and lingerie and paint herself with ejaculate, she is essentially betraying a deeper, more logical part of herself, a common and familiar betrayal for many women—but Calloway does not introduce this into the narrative. That Calloway comes to some realization at the end, while she’s crying and whining on the bed, is not so interesting to me. I want her to knowingly and deeply abuse herself along the way while making traditional, whorish choices. One might call it Femogyny or a female’s objectification of herself, and Calloway would have been so beautifully broken in this capacity.  And yet we never truly get to see her there because the extent of Calloway’s self-efficacy along the way is “Oh my god,” and by the way, I know the words “third wave feminism.”

From a Jungian perspective, Calloway’s use of feminism while either avoiding or not knowing enough to authoritatively write to the history and structure is difficult acceptance for her prescribed readership. Or perhaps it is Lacanian conceit. Calloway desires the knowledge she doesn’t have. But this is a joke on Calloway, not with Calloway. Yes, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft… They are all rolling.

I cringe in applying a Marxist lens to “Adrien Brody,” but I’ll try. Some might view the male and female positions in society and art as still being sectioned into something like “classes.” Truly, the divide has not yet been filled, so I would agree in a sectioning of gender in regards to economy, art, education, politics, and so on. Marxist theory might suggest many views in regards to “Adrien Brody,” but the one that comes to mind is how the story represents a particular section of society now. Does “Adrien Brody” speak to gender and class, art, economy, education, politics, in a way that reaches beyond the aesthetic of its point of view character, this  feminist whore who denies self-realization and abhors writers and their “…bragging…ambition…how they want to become rich and famous through writing”? I’m not convinced Calloway’s comment on writers is true and self-realized or simply a veiled reflection of the expressed sentiment. It reads as a comment on everyone but herself and this strikes me as flat and unfulfilled, especially when given from a writer’s perspective.  I don’t know if Calloway’s self-realization, in the end, truly speaks to the depth of her experiences. She lies on the bed, crying. This is a child to me, crying because her candy has been taken away, not a woman who finally realizes what her own choices have taken away. A child does not have the wherewithal to understand the consequences of her actions, and therefore, this makes Adrien Brody emotionally pedophiliac by some standard. Yet, he is no Humbert Humbert.

One might consider it all an absurdist satire, a comment on the state of writers and gender and art and society, but then I ask if the story operates on a Candide or O level? I would suggest that, though it wants to, the plot doesn’t really take the reader into absurd or satirical places. The dialogue attempts to explore gender relations and philosophies on surface beauty versus intellectual importance (as evidenced by ejaculate on the face), but it’s all a forced dialogue that is unbelievable between two people brought together by sex. Not enough negative space between them, this older male writer and this twenty-one-year-old. And on the other hand, the landscape is too common to meet its suggestion of absurdism. Young woman writer travels to New York to fuck an older, more accomplished writer based on some fantasy of really great, artistic sex? An artistic melding? The opportunity to have an older, male writer confirm her? Or just to fuck? Or maybe that it’s sex with an older writer in New York as told through texting? If you want to publish a story in New York, then you are more likely to publish a story if it is about fucking in New York. There’s nothing new or breathtaking about any of this conceptually, and the texting doesn’t hold enough artistic interest to make the story necessary from a postmodern or structural basis. This sex and art and “the big man” has been a central female narrative for generations of master writers, prosaists and poets alike. Shelley, Chopin, Wharton, Plath, Bradstreet, Atwood, Oates, Beattie, Akers, Gaitskill… Did we need “Adrien Brody,” too? I love to see a classic narrative brought into a contemporary landscape when it’s well done, but the landscape must be worth the story.

We’ll end on what is probably the most important critical lens as related to “Adrien Brody”: Feminist. Only because Calloway seems to see herself as the whore feminist—or at least she’s been painted as such by other readers. For me, this is somewhat laughable. Not the whore part. Many third wave feminists and those who call themselves postfeminists would accept however a woman would choose to identify. The issue with “Adrien Brody” as Feminist art/commentary is that the story doesn’t push any edges in this regard. So Calloway lets a man come on her face. She considers not washing it away with soap. She throws out terms like subjectivism and third wave feminism. These are not the conflicts of edge and introspect. They might be if given a larger framework, as opposed to a first-year discussion on third wave feminism, but instead, the story is written on the edges that have already been pushed by voices with more intricate language and more fully developed characters. “Adrien Brody” lies flat and within the safe borders, behind the lines. It’s the equivalent of a war correspondent’s article about a scouting detail when the correspondent has never seen the front line but has only read about it—but she did fuck a general, once, in the mess tent.

