Reviewing the Review: November 5 2006

The USA House/Senate race is the big story this weekend. I’m all hyped up for a dramatic election day, and I guess the New York Times Book Review is too, because this weekend’s cover features a blue-state/red-state pastiche and a summary review of ten political books by Michael Kinsley.

I normally get irritated when the NYTBR mistakes itself for a news publication, but what the hell, I’ve got “throw the liars out” fever like the rest of America and I’ll happily spend my Sunday morning shootin’ the shit with Kinsley, even though he barely glances at the ten books he’s supposed to be reviewing. He pays the most attention to the truly scary argument that our vote-counting mechanisms are vulnerable to wholesale fraud, which is the subject of Was The 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? by Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss. Not being inclined towards conspiracy theories myself, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to this line of thought up till now, but the fact that a reputable analyst like Kinsley deems the subject worth so much space is giving me serious pause.

Today’s Book Review is thinner than usual, and especially light on fiction. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions is blandly praised by Troy Patterson, who marvels at the creativity and complexity of this book’s multi-directional structure. I’m not convinced, though, that Patterson has actually managed to read this unreadable book; instead he stares at it the way one stares at a cubist painting. He describes the 360-page book’s plot as “baffling, quite possibly an elaborate folly that finds the author subordinating meaning to schema and human emotion to the presumed power of myth,” but excuses the “overrich wordplay” with this brave attempt at a meaningful final sentence:

And anyone can see that the “dream” at stake is America, a country that wouldn’t make complete sense if you thought on it till the end of time.

I’m not buying it. I suspect Patterson wrote the review without reading the entire book. Hell, I got a review copy in the mail and I couldn’t read it either. Fess up, Patterson.

Elsewhere, Emily Nussbaum does a fine job of making Heidi Julavits’s teenage-rape-scandal shaggy-dog story The Uses of Enchantment sound like a must-read. Nussbaum’s exposition is admirably clear, though even here some bad sequences slip through, like:

But at its heart, this is the gray-area drama of one gray little family and it’s black sheep. That lost lamb is Mary Veal …

I can’t even tell the mixed metaphors from the puns in that one.

David Margolick engages fitfully with David Mamet’s The Wicked Son, a shout-out to confused American Jews, which Margolick finds interesting but antiquated. I’ll have to read this book myself to see what I think.

This issue’s worst article is Christopher Buckley’s smirky consideration of The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie by screenwriter and humorist Chris Miller. Buckley wastes an entire page trying to impress us with how deeply naughty this book is, but refuses to actually tell us what’s in the book because apparently it’s all too debased for a family newspaper. Bullshit — this is just a badly written and lazy review by a writer who doesn’t realize that people loved Animal House not just because it was loud and dumb, but because it had true wit.

On the opposing page, though, the NYTBR redeems itself with Kevin Baker’s thoughtful description of Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, a historical novel involving inventor Guglielmo Marconi and a murder mystery.

And with that, I’m back to the cover article and the rest of the New York Times. Election day is two days away, and I won’t rest easy until I hear that a whole bunch of useless incumbents will cease irritating our fine nation as of Tuesday night.

4 Responses

  1. Vote!I sent in my absentee

    I sent in my absentee ballot a month ago. I’m six hours ahead of the East Coast, so I won’t know what the election results are until tommorrow morning. I have my fingers crossed for a big Democratic showing. We’ll see.

  2. Reviewing the review of the
    Reviewing the review of the review.

    “…this is just a badly written and lazy review by a writer who doesn’t realize that people loved Animal House not just because it was loud and dumb, but because it [was had] true wit.”

    Which is it now? Fess up.

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