Reviewing the Review: August 20 2006

I don’t think Robert Macfarlane, fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, likes Irvine Welsh’s new novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs.

Nor is this what George Orwell fondly called good bad writing. This is bad bad writing. There are tautologies (offices that are “unobtrusively tucked away”). There are mixed metaphors (the “bull of a man” whose frame was “going to seed”). There are mistakes — the use of the word “diligently” where “carefully” is meant. And there are unfortunate ambiguities, as when Welsh describes Kibby’s erection as “poking through the material of his trousers.” We must assume either that Welsh means “showing through,” or that Kibby has an unusually sharp phallus.

Ouch, Welsh, and from a fellow Scot too. That must hurt like a beer glass breaking on your head in a bar.

Don Fante, son of legendary John Fante, gets nicer treatment from John Wranovics for his new Short Dog: Cab Driver Stories from the L. A. Streets in today’s New York Times Book Review, and I think Meghan Daum is possibly a little too generous to Eliza Minot’s The Brambles, because the book as she describes it sounds rather flat but, Daum says:

The novel is imperfect in a way that leaves you marveling at the many things it does right and looking forward to the author’s next move.

If that’s all a novel does for a reviewer, I’d just as soon wait for the author’s next move and skip this one.

Dave Itzkoff does a good job with Julie Phillips’ new biography of Alice B. Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr. I’ve never heard of Tiptree/Sheldon before, but this article makes me want to start catching up. I’m particularly intrigued by one point Itzkoff brushes over: author Sheldon killed her ailing, aging husband and then killed herself. That puts her in an exclusive (and sorry) club, along with William S. Burroughs, of writers who have committed murder.

Field Maloney provides a nice introduction to New Orleans-based Poppy Z. Brite’s Soul Kitchen, which sounds quite intriguing. Poetry critic David Kirby’s review of Maggie Dietz’s Perennial Fall is a pleasure to read.

This weekend’s only dull note is (no big surprise) the endpaper by Rachel Donadio, which takes us inside exclusive writers’ colonies like Yaddo and MacDowell. Donadio’s article is too chirpy in tone, and it fails to draw any surprising conclusions. I also can’t imagine why the article lists several novels that contain scenes depicting workshops like Yaddo or MacDowell but fails to mention Jonathan Ames’ Wake Up Sir!, a truly original comic novel that takes place almost entirely at a colony based on Yaddo.

* * * * *

I’m on vacation starting right this second, and the delightful Jamelah Earle is going to be holding this place down all week.

Jamelah has been with LitKicks since the days when sock puppets roamed the world, and I’m also glad to report that she will be contributing more often to LitKicks in the future. I’ve been overloaded lately (NOTE TO SELF: if you join the Litblog Co-op you are going to start getting five times as many review books in the mail …) and so I’ve asked Jamelah if she can pitch in occasionally with her own takes on the literary topics of the day. Be nice to her this week — I’ll be on the beach! Have fun.

5 Responses

  1. Yikes!Sorry to see you

    Sorry to see you accusing Burroughs of murder.

    I’ve read all of Burroughs, including all of the bio information, knew him slightly, and know a number of people who knew him well. No one who knows anything about the shooting incident terms it anything but an accident. (It is covered in detail in the Burroughs in Texas book, reviewed favorably here.)

    There were numerous witnesses to the incident; Burroughs and his common-law wife were clearly intoxicated and acted foolishly, but no one claims there was criminal intent.

  2. writers’ coloniesA novel that
    writers’ colonies

    A novel that I thoroughly enjoyed is Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. The participants of this writer’s colony are locked inside a building until they finish their books, with grisly results.

  3. You are correct, danjazz.
    You are correct, danjazz. Burroughs was not found guilty of murder, nor do I believe he intended to harm Joan.

  4. Hi Dan — I don’t mean to
    Hi Dan — I don’t mean to dredge up old controversies, but he pointed a gun towards Joan’s head and pulled the trigger. You could call it murder, you could call it an accident, you could call it depraved indifference to human life. The latter is probably most correct, and this seems more similar than dissimilar to murder to me.

    Bill Ectric is correct that he was never convicted of murder, but neither was O. J. Simpson …

    The word “murder” might be harsh for Alice Sheldon as well as for WSB — in her case the article suggests that it may have been an act of euthanasia, though I do not know the facts.

  5. I understand what you mean –
    I understand what you mean – there aren’t many famous writers who have killed someone.

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