Marie Calloway goes to New York in pursuit of sex with an older male writer. The most provocative part of this would have been her realization of her self-objectification and struggling with this expressively so that the reader could struggle expressively with her. Sleeping with an older male writer, letting him “[shoot] a load” on her face is one of the easiest things for a young female writer—especially, an escort… oh right, this is fiction—with low self-esteem and an ambition complex to do. Where is the challenge? The conflict? From a Feminist perspective, why is this choice Calloway makes important to me and our gender? How does it push, in new ways, at the comfort levels of what women and men see as gender and society? And what does the “real” in this story add to the story other than a gimmick to make people think that Calloway, the fake name for the author and protagonist, pursued Adrien Brody, the important writer with a famous actor’s name?  “I raised my head, and I saw Adrien Brody was looking at me. I could tell he had seen the whole thing.” The whole thing being the loss of a shoe? Self-doubt as to beauty and first-impressions? Is this the “whole thing”? That he “saw” her? Or maybe the whole thing is the sexual encounter.

He moved so he was on top of me. He caressed and then sucked on my breasts. Then he moved to rub his cock between my breasts which was funny to me.

Oh, serious intellectuals are the same as 13 year old boys.

Then he moved his head down until it was between my thighs.

He went down on me for a few minutes, and I faked moaned, pretending to enjoy it.

“Can you like, finger me while you do that?”

So he did, and then I started to enjoy it.

He came up and I kissed him, which I could tell he found exciting.

Does the turn of sex between Calloway and Brody truly rest on the link between his boyishness and intellectualism? Or is it that Calloway would kiss Brody with the lingering smell and taste of her own genitalia on his lips? Is this new and exciting? No. Writing sex is a craft all its own. Writing sex as literary is probably one of the most difficult forms within the spectrum. The language Calloway attempts is a cross-section of stunted self-objectified woman and intellectual subjectivist, and falls short of self-efficacy. Where does Calloway’s self-realization rest? In the sperm on her face? The whininess in her voice when she asks Brody to sit with her rather than read his emails?

If the story had been written purely journalistically, a Cather or Hemingway-esque minimalism, then the reader would experience Calloway’s point of view through gesture and action and be allowed a broader interpretation, which could have certainly offered more, depending on the reader’s aesthetic and life experiences, but Calloway constantly gives her opinions and internalized viewpoints on ejaculation and shopping and first-year feminism. She is able to externalize discussions, yet not able to have these discussions with herself. This might be an interesting concept if I cared about her, but her voice is that of teeny-bopper-“like…yuckey”-sophomoric-intellectual.

I see possibilities for the devices Calloway plays at. The “real” and fictional play. The attempts to write sex with a “real” aesthetic. The behind-the-lines attempts to discourse on gender are admirable and should be continued, but I don’t see where this story is necessary in a literary or artistic or pushing past the gender lines sense. “Text” writing, for text writing’s sake, is not a form that speaks necessity to me. A stunted female voice, as both internal and external, in this example, is not interesting to me artistically, but rather as a point of ‘this is on the right track but not where you end’ critical definition. It can be argued that the story is a reflection on time and place within our artistic “now,” but the now factor is not enough to sustain a story as literature, especially when the “now” is really reflective of so many stories already told with tighter craft and more complicated resonances.

My initial interest in this story was through its title, “Adrien Brody.” I wanted it to speak to me on multiple levels and was saddened when it did not. I was saddened when it hit me as a critical “don’t do this” example for a first-year student’s study. And I was not surprised to see a divide of critical responses. This may be a writer to watch after she has more time with her craft, but “Adrien Brody” was not ready to launch, and this is sad. Very sad. Because with further exploration and development and a more fully realized voice, this unfulfilled story might have been truly great. Marie Calloway and Adrien Brody—the writer, the actor, and the actor’s nose—deserved greatness.



Note to readers:  For those who have yet to read the 15,000-word story, you can find it here. You might also be interested in reading Tao Lin’s take here.  Or Roxane Gay’s take on the matter, which you can read here. And Stephen Elliott interviewed Marie Calloway here.  —TNB Editors

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RAE BRYANT’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories have appeared or are soon forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/Hemingway, Pen Emerging Writers, and Pushcart awards. She writes essays and reviews for such places as New York Journal of Books, Puerto del Sol, and Beatrice.com. You can find her at www.raebryant.com.

