Published 5 years ago
Jon-Jon Goulian receives a kiss and a signed book from the writer Lila Azam Zanganeh at Idlewild Books in Manhattan.
Deidre Schoo for The New York Times
Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review, was inspecting an advance copy of Jon-Jon Goulian’s new memoir, “The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt,” at a party at The Review’s TriBeCa headquarters on a recent Wednesday night.
Next to him stood Mr. Goulian, an old friend, who bounced on the balls of his feet in anticipation, looking like a star (or starlet) in the making, his eyes hidden behind rhinestone-encrusted Gucci sunglasses.
Mr. Stein, like a lot of the men there, seemed to have beamed in from 1962. He wore a skinny regimental-stripe tie and herringbone tweed jacket, and periodically freshened his drink from a bottle of Scotch stashed in a metal file cabinet, a Nat Sherman cigarette dangling from his lips.
Mr. Goulian, by contrast, seemed to have beamed in from a future century. Head shaved and body toned like an Olympic swimmer’s, he wore a brown knee-length tie-dye skirt, five-inch Steve Madden wedge sandals and lip gloss. He drank only tap water, and winced at the cigarette smoke that hung in the air.
Seated on a windowsill in his office, Mr. Stein ran his finger down the gushing blurbs printed on the book’s back flap from the writers Walter Kirn and Gary Shteyngart and paused on one from the novelist Benjamin Kunkel: “If Jon-Jon Goulian did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent him.”
Mr. Stein peered up adoringly at his friend: “I’ve often felt that.”
Mr. Goulian is, by his own account, a hot mess of contradiction. A former baby sitter, law clerk, freelance personal trainer, and assistant at The New York Review of Books (“the only person who ever took the job for the money,” he said), he presents himself, at age 42, as an androgynous man-child with hermit tendencies.
Nevertheless, his Capote-scale party skills have made him a kind of mascot for the city’s literary A-list. And while his own writing output until now consisted of a few assignments for Slate, which he never filed, his first book — a sprawling comic memoir of a life spent battling countless neuroses and defying expectations of everyone close to him — earned him a $750,000 advance.
He is now a client of the powerful Wylie Agency. He was named to Rolling Stone’s list of Hottest Breakout Stars of 2011, as well as Out magazine’s “Hot List” (Mr. Goulian says that he is, except for a bit of adolescent experimentation, straight).
But will American book buyers be as charmed and intrigued by this walking paradox as New York’s writerly in-crowd?
“Are people inherently interested in the subject of Jon-Jon?” asked Sloane Crosley, a socially connected writer who also provided an enthusiastic blurb for the book. “Probably not, but that’s irrelevant. He has this totally unique brand of masculinity mixed with charming vanity.”