Wednesday, October 18, 2006
in the penny press! Esquire and Scott Raab!
The latest Esquire presents loyal readers with quite a crisis. In the latest TLS, James Campbell gives Richard Ford's new novel The Lay of the Land a very thoughtful and ultimately positive review.
But over in the latest Esquire (the issue that crowns nearly-brainless roasting tobacco-addict Scarlet Johansson as 'Sexiest Woman Alive'), we have Scott Raab weighing in on the very same novel.
As some of you may know (well, Locke will know, but the rest of you might speculate), I have a checkered history with Scott Raab - but quite apart from that history, I can tell you this: the man has, with all due respect to Agatha Christie, a mind like a bacon-slicer. If he makes a well-considered intellectual argument against something, you'd damn well better think about it before you LIKE that thing.
(Oh, what a free-for-all our comments-field would be, if some of the figures from my past weighed in! The only one who sometimes does, my old friend Locke, has scarcely shown what he can do when he's riled - you young people are as clever as the day is long, but ah! Once upon a time, giants walked the pre-Internet earth...)
(Although in either case it's certainly true: the comments field around here is where the action is! That's where the fun is!)
He read the same novel and came away with very, very different reactions:
.... Ford himself has been proclaimed by no lesser a god of fiction than his late pal Ray Carver to be the land's best writer 'sentence for sentence.'
Nonsense. The Sportswriter is an undeniably great and peculiar novel, a minor-key fugue ... Independence Day reaches for more and grasps not quite as much. The Lay of the Land is longer and weaker than both. This isn't to say Ford is not one hell of a writer; he is ... but sentence for sentence or pound for pound, a slugging middleweight is still a middleweight, and by the end of Lay Ford's a buckle-kneed, arm-weary middleweight clinching and waiting for the bell.
I confess I don't understand why in 2006 we're not reading reviews of Scott Raab's own novels .... but we're fortunate enough to have him before us every month in the Penny Press, so that's a good thing.