66 responses to ““Adrien Brody,” Adrien Brody, and Adrien Brody’s Nose: A Response to Tao Lin’s Response to “Tumblr 

  1. Ga-jeeez, Rae… all this for that?! (Wanna review my book?)

  2. grammarian says:

    You share at least one thing with Marie Calloway: an apparent mistaken belief that “laid,” rather than “lay,” is the past tense of the verb “to lie” (meaning to lie down).

  3. Laura Bogart says:

    “One might question whether the story wants to be a metafiction. Perhaps, but at no point in time am I convinced that Calloway functions on a self-aware level or from a truly critical perspective within the story. She lacks the voice of it, and so the metafiction, if attempted, has failed aesthetically or was never truly an intention.”

    Thank you, a thousand times, thank you. Your piece and Roxanne Gay’s piece really brilliantly articulate all of the issues I’ve had with this story. One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that writing is about making choices and Calloway simply didn’t make many on a micro (your line reading of “I closed my phone shut” illustrates my point) or on a macro level. Oddly enough for a first person piece, there was no sense of perspective, of who this “I” actually is. The only choice made is to change the writer’s name to Adrien Brody and even then, there’s no sense of why he’s Adrien Brody as opposed to Christian Bale or Don Cheadle.

    • Rae says:

      Yes, and I would so love to read Calloway on Adrien Brody, truly, in a few years. In fact, I don’t know if I really understood the depth of my love for Adrien Brody’s nose until Calloway’s piece. I am very interested in seeing what she does with her voice in years to come and how she turns her voice on noses or any other body part. I want to see her voice empowered, making those choices about which you speak.

      • Laura Bogart says:

        Agreed. I think there is this collective obsession with “prodigy” that pushes publishers to release pieces before they’re really ready to launch. There is much to be said for distance and accumulated wisdom. I would be interested to see how her vice might ripen over time. And yes, Adrien Brody does have a magnificent nose and ( I realized as I watched “Predators”) a really great, gravelly speaking voice.

  4. Nathan Huffstutter says:

    When the hardest working chefs in the city bring their finest dishes to buffet, what is the conscientious food critic to do when some clever operator slips in a hot dog from the corner stand? And, what is more, what if the hot dog demands to be judged both on its pure, essential hot-doggyness and ALSO on the fact that it must be unique among all the corner stand wieners because, well, look at it, it’s right there on display alongside the finest dishes by the hardest working chefs in the city.

    Rae, I think you’ve done an outstanding job placing “Adrien Brody” in a reasoned critical context without perpetuating the phenomena or shouting down the voice of a young writer (just out of our teens, most of us were not insightful, self-aware, or capable of scrupulous self-editing, and 15,000 words with a beginning and an end is an achievement in itself). On a textual level, in addition to many of the points you make, my primary issue with the story was that the (character) Marie Calloway initiates the affair to blog of the affair, in effect placing a hidden camera behind the bedroom mirror, and after performing for this camera, she presents an after-the-fact, minute catalogue of her thoughts and feelings as if the hidden camera had never been there. A more practiced author would capture that extra level of honesty, the thrill of getting her man, the satisfaction of (ahem) getting her shot, the trepidation of knowing this episode was going to be made available to her blog readers, the taste in her mouth when she makes clear, cutting note of how “Adrien Brody” does not read the books he reviews or crack the spines of the texts he pontificates on. Within the world of the story, the inability to reconcile these multi-layered feelings aren’t simply something the author has chosen to leave out, they produce a disingenuous catalogue of feelings – a smokescreen. And without narrative honesty, the story doesn’t have a great deal to hang its hat on.

    On the one hand, Tao Lin is right – the story and surrounding furor filled a gaping content hole during a time when many of us were thinking of snowballs in an entirely different context, and the work itself has been viewed by as many sets of eyes as any short story written this past year. That is, of course, the TV Ratings argument, where ratings justify content, and if exposure is the artist’s primary goal, by that metric “Adrien Brody” is an unqualified success. When Katie or Casey takes the stage on American Idol, they are in fact capturing as many ears as Kristen Hersh has in her entire recording career; they are, however, embarking on very different careers.

