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The Third Wave: Paris' Expatriate Literary Scene

September 21, 1986|ELIZABETH VENANT

In an expatriate scene where Eastern Bloc rather than American writers are now dominant, with Czech Milan Kundera at the summit, the American-run journals make a point of publishing foreign writers in English. Pratle has devoted space to Japanese women writers, Passion has run a story on Third World writers and David Applefield's Frank has treated Turkish writers. Says Strand, who regularly publishes experimental French authors, "It's the opposite of cultural isolation."

A contemporary American version of the garret artist, David Applefield lives in a small Left Bank apartment and pushes his magazine, Frank, with the hard-sell avidity of an adman. He displays a collection of covers, posters, ads, even a press release for Frank.

Not surprisingly, Applefield, who has published works by such name writers as Italo Calvino, Nobel Prize-winner Claude Simon and William Burroughs, is criticized as commercial by his colleagues. "It's a bunch of interesting names, but it's not an exciting magazine for what will become literature," says Simas. "I feel there's some model out there for David; maybe the model is the Paris Review."

Applefield returns the compliment, calling Simas' Moving Letters "a stapled leaflet," although he has published his poems.

Like Sphinx and Paris Exiles, Frank is typeset and has a black-and-white semi-gloss cover. It also boasts a respectable circulation of 2,500 and, begun in the summer of 1984, is going towards its sixth issue.

A graduate of Amherst and Northeastern University in Boston, Applefield first came to Paris when he was 21, inspired by the city's literary tradition. The young American walked the rue St.-Denis with a copy of the "Tropic of Cancer" in his pocket; he asked the prostitutes out to dinner and was told to get lost. "It wasn't the sex," Applefield says. "It was the drinking, the dancing and whoring (in Miller's book), the being free and alive and spontaneous. It was seizing the moment."

At 30, Applefield now practices a cockier stance and spouts such pronouncements as "Marguerite Duras has gotten enough attention." Leading the way up the stairs to his sixth-floor walk-up, he plays the poor artist, exasperated at his compatriots' naive materialism. His modest lodgings are "impressive to the American sensibility," he laments expansively. "Comfort is so important to them."

In three cluttered rooms looking out on rooftops, Applefield lives with a German-Cuban mate, who, in the last days of pregnancy, sits in a window-side wicker chair. Their Beagle, Wilson, wanders happily around, swatting low-lying memorabilia with his wagging tail.

An obvious image of Hemingway, Hadley and their baby Bumpo leaps to mind. Not far away in a similar garret, Hemingway strove to write "one true sentence." In his literarily romantic quarters, Applefield writes such sentences as "His emotional state was overloading." Inspired by James Joyce's fragmentation of time, Applefield writes about the nonsensical emptiness of American life. In an excerpt from his second book (it and his first are as yet unpublished), printed in Frank, he uses Arby's as a metaphor for American society and creates a protagonist who forces himself "to maintain eye contact" during what could be the most prosaic description of love-making in print: "That was the closest he had ever been to a woman even though he had slept with a few girls in his life. They hugged each other like mother and child, husband and wife, father and daughter. It was weird, rare, nice."

On a quiet, late-summer's afternoon, a couple of clients are drinking fresh fruit drinks and reading the paper; the cat, Baby Moon, is snoozing on a cafe banquette, and a stream of friends flows in and out of the bookstore, embracing its proprietor, Odille Hellier.

Named for the New York newspaper, the Village Voice opened in 1982 on the rue Princess in the pricey St.-Germain quarter. The blue English-cottage-like shop has since become a rallying point for young writers and Hellier, who spent 10 years in the States, has been their chief supporter.

In a symbiotic relationship, Joey Simas advises her on poetry, Jim Haynes helps out in the shop and Applefield handles her magazine subscriptions. In return, Hellier lets the writers hold readings in the shop, carries their publications and smoothes feathers ruffled by rival aesthetics.

Inevitably, Hellier, 44, is compared to Sylvia Beach. However, she says, "today it is hard to believe that a bookstore could discover a James Joyce. There are so many agents and publishers."

Of the current crop of would-be Joyces, Hellier says, "They all believe they're great writers." However, she adds, "Their work has not come to maturity."

She also says that the magazines are not selling as well as they did a year ago. "The public's interest has dropped because they don't publish regularly enough."

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