Reviewing the Review: October 2 2005

Yay for Stephen Metcalf, who reviews Rick Moody’s Diviners in today’s New York Times Book Review. I don’t agree with a thing Metcalf says, but it’s a damn well-written review, with lines like this:

Meanwhile, Moody has continued turning out these terrifically weird sentences, long incantatory jags of deadpan logorrhea.

or, the opener:

Like pork bellies or certain newfangled mortgages, the work of Rick Moody is as well known for its derivatives as it is for the underlying product.

Metcalf seems to be having a good time coming up with these sentences, and I had a good time reading them. So often, I wish to shake a NY Times Book Review critic by the shoulders and yell: stop boring us! The Book Review is not a venue for journalism or academia. It’s a place for people who love to read. You wouldn’t be writing an article for the Book Review if you weren’t a talented writer, so break out the good stuff. It’s sunday morning — entertain us.


Metcalf does entertain us, and good for him. On the contrary side, I just want to say that everything he writes is wrong. It’s precisely because Rick Moody is so excessive that he’s important. He’s good at excessive. I’ll take Rick Moody over a Starbucks full of demure postmodern smarties like … no, I’m not going to talk about Jonathan Lethem again. Anyway, The Black View was considered Moody’s most excessive work, and I loved every word of it. So there.

The other highlight of the Book Review is M. G. Lord’s insightful essay about sci-fi hero Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial but complex treatment of women as sex objects in his fiction. I didn’t know any of this (and I’ve never read Heinlein) but I found the article gripping and I learned a few things.

I was not as happy with Eric Weinberger’s discussion of the hip new George Saunders novel, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. I read the article three times and I still couldn’t figure out what the hell he was saying and who was doing what to who and what George Orwell and Joseph Stalin had to do with it or what the definition of is is or whether or not I wanted to purchase the book. It was not a well-written review. The fact that the critic is apparently a writing instructor at Harvard is rather amusing.

Joyce Carol Oates also shows up with a cover article about a boxing book. I’d rather read an Oates piece on something other than boxing (she’s done this routine a few times) but it’s good to see her here.

3 Responses

  1. Rick Moody’s bestI want to
    Rick Moody’s best

    I want to read everything Moody’s written.

    The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven is a masterpiece. I may have also read The Ice Storm, though only the movie comes to my mind.

    There used to be a billboard in Houston that read: It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice. I never cared for hatchet prose unless it was for political reasons, and even then, the blowback isn’t worth it. It seems that most of the film reviews I read are negative. Cinema is the only thing I am current with and possibly a more accurate portrayal of the zeitgeist. I never know what the pulse of the literary scene and don’t even know if that matters.

    I do know that Rick Moody is worth reading.

  2. Yeah, WW, that is a good one.
    Yeah, WW, that is a good one. I’m hoping Diviners is up to standard — haven’t picked it up yet, have you?

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