    • Rae says:

      Thank you, Nathan. Last thing I would hope anyone would do is deter a new or young voice. I look forward to seeing what she does with her upcoming work, and Tao certainly has an eye. I wish this piece had incubated more, but so it goes…

      • Lisa Marie says:

        I agree here with the assessment that, “big deal”, she’s not washing the damned ejaculate off with soap, and that isn’t a statement that we can really say is new or merit-deserving. Whatever lens we look at the story through, and Rae does a good job at providing some viewpoints, the real blinking red light here, for me, is why is this publishable? And I keep thinking who or what will stop or at least shame into stopping these self-aware, babbling, awkward-on-purpose, insincere, detached people stop writing this LiveJournal rubbish? I stop myself there. We all have the right to write whatever we want however we want. But, do the rest of us have to subjected to it? So one guy has a good-selling book and his disciples are suddenly doing something new? OK.

        Rae writes, “Young woman writer travels to New York to fuck an older, more accomplished writer based on some fantasy of really great, artistic sex? An artistic melding? The opportunity to have an older, male writer confirm her? Or just to fuck? Or maybe that it’s sex with an older writer in New York as told through texting? If you want to publish a story in New York, then you are more likely to publish a story if it is about fucking in New York. There’s nothing new or breathtaking about any of this conceptually, and the texting doesn’t hold enough artistic interest to make the story necessary from a postmodern or structural basis. This sex and art and “the big man” has been a central female narrative for generations of master writers, prosaists and poets alike. Shelley, Chopin, Wharton, Plath, Bradstreet, Atwood, Oates, Beattie, Akers, Gaitskill… Did we need “Adrien Brody,” too? I love to see a classic narrative brought into a contemporary landscape when it’s well done, but the landscape must be worth the story.”

        I agree. One needs to look at their experience and conceptualize it. There is human interest (reading someone’s drab account of some sexcapade) and literary interest (I like this story because it is artistically interesting) and the line between the two can blur, sure, but it needs to be blurred well.

        I’d like to see Marie Calloway / Her Real Name explore her experiences in a new way. In a brave way.

        • Rae Bryant says:

          Thanks, Lisa. Yes, I have to admit I have difficulty with the outing of “Adrien Brody” and not “Marie Calloway.” That part bothers me. I like fiction that cuts the storyteller in a true sense. Maybe that makes me something of a sadomasochist, but then, I probably already knew that about myself.

          • Lisa Marie says:

            Ethics in writing — now that’s a tough call. We have blurred, gray lines all over the place. Every book has someone’s blood on it, in it. But to hide away while outing someone? It begs to be said: REALLY? If the author really wanted to question her own motives or to look at her own sexuality or feminism or pain, then why hide behind a pseudonym? Why go for a certain level of authenticity by pointedly recalling all details (though I don’t think she achieved a real look at herself like she said she maybe was going for) and then making yourself into a ghost?

  5. Marie calloway says:

    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it and it’s given me a lot to think about.

    I agree that I have a lot to learn before I can offer any sort of meaningful political message. “Adrien Brody” wasn’t meant to do that. It was meant to just be a personal exploration of my thoughts/feelings/experiences. I feel like other people are mischaracterizing my work, that it must be feminist or trying to be because I am a woman who writes about sex and gender. I realize that I don’t get to choose the political implications that people see in/try to take away from my work, though.

    I feel like I did a personal attack on my old view that I could form Meaningful Connections based on just sex, without explicitly saying this, and saw the crying in the bed as very humiliating.

    Other things were that I don’t feel I lack as much self-awareness as an author as some people think. I try to describe an experience accurately/honestly without judgment or preconception, and it’s supposed to be up to the reader to decide. I think Marie in the story comes off as vain, selfish, naive, and yes, pseudo-intellectual. But maybe it is a failure in me to not give clues about this. It seems to be a difference in opinion about what people want/expect from art, but maybe I’m wrong.

    Want to write more but I’m texting this on my phone 😉 overall, appreciate your thoughts and criticizing my writing in a serious way. I look forward to now working with Christian Lorentzen and other people to edit and discuss my with and hopefully improve in the future. This experience has taught me that I have a long way to go, wrt writing. And I’m also curious to see what I’ll think of “Adrien Brody” when I mature.


    • Rae says:

      Happy New Year to you, Marie, and thanks for your response. “Adrien Brody” offered a lot to consider and discuss, and I look forward to seeing what you do upcoming. All best and cheers.

