Reviewing the Review: March 7 2010

Why is there so little good old-fashioned literary satire on the scene today? Reviewing Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask in todays New York Times Book Review, Lydia Millet examines:

Literary satire has become a rare form in America over the past three decades. When it does make an appearance, it almost passes for a nostalgic gesture despite its typically cutting-edge content. As a result, Lipsyte is one of a handful of living American satirists (and when I say “handful” I mean a very tiny hand, with three fingers at most, including the thumb) who can tell a traditional story while remaining foul-mouthed and dirty enough to occupy the literary vanguard. This stuff wouldn’t play well at, say, meetings of the D.A.R. — too bad in a way, because it might not hurt them to hear it. Lipsyte is not only a smooth sentence-maker, he’s also a gifted critic of power.

The Daughters of the American Revolution? (Talk about nostalgia — the D.A.R. hasn’t been relevant since Eleanor Roosevelt resigned in 1939). Back in the 21st Century, Millet is probably right that we don’t see many good funny novels these days, and like every other literary blogger I know I will be checking Lipsyte’s new book out.

But one of my favorite current writers is a satirist, and Ken Kalfus even shows up in today’s Book Review, nestling near Lydia Millet, though he plays it straight in appreciating Gina Ochsner’s The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight while hating its “kitschy title” (thank you, Ken, for pointing this out so I don’t have to).

I didn’t know that novelist Joseph O’Neill was half Turkish, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea for the Book Review to admit (in its “Up Front” profile) that he was selected to review Christopher de Bellaigue’s turtuous history book Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town on the basis of racial profiing. This is an okay piece, though I’m suspicious of a writer who uses words like “prudentially” and “emotively” when “prudently” and “emotionally” are the obvious choices. The book is about the author’s coming to terms with the truth about the Armenian genocide of 1915, a topic still hotly debated to this very day (and you’ll find here a rare case where I do not agree with Barack Obama on a matter of policy). De Bellaigue’s book sounds like a worthwhile exercise, though I still wonder why so few people in the world are aware of a stark first-person account by an Armenian teenage girl, Vergeen by Vergeen Meghrouni, which I read and wrote about a few years ago. This was the most informative account, by far, of the Armenian genocide that I’ve ever read, but few people in the world seem to know that an “Armenian Anne Frank” existed. Maybe I should send a copy of Vergeen to the White House.

I don’t go for John Banville’s heavy-handed prose style but I like the idea of his Infinities, described by Laura Miller as a philosophical novel depicting a Greek-God-infused modern world in which Darwin and Einstein’s theories are suddenly proven wrong. Great premise, though I already sampled the novel in a bookstore and can’t stand the writing.

Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology similarly describes a world where metaphysical creatures romp, and I don’t think I’ll be reading this novel either, though Susann Cokal does a fine job of explaining why someone else might.

2 Responses

  1. Maybe there’s your answer to
    Maybe there’s your answer to why some people object to fiction pretending to be nonfiction. It casts doubt on nonfiction works like Vergeen.

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