by Morgan on December 12, 2011
The thing is, I vehemently support the publication of seriously critical (now usually dubbed simply “negative,”) book reviews. I think a revival of the intelligent, well-written, hard-hitting review –the one that sparks a lively give-and-take between writer and readers, the one that makes you want to run out and buy the book simply to debate or engage with the reviewer, think Trilling, Updike, Fiedler, Macdonald et al — can save print journalism and reinvigorate literary (not to mention cultural) discourse in this country. That is my political belief.
But then there’s just wasting your time. See, I promised I’d review Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family here, but I’m reneging. The book is really very poorly written; while my assertions about the real-life characters in the book stand inasmuch as I think they’re interesting and compelling as literary characters, the writing is so wincingly bad that it was hard for me to remember why I was reading the book.
You know that thing in biographies where the writer goes, “Franklin Roosevelt gazed out the picture window on that cold, frosty first morning in January , spindly fingers gripping a cup of tea, and sighed to himself,” and you think: how the hell would the writer know that?! Well, I often forgive this kind of filling-in of detail in the service of good writing. Capote, etc. But Sandell’s book effectively barfs all over that tradition by writing prose reminiscent of romance novels. Here’s the very first passage, Chapter One:
“Catherine moved through the living room , trying to find her shoes. They were black patent-leather lace-up Gucci booties, and she planned to wear them to her fiancée, Andrew’s office Christmas party that night, but everything she owned was hidden in boxes.”
And I kept reading! I read the whole thing! And the problem is that the freedoms that Sandell takes — the inevitable filling-in of detail to flesh out the narrative — are usually vapid and rely on name dropping of couture brands and NYC hot spots. Even when emotions are addressed, they’re of the near-meaningless cliché variety: her heart sank, blood rushed to her head, she felt her world crashing down around her ad nauseam you get it.
Sigh. Do I sound snarky? Inevitably, I’ll get emails saying so. Maybe that’s why I’m not going ahead with a full review here: because I haven’t yet figured out how to pull off that feat that I so fervently wish to see recalled into the national dialogue. I don’t know how to not be a bitch. Or, how not to care when people ultimately decide that I am. I’m sure Laurie Sandell is a lovely woman, but I think she wrote a pretty bad book.
No: I’m sure Laurie Sandell is a lovely woman AND I think she wrote a pretty bad book. There’s a difference.