  6. mama says:

    I really do not understand why peeps are circling their wagons around this little story… Many peoples have written stories about peoples they have fucked. Many men have written misogynistic stories about fucking women while pretending to appreciate them or even pretending to be feminist. Many men have written stories from the pov of a woman, feminist or not, who is trying to empower herself through sex. Is it because you can only write about sex in a self-depreciating way if you’re a woman? Is it because Calloway’s being backed by Tao Lin? If so, why hasn’t anyone written about the blatant misogyny of Richard Yates, yo? Mama is so confused…

    • vick says:

      Mama, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this godawful fiasco, it’s that whatever Tao Lin wants, Tao Lin gets. He’s pulling the strings all the way to the fame bank, and it’s clear the poor girl idolizes him to the point where she doesn’t even see how she’s being exploited by him. It makes me sad, actually, but clearly she wrote this piece to get his attention, and it worked, so, congratulations?

      • Captain Obvious says:

        The real reason Lin backed her (from NY Observer)

        “Soon after “Adrien Brody” was published, he emailed Ms. Calloway. If she
        could pay her way, she was welcome to stay with him in his hotel room
        in Paris from December 4 to December 6. She would cover the trip, and
        he’d reimburse her for half after the story was published. “I’ll help
        you find a venue,” he offered.”

    • Rae says:

      Mama, if you haven’t read Stephen Elliott’s interview with Marie, at The Rumpus, you might want to read it. I think you would find it interesting. Link above.

      • mama says:

        Thanks for the link! I think I read half the interview a while ago and started skimming out of boredom. Tho it would be the awesomes if, as someone on HTMLGiant suggested, Marie Calloway was Tao Lin or at least a prank just like it would be the awesomes if Mr. Brainwash really were the product of Banksy and Shepard Faries…

        I still don’t understand why peeps are so pissed off about this story/why it’s getting so much press in the indie lit world.

  7. […] wrote a little essay, “Adrien Brody,” Adrien Brody, and Adrien Brody’s Nose: A Response to Tao Lin&#8217… on Marie Calloway’s story, “Adrien Brody,” now at The Nervous Breakdown. Leave a […]

  8. zoe zolbrod says:

    Great response to Tao Lin’s Tumblr Shit Talking response.

    One thing I question is why you and others refer to this incident as “sad.” Many of us rewrite the same story or explore the same materials and themes repeatedly in our careers. The author Maria Calloway can revisit the character Marie Calloway in five or ten or twenty years if she’s so inclined. She’ll likely find a ready readership.

    • Rae Bryant says:

      That’s interesting, Zoe, that you say that. Honestly, when I look at the story, the writer, the background… It’s hard for me to not feel a sense of sadness. I think I’ve already stated why.

  9. […] not here to offer any new or fresh commentary on this. Rae Bryant, however, is super smart and sassy. You should go read her […]

  10. Lola says:

    Back in 1995 Mary Gaitskill’s short story “Turgor” was published in New Yorker magazine. It is the story of an older woman sharing a brief intimate encounter with a younger man. There is a blow job in the story, there is intellectual banter, there is introspection and “third wave” feminism. I don’t believe there’s a missing shoe… but there is something about removing a wig…

    However, Turgor is gripping and smart, sad and poignant, funny and also frustrating. It is everything Adrian Brody (the story) is not.

    All the brouhaha about Calloway is the literary equivalent of The Kardashians.

  11. Rae Bryant says:

    And can I continue the list of female authors who ‘do sex’ well, really well, really scary, I wish I could do that well…?

    Diane Williams, Hannah Tinti, Lydia Davis, Kim Addonizio…

    Please add to the list if you are so inclined.

  12. Danielle says:

    Rae, this is the only piece I’ve seen that questions the veracity of the piece, and I’m thankful for that. A lot of the piece rang false to me (I read parts of MC’s Tumblr before she deleted it, and there were scenarios from this story that were written far before the story supposedly took place), and I’ve been smelling “revenge lit” all over this from day one. It doesn’t change that we’re falling into it, but I’m just glad to see someone ask those particular questions about fact and fiction, since the entire piece hinges upon us believing that it’s real. It’s more successful as an art project (a hateful, ugly, mean one) than as a piece of writing, actually.

    • Rae Bryant says:

      Yes. It does speak revenge lit to me in some ways, too. I’m not sure I would say its more successful from an art project standpoint, though. I believe that all media tell stories. The story, in this case, would need more regardless of its chosen medium, for it to work as “fine” for me. And if I remember correctly, the original posting of the incident was multimedia. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Calloway included a portrait of her face, “finger painted.” That says so much. The visual representation of a piece, whether offered by author, artist, reader perception, etc. can define the work as a whole in ways the creator perhaps never intended, but perhaps says more about the work and the creator than the creator can see for herself. Honestly, it’s a good craft study, text as represented through its author-intended versus reader-perceived visuals. It’s good to get outside of our text brains for a little while and play with the visual, I think… Good comment. Thank you.

    • Lisa Marie says:

      Danielle, Rae,

      If we had not known that this piece was “real,” I do wonder what we’d think. Either way, as fact or fiction, and as revenge-lit or not (revenge can be done in beautiful and intelligent ways, and the ethics to that are a whole different debate — one that Roxane Gay touched on in HTML GIANT), it doesn’t work as a piece of literature. It doesn’t work as fiction because it’s not interesting. It’s not layered. It’s not conceptual. It’s not brave. It doesn’t highlight the commonplace in a new way. It doesn’t work as nonfiction because it’s not literature, and it’s too expository if it is.

      Rae, it’s true that it does prompt us to look at perception and how that affects our feelings. My feelings are not affected. It’s good that literature is fluid and that there is a diversity of style. I’ll always say that. But it’s not good when we become complacent to accept the monotone and lackluster and lazy as worthy. The writer has a duty to her readers. This shouldn’t be forgotten.

      As an art piece, doubtful that it would work. A project should have some thought. This is just recitation for some weird purpose.

      I don’t doubt the writer’s ability to write or to explore her own motives and feelings. I just feel sad that this represents literature in today’s age. Call me Granny.

  13. I’m happy to see this here on TNB. I’ve had mixed feelings about this phenomenon (if it’s to be called that), but I like your analysis and I also like “Marie’s” response to it and her willingness–in discussions as well as the piece–to put herself out there in a way that, while perhaps “attention-seeking,” is also humble and honest and not grandiose. So in the spirit that all writers are, in some manner, seeking attention . . . well, I respect her general stance about the huge (and no doubt unexpected) response her story has generated. I’ve often thought she comes off as smarter in her responses than she does in the story, but as she herself points out, the “character” version of her isn’t quite the same as the real life version, and she is critiquing “herself” (whether she does so in brilliant prose or not) alongside the other things she’s calling attention to.

    I certainly agree that Marie Calloway is no Mary Gaitskill. But of course Gaitskill wrote “Turgor” in her 40s at least. At “Marie’s” age, Gaitskill was only a few years out of a stint as a runaway and prostitute, I’m pretty sure. Youth is a big factor here. Marie may never be a Gaitskill. Not many of us can be, sadly for us. I do think that if you strip all this of the Tao-Lin-ness and celebrity-gawking factors, there is still a young woman here who’s grappling with things and may do interesting things to come. She may not be grappling with anything inherently and profoundly new, but I’m still interested to see where the large controversy around this piece may lead her. I lost interest in the “story” version of this story, but there are aspects of the underlying story that I still find compelling and relevant, if that makes sense.

    Nicely done, Rae . . .

    • Rae Bryant says:

      Thank you, Gina. And I completely agree. I’m impressed with Marie’s response and look forward to seeing what is to come for her.

    • Lola says:

      I think this was my point. Gaitskill has said that she became a writer at 18 and was trying to get published since she was in her early 20’s.
      However, there seemed to be publishers and editors around who were mature enough to reject her earliest attempts and leave her to develop her talent.

      I too feel that the underlying aspects of this story are more compelling than the story itself. In particular, I feel there’s such a lack of character displayed by everyone involved. Calloway is, well, simply put, callow.
      And it’s fascinating that none of the adult men around her either figuratively or literally said “Put your panties back on and go home, you’re only 21.”

      All of this said, there’s something that seems hoax-like about this whole thing…. too many cliches adding up.

      • Rae Bryant says:

        Yes, Lola, “hoax like” is a fair assessment. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find, one day, that Calloway is not the picture and personality we’re associating to Calloway.

  14. grammarian says:

    This story laid an egg with me. I think both the author and editor have egg on their faces. Also other stuff.

  15. Lola, you make an interesting point about the shifting nature of “edited” content and gatekeepers, re: Gaitskill’s early work and of course the early, immature work of generations of writers. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this issue, as an editor/writer/reader/teacher. It’s highly complicated. But it’s also extremely true that many of the Greats whose work future generations have been inspired and formed by would probably have been dismissed early and never fully come into their own had there not been editors who spent years rejecting them and saying they weren’t yet ready, thereby pushing them on to improve, practice, revise, mature. Editors, of course, are not always “right.” The market can be a fickle whore of a thing, too, and “excellence” isn’t always the primary means of selection, even among literary writers/marketplaces. But all that said: yeah, the editor/writer relationship is a huge one. It’s one that I do worry is being lost in the shuffle of the internet. It can level the playing field enormously and give rise to new and important–previously marginalized–voices, but it can also just create a shitstorm of unregulated noise that numbs readers out and makes it virtually impossible to avoid things that seem more “scandalous” than truly relevant, because everyone is so overwhelmed and no one can stay on top of all the content out there. A much bigger issue than Calloway or this story, of course . . . interesting, and continuing to evolve as we live it out.

    • Rae Bryant says:

      And, perhaps, this calls into discussion the essence of struggle. Those of us who remember writing before the internet and online submission managers and ‘everyone has a website’ days, I ask did the pace of the market force us to marinate? I wonder if struggling through the paper and snail mail slush made us more aware of ourselves as writers and artists. I also wonder what happens to the state of literature–something that, whether right or wrong, is sometimes considered as a whole–that it is so easily whittled down to an “It Girl” and her story every week. Then on the other end, you have “It Authors” in other venues whittled down to something more related to position and how much money the author has already made and how much the author can make again. So where are the artistic gatekeepers? Do we need them? Don’t know. I’m not nearly smart enough to figure that out. But I do think the Indies are the place where art is more likely to matter most. Correction: smaller Indies. Some of the big Indies are taking on big publishing house concepts with big editors from big houses to pull in money and names and traditional marketing concepts for books and stories. It is in the smaller Indies where I see the grassroot artistic awareness. The experimentation. The pushing limits. And that’s why the craft has got to be crystal hard. I’ll say it. The smaller Indies have a responsibility to showcase the absolute best of their authors, because I don’t see a whole lot of that in the bigger venues. There, I see money and formula. It never surprises me when sex and commercialism and sloppy writing makes a top ten big list, but when it comes out of the Indies, it does make me scratch my head, but then, I am prone to scratching my head lately.

  16. As an editor of a longstanding small indie (Other Voices Books), thanks for your sentiments here, Rae; I agree and take this part of the gig very, very seriously, yeah.

  17. […] talking” on his Tumblr, and after critiques and open letters to the writer came up in Pank and on The Nervous Breakdown I thought about it, and thought about it, and then all but forgot about it as soon as I came back […]

  18. Shannon says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for writing it.

  19. Thank you for this essay! You put your finger right on what made me so uncomfortable about the “story” to begin with — my feeling that it wasn’t well written at all, and that people were only giving it attention because it seemed so sensational, so not-well-written, that surely it must mean something? You leave nowhere to hide here, and the harsh light doesn’t look too kindly on “Adrien Brody.”

    • Rae Bryant says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Marissa. Yes, sensational is a good word, and again, I’m curious to see where Calloway goes with her voice. We all know the starting points of our individual crafts, and sometimes it’s the messiness that brings something new and interesting to our stories. When the messiness takes form, a sculpting so to speak, that can be very exciting, and I hold an undying faith that any writer can come to this if it is in the writer’s desire and experience and work ethic to do so, which makes me think a bit on the idea of whether writing can be taught. O’Connor had thoughts on this, as have so many. I’m beginning to think my take is that a writer can be taught technique and can be led to read master works but that the writer cannot be taught the artistry of writing. The artistry must be found by the writer because it comes down to voice and no one can teach us our voice. A professor can lead us through exercises for finding our voice, but in the end, we have to dig it out of ourselves while forming it with our own thoughts and aesthetics. A professor can potentially sense our discovery of it. The professor can whip us when we stray and smile when we come close, but ultimately, it’s the writer’s most difficult task to find her voice and it is one to be taken alone, digging into that dirt pile in our heads. I believe Calloway may still be digging, but only she can answer the question of whether she is just slinging dirt or unearthing something bigger than herself and we’ve all been there and are still there. In the moment that a writer or painter or musician… unearths something necessary in herself, I want to shout. I love that moment. It is an honor to witness it in a student, a friend, a colleague, a sensationalized persona… It don’t care who it is. It’s the moment that reminds me why the arts are so vital to us individually and collectively. And that path along the way is worth every pain and critique. Okay, I’ll stop now. I’m getting sappy.

  20. Marcus Speh says:

    It looks as if I’m too late to this party. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your analysis and the comments and counter comments for this article. It stretched my atrophied psychoanalytic muscles (I’m a psychotherapist by training, too) to an extent not known in a while. I don’t agree with everything but I’m interested (also as a scholar) in identity changes. I just wrote a rather tender story “MEETING MARIE CALLOWAY WITHOUT ADRIEN BRODY”, fiction on top of meta fiction, I suppose, and it’s hard to see where I might submit that little thing. Perhaps I should just post it on my blog. Cheers from Berlin!

  21. Rae Bryant says:

    Thanks, Marcus. I’m flattered you’ve enjoyed the article. I feel I must state–in response to your “I’m a psychotherapist by training, too”–that I am in no way a psychotherapist or therapist or psychology expert in any way. The theories herein listed are gleaned from a practice of the literary derivatives of your medical theories expertise, as opposed to direct theories of medicine or psychiatry of psychology or whatever definitive term you would prefer. My meager study of literary theory comes from a background in Humanities, which certainly would include a pseudo-sociological/historical/literary/artful context, but in no way a medical one. Unless you include Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings and asides. 😉 Otherwise, your psychoanalytical training would most certainly be over my head, though, I delight in the listening to and trying to learn of such things, as best I can.

  22. I feel that I am what the Marie Calloway Phenomenon is a Taste of: my First Novel, SIS:, is a might be Fact, might be Fiction Xploration of the Self Sxual Objectification of an Intellectual Girl in a post-Feminist Culture, conveyed in a Literary Style that is Both 100% Original and Deeply inSightful. Making it Known.

    • Rae Bryant says:

      Interesting, Andrea. One of the most common qualities I’ve found in writers who I consider to be the most kick ass wordsmiths, most prolific, most likely to make me think about their characters and words (as opposed to them as concept writers) for days, months, years are the ones who realize, the more and more they write, just how much they have yet to learn. These are the writers who are more likely to say, Hmm, I put some words on paper today. Not sure if they work or not. Tomorrow I’ll try to make them better. Eventually, if I have the honor of someone buying my book, I’ll let the reader be the judge. Just making it known.

  23. False Modesty is More Offensive than Authentic Ego.

  24. Jimmy says:

    I first found out about the story from an article in The Walrus that argued that women should be able to write about what they want. Seemed like that went without saying. Then I checked out Tao Lin’s 2028 word response to someone’s tumblr post shit talking the story. He attacked the way she fitted it into a trend and how she was criticizing the irresponsibility of the characters, not the writing. But what he and the Walrus author didn’t do, is actually defend the writing itself, and explain why it was worth reading. I’ve read a few other blogs and whatnot about the story and it’s fascinated me the way people love to rally behind it. But all I’ve found are vague praises towards its unabashed honesty, modern style, or juvenile feminism (something that I guess is supposed to be praised because of the faith of throwing your support behind a worthy cause, even if you don’t understand it.) It was very refreshing to read an intelligent critique of the quality of writing and story itself rather than a defense of why sexually confessional writing itself deserves its place in our culture. I figure if it’s good enough that it’ll earn its place, and this is the first I’ve read about whether or not it has.
    By the way, looks like I’ll be finding myself in the Washington D.C. area in the next two weeks and I would love to sleep with you. I’m sure you’re probably not into that sort of thing but I thought I’d try anyway. Thanks for the article.

    • Rae Bryant says:

      Hi, Jimmy. Thanks for this. Yes, I agree. Much rallying both ways on a few of the points, not so much on the others. The story certainly prompted some thoughts. Glad to have added a critical viewpoint you found interesting. And on the offer. Thank you, but I must decline. You might try Tao, though. Sounds like he’s giving away hotel stays in Paris. 😉

      Thanks for the comment. All best.

  25. Matt White says:


  26. PJA says:

    You lost me when you developed a weird, fetish-fixation on the supposed “face painting” scene which you both blew out of proportion and completely mis-characterized. And then analyzing the language in the passage with the isolated line “My hands began to tremble.” Your critique somehow seems to completely miss the mark. It’s not as if there’s nothing to criticize in the author’s style or writing, but why focus on this mostly unimpeachable example. Even the odd “close… shut” is actually entertainingly quirky, though I would expect *some* critics to be irked by this.

    Basically, I can’t see where you’re coming from in your criticism at all. That which is completely plausible and realistic is criticized for being contrived and far-fetched. That which is linguistically without flaw is micro-analyzed to discover its imagined flaws. Even the fact that your desire to see the character’s face, and her reaction to her own face, was obviously and intentionally stimulated and then left unfulfilled by the placement of a partially covered mirror in the scene, yet you blame the author for her device as though she sloppily overlooked an opportunity to show you the reflection.

    The book gives few handles to grasp, and your groping at it seems to have left you empty handed. Fair enough, the author is opaque in many ways.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *